Jumping in the car and heading out on a road trip soon but aren’t sure what to pack? As a road trip expert who has spent more months exploring weird back roads, vibrant cities, and national parks than I can count, here’s my ultimate road trip packing list filled with more than 55 essentials you can’t forget (with a sustainable focus for most items!).
Psst. This post contains affiliate links. Read our disclosure.
There’s nothing more I love than a good road trip filled with endless adventures and incredible memories.
Like turning down strange back roads that lead to nowhere (…or, on the flip side, somewhere amazing!), exploring mind-blowingly beautiful national parks, and spending quality time with someone special.
One of my favorite road trips I ever had the chance to go on was driving around the west side of the United States for one whole freakin’ month.
Dan (the wanderful boyfriend) and I:
- Wandered about magical national parks, including Yosemite and Sequoia, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier NP.
- Strolled around vibrant cities, like sunny Phoenix and Las Vegas.
- Ate our weight in delicious vegan food (and may or may not have gained a few pounds doing so).
- Star gazed in wondrous places, like Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
- And hiked incredible trails all over the country.
Sounds pretty fabulous, eh?
Well, yeah… you’re damn sure it was!
But one key thing about staying happy, comfortable, and most importantly, safe, while on the road was packing all the road trip necessities.
There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere only to realize you forgot to add toilet paper or tampons to your road trip checklist, amirite?
(Yes, this may or may not have happened to the two of us once or twice… whoops.)
Anyways, when you’re wondering what to bring on a road trip, refer back to list handy dandy list of every essential you might need!
And, even better, you can totally download this free road trip packing checklist in PDF form to make your preparation is a piece of cake.
(Hint: this is a long comprehensive list, so if you want to save some reading time, CLICK HERE to head straight to the free checklist.)
Table of Contents
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS LIST: 55+ THINGS YOU CAN’T FORGET TO PACK
The following packing list is broken down into 8 sections: what you need to have for the car or RV, practical essentials, techy must-haves, best cooking tools, basic things to stay comfy, necessary toiletries, miscellaneous items, and best road trip luggage.
What You Need for the Car or RV
Unlike a trip where you take a train, bus, or plane to get there, you need to make sure your vehicle is fully ready for the adventure. This could mean giving your car a good look-over or making sure your license is actually legal!
Thorough Vehicle Audit
First things first: you need to be 110% sure the car or RV you’re taking out on your adventurous road trip is up-to-par and will actually withstand the long drives, twisty roads, and endless miles you tack on.
So, before you actually venture out, here’s a quick and dirty list of what you need to check up on:
- Engine oil levels. (And change the oil if necessary.)
- Top up any fluids — coolant, windshield wash, brake fluid.
- Tire pressure (bring along a small tire pressure gauge, too).
- Each headlight, backlight, and signal lights should work.
- Tire tread to prevent any accidents.
License and Registration
This should be a given, right? Well, most people don’t even think about this stuff (including me).
But to ensure you’re a legal driver, you must bring along a valid license and car registration — and make sure their up-to-date, too. No doubt, this is an essential road trip must-have!
Weird fact: on long drives, Dan likes to read the car manual for fun! (I know right, like who does that?)
But on our USA road trip, when we ended up getting locked out of our van in Yosemite at dusk (which is unfortunately a true story), the information he learned from doing so came in really handy when breaking back in.
So, case in point, keep all vehicle documents on hand. This will also be useful if your car breaks down or you get a flat tire! (Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!)
Have a copy of your insurance policy and coverage in an easy-to-reach place? If not, this could be a problem.
While you shouldn’t have to use it, having it on hand for any legal personnel or police is necessary when you get in an unfortunate pickle.
Crazy fact — did you know you’re required to have tire chains on hand when visiting various national parks anytime during the fall, winter, or spring?
Though, depending on where you’re going, these can come in handy no matter the time of year, as weather can be seriously unpredictable!
Personally, we grabbed a set of tire chains at Walmart in their car department.
Spare Car Keys
Who else hates getting locked out of the car?
Spare yourself the burden of that happening by always always always keeping a set of extra car keys on you (which, to our demise, Dan and I didn’t do while in Yosemite).
Stranded in the middle of Death Valley with a dead car? No worries — you’ve got jumper cables to boost your car back to life!
Or heck, if you come across someone else who unfortunately has a dead vehicle, you can help them out. Woohoo for being a good samaritan!
Don’t forget to check out my post on road tripping Minnesota’s mind-blowing North Shore! (Psst, it’s SO underrated!)
Practical Packing Essentials
Good old practical essentials — these are what you definitely need to have on hand to stay prepared for anything that might come your way! From a nasty cut you got during a hike to the bugs that bite you at the bonfire.
First Aid Kit
Raise your hand if you didn’t bring a necessary first aid kit on your road trip! 🙋🏼♀️ Yep, those idiots were Dan and I.
While (thankfully) we didn’t get hurt while hiking or otherwise exploring, if something did happen we were absolutely not prepared.
Don’t be like us — pack a mini first aid kit to stay safe. Personally, I like this one from Amazon. It’s small, compact, lightweight, and has everything you might need.
Likely the most underrated, yet practical item on this road trip supplies list, packing a super durable and reliable flashlight is highly recommended for a number of situations.
(This is especially handy when you need to find a spot to pee out in the wilderness during the dark of night!)
Reusable Water Bottles
Personally, my go-to water bottle is the GRAYL.
It not only is a reusable bottle but also a filtering water bottle, which can come in seriously handy when you’re in the middle of nowhere with zero clean water options available.
The GRAYL makes a feature on so many of my packing lists because I never ever forget to travel with it.
Want one for yourself? Get it here from Amazon.
Don’t get caught not packing enough of this stuff! Cause holy moly, it really sucks when you’re 100 miles from the nearest town and you’re down to your last square.
An absolute road trip necessity, make sure to put this at the tippy top of your checklist!
Likewise to not getting caught without a handy toilet roll, don’t get caught in the pouring rain! Pack an umbrella (or two).
You can easily pick one up at your nearest “everything” shop — such as Target or Walmart. Alternatively, if you’re doing a big Amazon shop, I like this one, which has awesome reviews!
A quick fix for nearly everything? Yes.
Easy to pack? Yes.
Super lightweight? Yes.
Duct Tape is ridiculously versatile and can come in handy during a number of situations! Definitely a more underrated road trip essential, I’d stock up on it if I were you. Get some for yourself here.
You’re likely bringing more than a few things that use AA or AAA batteries. Thus, you should definitely bring along some extras to make sure all of your items stay charged up!
Want to stay happy, healthy, and regular while on the road? Check out why these are the BEST probiotics to travel with!
Must-Have Tech Gadgets
In this day in age, you likely already have a good amount of the tech gadgets on this list at home but there might be a few that slip your mind! Like a car inverter (which in my opinion is a ridiculously underrated road trip essential!) to offline Google Maps.
Car Power Inverter with USB Plugs
Ever heard of one of these babies?
A seriously useful tech gadget to pack for a road trip, a car inverter allows you to take advantage of the cigarette lighter electricity to have access to power via a regular AC outlet, as well as handy USB plugs.
This is super handy if you’re packing along a laptop! As they need something more than just a USB plug to charge it.
Inverter Tip: Don’t use it when the car is off! It drains the car battery SUPER fast. Thus, only use it to charge your items when you’re actually driving.
USB Car Charger Adapter
Just plug in a handy USB cord and wallah! Power for most devices, whether it’s a iPhone, mirrorless camera, GoPro, or Android. Get a Car Charger Adapter here.
This is useful for when you’re out on a hike or exploring a new destination and a wall charger or car charger isn’t in reach to power up your dying electronic.
Dan and I always make sure to add an Anker Power Bank to our road trip packing list (or just our general travel checklist). They’re high-quality, durable, and provide multiple charges.
Keep a good camera on hand to capture all the memories and wanderful places you visit!
I personally travel with a Sony Mirrorless A7, which is an incredibly powerful, yet ridiculously lightweight and awesome camera. This baby makes it high on my list of the best road trip gear, alongside my GRAYL water bottle and a quality flashlight!
The picture below was taken with my Sony! As you can see, it takes damn good photos.
Offline Google Maps
Did you know you can download Google Maps for offline use?
This is ridiculously useful for when you inevitably come across an area without cell service. As a frequent road tripper, this is one of my best travel tips!
Check out this video to find out how to download offline Google Maps.
Cell Phone Data
If there’s one thing that’s essential to a great road trip, it’s making sure you have reliable and an abundant amount of data to use!
While I don’t consider minutes and texts essential, you can use data to do just about anything on your phone — like FaceTiming, texting between iPhones, and messaging on WhatsApp.
Grab yourself a SIM card before you go or top up your current plan to account for the amount of data you’ll use.
Offline Music Service
One thing I absolutely love while on a long road trip is having access to unlimited music! This is especially great when you’re in the backwoods where a good radio station is nonexistent.
I use Amazon Music Unlimited, as you can download offline music and playlists.
For only $7.99/month, I definitely think it’s worth it! Want to grab an affordable membership to Amazon Music for yourself? Click here.
Psst, want my FREE road trip packing checklist in your inbox?
Best Cooking Tools
Bringing along cooking tools and utensils is not only practical, as you could be searching high and low for eateries while road tripping in remote places (such as Arizona or Nevada), but packing food will also save you loads of money! Win-win.
Portable Propane Stove
The amount of meals Dan and I cooked on our Coleman propane stove is more than I can count!
We used this thing every single day while on our road trips to both the USA West Coast and Banff National Park in Canada.
It’s incredibly handy for brewing coffee in the mornings, heating up soup for lunch, and frying up some veggie burgres for dinner.
Small Non-Stick Pot
Well, you need something to cook all your road trip food in, right?
Not only is a pot great for heating up canned soups, stews, and water for coffee or noodles, it can also be used to fry things in, such as a packet of rice and frozen patties.
As road trip aficionados, Dan and I like this pot that’s non-toxic and non-stick ceramic.
Stainless Steel Mug
My mom got me a cute stainless steel mug for Christmas last year and OMG, it. is. awesome!
Not only is it great to keep both hot and cold drinks ridiculously hot and super cold, you can also eat out of it! (I’m a big fan of eating soup and noodles outta holdable mugs.)
Not to mention, a mug is handy for putting gas station or Starbucks coffee in. Sustainable AND practical!
I travel with one like this.
Food Storage Containers
Be a cheeky sustainable traveler and bring along your own food storage containers to keep all your things in, rather than nasty plastic bags or take-out containers!
I absolutely love these collapsible containers — great for saving space and being eco-friendly!
Alternatively, if you do want something similar to a ziploc, try these reusable silicone bags!
Reusable Bamboo Utensils
As an eco-traveler, I ALWAYS keep my bamboo utensils on me no matter where I am! Which is why they obviously make my mostly-sustainable road trip packing list.
But, with that said, if you’re just heading out on a road trip from home, simply pack along a few forks, spoons, and knives you already have!
Just make sure to always have a few utensils on hand to eat with (rather than using nasty plastic ones).
Bottle Opener + Corkscrew
I don’t know about you… but Dan and I love a good cold beer around a campfire or delectable glass of wine with dinner!
Thus, we always try to remember to add a bottle opener + corkscrew duo to our road trip checklist. Get your own here!
This will not only come in handy when cooking, but also when in the wilderness, as you never know what you might need a sharp knife for.
Again, if you can grab a knife from home, all the better. If not, pick one up before you venture off or grab one while on the road from a store!
Reusable Shopping Bags
Again, another key road trip essential to stay eco-friendly while adventuring!
Though you should already have an abundance of these (if you don’t, what the heck are you doing with ya life?), grab yourself a few packable reusable shopping bags here if you’re lacking.
Don’t let all your cold food get warm! Get yourself a good quality cooler bag before you head out on your road trip.
Ever thought about road tripping up Oregon’s coast? No? Well, these 25 photos will inspire you to visit ASAP!
Comfy + Cozy Essentials
Sometimes, road tripping is nothing short of uncomfortable! Like cold nights in the middle of nowhere or the awkward pee breaks in creepy damp woods. With the following comfy and cozy essentials, you can make sure you stay as happy as possible on any road trip, long or short!
Eye Mask + Ear Plugs
A must when staying in a loud campground or shacking up in a Walmart parking lot (which yes, Dan and I definitely did on multiple occasions — not fun!).
Anyways, I always pack a comfy eye mask and effective ear plugs for a trip (heck, these two things are even on my list of 10 odd essentials I never travel without!), as they’re a must for a good night’s sleep!
Lots of Blankets
If you’re traveling somewhere cold or where it gets cold at night, don’t forget to pack lots and lots of thick blankets to stay nice and warm!
Blankets are especially great if you’re going to be having any campfires while on your road trip. Because who doesn’t love wrapping up in a thick throw and cozying up to a warm fire, amirite?
Similar to bringing lots of blankets, don’t forget to bring a comfy pillow!
Whether you’re camping out in your vehicle or RV, or even staying in hotels, having your own pillow is liking taking a piece of home on the road with you.
I like this compression pillow, which can easily be packed away.
Moccasins or Slippers
Okay, okay, bringing along moccasins or slippers on a road trip might be a teensy weensy bit high-maintenance but OMG, I swear these are a game-changer for staying comfy while on a long drive!
Not only are they great for slipping on when you need to slip outta the vehicle for a quick pee break, but also super great for keeping your feet warm during a long cold night or while strolling around a campsite.
Personally, I like these from Amazon! Check ’em out.
Must-Have Road Trip Toiletries
We all know good toiletries are essentials while traveling, so the same goes for road trips — even more so if you’re not staying in hotels or near a store where you can easily get something when you run out! Here’s my must-have toiletries to pack for a road trip.
Shampoo + Conditioner Bar
If you’re heading out on a road trip to see the beauty of the world, don’t create unnecessary pollution by bringing along tons of plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles!
Instead, opt for a handy dandy shampoo bar + conditioner! Eco-friendly, lightweight, and incredible effective.
Find the perfect shampoo bar for you here.
Toilet Paper & Tissues
As I said earlier, there’s actually nothing worse than needing to go for a lil’ pee or poo, only to realize you’ve ran out of toilet paper in the middle of freakin’ nowhere!
Don’t let that happen.
(And yes, I’m putting TP on the road trip packing list twice because it is crucial to staying happy on the road!)
Bring a few more rolls than you think you’ll need, as TP not only comes in handy for when human nature calls, but also for wiping things up, blowing your nose, cleaning off any sweat, etc.
Additionally, bring a couple boxes of tissues. (Notice I said boxes? Leave the little plastic-bagged tissues at home.)
Zero Waste Toothpaste
Ever thought about using a zero waste toothpaste before? They work just as good as regular, foaming toothpaste! (I have cavity-free, pearly white teeth to prove it!)
Not only is this better for the planet, it’s super easy to pack for a road trip (AND you can reuse the container once it’s gone for things like spices or a DIY toothpaste!)
You can easily find eco-friendly toothpaste at your nearest natural health store or find one you like on Amazon.
Don’t forget a toothbrush to clean all of those pearly teeth of yours! I use a bamboo toothbrush, which is (almost) zero waste and way more sustainable than any regular, plastic toothbrush you’ll find in stores.
Smelly pits no more! Bring along a good deodorant to keep you smelling fresh in the car and on any great adventures you’ll inevitably have.
I recommend a more natural deodorant, as regular antipersperants and aluminum (the main anti-sweat ingredient in most) is not great for you.
Keep away those nasty sunburns with a good sunscreen! Even if you’re driving most of the day, the sun still shines through the windows and can burn your sensitive skin.
Check out my post on my favorite zero waste sunscreens here.
This is one of my must-have packing items no matter where I’m going!
Incredibly useful for eliminating headaches, keeping away bugs, helping with the itch if you already have bug bites, helping with car sickness and nausea, and relieving any unwanted congestion.
Want some? Get it here.
Keep those pesky germs, bacteria, and viruses away with a good hand sanitizer! As you likely already know, you can get it at any general or convenience store.
Zero Waste Makeup Wipes
It’s time to let go of those nasty, landfill-clogging single-use wipes and switch to zero waste makeup wipes!
Tub of Coconut Oil
No, no — not for eating! (Well… unless you really want to.) Coconut oil is making a feature on my toiletries list because it has SO many uses aside from cooking.
Personally, I use it for removing makeup (using those zero waste wipes above!), as a body and hair moisturizer, and as a crucial ingredient in my DIY toothpaste recipe.
Save yourself some precious car space and instead of bringing a few super duper fluffy towels, pack along a few quick-drying towels for your road trip!
I personally travel with one of these lightweight, microfiber towels for both backpacking and road tripping.
For drying smaller things, like dishes and cutlery, or for wiping up spills, grab yourself a couple kitchen towels, such as these.
Dry lips? No, thank you!
I don’t know about you but I find painfully chapped ridiculously uncomfortable! Thus, chapstick definitely makes a cheeky feature on this road trip packing list — to help you stay happy and healthy while on the run.
This little road trip packing item is strictly for females! And while you gals could pack a jumbo box of tampons, I recommend switching to a more sustainable option: the wondrous period cup!
I’ve been using one for years and I’m never going back!
Not only is it more affordable, as you’ll never have to buy tampons or pads again, it’s a heck of a lot better for the earth.
Ever thought about renting an RV for your road trip? Here are 5 reasons why you need to for your next adventure! (Hint: sustainability is one of them!)
Who else packs a ton of random-ass items for an adventure? Because I sure as heck do! You’ll find all my favorite miscellaneous essentials for a road trip that I absolutely cannot go without.
Incredibly lightweight, super small, and ridiculously useful, most people don’t think to pack a clothesline with them for a road trip but these babies have so many more uses than you might think.
When you go swimming, it’s handy to hang your towel on to air out; you can effortlessly create a privacy barrier when camping; drying clothes is a freakin’ breeze; and it’s helpful for holding a variety of things up!
I personally travel with this one, which you can get on Amazon for cheap.
Sarong or Long Shawl
Hands down one of the best things I travel with is a lightweight sarong. These babies have so many uses, such as something to lay on at the beach, a swimsuit coverup, to keep the wind out of your face, as a makeshift bag, a cheeky blanket, and more.
Don’t forget one when packing for your road trip! Find a favorite sarong for yourself here.
Deck of Cards
I couldn’t even count the amount of times Dan and I ran out of cell service and had to turn to other entertainment methods…
Only to find we definitely DID NOT pack a handy deck of cards to play with.
Such a big road trip mistake!
If you’re anything like me, you get raging headaches from car rides! Or trip over anything and everything, resulting in some nasty bruises and strains.
So, no matter where I am in the world (including road trips), I always keep a couple different pain medications, such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen, on hand.
Not only are sunglasses a must for keeping your eyes safe while on an endless drive, but they’re also useful for keeping you and everyone else on the road safe!
(Because the sunlight shining straight into your eyes doesn’t help you drive better, amirite?)
Favorite Road Trip Baggage
From big backpacks that hold most of your clothes to smaller daypacks for short adventures, here’s all my favorite road trip baggage and luggage to help you further prepare for your wild ride.
Osprey Farpoint 55 // Fairview 55
This is the backpack both Dan and I used to backpack places like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka, as well as our United States West Coast road trip.
It’s ridiculously good quality and holds a surprisingly large amount of clothes!
Not to mention, it already comes with a handy daypack you can zip on and off. Win!
One thing that comes in extremely useful is having a smaller daypack you can carry with you on hikes, while shopping, or out about about while exploring a new town.
Hanging Toiletries Bag
A must when staying in a campsite and showering in their shower block, or when staying in a hotel and you can hang all your stuff up for organization.
Dan LOVES his hanging toiletry bag and never travels without it.
Holy freakin’ moly. What a whopper of a list!
Although, as a die-hard road tripper, I can definitely say this is likely the most comprehensive road trip packing checklist you’ll ever need or find.
While this list is more geared towards those staying in an RV or campervan (though Dan and I road trip in a Chrysler van), it’s still helpful for those just on a weekend road trip getaway or short car adventure.
Help me out, did I miss anything? Or have any tips for fellow readers if you frequently go on road trips? Share in the comments below!
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