road trip essential pack list

We’ve taken a LOT of road trips. In fact, over the last 4 years of travel, the majority of our destinations are explored with 4 wheels beneath us. After 30k miles of road trips in over 15 countries, I think it’s safe to say we’ve become road trip masters and that’s why we’ve put together this complete guide to packing for a road trip. Having all the right gear and more importantly, not forgetting the basics, is an essential part of creating an amazing road trip.

Road trips are the best!  At least we think so.  However, packing up for it can feel overwhelming.  But not anymore.  Here’s your itemized list of what to pack for your next road trip.  Be sure to download the free road trip essentials pack list to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Canada summer adventure road trip
View from Setton overlook.

Regardless of whether you are heading out in an RV or car camping on your road trip, you’ll need clothes and you probably don’t want to worry about stopping to do laundry unless your road trip is longer than two weeks.  This is the checklist I use for each member of our family to make sure I don’t forget anything.  

50 Things to Pack for a Road Trip

Staying Cozy + Comfortable

Blankets – Make sure everyone has something to stay warm like a sleeping bag or comforter. The options are endless for blankets and a lot of it depends on your road trip style.

Pillow – While not essential, it’s nice to have your own pillow while you road trip. You can go for a regular pillow if you have the room or if you’re crunched for space you can use a travel pillow.

Packable jackets, Road Trip essentials
These Patagonia jackets have gone everywhere with us because they’re so darn packable

Packable Warm Jacket – Depending on where you are traveling to will decide what type of jacket you will need for warmth. Our go-to jackets are our Patagonia Nano Puff Jackets. Honestly, this is pretty much the only jacket we’ve needed for 4 years travel. I love that they are easy to pack down to take on hikes and still keep us very warm. They’re also super durable. Unfortunately the kids version of these jackets aren’t packable so we use compression bags with them.

Rain Jacket + Umbrella – If you will be doing a lot of sight seeing in cities, an umbrella will make it so that weather doesn’t interfere with your travel plans. If you will be doing a lot of hiking, then a packable rain jacket is a great idea. I remember one of my first trips abroad was a road trip in Norway in the summer. Bringing an umbrella didn’t even cross my mind. Turns out, it rains a lot even in the summertime in a lot of places. Pack yourself a packable travel umbrella and avoid having your day be spoiled. If you’re going to be more active in the rain, a rain jacket could be more useful.

Sunglasses + Hat – Whether you are adventuring in nature or in the city, a cute hat and sunglasses are a must to protect yourself from the sun.

Socks – What feels better than having some cozy socks for when you’re chilling in your tent/hotel/rv/car after your latest adventure? And you’ll have to have socks if you plan on hiking anywhere besides the beach.

Sandals – You already know if you’re gong to be getting of the beaten path and be in cute towns to pack your hiking shoes and nice shoes but trust me when I say you will regret not bringing sandals. Nothing sucks more than having to put on your hiking shoes and tie up your laces at 1 am because you have to walk to the bathroom. Or pack Uggs if you own them because they’re easy to slip on and they’re warm and cozy,

Clothes for your destinations – Make sure you think through where you’re going and what you want to wear while you’re there. Do you plan on hiking a lot at your destination? Will you be hanging around a campfire most of the time and you want comfy clothes? Will you be city touring or going out to nice restaurants? I think you get what I mean.

When you pack clothes, do a quick run down underwear, bra/sports bra, t-shirts, tanks, nice shirt, shorts, pants, jeans.

Vehicle Essentials

Spare Tire + Jack– We’ve blown enough flats to know you always carry a spare. You might also want to know how to access the spare. Once it took us over an hour to figure out how to lower the spare under our fifth wheel trailer. Stress makes you not think clearly!

spare tire + jack, Road Trip essential pack list
Changing a flat tire while road tripping in Ireland

Jumper Cables – The last thing you want is to be stuck on the side of the road because you forgot to turn your lights off on your car while you were heading out on your next 6 hour hike. Having a whole emergency road side kit with flares or triangle reflectors really is a good idea. Luckily, we’ve never had to use them, but you know Murphy’s law?

Car Manual + Registration + Insurance– These thing are so small to pack and in the right situation can make things a lot easier.

(Optional) Snow Chains – If you are planning a trip anywhere close to winter time. make sure you pack chains!

Road Trip Pack List download

Tech + Entertainment

Cards + Board Game – You will want games that the kids can play while you drive and something that everyone can play together as a family. Our favorite card game for plane travel is Monopoly Deal and our 3 favorite family board games are Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Codenames. We love app games too like Psych, Head’s Up, and Wordraw with generate to play Pictionary with that paper and pencil you brought along.

Books + Magazines – If you plan on having a lot of free time on your road trip bring plenty of entertainment and a nice variety. If you are driving a lot bring books on CD, audible books, or download podcasts ahead of time.

Related: 20 Books That Will Change Your Life (COMING SOON)

Pens + Pencils + Paper – You never know when you’ll need a pen or paper. Maybe you felt like doodling something or you need to write down directions. Paper, tape, and scissors provide hours of entertainment for our youngest, Tatiana. You can also pass the magazines down to the kids for arts and crafts after you’ve read them. I also save all the recyclables and boxes from Trader Joes or Costco for toys for her to play with when we are at campgrounds.

Phone/Kindle Chargers + Car adapter – Make sure you have the chargers for all devices including cameras, GoPro, and computers. Most new cars come with USB chargers built into them but if your car isn’t brand new you’re going to need a car adapter. It’s nice having a car adapter for multiple USB’s.

Aux Cord/Blutooth – Music is a MUST on a road trip. It makes it SO much more enjoyable and its very entertaining for the entire group in the car to singalong to whatever music is playing in the car. Most cars nowadays have bluetooth but if not, beside to pack an aux cord.

New Zealand Road Trip, Road Trip essential pack list
Arthurs Pass in New Zealand was a great place to explore on our New Zealand road trip

Extra battery – While you are driving, charge up an extra battery pack so you can charge your phone while you are out exploring the outdoors or cities. We like these Jackery Battery packs because of their great battery life and how lightweight they are. If you’re going to be camping, we prefer our BioLite BaseLantern because it can hold enough battery to charge large items such as a laptop and also functions as a lantern which is really important if you’re going to be camping. If you will be hiking, it’s really nice carrying a MPOWERd Luci Lantern with the USB port. This is a good in between of the Jackery and the BioLite. The Luci is lightweight, can be charged via usb or it’s built in solar panel, and it’s also an inflatable lantern.

Protective Phone Case – The last thing you want is to be taking a photo of a scenic overlook, dropping your phone on the concrete, and shattering your phone screen, or worse, breaking your phone entirely. Please get a protective phone case so you won’t have to deal with going to buy a new one or to get it repaired while you’re trying to have a relaxing, epic road trip. After making this mistake about a dozen times, I finally caved and bought a Lifeproof case. I’m very impressed with it and so far it’s been lifeproof tough all my adventures.

Headlamp + Lantern – Pack some headlamps with you so you can see when it gets dark. A lantern is also if you’re going to be hanging out outside at night. We love the new BioLite headlamp plus their Base Lantern with the String Lights creates a lively atmosphere in your campsite at night. Plus, the base lantern is also functions as disco light 😉 Click here to check out BioLite systems.

Essential Apps

Music (AKA: A Killer Playlist) – Whether you use Spotify, iTunes, YouTube RED, be sure to download your music ahead of time.

Google Maps – Navigation is essential on a road trip of course. The most important part of a navigation app is downloading Offline Maps. If you’re doing it right, your road trip will take you through scenic drives and off the beaten path places where cell service can be limited. Google Maps makes getting offline navigation super simple. If you don’t know how to download offline maps, read our blog How To Use Your Phone As A GPS.

google maps, Road Trip essential pack list

Gas Buddy – Who hates it when they are driving and they stop for expensive gas fearing there won’t be any other stops for awhile only to see there was gas WAY cheaper up ahead? With Gas Buddy you won’t have to worry. It will tell you exactly where you will find the cheapest prices for gas. Get the app now.

AllStays – AllStays has been a life saver for us on many occasions especially considering how often we boondocks. This app will tell you where all the campgrounds, rest areas, truckstops, and BLMs are. AllStays is one of our top methods on How to Find Free Camping. There’s even a AllStays rooms app to find hotels. Get the app now.

Bathroom

Quick Dry towels – Quick dry towels are AWESOME to have on a road trip! while not totally necessary if you’re headed to a hotel, quick towels are a must if you’re car, tent, or Rv camping. Perfect for showering, a dip in an alpine lake, or for cooking. I like keeping an extra one to clean our feet before going to bed and they make great kitchen towels if you are cooking outdoors (but don’t mix them up). I like the Matador quick dry towels because they pack so small but these Ranleaf ones are much cheaper and almost as high of quality.

Toothbrush + Toothpaste – Obviously

Hair Brush/Hair Ties – For some reason this is one thing thats so easily forgotten. Whether you are a girl or a man bun dude, it sucks to have knotty hair all in your face. 

Sunscreen – Protect your skin while adventuring outdoors and exploring the city.

Chap Stick & Lotion – So necessary of you are heading somewhere hot or dry.  We love AllGood skin products. They’re all natural and feel so good for your skin.

Deodorant + Essential Oils – Obviously you don’t want be prancing around the city for a nice dinner all smelly (unless you’re down too go full dirtbag). Pack some all natural deodorant along with some nice smelling essential oils.

Nail clippers – It’s kind of unnecessary but it’s really nice thing to have on the road to clean up your nails.

New Zealand Road Trip, Road Trip essential pack list
Sometimes we’re not lucky enough to have the luxury of showers when we’re exploring off the beaten path places…here’s where baby wipes come in

Shampoo/Conditioner – On top of bringing a brush and hair ties, bring shampoo and conditioner so you can was your hair too ( WHAAAAT! What is washing hair??)

Baby Wipes/Facial wipes – Wipes are a nice little luxury while you’re on the road. Not only are they good for cleaning up your hands after cooking or wiping of food that the kids spilled on the seats, they’re also really great just to keep the your skin feeling fresh. Also good for camping and you’re in need of a baby wipe shower.

First Aid Kit – Just a basic first aid kit with bandaids, ibuprofen or tylenol, benadryl, neosporin, and hydrocortisone is essential to have your road trip for the common, minor injuries.

Tissues – Whether you have allergies or catch a cold, it’s nice to plan ahead and pack some tissues so you don’t to stop at a restroom every half hour to blow your nose.

Melatonin – If you are worried about not being able to sleep it’s a good idea to pack some melatonin. I know, who says that. Yes you could opt for Benadryl but I would never be able to justify consuming that many chemicals for sleep. I do however always bring some Melatonin, a natural supplement, with me especially if we are tent camping to drown out the noises or traveling abroad to help me adjust to the time change.

Razor + shaving cream – A personal preference for men and women

Road Trip Pack List download

For the Kids

DVD player (+DVDs) or Tablet – I know…who even owns DVDs anymore? I always rather my kids watch movies on their own dvd player rather than use my laptop while on a long drive because if it breaks it’s much cheaper and I usually need my computer to work off.  Tablets also work great. Or maybe go tech free on this road trip and instead sing, talk, and play games while you drive.

Kindle apps – Apps too are another easy way to keep kids entertained. But if you are going tech free, maybe pack some fun workbooks like these ones.

Treats – While I recommend keeping healthy foods accessible so you don’t have to deal with hangry kids (or adults), having a few special treats handy is great for desperate times when you just need something to keep you hyped up before your next destination. Treats can also be nice purely for the sake of road trip fun!

Baby supplies – If you have really little kids, you will need a whole other list to pack for them. Check out this blog if you have a baby.

Snacks + Kitchen

Snacks – This is arguably the most important thing to pack on a road trip. See our Trader Joes or Costco Road Trip Shopping List

Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourover + Jetboil – Not even kidding , this an essential for us. It may seem like a lot of hassle for some coffee but I can’t stand gas station coffee.

Travel Mug – After brewing a cup of Joe on the side of the road, I like having having a travel mug so I can hit the road again right away.

Trash Bag – You will be much more comfortable driving if your car is clean. Put a trash bag in the car so you don’t have trash everywhere from previous snacks

roadside picnic, Road Trip essential pack list

Emergen-C Packets – I LOVE these vitamin C drink packets. It’s to let yourself get dehydrated on the road and these yummy, single-serving packets of Vitamin C include a healthy dose of electrolytes and keep you energized. I also bring these along on any active adventures I’ll be doing on my trip. You can buy these in bulk Costco or online at Amazon.

Baggies/food wrap – I try to support zero-waste as much as possible by using wax food wraps but every once in a while, baggies are so much more useful. Whether you willing to use plastic or not, either of these are great for leftovers or diving up snack foods to the people sitting in the back row.

Napkins – I like to keep some in the car at all times. You never know when someone will spill their drink on the road. This is the one thing we always overlook and regret not having.

Multi Purpose Knife – I never leave the house on a road trip without a pocket knife. They’re great for use around a campsite but also for chopping up food for a picnic or splitting a pastry in the car.

Wine/Bottle Opener – There’s good wine everywhere you go. Make sure you bring one on your trip so you are always ready to pop open a bottle 😉

roadside cooking, Road Trip essential pack list

Camp cooking system – While not necessary for the AirBnbers or RV travelers, car and tent campers will need a good camp cooking setup. We love traveling with the lightweight packable Bugaboo System (pictured above) along with MSR pocket rocket burners. They in come in a variety of size assortments. Big pots for for big groups or small pots for solo travelers.

Paper Bowls + Plates – It sucks to have to prepare food in the car with no bowls or plates. Stop by the store on the way out so you have the option to make food in the car

Water Bottle – Remember to pack your water bottles! As mentioned before, it’s easy to get dehydrated on the road. Plus, if you have a water bottle that you can refill you won’t have to purchase single use plastic water bottles.

Cooler – Unless you’re traveling in an RV, having a cooler is really a necessity for your road trip. It makes it much easier to eat healthy on the road because you can cook whole foods ahead of time like salads instead of snacking on junk food all day.

Bonus Items

Hammock – You never know when you will come across a perfect tree for a hammock and hammocks are THE BEST.

Picnic Blanket – Sometimes the best part of road trips are the spontaneous picnics at scenic stops. Grab yourself a comfy blanket like the super packable Matador Pocket Blanket or a big, beautiful Ecuadane blanket.

Clothesline – Always be prepared if there will be no laundromats. Pack a clothesline and maybe some basic bar soap so you can hand wash and dry your clothes if you get desperate.

camp systems, Road Trip essential pack list
Having a comfy outdoor setup makes any road trip better

Folding chairs – Again, you might come across somewhere amazing to take in the views and you didn’t pack anywhere to sit down to enjoy them

Folding Table – Same as the reason above if you want to have lunch somewhere stop to play a board game

Firewood/hatchet/fire starter – Campfires make any trip better. Coffee Wick is awesome for this and has some super efficient and Eco-Friendly fire starters.

gear, Road Trip essential pack list
Don’t forget to pack the toys. We never travel without climbing gear, mountain bikes, or surfboards.

Outdoor Rug/Tarp – An outdoor rug really makes camping in dirt MUCH more enjoyable. Unlike a picnic blanket, a tarp just needs to cover the max amount of space possible so you can set up an outdoor kitchen, walk around barefoot, or take as seat on the floor.

Gear – Last of all, don’t forget your gear and toys! Surboards, skis, climbing gear, bikes, or more.

Road trips don’t have to be confined to your own country. We’ve hopped on planes to road trip in Europe, Bali, and New Zealand. If you are road tripping abroad, check out our blog what we pack for long term travel and camping abroad. And if you have babies or toddlers, check out this blog on what you should pack because it’s been a long time since I’ve had to pack diapers and blankies.

I hope this helps you know what to pack for an amazing road trip. If you have any questions or if we missed anything, please let us know in the comments section below! Happy travels!

Want to the checklist? Click here and download the 50 road trip essential pack list to make sure you don’t forget anything!

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road trip essential pack list