Road Trip Essentials

If this is your first time on the open road, it can get a little overwhelming—there are plenty of things to remember and a fair share that you can leave behind. 

Fortunately for you, you’ve come to the right place.

I’m sharing my checklist of all the road trip essentials you’ll need—everything from comforts and snacks to entertainment and hacks for families. So let’s get into it. 

Road tripping is a delicate art of planning, packing and delegating tasks to your passengers, like map holder, DJ and snack station. It includes all the things you’ll need during your voyage. A great idea is to divide your checklist into categories, such as car essentials, small items, entertainment and food. There are lots of hacks to try that can help make your trip much better.

Car Essentials

To start off my road trip checklist, I wanted to point out some car essentials that you should never leave without. These are:

Comforts in a Road Trip

License, Registration and Car Insurance Policy

Before you leave, you need to verify that you have all your papers in check. In case you get pulled over, or if an accident occurs, you have everything you need. 

Emergency Kit

If you don’t have one already, a good idea is to invest in a roadside emergency kit. This may include a toolkit, a wheel wrench and tripod jack, booster cables, a warning triangle and a window breaker, among other items. 

Spare Tire

Before heading out on the road, check your spare tire. Ensure that it’s in good condition so that you can use it should one of the others break. 

If you don’t have a spare wheel, go to your mechanic and get one. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire and no spare—remember that there isn’t cell service everywhere.

Access to Gas Stations

Also make sure that your route has access to gas stations at adequate intervals; they could also serve as rest stops when you need a break from driving. 

Comforts

Whether you’re traveling with friends or family, you want everyone in the car to be comfortable. Below I’ve broken down some small items that can make your trip ultra-comfy for everyone:

Road Trip Essentials

Blankets

Bringing a blanket or two in the car is an excellent idea whether you’re traveling in the summer or winter. 

For instance, passengers can use the blanket to get cozy for an on-the-road nap—they can use it either for cover or as a sleeping bag or as a neck pillow. You can also utilize it as a picnic blanket during your stops. 

Pillows

If you have some spare room, travel pillows are additional comfort essentials you shouldn’t leave home without. Not only for sleeping, they’re also ideal as an armrest when reading or on the seat should your butt get sore. 

Window Shade

If you don’t have two already, you need them. Driving down the highway, the sun will peek through one, if not both sides, making the passengers very unhappy. 

This is particularly important if you have kids or a baby in the car. The sun can cause burns and heatstroke in a vehicle

Reusable Water Bottle

Dehydration can quickly occur when you're on the road—you’re driving for multiple hours, and often the thought of having to go holds you back from rehydrating. However, you must remember to drink enough water, especially if you’re the driver.

Dehydration can cause an array of undesirable symptoms, including headaches and dizziness. As someone who frequently makes this mistake, you don’t want to be stuck feeling ill on your trip. 

Now, you don’t need to use a reusable water bottle, but it is better for the environment. It also lowers the cost of having to purchase a bulk of plastic bottles. 

To ensure you have enough water, I suggest that you invest in a water jug—about 2 gallons, or more, depending on how many people you’re traveling with. Fill it with ice, and you have cold water for the trip.  

Travel Mugs

Whether you enjoy your coffee or you’re worried about the kids spilling juice everywhere, travel mugs are essential. You can use them for almost anything, and because most come with a lid, spills are no issue. 

Painkillers and Other Medication

Should you get a headache or feel sick during the trip, painkillers, anti-inflammatory, even motion sickness medication can help. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a pounding headache is not fun. 

However, ensure that you’re only bringing safe medication with you. If you’re driving, don’t take anything that can make you drowsy and keep everything out of children’s reach! Bring along a first aid kit too; they’re handy no matter where you are.

Extra Sweater

Besides blankets, you can’t go wrong with an extra sweater or pullover. Comfort on the road is often about layering up, and an extra sweater doesn’t take up much room in the car. If you have kids in the car, they can always use it as a blanket. 

Mints or Gum

Perhaps this belongs in the snack section, but I’ll argue that being in an enclosed space with bad breath is not comfortable. Whether the fumes are coming from your mouth or your passengers, a mint or piece of gum can sort you out. 

Another benefit of this little treat is that it can help to improve a dry mouth and freshen you up. Mints, in particular, may even light up your senses, getting you set for the next 5 miles. 

Sunglasses

Everyone in the car can benefit from sunglasses, but especially the pilot and co-pilot. It’s always useful to keep a spare pair in the car in case someone forgot theirs. If you have a collapsible umbrella, it's best to carry it with you as it offers dual protection - sun and rain. 

Small Essentials

When packing for a road trip, there’s a range of small items that are essential to bring. These include:

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is imperative to remember. Even in the car, the sun can still cause some damage to exposed skin. If I may make a recommendation, invest in an oil-free sunscreen—this won’t leave you feeling greasy and gross. 

Hand Sanitizer

Running water isn’t always available to wash your hands properly. So to get you through some of the stretches of your trip, a hand sanitizer in the car can help keep germs at bay. These are affordable and easy to keep in the vehicle. 

Body Wipes

Similarly to hand sanitizer, wipes help keep your skin fresh and clean even with no access to water. Also, there’s nothing better than a cool wipe around the neck to freshen up. 

Tissues

Tissues are fantastic for many things. They can wrap up a snack, wipe a face, clean a mess and dry hands, among much more. You can purchase a big pack of tissues and leave them in the glove box for when needed. 

Backpack

It’s a great idea to bring a small backpack or a daypack with you to explore your surroundings during your stops. You can keep a water bottle, sunscreen (SPF based on the season of your road trip), sunglasses, a rain jacket and some snacks to keep you going. If the daypack is water-resistant, it's an added bonus!

Garbage Bags

Being stuck in a car surrounded by garbage is not ideal. Therefore, to avoid this, bring a roll of garbage bags that you can fill during your trip. Then whenever you see a disposal, get rid of it and start a new one. 

This is a fantastic way of keeping the car clean and minimizing clean-up time following your trip.

You can also use them for short-term storage. For instance, wet clothes if you went swimming or dirty shoes. 

Swiss Army Knife

If you don’t have a Swiss army knife already, I highly suggest that you get one. These are like your own miniature toolbox—they have all the essentials you need. 

Also make sure to carry necessary toiletries, if applicable.

In-Car Entertainment

Long road trips can get a little tiring after a while, so having some games, music or books to lift the mood helps tremendously. Here are a few road trip essentials:

Favorite Playlist

Car Entertainment during Road Trips

Music is the best medicine when feeling tired on the road, especially for the driver. Taking your time before your trip to put together a playlist with everyone’s favorite music will come in handy during your voyage. 

If you’re traveling with young kids and don’t want to listen to The Wheels on the Bus on repeat, invest in some headphones.

Wireless Kit for Your Phone

If you’re driving, you should never operate your phone as it takes your eyes and attention off the road. A good way to keep your eyes on the road is to use a wireless kit for your phone. Don't forget your phone charger; prefer a car charger that is compatible with the usb ports in your car.

Portable Wi-Fi

Okay, so I know that when we’re on a road trip, it’s about disconnecting from the grid, taking a much-needed break. However, a portable Wi-Fi device can come in handy. For instance, if you need to look up a new route, find nearby camping grounds—even download that video your kid was bugging you about.

Books

For the passengers, it’s good to take your eyes off your phone once in a while. Bringing a good book or two is an excellent way of getting through some of the long stretches. 

However, be mindful if you suffer from motion sickness. Looking at a book can make it worse

If the driver wants to catch up on some reading, you can always download an audiobook and read it with an Amazon Kindle or an iPad. You could also hear to podcasts from your favorite channels. 

Travel Games

Perhaps it’s not the best time for a game of Monopoly, but other games like Ludo that come in travel-friendly versions are a great way of entertaining kids. 

Healthy Food for Road Trips

As grocery stores might not be accessible during your road trip, it's best to pack food from home. Fast food is often the main item on our road trip menus—and it’s totally fine on some days. However, trying to fit in healthy foods is probably the best way to go.

Fruit and Veggies On the Go

Healthy Food during Road Trips

If you and your fellow road trip buddies enjoy indulging on raw veggies and fruit, here’s a list of road trip-friendly options:

  • Baby carrots.
  • Cucumber.
  • Radishes.
  • Snap peas.
  • Apples.
  • Clementines.
  • Celery sticks. 
  • Pears. 
  • Dried fruits. 
  • Smoothies. 
  • Squeezable applesauce.

However, try to avoid foods that can stain, especially if you’re hauling kids in the backseat. These may include cherries, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries. 

You can also bring dips for the veggies, such as:

  • Guacamole.
  • Ranch.
  • Hummus. 

Digestible Proteins

Proteins are essential to include in your diet, even while on the road. However, you might need to get a little creative. Here are some easy protein sources:

  • Jerky. 
  • Yogurt.
  • Almonds.
  • Cheese.
  • Roasted chickpeas.
  • Hard-boiled eggs—however, take care, this can be a stink bomb.
  • Healthy energy bars. 
  • Nut butter packets.

Something Sweet

Even if you want to stay healthy, munching on celery sticks the whole way isn’t very satisfying. So, I’ve included a small list of sweet snacks to bring:

  • Graham crackers. 
  • Whole-grain cookies. 
  • Raisins.
  • Dark chocolate. 
  • Chocolate-covered fruits. 
  • Whole-grain dried cereal.
  • Mini muffins.
  • Chia pudding.

Don’t Forget Your Cooler

To store all the refrigerated foods, bring a cooler. Freeze some ice packs beforehand and fill up the container around any food that may go bad.

Here is a useful video we found on snack hacks for Road Trips:

Family Road Trip Hacks

Being on the road with kids requires a few quick-thinking hacks that just work. Below, I’ve included some of my top road trip with kids hacks:

Travel Trays

Whether it’s for eating, drawing or resting a device, travel trays might become your most used item. They offer a place where your child can have their own space. And, they don’t have to cost you a lot—all you need is a tray and a firm pillow. 

Backseat Toy Caddy

Simply attach a shower caddy to the back of the front seat, and your kid has a place for their toys. This way, nothing will lie on the floor. And you don’t have to hurt your back, trying to reach the crayon that fell under the seat. 

Magnetic Word Builder

All you need is a metal lunch box and a package of alphabet magnets. Then let your little one go to town, spelling out new and familiar words.

Road trips with kids

Pacifier Bibs

For the smallest traveler, attach a pacifier to their bib, and they’ll always have it within reach. Should they spit it out, it won’t fall on the floor.

Travel Binder

For older kids, create a travel binder with questions about the trip, coloring pages and perhaps even some blank pages for creativity. 

Air Mattress

An air mattress can provide the driver and little ones with a soft bed to rest their heads during your stops. They don’t take up much room in the trunk but make the trip a lot better with well-rested kids. 

Backseat Saver

With kids in the back, the backseat can get messy. A great way to avoid stains is by laying out a thin blanket. Cut holes for the seat belt receivers, and you’re good to go.

Road Trip With Dogs

Road trips with Pets or Dogs

Traveling with a pet requires some good planning beforehand. You want to ensure that they’re comfortable and won’t feel overly stressed. Here are some road trip travel tips for dogs:

Plan Your Route

When planning your route, ensure that you include frequent stops so that your dog can stretch their legs. Look to stop every hour or so for them to burn some excess energy and use the little dog’s room. 

Check in With Your Vet

Before your trip, get a check-up with your vet to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to travel. Make sure you have all your papers and identification. And if you haven’t already, get your dog microchipped. 

Pack the Essentials

Make a checklist of what your dog usually needs. This may include:

  • Food and water bowls.
  • Food.
  • Extra water.
  • Medicine.
  • Treats.
  • Toys.
  • Dog harness.
  • An extra leash.

Give Them Space

Don’t try to squeeze your dog in between luggage and supplies. Instead, make sure they have enough room to lay down and sit up. 

Safety First

Avoid letting your dog roam free in the car. This can compromise their safety and your own. Instead, either bring a large cage or invest in a harness with a crash-tested seat belt strap. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Eat Cheap on a Road Trip?

Road tripping isn’t the priciest way of traveling, but it certainly isn’t the cheapest, either. Some great hacks to eat a little cheaper would be to make stuff at home. Things like muffins, cookies and sandwiches are easy to make in advance and then place in the cooler.

What Are Fun Things to Take on a Road Trip?

There are several fun things to bring on your road trip. One thing I never leave without is my camera—I document every step of the way. Other fun things to take might be a singalong playlist, a funny audiobook or a game. 

How Can I Be Comfortable During a Long Car Ride?

Feeling uncomfortable is probably one of the worst things during a long drive. Ways to avoid this is to wear comfortable clothes—don’t be afraid to rock some sweats—and shoes—flip flops are okay! 

Make sure you also stay hydrated and munch on the snacks you’ve brought. However, avoid too much junk food as it can make you bloated and potentially give you a tummy ache. 

Final Takeaway

Going on a road trip is an excellent way of spending the summer. You get to see the country within the comfort of your own car, not to mention it’s cheaper, too. 

However, there are some road trip essentials that you should never leave without. This includes all the necessary papers for your car, a spare tire and money for gas. Then ensure that you pack all the little stuff, such as a blanket, pillow, sunglasses and tissues. This will help roadtrippers a well-rounded experience.

This concludes my road trip checklist with some travel tips on what to do and what not to do. I hope you found it helpful.

Mark Bennett
 

I have a serious thing for travel, outdoors and wilderness. I grew up in Oregon and camping outdoors with my father was one of the fondest memories of childhood. I enjoy camping and hiking and love to share what I've learnt over these years.