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Get Prepared for Your Adventure with this Amazing Road Trip Packing Checklist
The sun is shining, you’ve got your playlist ready and you’re itching to drive away on a great road trip. The road trip season is creeping up on you, you’re tempted to just throw everything in the back seat and go. But when it comes to being on the road, better be safe than sorry. Nothing ruins a fun road trip like missing out on important items.
You’re in luck, we’ve put together a full-scale road trip essentials list crammed with tips and must-have products to ensure you have the best road trip this summer.
We love road trips and everything about them. The planning that goes into it, making the route and itinerary, the whole affair thrills us both. You could say we have a special bond with road trips. Our most epic one involved driving to the end of the world Ushuaia, Argentina and back, covering 15 countries, 38,000 km over a 10 month period. Epic road trip indeed!
Having driven in over 20 countries, you could say we’re also Road Trip Masters. We’ve become real pros at it and want to share all of our favourites to-dos and knowledge with this particular road trip packing list filled with tips and advice you need to take into account.
Getting ready for your best road trip? Listen to this classic road trip playlist to get in the mood!
Here’s what you’ll get from this post
Table of contents
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Road tripping outside of your home base like we did in Ireland and Scotland doesn’t involve an elaborate road trip packing list. You rent a car, load your belongings and suitcases and simply drive away. Planning a road trip from home, one where you depart from your driveway lets you choose and pack accordingly, especially when you consider this complete and best road trip list of essentials.
Driving through Patagonia (Fitz Roy), the most epic road trip!
Let’s start with the clothes…
Obviously, the geographical regions you’ll be driving in and out of will impact tremendously what you’ll bring and pack along for the ride. Furthermore, you need to consider the type of activities you’re planning to do along the way. Are you gearing up for hiking, swimming at the beach or going skiing? Looking forward to some well deserved R&R in the evenings? We need to plan for that too!
But first and foremost COMFORT! Road trips are a lot of fun, but sitting uncomfortably for hours on end isn’t, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
Bottoms: I couldn’t imagine a road trip without slipping into a pair of yoga leggings or stretchy jeans – Hubby, who’s always thinking comfort, road trip or not, loves his Prana pants, with ventilated inseam gusset and a bit of stretch where you need it. They also make shorts in the same fabric and style.
Tops: Ample clothing is the key here, no need to be tugging and fussing while sitting in your vehicle for hours. We both like light cotton t-shirts for the drive but always pack fast drying tops, especially for him, since men’s clothes take so much more space than women’s which are much easier to wash in the sink and dry quickly too.
Shoes: Usually light packers, we both cheat when on road trips and bring walking shoes for the city, hiking shoes, sandals, flip-flops. If heading for the coast, we always pack our water shoes, we really enjoy the comfort and protection they offer when beachcombing.
Socks: For years we’d never bothered buying good quality socks, but boy do they make a difference once you try some. We recently invested in lite merino wool socks from Smartwool and apart from staying up, they have moisture management technology that keeps your feet dry, which is a huge bonus.
Pashmina / long scarf: Your co-pilot likes the AC full blast? Keep an extra layer available to stay warm, especially when the sun is only coming in on one side of the car.
Other comfort road trip essentials
Regardless of the situation, wether or not you’re planning a short or long-distance road trip, these items will make the ride that much more enjoyable.
Neck sleep scarf: Another great option for a travel pillow are these new neck support sleep scarfs. They also have the advantage of being machine washable. Maybe a tad big for flights but they’re perfect as a road trip accessory.
Sleep mask with earplugs: A sleep mask lets you take a snooze in broad daylight while the earplugs let the driver enjoy tunes on the radio, a must which keeps everyone happy.
Personal Care Essentials
A short list of must bring items to keep you feeling fresh and comfortable.
Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss: Nowadays with the price of dental teeth cleaning costing as much as airfare, a good toothbrush is a must have. For that reason, we now travel with battery-operated toothbrushes. This new sleek electric toothbrush model claims to keep its charge for 30 days of use! Impressive.
Lip balm with SPF: Being somewhat addicted to putting lip balm on, I personally swear by Burt’s Bees 100% natural and paraben free offering. I don’t leave home without it.
Lotion: Don’t forget to protect that beautiful skin of yours. Make sure you bring sunscreen with an appropriate SPF, good moisturizing lotion and after sun repair lotion as well.
Body wipes: Ever get that feeling, when you want to stop for a meal after a long hot day of driving and feel somewhat uncomfortable, not exactly fresh? Body wipes remove sweat, dirt and body odour, a perfect item on the list that saves the day. Keep them stashed in your glove box.
Urinal for women: Not exactly a car road trip essential but I admittedly own one. In those rare occasions when no public toilets are available and squatting down in nature is not a “fun” alternative, peeing standing up comes in really handy.
Toilet paper: In case you run into bathrooms without any!
And Lastly for the Comfort Section: Health & Safety Essentials to pack along.
Don’t let bites, scrapes or tummy aches ruin your road trip. Gather these items in your bag and be well prepared for mishaps or minor discomfort. Let’s hope you don’t need to use most of these, but if you do, you’ll surely be glad you brought them along.
First aid kit with tweezers and small scissors
Hand sanitizer: From eating on the go to unhygienic gas station toilets, this stuff is gold.
Pepto-Bismol Chewables: Our all-time favourite for all kinds of situations. Indigestion, heartburn or nausea, these little pink tablets do the trick fast. We love the fact that you don’t need water to swallow them and they’re individually shrink-wrapped. We’ve used them so many times on our travels that they’ve now become part of our travel essentials.
Prescription Medication: Make sure you’ve got all your prescribed meds with you.
Antibiotic cream: All-in-one winner soothes burns, scrapes and insect bites.
Ibuprofen: For aches and pains, inflammation or fever.
Laundry Detergent: If your trip’s more than a couple of days long, bringing detergent allows you to save a bit of time and money by doing your own laundry along the way. At the campground or hotel sink, I’ve done my fair share of hand washing clothes while road tripping.
Our best discovery is by far this laundry detergent pink bar of soap. Super compact (we love that feature) and no possibilities of spills (love that too). Just lather up your damp clothes with it, rinse them and they’re done. Great for stains and also smells lovely. While you’re at it, pack a tiny travel clothesline to hang your clothes up to dry.
Insect Repellent: Believe me, we know a thing or two when it comes to mosquitoes. Back home, we live in a region thick with them (fortunately for only a short period of the year – lol). We’ve tried and tested so many brands, we can vouch with confidence for Watkins being the best insect repellent on the market. It’s 30% DEET, it has a very low “bug lotion” smell, it’s non-greasy and it’s most importantly VERY EFFECTIVE. We always have a small squeeze tube tucked away in the car.
Now let’s get organized:
We’ve got the comfort, safety, health and sanitary basics covered for your road trip packing list, now let’s get your gear and car organized.
Packing Cubes: We use these to organize our clothing, handy first-aid kit, and any other equipment effectively. Seriously, they’re lifesavers! Compartmentalize your garments in packing cubes and save time and sanity to boot. Simply said, we couldn’t fathom travelling without packing cubes anymore.
Collapsible Car Trash Can: Avoid messes and heaps of rubbish everywhere in the car with this smart collapsible trash can. It hangs from the car seat and can also be clipped (with a carabiner) outside at a campsite for light trash duty. Furthermore, it packs away to almost nothing when not in use.
Garbage Bags: For the obvious reasons but also useful for packing dirty shoes and separating laundry.
Car Organizer: Another great way to keep things tidy in the vehicle is a car organizer that serves as a storage station. We like this model that holds a tissue box as well.
Headrest Hooks: Because you can never have too many hooks to hang stuff in your car, these hooks clip behind the headrest, great to hang your jacket or purse en route!
Grid-It Gadget Organization Panel: Alleluia to whoever invented these woven elasticized grid panels. Keep all your odd little items and wires neatly organized in one place.
Mini-Sweeper: You’ll thank us for this smart tip. This little sweeper keeps every part of the car clean, especially those nooks and crannies that the vacuum can’t get to. Also super practical for tent use if you’re camping.
What’s a good road trip without snacks and drinks…
Staying hydrated and well fed is an essential part of any great road trip. By preparing and bringing your own snacks for the ride, not only will you save money, you’ll also keep healthy habits in check. If you’re crossing any borders and customs, do check admissible items to avoid breaking any laws and getting food items confiscated.
Insulated Water Bottle: We’ve put this water canteen to the test on our epic road trip and it’s by far the best water bottle we’ve ever owned. It keeps liquids cold up to 24 hours, unbelievable but true! Do get the leak-proof cover, you won’t regret it! (for Canada)
Sandwich wrap Bag: Environment-friendly, these reusable wraps protect your snack while serving as a napkin/mat for eating on the go. Just wipe them clean and they’re ready to go again. Wha a great investment, we’ve had ours for many years now, we highly recommend them.
Snacks: Have these healthy and easy to pack along energy bars and gluten-free cookies at your side.
Cooler and ice packs: To keep all of your goodies fresh, you’ll need a great cooler. This one is tall enough to keep 2-litre bottles upright.
Some might think the following items are unnecessary or even overkill for a road trip. But if you do a lot of mileage with your electronics and tech gear in your vehicle (as we do!) having an added safe proves very smart. We ALWAYS lock away our laptops and camera in our car safe when travelling on the road.
Furthermore, if no laptop safe is provided in our accommodation, we lock our tech gear in our Pacsafe backpacks, then secure the packs with double loop cable to a non-moveable item in the room with padlocks.
Over 4 years worth of road trips and countless miles travelled, we’ve never had any of our gear stolen inside our vehicle.
Foldable Knife: Stashed away somewhere accessible for extra safety, a foldable knife is also quite handy to cut up some fruit you’ve just bought from a farmer’s roadside stand.
Additional Items to Put on Your Road Trip Packing List
Flashlight: A must have if going camping, a flashlight can still be an essential item even if you’re not out and about in the dark. Looking for something in your trunk at night amidst all that packed gear? Tada! Plus if you opt for something such as this Maglite, in addition to being extremely bright it can be used to defend yourself.
Sunglasses: Road glare – need we say more! If you have some, pack an extra pair of cheapies, just in case.
Headlamp: A necessity for a camping road trip, headlamps are the perfect item for those night excursions to the loo but are also great for use as a reading lamp at night.
Pen and paper, cash, spare coins: For tolls and parking meters and for those off the beaten path places that don’t accept credit cards.
Pillows: If you have room to spare, nothing beats sleeping with your own pillow.
Beach Towels: Multipurpose beach towels can also be used for a picnic or as extra cushioning.
Paper towels and napkins
Window shades: An must have essential if your road trip is going to be in hot and sunny climate, these sun shades stick to your window like plastic wrap and offer great sunblock protection.
The Important Tech Gear:
Navigation: GPS, Satnav or Maps App:
Nowadays you have many options as to getting good driving directions while on your road trips. With many newer vehicles having built-in SatNav features and of course, smartphone apps leading the way (try Maps.me for offline maps access), some would think that portable GPS units are no longer needed. But on the contrary, we think they’re still an essential part of a road trip packing list, especially when venturing into unchartered territory.
GPS / Hiking unit: The Garmin Montana doesn’t need a data plan, and keeps your cellular data fees in check. You can save addresses and waypoints for future reference and it also has the extra option to convert to a hand-held hiking GPS. Get a mount with a speaker to keep it charged. A smart and well worth investment if you do a lot of road trips and don’t want to get lost on day hikes or on the road.
We even brought ours for our Ireland and Scotland self-drive road trips with a pre-purchased map chip for these countries, which prevented the extra fee for a GPS unit with both car rentals.
Hardcopy Printed Map: Because nothing beats an old fashion paper map to keep track of your journey and to help determine your position. Plus it’s fun to review the highlighted itinerary and reminisce about your epic road trip. Trust us, if your electronic navigation tools fail you, a paper map is worth its weight in gold.
Phone Holder: If you’ll be using your smartphone for navigation, a good phone holder is a must. Even if you’re planning a digital disconnect from using your smartphone as an actual phone, make sure your loaded roadmaps are readily available while the unit is offline.
Keeping Everything Charged Up
Car Chargers: Nothing sucks more than having dead batteries on vital electronics like your smartphone, camera, tablet or laptop while away from home. Don’t forget to pack a double USB charger to plug into your lighter socket.
Quick Charge Power Bank: Bring one of these battery packs on day excursions in case your smartphone or tablet goes dead. They’re very compact and light. In addition, this bestseller power bank enables you to charge devices simultaneously.
Take Souvenirs of Your Epic Road Trip
Create lifetime memories with photos and videos of your adventure with good photography equipment. Because let’s be honest, there’s only so much your phone can do.
DSLR Camera: For fabulous photography, our Nikon D7100 has proven to be a reliable travel companion. It combines high quality, a lightweight durable frame with many lens options from macro to zoom which let you capture all kinds of stunning pictures.
GoPro: Now a necessity for many, these small waterproof cameras are fabulous. They take up little to no space and can be brought to the beach without worry. GoPros, or similar action cameras, can take still shots in addition to HD videos.
Other accessories: Extra batteries, an external charger, lens filters and SD cards.
Last but Not Least the Actual Car Stuff:
Important nonetheless are these actual car essentials.
Extra Car Keys
Automotive Road Side Assistance card
Tire Jack: Check to make sure you have one in your car.
Roadside Emergency Kit: Compact and extremely useful, a roadside emergency kit contains all of the elements you hope to never have to use.
Now let’s have some fun!
Forget about your worries and unwind with these car road trip entertainment suggestions. Crank up the volume, listen to some great tunes and drive off. “Ain’t fun the main reason for a road adventure?”
Podcast and audiobooks: Want to catch up on podcasts? Here’s your chance, road trips are the perfect captive opportunity to follow up on some great conversations.
Wireless bluetooth speaker: These little speakers are stellar for any roadside lunch stop, campsite and even lodging. They’re affordable, clip on and are even waterproof.
This is it, all of our savoir-faire put into one epic and masterful list. We hope it will serve you well as you prepare your next road trip, close or far away. Head out, explore wide open highways knowing you’re prepared for the next adventure of a lifetime!