Let’s face it, road trips are a lot more fun when you’re prepared, but creating a road trip packing list can seem like a mammoth task!
Where do you begin?
What do you need?
How do you get it all in the car?!
Packing for a road trip is not like packing for a regular vacation. There is so much to consider.
After 1000’s of miles of road trips, and hours compiling travel lists galore, I have finally created the complete road trip packing list. I’ve included all of the must-have road trip essentials that will lead to an unforgettable adventure where you make amazing memories!
It has EVERYTHING!
And guess what?
I’m going to share it with you in this article.
By the end, you will know the best road trip accessories that you must take with you on your trip!
How to Use This Road Trip Packing List
Whether you’re road-tripping across the country with the family or traveling abroad in your car with friends, this ultimate road trip essentials list will ensure you don’t forget a thing.
A word of warning:
This is indeed, an EXTENSIVE road trip packing list.
Along with the other car safety items in this packing list, it will mean you are well prepared. They typically contain Jumper Cables, Light Sticks, Reflective Vest, Rain Poncho, Warning triangle, Whistle, Tire Pressure Gauge, etc.
In my opinion, no-one should be without a dash cam these days.
Put simply, they are a means of providing indisputable video evidence in the unfortunate case of an accident. As such, they can help protect you against false allegations, undisciplined drivers and fraud. What’s more, you can record your entire road trip with little effort (great for editing montages of beautiful roads).
There are many makes and models out there, but we break down our 5 favorites here:
A standalone GPS unit isn’t quite the road trip necessity it once was, but it can still be a useful gadget on the road. It can keep you from being distracted by your cell phone, for example.
Some models even offer driver awareness features to help you stay alert and focused. Dash Cam/GPS combination units are commonplace these days, so you have everything you need in one device.
Road Trip Personal Care & Comfort
Most of these items will fit nicely into your wash bag. Here is the list of essentials I like to take to look after myself on any road trip:
A towel Some hotels (especially the more budget-friendly ones) don’t always provide them, and again, if you’re camping (or plan on swimming in a remote lake, etc) you’re gonna need one.
Baby Wipes Baby wipes serve as a shower when in a pinch and they’re perfect for toilet roll (or lack thereof) emergencies.
Toothbrush & ToothPaste
Hand sanitizer Take a few mini bottles. I use this so much when I’m on a road trip, especially if I’m camping and there are no or limited bathrooms around. Hygiene is important.
Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Cold and Flu tablets, etc.
Take your prescription with you, especially if you’re crossing borders. Border officers sometimes want to see them if you’re taking medication that requires a prescription into their country.
Road Trip Clothing & Luggage
Road trips, like any vacation, often involve both chilled and active moments. You could be walking around a city or hiking up a mountain during the day, for example. You may be hitting a stylish bar or chilling around the campsite at night. This can make packing your clothes a struggle.
This clothes packing list will give you the essentials (which are always the easiest to forget of course!), as well as enough active and casual wear to cover all your clothing needs.
Customize This Clothes List Depending On Your Needs
You may feel like you need a lot of clothes to account for different temperatures, especially if you’re covering diverse terrain and crossing between borders. Personally, I like to pack slightly lighter.
If I’m taking a road trip that is longer than a week, I’ll find somewhere to do laundry – this makes packing much easier. Obviously, if you’re spending most of your time in an out in the middle of nowhere rather than in busy cities, you can simply take fewer formal items and bring more comfortable activewear. This part of the road trip packing list is totally customizable.
The key is to adjust your clothes packing list depending on what you plan to do.
The Essentials (and the easiest to forget)
Sun Hat | Bikini(s) | Beach Bag | Sunglasses | Purse | Sandals | Light Sweater | Beanie | Waterproof Jacket | Waterproof Pants | Comfy Pajamas | Flip Flops | Fanny Pack | Blanket (yeah yeah I know this isn’t clothing but you’ll want one to snuggle up in!) | Travel Pillow
While there are some warm clothes included in this list for cooler nights (especially if you’re camping), taking a road trip in Winter is a different ball game entirely. Refer to this Winter Specific Road Trip Packing List article for an idea on what travel essentials you’ll need for road tripping in the colder months of the year.
Even though you’re taking a road trip, you will still need a couple of different bags and packs to take everything with you and pack everything away.
Day packs are for treks and activities and luggage/duffels for packing everything away in the car! I would certainly advise packing smart and keeping organized, rather than just loading up the car with everything.
Day packs are a must-have on any road trip or the days you want to go exploring.
If you’re planning on ambling around a city and soaking up some sites, a good 15l pack should see you through. It will have enough room for a drink, your camera and maybe a hoody.
If you plan on hiking or trekking or taking on something more active, I would recommend a solid 25-30l pack with a chest and waist strap. That way you’ll be more comfortable, and have ample room for additional fluids, a packed lunch, your rain jacket and anything else you might need for a big day out!
Duffel bags are my go-to bag for packing everything away in the car.
DO NOT just throw everything in the car. I can tell you from experience, it’s a nightmare when you arrive at your destination at night as you can’t find anything! It also makes it much easier to stack it all in the trunk of your car. Everyone likes the easy shapes in Tetris, right?
I like to have a range of different sized duffel bags for different items. Each person can use one for their clothes and personal items, you can use one for cooking stuff, one for games, etc.
Suitcases would also happily work to pack away your items.
Road Trip Electronics & Entertainment
I tend to take a fair number of electronics on any road trip, as this allows me to stay connected (when I want to be), entertained, and document my trip. Some people may prefer to take fewer, but this list of electronics will certainly come in useful on the road.
Whatever electronics you decide to take with you, they are often expensive pieces of kit. Remember to keep an eye on them when they’re with you and to keep them hidden and locked away when leaving them in the car.
GoPro cameras are awesome for capturing photos and footage when taking part in more lively activities and your main camera would be at risk of breaking. These times can provide some of the coolest photo opportunities. An action camera is a must-have for road trips these days.
Always take spares in case you fill yours up with epic photos and videos!
Not only does taking your own cooking equipment and food on your road trip give you more freedom as you drive and explore, but it can also save you from having to eat awful, overpriced food from gas stations.
I’m a big fan of a road trip picnic. Plus, if you’re planning on traveling through any remote areas you might some supplies!
Of course, you will need to pack food, but this is a different ball game entirely. In fact, your road trip food needs a completely separate packing list. Check out this article for the best road trip food ideas.
Portable stoves and gas
Spare gas bottles
Taking a cooler on your trip gives you much more freedom as it means you can take foods that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to store
A sweet road trip gadget which has all kinds of uses
Swiss Army Knife
Multi-purpose tool that can certainly help out when preparing food on your road trip
Portable set of cooking gear
I prefer to have a set that packs away nice and easy and has everything I need in one place. That way it takes up less space and ensures you don’t forget anything. A set typically contains: 1 pot, 1 frying pan, 1 kettle, 4 plastic bowls, 4 cutlery sets, 1 spatula, 1 cleaning towel, 1 net bag for storage
One of my favorite things on this packing list. If you enjoy a coffee in the morning as much as I do, you’ll appreciate this being here. Gas cooker + Coffee Percolator = road trip coffee made easy
How else are you gonna crack open the good stuff once the day’s driving is over?
Large Water Container
Water containers are great for storing drinking water and to save you from having to keep buying plastic bottles of water. You might also appreciate them in the case of an emergency.
For your coffee from that coffee percolator!
Reusable Water Bottle
Reusable options are always the best options – they help save the planet and they are actually more cost-effective in the long-run.
Ok, they’re not the most exciting things to pack, but they are one of the most important – you’re taking a road trip in a car, after all. That’s why they’re second in this packing list. You will need all the below in the case of an emergency. They also help prepare your car for a road trip and will hopefully keep you moving on your trip.
Roadside assistance documents
If you’ve read my article on how to save money on a road trip, you’ll know that roadside assistance could be the key to saving you a lot of money on your trip and to getting you out of any unexpected sticky situations. Purchase roadside assistance if you haven’t already got it. Print off your documents so you always have a copy available should you need them.
Download anything you need before you leave (while you still have guaranteed Wi-Fi)
While these things might not necessarily always come under ‘packing’, I like to have a list of things to download before I go. If you have read our list of best road trip planner apps then you know there are a number of apps to help you on your way with your road trip (I would personally recommend downloading all of these). However, it’s not just apps that you will want.
This is the list of the things I like to include in my packing list to ensure I remember to download them while I still have Wi-Fi.
Google Maps allows you to download areas for use offline. If you’re not taking a standalone GPS system this can be extremely useful in areas where you might not have data (abroad for example). Similarly, Maps.me is a great app to download which lets you navigate without data
As I’ve already said, there are so many great apps that can help you with your road trip, and you can read all about how they function and their best features right here. But if you’re going to make sure you’ve got any before you depart, make sure you have…
Alright, I know I shouldn’t be watching TV when I’m on vacation, and honestly, I don’t tend to. I like to spend most of my time outdoors. However, if you’re road-tripping for a long time it’s sometimes nice to cuddle up with a movie at night. My girlfriend and I have frequently enjoyed pulling up at a sweet spot in our van, brewing some tea, and settling down to a movie and a great view.
OK, now that you’ve been through the core packing list and determined what you have and what you need, use the following packing lists depending on whether you plan to camp during your trip and who will be going with you.
Step 2: Specific Road Trip Packing Lists
Use these depending on what you’re doing and who is going on your trip.
Road Trip Packing List for CAMPING
Camping can be an integral part of any road trip, and that’s why it deserves its very own packing list. If you’re simply driving between cities and sleeping in hotels, feel free to skip this section.
I personally like to take all the below on any road trip as they allow for a bit more adventuring. I also love camping, and these items are essential for nights around the campsite.
The perfect multi-functional tool to get you out of a sticky situation (or just to use as a cool corkscrew to impress your friends)
Pop-up tents are the best as they are so quick and easy to put up and takedown. However, if you need more of a canvas palace as you have a larger group, go for a more traditional style.
Try putting up a tent at night without one.. makes for an interesting evening!
Hanging/magnetic led lamp
Fire starting equipment
Hatchet, firewood, fire starters, matches – be sure to research whether fires are ok where you’re traveling and remember to stay safe when making a fire!
Gas fire pit
A great alternative to building your own fire which can come with complications and only requires a…
Road Trip Packing List for KIDS
Taking a road trip with the kids requires some planning. You need to keep them occupied during long stretches of driving, keep them safe and most importantly, ensure they have fun! This road trip packing list for kids has everything you need for the younger members of the family.
Download these before you go – a great way to keep the kids occupied and engaged during long car rides
Clothes (additional items on top of their regular daily clothes)
Strong SPF sun cream
Lunch box so you can pack up kids snacks into different compartments
Plastic cups with lids
Road Trip Packing List for FAMILIES
Pack these items to get everyone involved – fun for the whole family!
Active Games for Everyone
Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle Board (Trust me these are a game-changer if you’re traveling near anywhere with water such as a lake, river or the ocean – they provide hours of active fun for everyone and are easy to pack away)
Aroad trip with your friends can be the ultimate vacation between college semesters. Make sure you pack all these items so that your trip is an unforgettable one!
Beer Pong set
Cards Against Humanity
Ice (straight into the cooler)
Printable/Downloadable Trivia Questions
Road Trip Packing List for PETS
So, you’ve decided you’re taking your furry friend on your road trip with you? And why not? Why shouldn’t they get a vacation too? Just don’t let them have all the fun hanging out of the window. Here I’ve compiled a list of all the things you will need to pack when taking your pet(s) on a road trip with you:
Pet passport (If you’re traveling abroad or across borders)
OK, you’ve persevered this far. You know what the essentials are, and you’ve worked through what to pack specifically depending on who is going with you. It’s now time to load up the bags and pack the car. Use this article as your extensive packing list and get everything ready to go.
REMINDER: You can easily navigate around this article using the links to return to the contents section and then choosing where you want to go.
Leaving Day Checklist
It’s finally leaving day! You’ve been waiting for this moment, and you’re well prepared and all packed up. Right? This simple pdf checklist will make sure you haven’t missed anything vital and put your mind at ease. For a printable version of our ‘Leaving Day’ checklist click here.
Now it’s your turn.
Was this road trip packing list helpful?
Is there anything else you would recommend that you really like to take on a trip with you?
Leave a comment below and let us know!
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