Is there anything better than a road trip? What’s not to love? How about…a day in the car with no way to charge your phone…or an achy back from too much sitting…or getting stopped by an officer with no evidence of car insurance? Epic road trips start with being well-prepared for fun and adventure. Here’s my ultimate road trip packing list with everything you need for an unforgettable trip!
Road Trip Packing List
1. Packable Cooler
The best thing about a road trip is freedom! And a packable insulated cooler is a big part of food freedom, which is why it’s one of my essentials for a road trip.
In fact, it’s one of the things I bring to Kauai. No need for something bulky. Get one that collapses down so you can stow it away to save on space when it’s empty.
Just be sure to get one that zips so food and drinks stay cold. You’ll save money when you stock it ahead of time, too.
Think picnics in scenic roadside spots instead of expensive lunches out. Just remember to pick up a few cold packs.
I like cold packs that are refillable with water and reusable.
2. Car Registration and Evidence of Insurance
A road trip is the perfect excuse to ensure all your documents are in order! So be sure to include them when you’re packing for a road trip.
Your driver’s license is, of course, essential. But so is your vehicle registration to prove ownership of your car.
Keep it handy in your glovebox in case you need to show it to an officer if you’re stopped.
Likewise, that police officer will be asking you for proof of insurance.
In fact, it’s illegal to drive without any in the U.S. And finally, don’t forget the owner’s manual for your car.
When that weird dash light starts blinking 1,000 miles from home, you’ll be grateful you can look it up!
3. Road Tunes
Bring some good vibes to your road trip with your favorite music. Make a playlist on your phone or check out the incredible array of podcasts through Apple.
I can highly recommend the NPR Serial podcasts. Season 1, about the convicted Killer Adnan Syed who has proclaimed his innocence for more than 20 years was so compelling that he was granted an appeal in his case. (Eight hours in the car never went so fast!)
If you love a good story, consider subscribing to Audible.
If you subscribe on Amazon as an Amazon Prime member, your free trial also comes with two free books. You can get your free downloads on Amazon here.
4. Water Bottle or Hydroflask
It’s true you can just buy bottled water when you’re on the road, but reusing those single-use bottles isn’t sanitary.
And our landfills don’t need more plastic so this is a key item on your road trip checklist.
Once you break the habit, you’ll never look back. So fill a large jug for the trunk and then fill a reusable water bottle to keep in the car. I recommend you grab a Camelback on Amazon.
Or…take it to the next level. Go all in with a hydroflask. This souped up thermos has revolutionized road trips and long, hot hikes for Steve.
It keeps cold drinks icy and hot tea and soups steaming hot! Honestly, everyone should own one of these.
I can’t believe we survived so long without one. You can get a hydroflask on Amazon here.
5. First Aid Kit
It’s easy to forget to pack a first aid kit! But it’s such an easy, light addition to your road trip packing list.
And it makes all the difference if you gash yourself on a hike, are struggling with an itchy bug bite, or have some minor accident.
There’s been plenty of times I’ve wished I had a basic first aid kit in the car.
This one is inexpensive and covers you with the basics, including band-aids, ibuprofen, and gauze…although you may want to add some additional items.
Sterile gloves, anti-nause medicine, and antihistamines are also handy.
It just depends how thorough you want to be. This one covers all the basics and takes up minimal space.
You can grab a first aid kit on Amazon here.
6. Trunk Organizer
Can you imagine opening the trunk of your car on a road trip and immediately putting your hands on that thing you need? Instead of pawing through bags?
Add one or two trunk organizers to store small items you may need en route but don’t want to stuff in the back seat.
Think drinks, snacks, books, electronics…even a bag of groceries!
No need to listen to things thump and bump in the trunk every time you round a corner.
This trunk organizer is sturdy, durable, and collapsible to save on space when you don’t need it. You can buy it on Amazon here.
7. Travel Picnic Kit
We have owned this travel picnic kit for almost a decade now, I think.
We’ve carted it all over Europe, New Zealand, and French Polynesia. And I always pack it for a road trip stateside as it makes meals quick and convenient on a long drive.
Here’s why: It’s lightweight, BPA-free, and includes everything we need for a picnic on the road.
Each set comes with a cup, bowl, and dish that lay flat for packing but snap together easily.
Highly recommended. You can get a Fozzils picnic set on Amazon here. (Buy two sets if it’s for a couple.)
And you’ll probably want to pick up one set of “sporks” (fork + spoon) while you’re there.
8. Car Charger
Be sure you won’t run out of battery on your trip by ensuring you pick up a robust car charger.
After all, between games of Words with Friends and photos of scenic roadside stops, your phone is likely to get some heavy usage.
A good car charger doesn’t have to be expensive either.
The AINOPE Car Charger fits most cigarettes lighters with plenty of juice to charge two compatible devices simultaneously. It also has built-in safeguards to protect against overheating and is compatible with all USB-powered devices.
You can get an AINOPE fast car charger on Amazon here.
9. Backseat Car Organizer
What to pack on a road trip? If you’re traveling with children—or even two adults in the back seat—considering purchasing a back seat organizer to avoid clutter and maximize seat space.
A well-constructed organizer has compartments that conveniently store things like electronics, charging devices, drinks, umbrellas and toys.
Be sure to get one that’s straight forward to install.
10. Packing Cubes
When you’re road tripping, it’s so tempting to overpack.
After all, you have all that trunk and back seat space…It’s not like squeezing into a carry-on for international travel. And that’s why packing cubes are a game changer!
If you ever rifled through your suitcase, leaving all of your belongings looking like a hurricane hit, you are going to love packing cubes.
In fact, if you’re new to the idea, watch this “how to pack with packing cubes” tutorial.
When I’m packing in a suitcase, I’ll typically use two for clothing and one for miscellaneous small items.
For a road trip, consider adding a few extras for other items you want easy access to.
11. Trash Can
Nobody wants to spend hours in a smelly car or root around in the backseat hoping for a random bag to repurpose for lunch leftovers.
So get a dedicated trash can with a lid. Make sure it’s leakproof, too!
This one can attach to the console for easy access or hang from the back of the headrest.
It’s compact and comes with outside packets for small items like hand sanitizer or wipes. Grab one on Amazon here.
12. Travel Mug
So confession: Up until I found this travel mug on Amazon recently, I’d had been drinking out of the same travel mug every morning for probably a decade. Ewwww…I know!
The reason is that I have strong opinions about travel mugs. I have tested many, many mugs.
They either burn your mouth or leak or don’t actually keep your coffee hot the way they promise.
It has been a long and frustrating journey in search of one that meets and exceeds my expectations in the way my well-loved mug does.
Until now! When I read the amazing reviews on Amazon recently, I decided to give it one more go and I couldn’t be happier.
Seriously…a travel mug made by someone who actually drinks out of one. I even sent the seller a fawning email to rave (and he wrote me back).
On a road trip, a travel mug is going to get some heavy usage so do yourself a favor and grab this one now.
Whatever you do, remember your sunglasses when you’re packing for a road trip! They’re easy to carry in your travel purse.
You’re going to be living in them with all that driving. I love these Kate Spade cat-eye tortoiseshell sunglasses. Get them on Amazon here.
14. Cell Phone Mount
If you don’t already own one of these, you need to! Our car doesn’t have a built-in GPS navigation, so we just use Google Maps on our cell phones
And the best and safest way to do this is to use our handy cell phone mount. Don’t be that person trying to drive while balancing her phone on her lap.
My cell phone mount actually sticks to the windshield (via a removable suction cup) and rides on top of the dashboard. But there are many different mounting options, including mounting to an air vent.
Windshield mounting does not pull your eyes away from the road very much, while dash mounting can position your phone out of the sun.
The iOttie Easy One-Touch Dash and Windshield Phone Holder provides mounting flexibility so you can position your phone exactly where you want it.
You can get an iOttie car phone mount here on Amazon.
15. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
If you’re a bit of an audiophile, you need to know about these headphones!
I purchased them after a loooong flight seated next to unhappy children and have never looked back.
One reason they’re so great is that they’re not bulky to pack or carry like over-the-ear headphones.
But their main draw is the sound quality. A noise-canceling switch delivers crystal clear audio.
These headphones are a great way for passengers to spend a little time with Netflix on a long drive.
16. Lumbar Pillow
Transform your drive time into comfy time with good lumbar support.
As someone who writes for a living, I found that my back issues completely evaporated once I consistently used a support pillow.
Memory foam cushions are the bomb!
This one is not too firm but not too soft—it’s the “Goldilocks” version as one reviewer noted—and is also completely adjustable.
You can grab a lumbar pillow on Amazon here.
17. Roadside Emergency Kit
A roadside emergency kit is something you hope you’ll never need!
And that’s why you need one: for the peace of mind…especially on a long road trip.
The right kit includes a first aid kit as well as all the safety accessories you’d need for any situation.
This one includes a reflective warning triangle (in case you can’t move off the road), a safety vest, a strong tow rope, LED flashlight, tire pressure guage, a screwdriver, jumper cable, and emergency blanket among other things.
You can get your roadside emergency kit on Amazon here.
18. Shoes that You Can Slip On
All those bathroom breaks at gas stations can get tedious if you’re putting on and taking off shoes every time to enter and exit the car.
That’s why, if I’m on a summer road trip, I alway pack my Reef flip flops.
They are the most comfortable flip flops I’ve ever owned! You can get a pair on Amazon here.
For winter road trips, there’s nothing better than a pair of cozy UGG slippers.
There are approximately a gazillion styles to choose from but you can browse UGGS on Amazon here.
19. Rain Gear
Be sure to bring a lightweight rain coat shell for range.
Find one that packs down to nothing but is easy to grab if you find yourself dealing with sudden rain showers…like this one you can get on Amazon.
(And don’t forget a travel umbrella. I like the windproof kind.)
20. Hand Sanitzer, Sunscreen, and Bug Spray
Each of these items is small and easy to toss in your console or glovebox. You’ll be so happy you have them!
Bug spray is here. If you’re like me, you had plenty of experience with hand sanitzer during the pandemic.
My favorite is the EO hand sanitizer.
It smells good and the cap stays on…something I cannot say about another brand that caused my black jacket to leave a stain on a white coverlet at a recent Airbnb.
So I’m willing to spend a bit more for those features.
When it comes to sunscreen, I look for one that is reef safe (important at home in San Diego) and that includes zinc oxide without being greasy.
You can get sunscreen on Amazon here.
21. Travel Pillow and Blanket
No need to get fancy here, but a travel pillow and blanket are essential for car napping!
I recommend an inexpensive, lightweight fleece blanket. You can find one on Amazon here.
When it comes to pillows for the car, you can either use the kind you drape around your neck on flights that provides neck support or just pick up a compact rectangular pillow.
I like this travel pillow with memory foam. See it on Amazon here.
22. Travel Tote or Duffel Bag
It’s perfectly fine to pack a suitcase and toss it in the trunk, but you might find a travel tote or duffel bag more convenient. They’re more compact and work well in a trunk.
I like this one that is lightweight, waterproof and nylon. It comes in plenty of colors. Plus, you can use it as a carryon for flying later! You can buy a travel tote on Amazon here.
23. Toiletry Bag
No matter where I travel, my pack-it-flat toiletry bag is always along for the ride.
This is such a great space saver and with four separate compartments, it’s super easy to find everything you need. It’s in my top 10 list of favorite things to pack.
24. Travel Games
Looking for some fun ideas to pass the hours while driving?
Travel games are fun things to bring on a road trip. For example, couples should definitely check out Our Moments: 100 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Great Relationships.
And for children, nothing beats Mad Libs! You can get the Best of Mad Libs on Amazon here.
25. Travel Snacks
What will you munch on while you’re on the road? I personally love KIND bars.
Consider supplementing with some string cheese, apples, and celery sticks to balance out the Haribos gummis, too.
26. Day Pack
On road trips, I always bring my day pack. It makes a convenient carry-all for items I need access to in the car and is perfect if we decide to head out on a hike somewhere.
I’m particular about packs due to some back and neck issues, but I’ve carried this one by Columbia all over the world. It has a padded sleeve for your laptop, too, which is super convenient.
Preparing for a road trip definitely includes ensuring you have a flashlight. Every car should have one handy.
They are indispensable for roadside emergencies and otherwise finding your way around in the dark. I bought this one for Christmas one year for my two young adult kids and they’re still thanking me.
The GearLight LED tactical flashlight is inexpensive for a two-pack and is compact with an adjustable focus.
Three AAA batteries power this flashlight for hours. You can check it out on Amazon here.
Road Trip FAQ
1. How do you survive an all-day road trip?
Be safe by taking plenty of breaks to stretch and swapping drivers every few hours if possible.
Be sure to fill up for gas before you head out on the road and re-fill during bathroom breaks to avoid extra stops that lengthen the trip.
Consider packing sandwiches and snacks for the same reason. Play travel games and listen to music and podcasts.
2. What are other fun things to bring on a long road trip?
How about some bubbles? Or an inflatable mattress to minimize hotels? The Zone Tech car swivel tray makes the perfect way to eat lunch while driving.
3. How can you stay entertained on a road trip?
There are an endless number of free games you can play…from 20 questions to word games with license plates. Download a star chart for nighttime driving or try some car Karaoke.
Pin it for later!