man on a road trip

What To Pack For A Road Trip: The Essential List

So, you’re hitting the open road! There’s nothing quite like the freedom of setting off on the journey of a lifetime. Aside from choosing where to go and what to do, you might be wondering what to actually bring with you. Space is a luxury you don’t have, and cutthroat decisions will have to be made. The good news is, because of the space limitations, packing for a road trip should be pretty straightforward. Let’s get started with our handy guide on what to pack for a road trip: the essential list.

What to Pack for a Road Trip: The Essential List

man leaning on car on road trip

Car essentials

This is your new home for the next however long. Make sure you take care of it, and it will take care of you. 

  • Make sure to bring a spare tire and the knowledge of how to change it. Depending on where you’re going, the AAA might not be able to bail you out. 
  • Be sure to bring an emergency kit with you including things like flares, jumper cables, gloves, rope, and a well equipped first aid kit. 
  • In case your car overheats, keep a gallon of water in your car to save it. Plus, extra transmission fluid, wiper washer fluid, and brake fluid.
  • Something that you definitely don’t want to run out of is gas. Avoid getting stuck out in the wilderness and bring a small gas can with you. 
  • It’s always handy to have plastic bags for trash. But a portable garbage can that stays fixed in place will remove the need for several plastic bags full of trash floating around your car.
  • Everyone knows the feeling of sitting bare-legged on a leather car seat after it’s been sitting in the sun too long. Keep a sunshade handy to keep your car cooler.

camping on road trip

Personal essentials

Looking after your car is important, but taking care of yourself is crucial. Don’t scrimp on yourself – get everything you need to feel clean and comfortable. 

  • It might seem so essential that it doesn’t need a mention, but basic personal hygiene is a must. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitiser, shower gel, and shampoo and conditioner. 
  • And for the old ‘college shower’, pack as many baby wipes with you as you can. You never know when you’re going to need it – if you’re eating ice cream and it drips down your hands, you’ll be cursing yourself for not packing enough baby wipes.
  • Toilet paper, for when a public toilet or gas station is just too out of reach. Plus, you never know if a gas station is going to run out of toilet paper. If you go outdoors, don’t throw it away in nature – bring a plastic bag with you.
  • You need to take care of your skin, especially out on the open road. Have you ever had a sunburn and then sat on a hot leather car seat? It’s not pleasant, so be sure to bring at least SPF 30.
  • Extra flip flops. You’re probably going to bring flip flops anyway, but we recommend bringing extra with you to wear for public showers. You don’t want to be wearing your nice Havaianas in a dirty gas station or hostel shower.
  • You’ll definitely want to bring a towel with you. Ideally, bring two: one for the beach, and a separate one for showering. Microfibre towels are quick to dry and way easier to pack than regular towels.
  • In the event you want to camp overnight somewhere, you don’t want to lug your big backpack or suitcase. Bring a smaller backpack, or day bag, with you to carry a change of clothes and a few essentials. 
  • Anything to dissuade mosquitoes is absolutely key. A spray, a balm, a car mosquito net – it’s all necessary to put off those pesky bloodsuckers.
  • Maybe you can’t find somewhere to stay for the night or don’t fancy getting neck cramps in your car again. In that case, a tent and a good quality sleeping bag is a road trip essential. 

Technology essentials

  • Getting lost in the middle of nowhere is no joke – make sure you always have means of charging your phone. Plus, you want to be able to listen to the playlist that you curated especially for this road trip. Most cars have a port to plug in a USB phone cable, and even if yours does, a high power portable shower is essential too. When you’re deciding what to pack for a road trip, make sure this is top of your list.
  • You could use Apple or Google Maps, but most travellers prefer to use Maps.me. It’s the classic go-to, and it works offline. 
  • You might already have one, but a phone mount that actually stays put is essential. It’s far easier to follow a map if it’s in front of you. 
  • You’re zipping down the highway, windows down and enjoying the ride. Then you come across road construction that halts your journey. Download a traffic app, like Waze, to help avoid car accidents and construction. 
  • Whether you want to sleep under the stars or in the comfort of a hotel bed, there are apps that can help you find both. Download a camping app and a hotel app to find all of the location sites in the area you’re in. 
  • Another handy, if not essential, an app to download is a gas app. Apps like Gas Buddy and Gaspy are great for knowing where you can top up your car.

Other essentials

  • An icebox, for drinks, beers, and snacks. Keeping them cool will make all the difference.
  • Sleep is so important, especially when you’re driving for good chunks of the day. Stay safe and invest in a comfortable travel pillow.
  • Let’s not buy plastic water bottles over and over again. A good water bottle is essential for a road trip – you can buy filtered bottles for places where you wouldn’t want to drink the tap water.
  • Make sure painkillers are in your emergency first aid kit. Driving with a pounding head from a few beers from the night before is not ideal!
  • Yes your phone will have a flashlight, and it might be old fashioned, but you’ll thank yourself for bringing a flashlight or headlamp.

Now that you know what to pack for a road trip, get out on that open road and have a blast!

Aleyna Thompson

Aleyna is an appreciator of learning about a culture through its food, whether that's closer to home or being out there in the world. She’s always happiest when experiencing somewhere new, but her base in Manchester is a close second. A blend of her love of writing, food, travel, and culture has naturally led her to travel writing full time.

View stories