Road Trip Essentials: Make Sure to Pack These in Your Car (2024)

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You’ve taken the time to plan out your vacation. Now it’s time to be sure you have all the important road trip essentials needed to make your travels as safe and comfortable as possible!

These travel tips are great no matter how far you’re driving and no matter if it’s your car or a rental. Sure, you won’t need all of them, but adding a few of these to your inventory will make all your future road trips that much better.

See how many of these road trip essentials you need to add for your next adventure.

What Are Road Trip Essentials?

Depending on how far you’re road-tripping, you’ll want to make sure you have many of these essentials when traveling. Some things may be more important to you, depending on if it’s a solo road trip or a family excursion, but these are the items you’ll want to have with you.

Phone Mount for Car

I can’t count how many times we’ve gone on a family road trip, got our rental car and realized we left our phone mount at home. Being in an unfamiliar area is exactly when it’s most important to have our phone map easily accessible!

Not having an easy place to put it is pretty inconvenient and sometimes even dangerous. (I’m looking at you, Road to Hana in Maui.) Using a phone mount on the dashboard keeps your phone visible and your hands free to drive.

I’ve now added a phone mount to my road trip packing list, and since we travel frequently enough to make it worth it, I went ahead and bought one just for keeping in my suitcase. That way, I know I can’t forget it!

There are several types of phone mounts to choose from, such as a clip-on or a magnetic holder. Some are easier to use than others, though, so I particularly like the ease of this magnetic phone mount. Just place your phone against it, and you’re all set!

Not all states have laws against holding your phone while driving, but many do. Using a dashboard-mounted phone holder makes it really easy to be able to use your phone hands-free while you’re driving.

By Karee, Our Woven Journey

High-Quality Cooler

Whether you’re going on a quick weekend excursion or a long cross-country road trip, a high-quality cooler is one of the essential road trip items needed for any packing list.

While it’s tempting to stop for fast food or buy a Snickers bar at every gas station, you’ll save yourself some money and time by loading up a cooler with cold drinks, sandwiches, and healthy treats to sustain your trip.

You’ll want a big enough cooler for everything you need but not too big that it takes up precious space in your car. The gold standard of coolers is the road trip-ready Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler. Tall enough to fit a bottle of wine, it’s perfect for sliding behind the passenger side seat.

If you’re looking for something more economical, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze is a great soft cooler that offers the best bang for your buck.

By Christina, Live A Wilder Life

Swiss Army Knife

A Swiss Knife is undeniably one of the best things you can bring with you on a road trip. It’s a small portable multi-tool, also called the “Swiss Army knife,” as it was originally created for soldiers to use opening cans, repairing guns, and more.

The Swiss Knife features a main blade accompanied by other smaller blades and tools such as a screwdriver, small scissors, and a can opener. All blades and tools are attached through a pivot point mechanism and secured inside the handle of the knife. 

Whether you are road-tripping across the USA from Boston to San Francisco or just a couple of hours from your home, a Swiss Knife will definitely come to use at some point!

Forgot the can opener? Use your Swiss Knife! Need to cut bandaids because you hurt yourself on a hike? Use your Swiss Knife! Need to file a broken nail? Use your Swiss Knife!

As Swiss Knives are small, they easily fit in a purse or a hiking backpack. Carrying one can also be very reassuring for solo travelers or women travelers. When flying, they need to be packed in your checked luggage. 

By Mary, Be Right Back

There are 63 National Parks in the United States. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas is the smallest and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska is the largest. 

Portable Hard Drive

During a road trip to one of the best places in the world, like the USA, Australia or Scotland, you will want to take plenty of pictures. Use a portable hard drive to back up your photos wherever you go. LaCie Rugged BOSS SSD will allow you to copy files without using a laptop.

This road trip essential can also charge your phone, and it is perfect for on-the-go photographers. To manage this portable hard drive, you will need a free app. You may monitor battery life, and remaining storage or share your photos through this app. 

With portable hard drives like LaCie Rugged BOSS SSD, you won’t have to worry about running out of storage in your camera’s memory card. When packing cross-country road trip essentials, always remember to have an extra backup for your files.

A portable hard drive is definitely something that you should consider taking with you on the go.

By Paulina, UK Everyday

Cell Phone

We can all agree that you can not leave on any kind of trip without documents and money. But next in line would be a mobile phone. Since the invention of smartphones, we now use them for many uses every day that go beyond just making phone calls.

Still, this device is primarily used for communication (phone calls, SMS, MMS, mail, chat, Whatsapp, social networks, etc.). The next important use during a road trip is GPS, so you won’t get lost wherever you go. (Tip: download maps at home to save on data).

The camera is an integral part of your mobile phone and with increasing quality, there is no need to take another camera along with you.

On this small device, you can have all the entertainment you wish for, such as music, video, games, and books. You’ll also be able to book your accommodation or flights. You can check for the gas station with the cheapest gas and find the best restaurant serving your favorite dish.

All this is possible with the use of the Internet. Having that in mind, you should buy a SIM card at your destination and save on roaming expenses.

To summarize, your smartphone will replace many other devices we were using before. Because of that, you are going to save time, money, and space.

By Džangir, Dr Jam Travels

Pro Tip: Use Airalocom to buy eSIM plans for over 190 countries. There’s no need to change your phone number or your physical SIM card. Instead, you only need to install the eSIM plan that you bought through the app store on your phone. Plans are inexpensive and a great way to make sure you always have coverage, even when you’re out of the country.

Reusable Cutlery

Having reusable cutlery and a storage container can be very helpful on a road trip. It adds flexibility to your plans and more options to eat healthily.

For starters, you won’t need to rely on restaurants for your meals. Instead, you can buy food at local markets or grocery stores to make your own meals with basic equipment.

Reusable storage containers are also handy for carrying take-out food safely with a leakproof seal. They allow you to prepare meals in advance if you have a tight schedule or take them with you on a hike or a tour.

Space is always a challenge on a road trip, so stackable or collapsible containers are a great choice.

Travel utensils will also improve your take-out meals. It’s so much easier to cut with a real knife than a plastic one. (Make sure it’s well protected in your storage box to be safe.)

Plus, these reusable items will help you have a more sustainable road trip by reducing your waste, which is always a nice bonus!

By Eloise, My Favourite Escapes

Question: In which state is it illegal to pump gas yourself?

Zip Locks and Foldable Cups

High-quality zip locks and foldable cups are some of the best items you can have in your road trip travel kit. Whether for backpacking, camping, or road trip, these items will be more useful in many ways than you can imagine.

The zip locks can be used to hold food, toiletries, and even important documents. When packing food for a road trip, leaky food like fruits or juicy sandwiches won’t make a mess if packed in the zip locks. Also, important documents like a passport or prescription will stay safe and dry.

Zip locks will keep your toiletries in order and stop any exploding shampoo bottles from ruining your backpack. You can even get the large, three-gallon ziplocks to use as packing cubes.

Foldable cups are not only eco-friendly camping items but also space savers. They can hold both hot and cold drinks and sometimes even double as a container for trail mix or cut-up fruits.

These two items lessen your trash but also make your road-tripping more organized. The cups are also made with food-grade silicone and are safe to be placed in a dishwasher.

By Mary, Remain Eco

Answer: New Jersey

Packing Cubes

One of the best things to pack for a road trip is packing cubes. Packing cubes are a frequent traveler’s go-to item for keeping clothes, toiletries, or tech safely and separately packed.

Using packing cubes in your luggage saves time and effort in locating items and unpacking and repacking your bags each day.

On an extended road trip, you can go one step further and pack a specific overnight cube. Use a different color cube for each member of the traveling party to make them easy to find.

Pack all your overnight items, such as nightclothes, clean underwear for the next day, toiletries, and a small towel, into one, easy-to-locate packing cube. Leave this cube at the top of your backpack or suitcase. This will prevent you from having to unpack your bags at each overnight stop.

An even better option is to leave the packing cube separate from the rest of your luggage and only unpack this cube from your vehicle. This way, you do not have to unload and repack your baggage at each night’s stop, saving valuable time, stress, and effort.  

By Sinead, Map Made Memories

Read Next: How to Travel More for Less Money

Road Trip Gear – Organization Folder

Our family loves a good road trip. Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway to a single destination or a month-long epic adventure through several states or provinces, we live for the opportunity to see the world.

One of the things that helps to make a road trip successful is organization.

A great way to stay organized during a road trip is to have a travel folder with you in your vehicle. Forget having to rummage everywhere for important documents or attraction tickets! Instead, store them all together in one easy and accessible place.

Enter the travel folder! This accordion-style folder holds everything from maps, tickets, reservations, receipts, or even a travel journal for documenting your vacation.

The accordion folders are really inexpensive and come in a variety of fun colors, styles, and materials. And best of all, it’s pretty easy to customize them to suit your travel needs.

Use a label maker (or the included tabs) to assign each slot to a category (i.e. tickets, destination, day of the week, etc.) Then, when you reach your destination, everything you need will be right at your fingertips.

Another great thing about travel folders is they are not just limited to road trip use! Stay organized when you fly. Most folders are lightweight enough to fit into a backpack or carry-on bag.

Because travel folders are so inexpensive and versatile, they are an easy way to implement organization into all your travels.

By Marianne, The Journeying Giordanos

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One of the best things that you can put on any road trip list is a headlamp. A headlamp is a flashlight that is affixed to your head in some way, either on a hat or more traditionally, on a soft flexible headband that results in the flashlight sitting directly on your forehead.

One of the main advantages of a headlamp over a flashlight is that it leaves your hands free. That way, your hands are available to hold items or simply to cushion your fall in the event you trip over something.

The advantages to bringing one of the best headlamps on a road trip are endless. They all relate to incidents that happen at night.

First, if you need to find something in your car that the direct overhead lights aren’t strong enough to illuminate, then a headlamp would work. That way, your hands will be free while you’re searching.

Second, if you drop something outside your car and you need to find it, you can rely on a headlamp instead of having to hold a flashlight while you look. This is especially helpful if you’re on a winter road trip and are wearing gloves.

Third, if you have the unfortunate experience that you need to repair your car or change a tire, you can do so using both hands while a headlamp shines a light on the problem.

Fourth, if you want to do any evening outdoor adventures or hikes, you have a headlamp to shine the way.

Lastly, if you are sharing a tent or hotel room with others and you want a reading light, most headlamps have settings where you can limit the light to a precise target, like a book, allowing you not to disturb others. 

A headlamp is one of the most versatile travel items around and one that you should always consider bringing on any trip.

By Nicole, Go Far Grow Close

The Iowa-80 truck stop is 100,000 square feet and gets credit for being the biggest in the world. In case you're not roadtripping through Iowa, there are approximately 1,400 other rest stops in the US for you to make use of.

Self Cleaning Reusable Water Bottle

Plastic waste is becoming a huge concern for our planet. What better way to help our earth than reducing the use of plastic water bottles? Reusable water bottles come in many shapes and sizes but are usually insulated to keep your drink cold or hot for 24-48 hours!

Plus, when you are on family road trips, you can stop and fill all your water bottles along the way instead of bringing plastic bottles with you. This will also save room in your trunk. 

If filling your water bottle with tap water worries you, self-cleaning, reusable water bottles now come with water-cleaning technology. At the press of a button, you can cleanse your water of harmful leads, chlorine, VOCs, and so much more, leaving you with pure drinking water.

This comes in handy when you are stopping the car by a stream, or the water source seems questionable. You can simply fill your bottle, and in a couple of minutes, it’s clean! 

By Haley,

First Aid Kit

A small first aid kit is an essential piece of gear on your road trip checklist. You’ll be able to patch up those simple accidents immediately on the road. With all your medical supplies in one place, it’s easy to pull out your first aid kit and treat a variety of common injuries.

You can buy a well-stocked first aid kit at any outdoor store or make your own. Whichever way you go, make sure you have the essential components of a useful first aid kit.

First, you’ll need band-aids, gauze, first-aid tape, and an antibiotic gel such as Neosporin for cuts and scrapes. Bring povidone iodine wipes or a mild soap to clean wounds.

Stock your first aid kit with ibuprofen, acetaminophen (like Tylenol), and aspirin for pain relief.

If you are hiking on your trip, add moleskin to your kit for blister protection. An elastic compression bandage is handy for a sprained ankle or muscle strain.

For insect bites or poison ivy treatment, stock hydrocortisone gel and tweezers to remove ticks.

Finally, add some latex gloves to wear while treating injuries.

Your road trip will be safer and more enjoyable, knowing that you have the common first aid supplies at hand to treat simple injuries. 

By Karen, Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Roadside Assistance

There are many things you can plan for with a road trip, but it is impossible to prepare for the unknown. Before you hit the road, make sure you are covered with roadside assistance.

If you run into car trouble, such as breaking down, a dead battery, getting a flat tire, unlocking your doors, or running out of gas, there will be someone there for you in an emergency.

Having this option for assistance can be a real lifesaver.

However, do not underestimate the importance of also bringing an extra car key and knowing the basics of taking care of your vehicle. It would be so frustrating to have to wait around for assistance for something small.

Always make sure the spare car key is kept with one of your road trip adventure buddies and not with your other key!

Also, roadside assistance companies such as AAA Auto Club can offer perks like discounts, coupons, and travel deals for many vacation excursions. You may also want to consider travel insurance, depending on what reservations you’ve made.

By Debbie Fettback, World Adventurists

Although toll roads have been around for at least 2,700 years, the first in the US was constructed in 1792. Currently, there are over 5,000 miles of toll roads in the US.

Portable Power Station

One of the best, most practical purchases you can make if you’re an avid road tripper or are planning for an upcoming excursion is a portable power station.

Portable power stations can range greatly in price depending on what kind of criteria and durability you’re looking for. There are typically options in everyone’s budget.

Your plans may include traveling through a more intensive climate. Maybe you just want to be prepared in the event of a vehicular emergency. In either case, most portable power stations are equipped with booster cables, air compressors, LED lights, and more and would be great to have with you.

For a more simplistic approach, other portable power stations might include a built-in Bluetooth speaker, USB ports, and electrical sockets. That way, your electronics stay charged on the go.

Almost all portable power stations can be charged on the 12V carport that comes standard in most vehicles. Although, green initiatives have seen the development of solar-powered stations as well. While these stations are often accompanied by a heftier price tag, they also grant the ability to go completely off-grid for longer periods.

Most outdoor retailers and/or automotive stores will sell portable power stations. Amazon has several to choose from, so happy shopping!

By Natasha Karcz from Planes, Trains and Karcz

Road Trip Games

One of the best things to do while on a road trip to keep yourself entertained is to play games. Games will be especially fun for kids, and they’re a great way to keep everyone occupied.

Road trip games can also help break the ice with people you don’t know very well. They can also be a fun way to bond with your friends and family.

You can pack card games such as Uno or Go Fish. Another unique road trip game is travel bingo. Coloring books are also a great way to keep the kids busy.

If you don’t want to haul around a bunch of games, there are several games you can play that don’t require anything. Twenty Questions is a game where one person thinks of an object. Then, the people in the car ask “yes” or “no” questions to figure out what that object is.

You can even do a sing-along challenge or play the most classic road trip game of I-Spy. An oldie but goodie is rock, paper, scissors. Last but not least, you can also test your knowledge and play road trip trivia.

All in all, games are a great thing to bring on a road trip for fun. They’ll make the time fly by and keep everyone amused.

By Disha Smith, Disha Discovers


With restrictions and regulations for the use of drones in urban and built-up areas, there’s no better place to let them take flight than off-the-beaten-path and on road trips.

This goes more so for road trips focused on mountainous and coastal landscapes, like Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. A drone can give an entirely new perspective of the landscapes for videos and photography.

They are also just great fun to fly. These days drones are so small they even fit in pockets and can set off from the palm of your hand. With the use of phone apps to guide them, they have become a simple yet effective tool for photography-obsessed travelers.

But there are also other more practical perks of a drone, something we didn’t realize until finding ourselves off track in a National Park, and that is that drones are great for finding places when completely lost!

By Allan, It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor 

According to AAA, the most popular road trip destination in America is the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

Gallon Size Jugs of Water

It’s no secret that bringing your own water bottles will save you money on your road trip. This is especially true if you’re traveling with a family and everyone needs to stay hydrated. Stopping to buy drinks, even water can get really expensive.

Unfortunately, it can still be difficult to find water refill stations for a typical water bottle. Therefore, to avoid buying dozens of plastic bottles, it’s a great travel hack to buy a large refillable water container. It can fit perfectly in your car and will be your endless water source.

Most grocery stores carry gallon-size jugs of water at a cost that is much cheaper than buying the equivalent amount in smaller water bottles. That way, you are not only helping the environment but also saving a lot of money, especially for long road trips.

This is an especially great idea if you’re road-tripping in a foreign country and want to stay focused on the trip without having to stop for drinks every couple of hours. For instance, in the Dominican Republic, you can even find five-gallon jugs of water to keep in your car.

After your road trip, you can recycle these water jugs with your other plastics. Just don’t throw it away as it will be reused hundreds of times again.

By Chris, Punta Cana Travel Blog

Tablet Towels

Every road trip, or any travel experience for that matter, needs a handy means to mop up spills, wipe away perspiration, or clean dirty hands.

A compressed tablet towel performs these functions and more. In their compressed state, they’re lightweight and take up very little space. Keep some in the glove compartment, a few in the first-aid kit for cleaning cuts and scrapes, and others in a purse or day bag for when you’re away from the vehicle.

When it’s time to press one into service, add a little water from your refillable water bottle and watch it miraculously explode into a handy hand towel. Or prepare one or more before leaving for the day’s activities – a pre-moistened towel in a reusable zip-top silicone bag, ready for immediate use.

They’re so durable the same tablet towel can be used several times over, depending on the use. They’re also versatile; use one as a washcloth, dishcloth, strainer, or emergency toilet paper. Or carry a sanitizer spray and use one to sanitize surfaces. Another advantage is that they’re biodegradable.

tablet towel is a multipurpose essential every traveler should pack. 

By Anne, Packing Light Travel

Thermos Travel Mug

If you’re a coffee drinker (or any hot beverage, really), there’s nothing like being able to take your favorite brew with you when you’re on the road. Not only does it help keep you alert, but coffee has also been scientifically proven to help you drive safer over long distances.

But who wants to drink cold coffee?

Luckily, there are some amazing thermos reusable travel mugs that are large enough to hold up to 16oz of coffee and keep it warm for up to 12 hours. The Zojirushi is an excellent example, and its compact design means it can fit into most car drink holders.

But if you’re planning on stopping and grabbing lattes to-go, you may prefer a more mug-shaped design. The Yeti Rambler is perfect for this.

Thermos travel mugs aren’t just good at keeping your coffee hot, though, they can also be used to keep iced drinks cool, making them great multitaskers on your road trip.

Best of all, you can rest assured knowing their lids are safe & secure. That way, the hot contents aren’t going to accidentally end up in your lap while you’re driving!

By Nadine, Zero Waste Memoirs

I-90 is the longest Interstate Highway, spanning 3,085.3 miles  from Seattle to Boston.

Audio Books

The Libby app is an entertaining and underutilized option for road trips. It connects to your US-based local library system. Most people use Libby to check out digital books for their e-readers. However, it’s also an excellent resource for audiobooks! 

With the click of a button, you can check out audiobooks for listening from a smartphone or tablet while on the road. Just connect your device to your car speakers, and you have hours of surround sound entertainment! 

Libby offers a variety of audiobook genres, from murder mysteries to children’s books. There are even non-fiction titles on diverse topics. Most audiobooks are ten or more hours in length. So, one book can take several days of driving to your destination. 
The Libby app is available for both Apple and Android devices. It’s also available offline, so audiobooks can be downloaded in advance and then listened to on the go. This is one of the road trip apps that’s especially helpful if you want to save on phone data or will be driving in an area with poor cellular reception.

By Brodi Cole, Our Off Beat Life

A travel-friendly camera + a wide-angle lens

One item that can enhance your road trip (and your memories of it in the future) is a travel-friendly camera paired with a wide-angle lens. You’ll likely come across a lot of beautiful landscapes on a road trip. Sometimes, a regular lens is unable to capture it all.

Typically, this is because the scenery is simply too wide to fit into a regular lens’ focal range, and there’s no more space for you to stand farther back.

Bringing a wide-angle lens on a road trip can be a game-changer for your travel photography. These lenses allow you to capture a lot more of the scenery, creating much more majestic-looking shots. This especially applies to landscape and architectural shots. 

A wide-angle lens is also great for astrophotography and low-light situations. So, if you’re planning to camp under the stars during your road trip, a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider) is perfect for capturing the dreamy night sky.

Choose a travel-friendly camera with a long battery life, such as the Sony a7III. While there are many amazing wide-angle lenses for the Sony a7III, the absolute best one is the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM. It has a focal range suitable for a variety of wide-angle situations and performs amazingly in low-light conditions.

By Jiayi, The Diary of a Nomad

Emergency Roadside Kit

Imagine you’re on a road trip along a stretch of road that’s incredibly remote and only sees a handful of cars per day, like in the expansive Death Valley National Park or in the backroads of Montana. Suddenly, your car breaks down.

You don’t have a cell phone signal, and there’s no one around to help. What are you going to do? Having an emergency roadside kit- and, just as importantly, knowing how to use it- can be incredibly helpful in these situations.

Whether you need to add more coolant to your vehicle, change your spare tire, or simply set up road flares or reflectors around your car to wait until help arrives, an emergency kit can be extremely valuable. Having your car manual handy is also important.

While you can buy emergency roadside kits online, it’s best to include some items that these prepackaged collections usually don’t include, like fresh drinking water, snacks, and a blanket.

You can take it a step further and keep a container in your trunk with even more supplies. This could include wet wipes (good for many uses), duct tape, extra shoes (in case you’re wearing flip-flops and need to walk for help), and other essentials like these.

There’s nothing worse than something going wrong on a trip. However, you can be prepared by stocking these road trip necessities in your car before you leave!

By Jessica, Uprooted Traveler

I-97 is the shortest Interstate Highway, spanning only 17.6 miles  from Annapolis to Baltimore, Maryland.

Paper Maps

When planning a road trip, it is always a good idea to bring paper maps of the area! Even in an age where GPS and Google Maps are widely used, a physical method of navigation is essential on a road trip. You never know when you may lose service in an unfamiliar area.

This is especially true in remote and wilderness areas, such as near National Parks. Mountains and deserts often don’t have a signal for many miles. For that reason, you should never rely on technology as your only map.

Before setting out on your trip, either print off the route of your drive or buy an Atlas of the area you will be driving. This will give you great peace of mind if your GPS device or phone breaks or loses power. GPS and Google Maps can also sometimes lead you astray. Having a backup method of navigation will get you back on track. 

By Val, Voyages with Val

Healthy Snacks

When setting off on an adventure, packing road trip snacks is a no-brainer. But while packing a lunch is obvious, you should always pack some extra snacks, too.

Even the best-planned road trip can take longer than anticipated. Maybe it’s because the curvy mountain road takes way longer than planned, or you come across more viewpoints than expected and spend time stopping for photos.

Perhaps you are even stuck in a traffic jam or experience a flat tire. There are countless reasons why your road trip could take longer than intended, and depending on where you’re heading to, you might not find a place to grab a quick bite to eat.

Having backup snacks with you can be a real-life safer because you won’t enjoy your trip if you’re hungry. Hence, make sure you stock up on nutritious and durable foods: beef jerky, nuts, granola bars, crackers, dried fruits, and yes, maybe chocolate bars – some situations require food for your nerves and soul as well!

By Lena, Salut From Paris

I hope you found this list of favorite road trip must-haves helpful. What would you add to it?

Safe travels,
Karee Blunt

Website | + posts

Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.

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