In this Essential Guide Of Things To Bring On A Road Trip, you will find a list of travel necessities as well as some of my favorite things to pack for a road trip.
It’s taken me hundreds of long road trips and thousands of miles to figure out how to make my life easier, so I hope this saves you some time on your next travel excursion!
This travel guide on packing for a road trip includes a list of things you know you need (but might forget to pack), as well as things you may not have even thought about.
From basic personal items to snacks, emergency tools and general tips, you’ll find a little bit of everything here.
So let’s go!
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The Basics For Any Road Trip
Unfortunately, it’s the “obvious” things that sometimes get overlooked when you’re packing for a road trip.
To avoid any problems, make sure you do a last minute check to ensure you have your:
☑️ Driver’s License: This is a must for EVERYTHING these days, not just if you get pulled over, so make sure your driver’s license is handy.
☑️ Vehicle Registration: Hopefully you won’t need it, but if by chance you get pulled over or are involved in an accident, it is required that you have a copy.
☑️ Insurance: It’s illegal to drive a vehicle without insurance in the United States, so make sure your documentation is in your glove compartment.
If you’re renting a car, you’re most likely covered under your personal insurance policy. The rental companies offer additional coverage as well.
It’s not necessary to have a dedicated holder for your documents, but it sure makes it easier when you need them! I like this DOCUMENT HOLDER that keeps everything in one place and makes each piece of paper easy to find.
☑️ Car Manual: You definitely don’t think about this one until you need it. I’ve had a few experiences where a light comes on and I have no idea what it’s trying to tell me.
A quick look in the car manual can tell me if it’s something I need to worry about immediately, or if I can put it off until I get home.
Health and Safety: Things To Bring On A Road Trip
First Aid Kit: It’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit in your car, even when you’re not on a road trip.
There are many sizes available, but if you want a well-rounded kit that has a little bit of everything, I recommend this 160-PIECE EMERGENCY REFILL KIT, especially if you already have a small pouch or container that you can put things in.
Most kits this size only have a few bandages and some ointment. This one has a sterile patch, cue tips, assorted bandage rolls, a cold compress, thermal blanket, cotton tipped applicator, saline solution—all for less than $20.
Flashlight: I always keep a flashlight in my car, and it’s a good idea to also have a headlamp.
(True story: I had to walk home under a thick canopy of trees for more than a mile because a tree had fallen across the road. It was so dark, I couldn’t see the road and had to feel my way, which added a lot of time to my walk. I always carry a flashlight now).
You can pick up pretty much any size flashlight that you prefer, but for a small traveling size I recommend these LED RECHARGEABLE FLASHLIGHTS. They’re magnetic, waterproof, zoomable and have 8 modes. The best thing is you don’t have to worry about the batteries dying since they have a USB port for charging.
I also recommend this two-pack 1100 lumen rechargeable HEADLAMP for the times when you need a hands-free light source.
Spare Tire: We take for granted that we have a spare tire in our vehicles, but do you know where yours is? And is it in good shape? It’s a good thing to check before you go, especially if you’re going to be traveling to remote areas.
AAA Membership: Of course a AAA membership is a good thing to have if you’re planning to take a road trip.
My vehicle insurance offers roadside assistance for a very small amount of money, but I also recommend getting a AAA card. Not only will it help you in case of a flat tire or breakdown, but it comes with other benefits, like discounts on hotel stays.
Common Road Trip Items You Don’t Want To Forget
I could not write an essential guide about things to bring on a road trip without including more of the obvious things we tend to forget. Double-check to make sure you have these packed before you leave.
Prescriptions and Medications: Don’t forget to pack your daily vitamins and prescriptions, but I recommend a few general medications as well:
☑️ Motion sickness pills
☑️ Itch relief
☑️ Antacid like Tums
☑️ Antihistamine like Benadryl for bee stings or allergic reactions.
If you need a handy storage container for your medications, this color-coded three-pack PILL ORGANIZER can keep your prescriptions separate from your vitamins or medicine chest-type pills.
Glasses, Sunglasses and Contacts (+ Solution): I often leave very early in the morning before sunrise, so leaving my sunglasses behind is my biggest fear. I have prescription sunglasses, but if you’re looking for a stylish pair for your outdoor trip that aren’t expensive, try these Foster Grants.
Spare Cash: As more and more people rely on credit and debit cards, they forget to carry cash and COINS. You never know when you’ll need actual money for a cash-only parking lot or meter.
Travel-Sized Cooler: I drink a lot of water when I’m on the road, and needless to say, it’s cheaper to bring some then buy at a gas station or convenience store. I also use mine for bananas or anything else I want to keep cold.
Any small cooler that you can put on your front seat will do, but I love this one by EVERLASTING COMFORT because of all of the pockets — and because it can be carried as both a backpack or over the shoulder.
Water Bottle: If you’re traveling to a destination where you can get water refills, it’s better for the environment to carry your own insulated water bottle rather than buying plastic ones.
This one from OWALA is a favorite of mine because it has a flip lid that you can open with one hand, which is essential to me while driving. It’s also easy to clean, fits in most cup holders and keeps ice for hours in a hot car.
Even better, this water bottle is leak-proof, has a loop for carrying and is BPA free, which makes it an essential thing to pack for a road trip.
Umbrella/Rain Poncho: This is another thing you should always have in your car. I rarely use an umbrella, but they don’t take up much room, and they can come in handy.
For a super-compact umbrella that can withstand winds up to 45 mph, try this one from WEATHERMAN.
If you want to look fashionable in the rain, I recommend this heavy-duty hooded Polka-Dot PONCHO.
Things To Bring On A Road Trip You Might Not Think About
Extra Car Key: I can’t believe how many people don’t keep a spare key in a magnetic box under their car. It only took me one time to lock my keys in the car to find this invaluable.
(If you’re traveling with a companion, it’s also a good idea to give them a spare set of keys as well).
If you only take ONE thing from this guide about things to bring on a road trip, buy this magnetic key holder!
You put a spare key inside, stick it under your car and you’re saved if you lock yourself out of your vehicle or lose your keys on a road trip.
This has saved me more times than I can count, from slipping on the ice when I was getting out of my Jeep and accidentally locking the doors, to absently-mindedly leaving my keys inside.
Duct Tape: Just because.
Emergency Roadside Kit: You can make your own Emergency Roadside Kit or just buy one that’s already put together. Make sure you include jumper cables, reflective road triangle, gloves and bungee cords if you’re making your own.
I recommend this 90-piece CAR EMERGENCY ROADSIDE KIT that comes in a compact bag and has pretty much everything you need including tire repair kit, headlamp, towing cable and medical supplies.
Also included is a small air compressor in case you’re tire pressure is low. (The compressor can also come in handy to blow up an air mattress).
Tire Pressure Gauge: This may already be in your vehicle, but if not, make sure you include it in your kit and check your tire pressure before your road trip. (Especially if your car doesn’t automatically track tire pressure).
A tire pressure gauge can give your piece of mind if you “tire low” light comes on when you’re not near a service station. (Yes, I’ve had this happen to me in the-middle-of-nowhere-New Mexico).
I like the ones made by RHINO, which is a father and son-based company in the USA. It’s pretty heavy duty and the company has an excellent reputation for their customer service.
Portable Battery Charger: This may seem like overkill to some, especially if you have a AAA membership, but it has saved me from waiting for AAA to show up.
A portable battery charger comes with cables and has detailed instructions, making it easy to jump your own vehicle.
I make sure mine is charged before a road trip as well as before letting my Jeep sit in an airport parking lot in the dead of winter for a week.
(I don’t want to return from a trip and have to wait for help to get my battery charged).
For less than $100, it’s worth the peace of mind even if you don’t use it — but I bet you will!
Trash Can: I used to use an empty plastic shopping bag to gather wrappers and empty coffee cups that inevitably pile up on a road trip, but there are much better options out there.
If you want to avoid leaks and smells, I recommend this trash can from HOTOR because it has extra pockets to stick tickets or receipts.
It’s now been added to my list of things to bring on a road trip.
Road Trip Travel Guide: What To Pack For Navigation
Full disclosure, a road map is always a thing I bring on a road trip, even though I know they’re a bit obsolete.
(Studying a map while driving 75 mph down a four-lane road looking for your exit when you’re traveling alone is not a good idea).
Of course, most people use a GPS or Google Maps on their phones, but make sure you download the map before you leave in case you lose your connection.
It DOES happen. I landed in Washington DC once after a freak storm that somehow caused the area to lose all internet and satellite service. No GPS or internet service. NONE.
Since that harrowing experience, I program and download Google maps, take a separate GPS, and PRINT OUT directions at home before I leave.
A successful road trip means avoiding problems; and screenshots of directions can also help when things don’t go as planned.
Best Road Trip Foods
I consider myself an expert on this topic if I may say so myself. I do a good bit of solo traveling, so I like to pack a snack rather than take the time to stop and eat between meals.
It’s also good to have a snack in case you run into unforeseen events, like being stuck on a highway for two or three hours. (Yes, it’s happened to me).
My Go-To Snacks For A Road Trip
My first recommendation is not only my favorite snack, it’s practically my favorite food in the whole world.
Not only is it good for you, it’s inexpensive and it’s easy to eat on the run.
It’s called GREAT VALLEY OMEGA 3 TRAIL MIX and comes in a good-sized 22 ounce bag. The mix contains cranberries, walnuts, almonds and pecans. The sweetness of the cranberries mixes perfectly with the nuts.
The only bad thing I can say about it is that I can’t stop eating it once I start. It also comes in handy travel packets which would probably help avoid eating two or three servings at a time.
I have also experimented with a lot of breakfast bars because they are so easy to pack in your purse and eat on the run.
My favorite by far is KIND nut bars, especially the Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt. They also make a Peanut Butter bar and a Caramel and Almond. (Yes, yum!).
And guess what? They’re gluten free for those who prefer those types of products. It’s like eating a candy bar, but more filling and nutritious.
These two snack items are definitely things to bring on a road trip!
More Must-Have Things To Pack For A Road Trip
I wish someone would have told me to always carry a travel journal! I’ve traveled thousands of miles to hundreds of places, and would love to look back on the ones I’ve forgotten about.
I have photos that help jar my memory, but now that I keep a journal it’s fun to look back at my notes on the “best part of the trip,” or where I stayed or what I ate. You can also include people you met, things you bought, and just your overall experience.
I like this ARTISAN JOURNAL because of its size (easy to pack), and its vegan leather cover.
Read A Book While You Drive?
If you rely on your vehicle’s radio for entertainment, you might try listening to a book rather than the static that inevitably happens while driving.
If you’re traveling with your spouse, however, it may be hard to find something that you both like.
In that case, I recommend picking up a copy of MEANT TO BE by Jessica James (Yes, shameless self-promotion). It has enough military action and espionage to satisfy men and an accompanying love story for women. Read the reviews and see if it’s for you!
BONUS TIP: This audio book is FREE if you’re new to Audible.
If you need an ebook or print BOOK TO READ while you’re on a vacation, here are a few more you may find interesting. The genres range from historical fiction to suspense and women’s fiction.
Wrap-Up Of Things To Bring On A Road Trip
To me, road trips are the best way to travel. Not only can you avoid the headaches of flying, but if you plan your route ahead of time, you get to see the country instead of flying over it at 30,000 feet.
Taking a road trip also allows you to explore new places and meet new people, while having the time to soak in the local culture.
And by knowing what things you should bring on a road trip, your travel adventure can be a lot more enjoyable.
I hope this keeps you from making the same mistakes I did.
In addition to my suggestions about what to bring on a road trip, I also offer the following advice:
☑️ Take your time.
☑️ Take the scenic route.
☑️ And take in the beauty of America.