38 Essentials & Must Haves For Road Trips That Are Worth It

Ford vehicle driving on beach

The morning before a road trip hits differently. Nothing beats getting up at dawn, loading the car, and stopping at a drive-thru to buy your body weight in coffee. Watching the sunrise while driving on the open roads makes the early morning wake-up well worth it.

The art of road-tripping is quite versatile. Make it a family vacation, a romantic getaway, friendship bonding, or discover your zen by going solo.

Road trips are my preferred method of travel. I love a good USA road trip since there are so many delectable eateries that we don’t have in Canada! I love the freedom and flexibility that road trips have to offer. It’s also a great way to stumble upon hidden gems while heading to your final destination.

Now, a successful road trip begins with planning. No matter if it is a long or short trip, you don’t want to forget any road trip essentials. Packing light can also save space and won’t weigh your car down as much (hello, gas prices!).

Not sure what to pack for a road trip? Want to know what to ditch and what’s indispensable for the journey? Check out this ultimate checklist of must-haves for road trips.

TL;DR: Our Must Haves For Road Trips

Quick Road Trip Tips

Luggage packed inside the trunk of a vehicle
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Before you even start packing, consider these top road-tripping tips

  • Check the weather and double-check your packing list – these days, the weather can change on a dime, so stay up to date.
  • Know the rest stops and gas stations on your route – don’t get caught short – either with the fuel tank being too empty or your tank being too full!
  • Carry cash, debit, and credit cards on you – don’t pack these away in a bag or the trunk; it’s a hassle at rest stops.
  • Bring all important medications and documents – Pack these in an easy-to-reach spot.
  • Print out hotel and tour bookings – Super handy if your phone gives out.
  • Bring your camera – And make sure whoever is riding the shotgun is ready to take snaps!

Essential Road Trip Packing List

A dog looking out of a window in a car
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Some road trip necessities apply to all trips. Here is a general list of road trip must-haves beneficial for any journey on the road. And for those of you thinking of bringing dogs with you, check out this post on road trips with dogs first.

1. Snacks

Foxy Fane Premium Snack Box
Foxy Fane / Amazon

Snacks. You’re not hiking there, but driving long distances is exhausting. Snacks are on top of the road trip checklist. No trip is complete without them. Although loading your car with junk food is tempting, try to throw in some healthy options.

Fresh fruit, hummus, pre-cut vegetables, protein bars, rice cakes, and Greek yogurt are all fantastic options to add to your road trip essentials roster. You’ll feel better for it.

This snack box from Foxy Fane has you covered for most road trip munchies, including potato chips, fruit snacks, nuts, and more.

2. First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit by Pumier
Pumier / Amazon

Sometimes, band-aids just won’t cut it. A first aid kit is a road trip essential that’s good to have, but we hope you never use it. With 263 pieces, you can fix most minor emergencies.

The first aid kit by Pumier should definitely be on your road trip essentials list. This durable, bright red container is easy to find in your bag. The first aid kit can help with minor wounds, cuts, scrapes, and burns, so it’s great for camping and exploring the wilderness.

See Related: How to Pack For a Camping Trip [Step-by-Step Checklist]

3. Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance
Lucian Milasan / Shutterstock

Leaving for any long-distance trip without insurance is just asinine. Automobiles are inherently dangerous, and you’re driving long distances in an overladen vehicle, so travel insurance is a non-negotiable for road trip essentials.

Who knows if your car breaks down, if your hotel gets rammed by a tornado last minute, or if there’s a medical emergency? Shop around for the right plan for your trip at somewhere like TravelInsurance.com.

See Related: What’s the Average Cost of Travel Insurance?

4. Toilet Paper

Cottonelle brand toilet paper
Cottonelle / Amazon

It seems silly, but you wouldn’t laugh when you’ve done the deed in a gas station bathroom only to find an empty roll. Avoid this gut-wrenching catastrophe. Add a few rolls to your packing list of this unexpected road trip essential. You’ll thank us later.

5. Garbage Bags

Glad brand garbage bags
Glad / Amazon

Drawstring trash bags! Yet another genius road trip essential that no one really thinks of.

Prevent your car from getting trashed during your expedition. They’re also awesome for storing wet, dirty, and worn clothes. Fair warning: once you get back home to unpack, that bag will stink up something fierce. You might want to purchase a gas mask before opening them up!

Glad bags are strong, rip-resistant, and a nice addition to your road trip packing list. And you can reuse the bags for cleanup after your trip!

6. Physical Road Map

Road Map or Quebec and Ottawa and Passport
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

While you may not use rotary phones, laundry mangles, or dial-up internet, paper maps still have their place. Even with the rise of technology, a physical road map is still indispensable on a road trip.

While you can risk entirely relying on Google Maps and fully-charged batteries, it’s still good to have a Plan B on your packing list.

Even if you’re near civilization, losing service is possible. I’ve been there. As a bonus, if you can find detailed maps of the area, your passengers can alert you to stop at a nearby gas station or rest stop.

See Related: How to Book a Cheap RV Rental

7. Hand Sanitizer

Three bottles of Babyganics Hand Sanitizer
Babyganics / Amazon

Hand Sanitizer and wipes are crucial road trip essentials for adults and kids alike. During my road trip to Salem, Massachusettes, the public washrooms were portable toilets. Since I’m a giant germaphobe, I’m sure you can imagine that hand sanitizer was a godsend.

If a regular formula seems too strong for your kid’s delicate skin, try the pump bottles from Babyganics. For adults, antibacterial wipes are great to keep in your purse for convenience.

See Related: What to Bring on a Camping Trip with Friends

Road Trip Car Essentials and Safety Gear

Snowy mountain road
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

Nobody wants to deal with car troubles while adventuring on a road trip. If you do, have the upper hand by updating your road trip packing list with car essentials.

Whether you’re using your own car or a rental car, you’ll want to stock up on road trip essentials for the car. Here’s a handy checklist:

Includes Items
Car Manual To help you figure out what’s wrong with your car and what to do next
Important Documents Driver’s license, insurance policy, bookings, etc…
Spare Tire and Jack It’s always a risk…
Jump Starter These can be a life saver. Bring jump cables too.
Flares For signaling and visibility
Flashlight Bring extra batteries!
Blankets For warmth in emergencies
Duct Tape For temporary repairs on your gear and your car
Extra Car Fluids Motor oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid

Now, let’s look at these road trip supplies to keep in your vehicle in more detail.

8. Car Manual

Hopefully, you didn’t throw it into an abyss. Your car manual shouldn’t even be on your road trip packing list because it should already be in your car. It can save you a pretty penny if you can troubleshoot basic car issues.

Imagine calling a roadside service to find out you only need to fill your washer fluid – the shame. Save yourself the embarrassment by making sure you have this road trip essential.

See Related: Things to Know as an American Driving in the UK

9. Important Documents

Travel Insurance Form and Travel Documents
photobyphotoboy / Adobe Stock

Check that you have these road trip essentials before hitting the road:

  • Driver’s License
  • Car Insurance Policy
  • Travel Insurance
  • Medications
  • Booking Information (for accommodations, tours, etc.)

A zippered pouch is great for keeping important things in place.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Children

10. Spare Tire and Jack

Car Jack by Big Red
BIG RED / Amazon

Country roads are so serene, but some can be treacherous to drive on. Flat tires can happen and you may not be able to reach roadside service for assistance. A spare tire and jack are vital on your road trip packing list. Before you head out, learn how to change a flat tire.

The Steel Scissor Lift Jack, by BIG RED, should be on your list of road trip essentials. Its compact design won’t take up too much space and can lift up to 3,000 pounds. Many happy customers state the product is sturdy and easy to use.

11. Jump Starter

Car Battery Jump Starter by NOCO
NOCO / Amazon

A jump starter for your car battery is one of the best things to have in your car for road trips, especially in the wilderness.

While it’s smart to always bring jumper cables, if you’re out in the boonies, cars are scarce. You’re better off getting a jump starter as opposed to jumper cables. Another car might not even stop to help, deeming your jumper cables useless!

Rely on yourself with the Jump Starter by NOCO. Many happy Amazon customers call the product a lifesaver and an amazing purchase.

12. Flares

Road Flares by Ecoangel
Ecoangel / Amazon

Add the LED Road Flares by Ecoangel to your list of road trip car essentials. They are waterproof, crushproof, and come with nine different light settings. Don’t forget to charge these in advance through USB ports.

Customers love how bright the flares shine and state it’s a quality item worth buying. It’s saved them many troubles during nighttime vehicle breakdowns. They’re also kinda fun around campsites.

See Related: Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota

13. Flashlight

Flashlight by Lighting Ever
Lighting EVER / Amazon

A flashlight should be number one on your list for car travel essentials. Don’t forget to grab an LED flashlight from Lighting EVER.

It’s compact but powerful. Customers love the intense brightness; however, some state that the batteries included are low quality.

I’m never without one of these on the road. These also double as a tool for spooky nights around the campfire!

14. Blankets

Emergency Thermal Blankets by Mart Cobra
Mart Cobra / Amazon

If you’re road-tripping in the colder months, add blankets to your road-trip essentials list. Thermal emergency blankets are great for wintertime or nighttime car breakdowns. If you’d like, you can also have a few regular plush throws to keep your passengers warm during the ride in the colder seasons.

A standard picnic blanket is another fine choice, and not just to keep warm in a chilly car or to enjoy a roadside lunch. If your car gets stuck in slippy snow or sand, picnic blankets can be put under tires for added traction.

See Related: Australian Outback Adventure: Driving the Red Centre

15. Duct Tape

Gorilla brand duct tape
Gorilla / Amazon

This is not going where you think it’s going. The trunk is for bags, not bodies. Duct tape is versatile and great for temporary fixes until you can visit a mechanic.

It can also be used in emergencies, such as getting rid of ticks and holding a wound together. Is there anything it can’t do?

Gorilla Duct Tape is a must-have for car travel essentials. It’s waterproof, UV, temperature, and weather resistant. It’s a reliable brand with an impeccable reputation. And you can let your kids use it to make those funky duct tape wallets.

16. Extra Car Fluids

Rain-X Windshield Washer Fluid
Rain-X / Amazon

Hydrating is important on the road, and your car needs some drinks, too! Pack a decent amount of motor oil, windshield washer, and coolant stashed in your trunk.

These road trip essentials should be in your trunk already unless you’re using a rental car. In that case, you’ll have to add it to your road trip packing list.

Best for Beach Road Trips

Ford vehicle driving on beach
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Time to soak up the sun! Grab a few of these must-haves for your next vacation in the sand. And don’t forget to check out our ultimate beach packing list!

17. Cooler

YETI Hopper Flip Cooler
Yeti / REI

A cooler should be number one on your list of road trip necessities on the beach. Nothing beats cold drinks while lounging around in the sand. For frequent beachgoers, you need to invest in the YETI Hopper cooler, which comes in 11 stunning colors.

This soft cooler is durable, water-resistant, and puncture-proof. It can hold up to 16 cans, so it’s ideal for day trips in the sun. An astounding 88% of reviewers rate the cooler as a 5-star item and say it’s a must-buy for travel. The YETI also comes in other sizes, so you can find your perfect match.

See Related: Best Beach Bags With Coolers

18. Flip-Flops

OLUKAI Men's Beach Sandals
OLUKAI / Amazon

Flip-flops are one of my favorite road trip essentials. Although I warn against wearing flip-flops while driving, they’re great for passengers to give their feet a breather.

Add flip-flops to your beach packing list for a comfortable vacation in the sand. Choose OLUKAI for your beachy needs.

Men will love the Ohana Beach Sandals by OLUKAI. They are water resistant, comfortable, durable, and dry quickly. Customers rate this ultimate beach sandal with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. 83% of satisfied customers adore their purchase.

The Ohana Beach Sandals also come in women’s sizes and colors. When it comes to Amazon road trip must-haves, adults will love these lightweight sandals. These stylish slip-ons are a quality item you won’t regret buying.

Do your passengers have little feet? OLUKAI also caters to children. Find these awesome road trip essentials from Amazon for both girls and boys. The entire family will be styling with all-day comfort while rocking their OLUKAI sandals!

19. Waterproof Speaker

JBL Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker
JBL / Amazon

Vibe out at the beach. Nothing beats experiencing the magical combination of warm sand, refreshing waters, and sweet tunes. Add the JBL Charge 4 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker to your list of road trip essentials.

This wireless speaker can connect up to two smartphones or tablets and has up to 20 hours of music playtime. It’s waterproof and durable, so it’s the perfect companion for any adventure. Make sure you have access to USB ports beforehand to charge the speaker. The JBL speaker is one of the best beach road trip gadgets for 2023.

Be courteous of others at the beach when choosing the music volume and songs. Try to keep the lyrics PG and maybe refrain from letting your gangster rap or death metal friend choose songs.

20. Beach Blanket

Beach Blanket by WEKAPO
WEKAPO / Amazon

I’m a complicated soul; I love a sandy beach, but like Anakin Skywalker, I hate sand. That’s why I always bring a beach blanket to the seaside.

This beach blanket from WEKAPO is an incredible buy and is large enough for the whole family. It doubles as a blanket for picnics or camping. You’ll be blown away by how good this thing is, but not literally, as the corners are weighted, and the blanket comes with anchors.

It’s lightweight, durable, and sand-resistant. Are you done for the day? You’ll love that the blanket is compact and easy to store. Many customers rave about the blanket, but some say to use caution with liquids, especially sunscreen, as the blanket stains easily.

21. Beach Umbrella

Beach Umbrella by Sport Brella
Sport Brella / Amazon

A beach umbrella is a game changer. Protect yourself from the UVA and UVB rays and the wind. Grab yourself a Sport-Brella before heading out to get some sun.

This heavy-duty oversized umbrella will even protect you from unexpected rain. Customers love the quality, strong construction, and firm hold in the ground. The umbrella comes with a bag for storage and transportation ease.

22. Beach Chair

Beach  Chair by Tommy Bahama
Tommy Bahama / Amazon

Seek maximum relaxation with the Tommy Bahama Backpack Beach Chair. This quality chair will allow you to catch some z’s at the beach as it can recline into different positions for optimal comfort.

Keep all your essentials close, as the chair has a towel bar, cell phone holder, and insulated pouch to keep your drinks cold. You might even be tempted to stay here forever.

Best for Cross-Country Road Trips

Country Road
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

These are the road trips where you don’t want to forget anything important. You definitely don’t want to waste cash buying forgotten supplies at the nearest store. Here are some long road trip essentials for your next journey.

23. Utensils

Compostable Utensils by Biocean
biocean / Amazon

One time, I stopped at a grocery store in Vermont to grab a salad and got back in the car, only to realize I didn’t grab a fork. What followed was an hour’s detour to find a dining utensil.

I failed. I eventually ate that with the salad at the side of the road using a comb – before Amy Klobuchar did it, mind you.

Don’t be like me and Amy. I learned my lesson that fateful day (that aide probably did, too), and now, I always keep a pack of mixed utensils in my glove box.

They’re good for dining on the road, and they also come in handy if you want to eat restaurant leftovers later or even some midnight cake in your hotel bed. Make an eco-friendly choice with compostable utensils. The environment will thank you.

See Related: Quick Guide For Safe Driving in Germany

24. Road Trip Entertainment

The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book
Valerie Bromann (Author) / Amazon

Games, puzzles, and entertainment are crucial road trip essentials. Being confined in a car can give you limited options.

Finding things to do will make the time pass quicker. Who doesn’t love a good game of Mad Libs? It’s budget-friendly, and it’s been around forever. The game is entertaining and engaging for all ages.

If you prefer a quieter commute, grab a journal or activity book. You can also download your favorite road trip podcast in advance.

25. Sleeping Mask

Sleeping Mask by MZOO
MZOO / Amazon

Despite sitting for hours, a long car ride can be draining. You’ll need a good sleeping mask on your road trip essentials list.

Make sure you’re getting some quality shut-eye. Whether you’re sleeping in the passenger seat or a hotel, a good sleeping mask will help you get well-deserved rest. The MZOO memory foam sleeping mask molds to your face and helps with quality sleep.

26. Motion Sickness Tablets

Ginger Root Capsules by Nature's Way
Nature’s Way / Amazon

As someone who suffers from chronic nausea, I’ve tried many items on the market. I swear by ginger capsules. Whether you have motion sickness, food poisoning, or plain don’t feel well, the power of ginger will help you feel better.

Nature’s Way is my favorite brand, and I find they’re better than Gravol. Each capsule contains 550mg of ginger and straight power. If you’re taking them for motion sickness, take up to two capsules half an hour before your departure.

Best for Family Road Trips

Happy family father, mother and children backs on the beach at sea
JenkoAtaman / Adobe Stock

Traveling is fun when the whole gang is together. Although stressful and hectic, especially with kids, it can also be rewarding and fulfilling. Let’s look at some family road trip must-haves on Amazon so everyone has what they need.

27. Road Trip Games

Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game by Briarpatch
Briarpatch / Amazon

Are we there yet? Keep kids and adults entertained with some fun and engaging road trip games. Try the Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game. All you need is at least two players, and you can dive into hours of entertainment.

The card game has received loads of positive reviews from customers on Amazon. They love the easy-read cards and find them extremely entertaining for all ages.

See Related: Best Road Trip Books for Kids | Audiobooks and Paperback

28. Kids Water Bottle

Contigo Trekker Kids Water Bottle
Contigo / Amazon

I’ve been a Contigo fan for many years and can attest to their awesomeness. You don’t need to worry about a giant mess in the backseat, as the Contigo Trekker is spillproof and leakproof.

They come in a two-pack so siblings can share or as an extra. Many customers say it’s one of the best bottles for kids.

29. Wet Wipes

WaterWipes Plastic-Free Baby Wipes
WaterWipes / Amazon

If you have kids, you probably have these on hand already. They are multi-use and a lifesaver. With a little elbow grease, they can clean almost anything.

Kids can get messy, and so can your car. Clean up sticky messes and spills in no time. These versatile wipes are also incredible for bathroom use or as an emergency makeup wipe.

Scentless Water Wipes are great for sensitive skin and don’t come with that weird fragrance baby products have.

Best for Adventure Road Trips

Car Driving Through Olympic National Park
NatalieJean / Adobe Stock

Whether you’re up in the mountains or exploring a National Park, here are some road trip essentials you’ll want to have for your next adventure.

30. Durable Water Bottle

YETI Rambler 26 oz Bottle
Yeti / REI

Imagine reaching your destination to climb a mountain, only to end up dying from dehydration. A water bottle is crucial for any adventure, especially in remote areas without a store. A drink container is one of many road trip must-haves for adults going on an adventure.

Grab a YETI Rambler for a durable, insulated water bottle that’s easy to drink from. It’ll keep your drink cold all day long for a refreshing break from adventuring.

31. Paper Map of the Area

Man navigating and looking on a map
Air Images / Shutterstock

Yes, again, they still exist, and they might save your life!

Google Maps won’t function in the middle of the wilderness when you don’t have cell service. Regardless of whether you’re trekking through a National Park, exploring a forest, or climbing a mountain, you should always bring a map.

What type of map to bring will depend on a few factors. If you’re just leisurely strolling a main trail, you won’t need a detailed map to know where you’re going.

If you’re gearing up for a month-long expedition through treacherous territory, you’ll want to have a comprehensive map of the area you’re covering. After all, do you want to be on the next episode of Unsolved Mysteries because you got lost in the wild?

See Related: Best Hiking Apps for Your Next Adventure

32. Solar Powered Light

Solar Lantern by KIZEN
KIZEN / Amazon

It’s no shocker that when you’re in the wilderness, it’s pitch black at night. A solar-powered lantern is phenomenal for nighttime camps. This renewable energy is convenient and easy to use. Having a light is helpful if you need to get up during the night.

The Solar Lantern by KIZEN is a must-buy for adventure enthusiasts. It’s collapsable and provides a good amount of lighting. Many customers state the lantern is useful, powerful, and convenient.

33. Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Bag by oaskys
oaskys / Amazon

A quality sleeping bag will help you get some shut-eye. oaskys has colors and styles to suit everyone’s needs. This versatile sleeping bag is comfortable in the 50 to 70 Fahrenheit range (10 to 20 degrees Celsius).

The breathable material is comfortable and can be machine-washed. It’s also not too hard to stuff back in the bag!

34. Power Bank

Power Bank by Anker
Anker / Amazon

You might not always have access to USB ports on the road, so your phone charger will be useless. A power bank is a portable backup plan for charging your phone or GPS.

I’ve gone through countless crummy power banks that died after a few months. But I’ve been using this one from Anker for a couple of years, and it’s still going strong.

Add the Anker Portable Charger 325 Power Bank to your list of road trip necessities from Amazon. With thousands of 5-star reviews and happy customers (myself included), this is one purchase you won’t regret.

See Related: Best Gadgets for Long Flights & Travel

35. Rain Jacket

Men's Rain Jacket by Colombia
Columbia / Amazon

When you’re out and about, you want to make sure you’re prepared for any weather. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a national park during a torrential downpour. Plan and pack wisely.

Men will love the Watertight Rain Jacket by Columbia. The breathable, lightweight jacket comes in many different colors. Columbia will help keep you dry during an unexpected storm. Many reviewers state it’s perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

The New Englander Jacket from Charles River Apparel is a phenomenal choice for Women. Available in regular and extended sizes, the coat comes in a variety of colors.

It’s windproof, waterproof, and seals in the heat. Many customers adore the raincoat; however, it is a hand-wash-only item.

Best for Short Road Trips

Author Stuart Jameson on a Road Trip in San Francico
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

When it comes to shorter trips, take your essentials, but pack light so it’s not weighing you down.

36. Weekender Purse

Weekender Bag by IBFUN
IBFUN / Amazon

If you’re looking for something more trendy than a duffel bag, grab a Weekender purse to store all of your road trip essentials. The Weekender Bag from the IBFUN store on Amazon comes in a variety of prints and colors. 

It even comes with smaller bags as a bonus. Everything has a spot in your bag, including your shoes, electronics, toiletries, and other road trip essentials. We also have another list of our favorite weekend bags to peruse if you don’t love this one’s nautical stripe pattern.

37. Toiletries

Toiletries Bottles in Morfone
Morfone / Amazon

For longer road trips, you can bring full-size toiletries. But you don’t want as much to load down your car for smaller trips. Grab some Travel Bottles from Morfone on Amazon. These silicone bottles are refillable, TSA-friendly, and compact. Or read more about our favorite travel bottles for toiletries here.

See Related: How Much Liquid Can You Carry On An Airplane?

38. Travel Journal

Travel Journal  Hardcover
Peter Pauper Press Editors / Amazon

Whether it’s a blank one or one to fill in, journals are great for keeping busy. We always encourage journaling your travels; it’s how we got to ViaTravelers.

So write about your hopes, dreams, or even what you see and experience during your trip. Take some time for yourself to reach your destination and feel refreshed. It’s genuinely good for the soul.

FAQs

How do I prepare for a long road trip?

Double-check your packing list to make sure you have everything. If possible, note all the rest stops in gas stations in advance to plan a more relaxing route. Make sure you have enough to do to keep yourself and your passengers occupied for the long drive.

How do I stay entertained on a road trip?

There are lots of road trip-friendly card games to keep everyone busy and engaged. Everyone will love doing brain teasers and trivia together if you need some quiet time, download music, an audiobook, or a podcast in advance. A coloring book or journal is also great for a peaceful drive.

What should I pack for a road trip with kids?

Ensure each kid has a change of clothes in the car for unexpected messes. Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, water bottles, and snacks are road trip must-haves for the car. Entertainment, such as music players, tablets, books, and coloring pads, are important road trip essentials for kids.

Related Resources

Lisa Merten
WRITTEN BY

Lisa Merten

Since both of her parents are German immigrants, Lisa grew up with a lot of German culture. In fact, she’s more familiar with German traditions as opposed to the North American way of life. Growing up, she was fortunate enough to spend many summers in Germany with her family and she is fluent in German. Lisa is also quite the expert on Caribbean cruises, and has been to almost every island. She was also fortunate enough to work at a travel agency for almost 2 years to learn some of the ropes of the industry, and she's happy to share her experiences, tips, and travel hacks with her readers.