woman looking out of passenger side window of green SUV with steam rising up from a hot spring behind the car

THE BEST ROAD TRIP PACKING LIST: 41 Essentials You Need For a Smooth Ride

The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List

Post Summary: Be prepared with this thorough road trip packing list that includes basic road trip essentials, entertainment for the road, and what to pack for winter road trips.

Are you hitting the open road and wondering about what to put on your road trip packing list? As a family that has lived on the road for over a year, we’ve learned a lot about what are true road trip travel essentials and what’s just a gigantic waste of space.

Based on our own experiences of driving cross country, we’ve come up with a few road trip packing lists to cover your basic road trip needs, fun entertainment for the road, and what to pack for driving in harsh winter conditions.

Read on to get the full scoop.

Need More Road Trip Tips? Check Out Our Other Road Trip Articles:

Road Trip Trivia To Impress Your Friends With
Road Trip Food Inspiration: 50 Delicious Snacks For A Road Trip
All The Tips And Tricks To Survive A Road Trip With A Toddler
160 Fun, Deep, and Sometimes Silly Road Trip Questions

17 Boredom Busting Things To Do On A Road Trip
50 Items That Need To Be On Your Camper Must-Haves Packing List

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services we truly think are helpful.

Road Trip Essentials: 40 Things To Bring On A Road Trip

A couple in a car, with one person pointing to a destination on a paper map.

Essential Road Trip Items

1. Cooler – Since I’m obsessed with eating at all times of the day, I think a cooler is top on the list for things you need for a road trip. If it’s a short trip and all you need is a small cooler for drinks and snacks, you can opt for a soft-bodied Arctic Zone Cooler.

The above is an affordable option, but we do have a special love for the top-of-the-line coolers from Yeti. Yes, they are a big investment and most will balk at the price. But, you’ll buy a cooler once and be done for life. It’s mainly worth it if you’ll be road tripping or camping a lot and want a durable, high-end cooler that’s guaranteed to keep your stuff ice cold. The Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler is perfect for road trips.

2. Road Trip Food + Snacks – Resist the urge to buy Slim Jims at the gas station by having your car stocked with delicious snacks and beverages. If you’re looking for some snack inspiration, be sure to check out our road trip food list post with 50+ snack ideas.

3. Water Bottle – Having a reusable water bottle is top on the list for road trip must-haves. Staying hydrated keeps you feeling energized and can help ward off those hankerings to buy a coke at the gas station. We are die-hard fans of Hydro Flask and love that they can keep your drinks ice cold or piping hot for over 12 hours.

4. Roadside Emergency Kit – While you can buy roadside emergency kits that come with a surplus of things, the most important thing is having a high-quality set of jumper cables. If you’ll be driving in a remote area where other cars might not be able to help you out, you might want to consider a mobile battery jumper that allows you to jumpstart your car on your own.

5. Flashlight – While we’re on the topic of road trip safety, pack a flashlight. It’s one of those tools that should always be in your glove compartment along with extra batteries. Don’t have one? We like this small portable one here.

6. License and Registration – It goes without saying, but make sure your license is up to date, and your registration is in your glove compartment.

7. Insurance Cards -Most insurance companies have apps now, so download the app for your car insurance so you can have your insurance number and phone numbers easily accessible just in case you need them.

8. Phone Chargers – Make sure to have all your phone chargers, power banks, and any necessary dongles so your phone can hook up to your car. In addition to our basic phone charger that goes into the cigarette lighter, we also bring a splitter so multiple people can plug in their device and a solar power charger, so we’re never left without something to charge our devices. It’s handy when traveling with many people so everyone can have a way to charge a device.

9. Sunglasses – Avoid that harsh late afternoon glare with some stylish sunglasses.

10. Sunblock – While you’re protecting your eyes, don’t forget to protect your skin! Just because you’re inside your car doesn’t mean the sun can’t get through. I like to buy a new sunblock every year and store it in my glove compartment box for when I need it.

11. Lip Moisturizer – The sun plus excessive air conditioning means you’ll want your chapstick with you at all times. I’m in love with Weleda’s moisturizing lip balm and don’t use anything else.

12. Hand Sanitizer – Not all rest stops will have soap, so it’s wise to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer for those times you don’t have access to hand soap. I like this gentle hand sanitizer with a soothing lavender scent.

13. Cash – While credit cards are generally accepted everywhere, there have been times that we’ve been passing through a small town, and cards were not accepted. This happened most often at small family-run restaurants. Be sure to have a little bit of cash for the rare chance you end up in a place that doesn’t accept cards.

14. Umbrella – Rain. It happens. Have an umbrella in your trunk for when the inevitable shift in weather happens.

15. Blanket – A cozy blanket is great when you’re doing a long day of driving, and passengers might want to take a car nap. We have a soft spot for sherpas and think they’re the best napping blankets.

16. Travel Pillow – To go with your cozy blanket, bringing a travel pillow can help to alleviate sore necks. Bring your own pillows from home or buy a specially made travel pillow. The BCOZZY travel pillow is great for kids, and this one here is great for adults.

17. Slip-On Shoes – A pair of easy slip-on shoes like the Teva Reember Shoe are ideal for a road trip, so you can be shoe-free in the car and easily slip them back on when you have to pop out for food or gasoline. If traveling in the summer, flip-flops are the perfect road trip shoe.

18. Cozy Clothes – Along with comfortable shoes, we always wear clothes we can easily move around in and have breathability. Elastic is your friend on a long car ride. Our driving outfits are always a pair of joggers and a soft top. These joggers from Amazon are my go-to driving pants. They’re basically cozy pants that can pass as regular clothes.

19. Garbage Bags – You’ll want to have a designated bag to put your trash into. Old grocery or produce bags are what we bring on the road.

20. First Aid Kit – Having a kit ready for any events that arise on your road trip is always a good idea. You can buy a pre-made kit or make your own. We always have bandaids, antibacterial ointment, ibuprofen, Dramamine, bug spray, itch cream for bug bites, and gauze pads for our basic first aid kit.

21. Tissues, Wipes, Paper Towels – Having something for spills, runny noses, and sticky hands is always a necessary staple for road trip essentials.

22. Downloaded Maps – Make sure you have all the necessary maps downloaded onto your phone. If you know your route, you can go onto google maps and download the map and the directions, so you don’t have to rely on good cell service to get directions. If you’re going on a long road trip and don’t have a definitive route, it’s a good idea to buy a paper map so you’ll always have something to guide you. The Rand McNally Atlas is considered one of the best road maps and is a great choice if you’re going on a cross-country road trip.

23. Tide Pen – This is a must-have item if you’re on a road trip with young children. Life on the road can mean eating on the go in the car, which inevitably means stains all over their clothes and yours. The Tide Pen has saved me from losing many beloved outfits.

24. Air Freshener – Such a necessary item on your road trip packing list when traveling with kids! When it’s feeling “not so fresh” in the car, I like to use the hand sanitizer spray I mentioned above. I love that it’s fresh smelling and can double up as a hand sanitizer.

25. Sun Shade – If you’re traveling in the summer, you’ll want to get a sunshade for your windshield to keep your car from becoming a scorching hot oven. Anyone who has leather seats knows how uncomfortable it is to get back into a car that’s been baking in the sun. If you’re traveling with a toddler or baby, you’ll want to get sun shades for your side windows so the sun doesn’t irritate them or get in the way of nap time. These sunshades from REACHS are also a great privacy and shading option. We like them because you can still open your back windows for airflow.

26. Phone Holder – If you don’t already have one, make sure to get a proper phone holder like this one here so you can have both hands free for driving.

27. Roadside Assistance Plan – If you’re going on a long road trip and you’re not too confident in your car, buying a roadside assistance plan is a great idea, so you don’t have to worry about being stranded in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of those road trip necessities that you don’t like paying for but are happy to have when you need it. AAA has several different options that should suit different kinds of travel. You can check here for current AAA prices.

28. Spare Tire – Make sure your car is equipped with a spare tire, tire jack, and lug-wrench so you can always be prepared to change your own tire.

29. Day Bag – I like to have a day bag that is easily accessible for packing any road trip items that I want close by to pull out as I need. Any backpack or large purse will do, but I’m partial to Fjallraven and their cute line of colorful backpacks. We also enjoy The Northface backpacks.

30. Travel Gear – Obviously, you’ll need suitcases to pack your belongings in, but depending on what kind of road trip you’ll be taking, you might want to consider duffle bags instead of standard roller luggage. They pack up easier in the car and can fit in tight spaces.

31. Car Organizers – I don’t know about you, but it gets messy in our car. Having an organization system will help to create order amongst all the road trip supplies. There are many different organizers that you can choose from, but we have two that we particularly like. We like this back seat organizer with SO MANY pockets for all your gadgets, notebooks, and snacks. It’s a fantastic option if you’re traveling with young kids. We particularly like that it has a tablet holder. You can put a movie on without them having to hold the device the entire time.

We also like this car seat gap organizer that sits in the gap between the console and the passenger or driver’s seat. You know that little bit of space where you always drop your phone, and you’re like “$%^&*!” because it’s so difficult to fit your hand in there. Well, this organizer stops anything from falling in that gap while also providing extra storage. Brilliant!

32. Roof Racks – If you are going on a long road trip and need to create extra space because of all the road trip essentials you’ll be packing into your car, adding a roof rack cargo carrier can be a great way to create extra space. When we took a month to drive through Montana, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park, we added roof racks to hold all our camping gear on top of our car. You can browse different varieties here to find the one that will fit your car. We also used a trailer hitch cargo carrier to further maximize space.

Fun Things To Pack For A Road Trip

Snowy dessert landscape with two driver side mirrors from a camper.

Now that you’ve got your basic needs met let’s talk about what to bring on a long car trip, so you aren’t bored out of your mind.

33. Travel Games – Have some fun games ready for when you’re looking to pass the time. Pull up our post of 160 road trip questions and 41 road trip trivia questions for hours of fun conversation.

34. Road Trip Playlist – Having a great playlist ready to cue up is EVERYTHING. You can make your own on Spotify. If compiling your own playlist doesn’t sound fun, you can browse through the thousands of playlists already curated by someone else. Make sure to download the playlists before you leave!

35. Notebook – A road trip is a perfect time to journal, write, draw, or dream up your next big adventure. One of our favorite things to do on a road trip together is to pull out a pen and paper and write lists of all the places we want to travel to next.

36. Kindle or Book Reading Device – If you don’t get car sick, having some books or magazines cued up on your Kindle or any book reading device is a great way to catch up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read. You can also try out Kindle Unlimited for free for one month to test out if you want to add the subscription service.

37. Audible – If you do get car sick, you can also opt to do Audible books. A great way for everyone to listen to a book together. Like Kindle Unlimted, you can do a free trial run of Audible to see if it’s a service you would want to subscribe to monthly.

38. Podcasts – Another great source of entertainment is to listen to Podcasts on the drive. Just like with songs, make sure to download the podcasts before you leave so you don’t have to rely on a good signal. My husband loves to listen to Armchair Expert and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend and I love to listen to On Being.

39. iPad – If you’re doing a road trip with a toddler or kids, a tablet is a necessary item on any family road trip packing list. We like to download kid-friendly movies on Netflix and savor two quiet hours in the car.

40. Headphones – If not everyone wants to watch or listen to the same thing, make sure to bring your headphones so everyone can do their own thing. We like to use these soft headphones for our toddler and our Bose Noise Cancelling headphones for ourselves.

41. Portable Speaker – We bring our portable speaker with us when we travel in our vintage camper since the sound quality is better. Having your own speaker is great for anyone who doesn’t have a high-quality sound system in their car. Even if you have a good sound system, we love our Ultimate Ears speaker since it’s lightweight, waterproof, can fit in the cup holder, and is compatible with Alexa.

READ NEXT: Check out our post on 17 fun things to do on a road trip for ideas on what to do while you’re in the car.

Winter Road Trip Packing List

A white car driving though a snowy winter day.
Having everything on your winter road trip packing list is vital to keeping everyone safe.

If you are driving in the winter months or in high elevation areas where cold weather is of concern, you’ll want to be sure you’re comfortable and adequately prepared for any hazardous cold weather conditions that could arise. In addition to everything mentioned above, you’ll want to add the following to your road trip essentials list.

Ice Scraper – An ice scraper is a must-do when making a winter road trip. We got caught in an early snowstorm in Tennessee and tried in vain to use a kitchen spatula. Don’t be like us. Have an ice scraper in your car.

Snow ChainsSnow chains are a must when traveling through mountain towns where snowy weather can become dangerous quickly. Make sure to get the right fit for your car.

Warm Blankets – Blankets can be a literal lifesaver if you get stuck in a snowstorm and need to pull over till the weather passes. While the above-mentioned sherpa blankets can keep you warm, it would be wise to pack a sleeping bag or packable down blanket that can provide excellent insulation and warmth. We always keep this blanket from Horizon Hound in our trunk and love that it packs down to a small size and keeps us super warm

Hand Warmers – I love rechargeable hand warmers. You’ll absolutely want these if you have to wait out a snowstorm and need some warmth.

You’re ready to hit the road and have an epic adventure! Did we miss anything on our road trip packing list? What’s on your road trip essentials list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Want Some Inspiration For Where To Road Trip To Next? Check Out Our Travel Guides Below:

17 Amazing National Parks In The West
Two Amazing Hot Springs To Discover Near Boise, Idaho

How To Spend 36 Hours In Asheville, NC
An Adventure Itinerary In Yellowstone National Park

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