54 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials + Packing Checklist

A winding mountain street during a road trip through southwestern Colorado against a cloudy sky
Road Trip Essentials: Interactive Packing List + 55 Must-Haves

I’ve been learning the ins and outs of road trip essentials and perfecting my packing list since I was old enough to get behind the wheel. The open road had me hooked at a very young age and will continue to draw me in for the rest of my days.

As an eager teenager, I took my first adventure to Las Vegas with a carful of giddy friends. The complete freedom to explore as I pleased was exhilarating.

Since then, I’ve explored thousands of miles of my captivating home state of Colorado, driven the stunning California coastline, navigated the magical Hawaiian islands, and traversed the barren plains of Texas.

I’ve voyaged the sweeping Irish countryside, bumped up and down countless miles of rural Mexican roads, and soaked in the fascinating culture of North Vietnam on a motorbike.

These years of experience have taught me that packing for a long journey on the open road isn’t easy, so I’ve put together a list of my favorite road trip essentials to help you. I’ve also included an interactive checklist list, my top ten road-tripping hacks, and a list of all the lodging, navigation, and travel resources I use when I’m on the road.

Ready? Let’s get into it.

What Exactly Should You Bring on a Road Trip?

This is a tough question to answer, I’ll admit. Everyone has specific needs for their road trip, and my setup will look quite different than yours. We’re all likely headed towards separate destinations when we jump in the car for an adventure, so what I throw in the trunk may not work for you.

Keep this all in mind as you look over my road trip essentials, and prepare for your trip as you see fit. Take some of my advice, get your hands on a few pieces of gear you think will help, and leave the rest behind.

If you want to skip past my recommended products and jump straight to my complete packing list, click here. The checklist is interactive, meaning you can click the boxes as you get ready for your adventure and stay organized throughout the packing process.

Safety Gear & Repair Accessories

Black Viper brand car alarm and remote start set

Alarm System & Remote Start: Viper 5906v

If you’re taking a proper road trip, you’re likely to pack a lot of valuables in your vehicle that are essential to protect. So, arm your car, truck, or camper van with a proper — LOUD! — alarm system that can also auto-start your rig remotely.

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A car jack kit for cars, trucks, and camper vans

Car Jack Kit: Big Red Scissor Lift

Nobody ever plans on getting a flat tire, but they happen regardless. A proper car jack kit will allow you to remove and replace your tire safely without expensive emergency roadside services. Make sure you have a spare tire and a lug wrench as well.

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Battery powered jumper cables/power bank

Power Bank Jumper Kit: Hulkman Alpha85

Dead batteries are a morale killer, plain and simple. This high-capacity power bank allows you to bring your car back to life by yourself and has a handy flashlight, compass, and USB charging inputs to boot.

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A 12-volt air compressor for cars, trucks, and camper vans

12-Volt Air Digital Compressor: Fortem

Whether you want to fill a tire with a slow leak, need to adjust tire pressure for off-roading, or simply want to avoid paying for air at gas stations, this 12-volt air compressor will get the job done quickly, safely, and efficiently.

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A red gas canister, an essential safety item for long car rides

One Gallon Gas Container: Garage Boss

Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere is a drag, so get a portable gas container, keep it full, and hit the road with peace of mind. This $14 investment could be the difference between hitchhiking to a gas station and arriving safely by yourself.

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196-piece tool set for car maintainence

Versatile 196-Piece Tool Set: DEKOPRO

Breakdowns and equipment failures are a very unglamorous reality of the road-tripping lifestyle. Keeping a versatile set of tools on hand will allow you to handle minor repairs when they arise and get you back on your way safely.

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A minimalist travel windshield repair kit

DIY Windshield Chip Repair Kit: RainX

Windshield chips are a pesky reality of road tripping and can get expensive and dangerous if ignored. This affordable repair kit will fill chips and cracks with a fast-drying resin and prevent them from spreading and ruining your windshield.

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A roll of duct tape

Duct Tape: Duck Tape Brand

If all else fails, use duct tape. (That’s what I tell myself at least.) Whether you’re sealing a leaky hose, patching a tear in your tent, or fixing a broken pair of sunglasses, a roll of duct tape is a must-have on your upcoming road trip.

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A red travel-sized first-aid kit

First-Aid Kit: Surviveware

Whether you’re confronted with a minor scrape or an injury far more severe, a fully-stocked first-aid kit will be your ally. Packed with everything from band-aids to a CPR mask, this portable setup will be there when you need it most.

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A National Geographic road atlas (Adventure Edition)

United States Atlas: National Geographic

Digital maps are handy, but a physical road atlas offers an in-depth look at your surroundings without the need for technology. Use this detailed, adventure-focused atlas to plan your US, Mexico, or Canada trip as you go. Traveling Europe? There’s an atlas for that too.

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Tech Gadgets & Navigation Accessories

Black power delivery power bank

High-Capacity Power Bank: Anker PowerCore

For better or worse, a dead phone can leave us feeling powerless when traveling. Ensure that your devices are always ready for action when you’re away from an outlet with this hefty power bank that will fully recharge an iPhone 8 up to seven times.

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A magnetic cell phone mount for dashboards

Magnetic Phone Mount: Neckteck

If you’re road-tripping without a phone mount, you’re doing it wrong. I love this particular setup because it’s minimalist and reliable. Simply adhere a thin metal disc to the back of your phone case and a powerful magnet within the mount will hold it without fail.

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A four input 12-volt USB charger

4-Port Car Charger: Amazon Basics

A car charger with four ports is probably overkill on a road trip with a couple of people, but it’s essential for groups of three or more. Four ports means a carful of people can keep their precious devices charged at all times. Don’t forget extra long micro USB or USB-C cables.

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A black, waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker: JBL Charge 4

Whether you’re blasting tunes at a campsite or setting the mood in your hotel room, you’ll need a solid Bluetooth speaker to get the job done. The waterproof Charge 4 has mega battery life, powerful sound, and even has a USB output to charge devices when their batteries get low.

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A silver and black digital Olympus camera

Digital Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M10

Cell phone photos probably won’t do your trip justice, so get a quality digital camera if you want to capture your adventure properly. My current travel camera is the budget-friendly OM-D E-M10, which is compact, easy to use, and takes great high-res photos.

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Food & Drink Must-Haves

A two-burner camping stove for family camping trips

Powerful Travel Stove: Camp Chef Ranger II

Those who want the option to cook meals on the road can do so with this incredibly powerful 34,000 BTU dual burner stove. The Ranger II can be attached to a standard 5-gallon propane tank or can run off of smaller one-pound camping canisters with an adapter.

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A picnic set for families of four, essential for meals in the park

Backpack Picnic Kit: Sunflora

If you’re going to cook in style on your road trip, you’d better eat in style as well. This luxurious picnic set not only has full tableware for up to four people, but also includes a blanket, cutting board, corkscrew, insulated food and drink compartment, and salt and pepper shakers.

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A grey 12-volt fridge/freezer combo for car travel

12-Volt Fridge/Freezer: Alpicool

Keeping your food fresh and your drinks cold is vital during long stretches in the car, and this 12-volt fridge/freezer combo will do just that. It plugs into your cigarette lighter, draws power while the car is running, cools its contents quickly, and is incredibly efficient.

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A hand-powered espresso maker

Portable Espresso Maker: WACACO Nanospresso

Of all the road trip gadgets on this list, this is one of my absolute favorites. With this handheld device, you can create restaurant-quality espresso on demand. All you need is boiling water, a Nespresso capsule (or coffee grounds), and your own two hands.

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A Jetboil stove for camping and backpacking

Rapid Water Boiling Stove: Jetboil Flash

If you need to boil water in an instant, the Jetboil Flash is exactly what you’re looking for. This lightweight camping stove takes water from room temperature to boiling in less than two minutes, allowing you to make tea, coffee, instant meals, and more.

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A green 32 oz Hydroflask thermos

Insulated Thermos: Hydro Flask

Whether your beverage is boiling hot or ice cold, the uber-efficient Hydro Flask thermos will retain its temperature for a very long time. My incredible 32 oz vessel has kept ice for over three days before it finally melted, which is a dream on longer trips.

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A folding aluminum tables with two chairs for car travel

Folding Table & Chairs: REDCAMP

If you’ll be cooking during your road trip, or simply want somewhere comfortable to play cards or eat takeout, a compact folding table will serve you well. This lightweight aluminum set comes with two chairs and weighs in at only two-and-a-half pounds.

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Music, Entertainment & Relaxation

Four different covers of audiobooks

Audio Book Subscription: Audible.com

Nothing passes the hours on the road like a good audiobook. An Audible subscription — click here for a free 30-day trial — gives users one free audiobook per month (to keep forever), selected free titles, guided exercises, and newspaper subscriptions from all over the world.

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Four different album covers for Spotify and Amazon Music

Streaming Music Subscription: Amazon Music | Spotify

If you plan on listening to CDs or MP3s on your upcoming adventure, you’re stuck about a decade behind. Get with the modern times and sign up for a streaming music subscription which will allow you to listen to pretty much any song whenever you want. Amazon Music | Spotify

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A yellow inflatable kayak with two oars and a pump

Inflatable 2-Person Kayak: Intex Explorer K2

This durable and portable kayak will give you the freedom to explore lakes, gentle rivers, and other bodies of water as you please. Fully inflatable in just a few minutes, this cushy setup can put you out on the water at a moment’s notice. (Don’t forget to grab some life jackets!)

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A frisbee, a vital part of a road trip checklist

Frisbee: Innova Big Kahuna

Frisbees provide endless entertainment and will forever be a staple of my road trip packing list. Whether I’m camping, strolling the beach, or relaxing at a park, my Innova disc is a great excuse for me and my girlfriend to run around outdoors and breathe some fresh air.

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A green and blue hammock for two people

Hammock: ENO DoubleNest

Leaving my hammock behind would be a huge hit to my relaxation capabilities on my trip, and is thus unacceptable. Thankfully, I’ve never forgotten my DoubleNest, so I can sway in the breeze at will (so long as there are two trees and a nice view).

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A deck of waterproof playing cards

Waterproof Playing Cards: Kovot

I play cards frequently when I travel — gin rummy is my game of choice — and usually wear out a normal deck within a couple of weeks. Thankfully, I’ve invested in a set of waterproof cards, which stand up to humid environments (and spilled drinks) quite well.

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Red and blue collapsible corn hole game

Cornhole Set: GoSports Portable PVC

If frisbees, rafts, hammocks, and playing cards aren’t your thing, then maybe you can find a little entertainment playing cornhole. This lightweight setup — made of PVC and high-quality fabric — includes eight bean bags and packs away conveniently into a carrying case.

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Clothing & Comfort Items

Pair of black Knockaround brand sunglasses

Polarized Sunglasses: Knockaround Fast Lanes

I tend to break or lose my sunglasses all the time, which is why I don’t let myself spend much on a pair. Knockaround’s polarized shades have the feel, quality, and style of high-end sunglasses, but only cost $25 a pair. They come with a carrying case, pouch, and cleaning cloth to boot.

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A small grey travel pillow

Travel Pillow: Casper

Napping is an essential part of the road trip lifestyle and a comfortable pillow will take your sleep game to the next level. My small Casper Nap Pillow is compact, cozy, and stays cool as I watch the miles go by and fade away into dreamland.

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A blue microfleece blanket

Packable Travel Blanket: BlueHills

While we’re on the subject of car naps, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend a comfortable and portable blanket to help you get some sleep on the road. This microfleece blanket packs down to the perfect size for cars, and is great for airplanes, camping, and at-home use as well.

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Yellow and pink earplugs

Earplugs: Howard Leight by Honeywell

When spending hours in a cramped car, sometimes you need to tune out the background noise. Ear plugs will help you do so, and give you some respite from your fellow passengers. I’ve tried multiple brands of earplugs, and these are by far the most comfortable.

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Green sandals for water sports

Sandals: Montbell Aqua Gripper

Any road trip wardrobe is incomplete without a good set of sandals, and the Montbell Aqua Grippers are my top choice. They’re lightweight, portable, and versatile enough for hiking, watersports, or any other outdoor activity you might come across during your adventure.

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A green Scrubba laundry bag

Portable Clothes Washing Kit: Scrubba

If you’re frugal and impatient like me, you’ve got no time for laundromats during your travels. The portable hand-washing bag allows you to clean your clothes in a matter of minutes. All you need is some warm water, laundry detergent, and your own two hands.

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Camping & Outdoor Gear

A blue REI two person tent for car camping

Lightweight 2-Person Tent: REI Half Dome SL 2+

If you do it right, your voyage will lead you to some beautiful camping destinations. Once it does, you’ll want a quality tent to get comfortable in and catch some rest. I recommend the REI Half Dome 2 Plus for couples, or the Half Dome 4 if you’re camping with three or more people.

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Sleeping bags for road trips with kids

Sleeping Bag: Hyke and Byke Eulos

Though I’m a bit of an ultralight gear snob and sleep in a $500 quilt, I’ve tested out a friend’s Hyke and Byke Eulos and was very impressed. It’s warm, lightweight, and uses water-resistant 800-fill down. The best thing about it? It costs about one-third of what I spent.

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A green inflatable sleeping pad

Lightweight Sleeping Pad: Sleepingo

To catch some solid sleep in your tent, you’ll need a comfortable sleeping pad to cushion you from the ground below. This particular model has blown me away. It’s comfortable, packs down to the size of a Nalgene, and inflates and deflates as quickly as you could ever ask for.

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Five-gallon pressure camping shower

Pressure Camp Shower: Nemo Helio

Life spent bouncing from campsite to campsite isn’t the cleanest existence, which is why a portable shower is a must-have on your next road trip. This foot pump pressure-powered system allows you to get a strong and refreshing stream of water on demand.

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Packable 24-liter waterproof day pack

Packable Day Pack: 4Monster

Whether you’re setting off on a day hike or venturing into the city for an afternoon, a packable travel backpack will serve you well. This 24-liter waterproof pack will carry your gear, snacks, and other essentials with ease, and compresses down to the size of a soda can.

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An ultralight backpacking and camping chair

Camping Chairs: Moon Lence

Car camping without a comfortable chair is against the unwritten rules of road tripping, so get your hands on one of these if you haven’t already. They weigh only two pounds apiece, fold down into an ultra-compact carrying case, and are as comfortable as they are convenient.

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A hangable water filter pouch

Water Filter: LifeStraw Flex with Gravity Bag

Purifying natural water when you’re camping will save you money, time, and resources. I recommend using the LifeStraw Flex filter system to treat lake and river water safely and conveniently. Simply fill the bag, hang it up, and let gravity do the rest.

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A collapsible water pouch for hiking and backpacking

Collapsible Water Bottles: Platypus

Clunky metal and polycarbonate water bottles are a thing of the past when it comes to exploring the great outdoors. So, instead of bringing along your Nalgene or HydroFlask, opt for a far more lightweight option like the SoftBottle to store your backcountry beverage.

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A multitool Leatherman with knives, screwdrivers, and pliers

Multitool: Leatherman Wingman

Keeping your outdoor gear in working order is easy with the right multitool, which is why I recommend packing a Leatherman on your next expedition. Whether you’re prepping fishing line or tightening the screws on your ski bindings, the Wingman has the right tools to get the job done.

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Family Essentials

Waterproof trash bin: a must-have on your road trip packing list

Portable Trash Bins: EPAuto

A family packed tightly into a car on a long road trip is a recipe for a mess, but it doesn’t have to be. This handy waterproof trash bin will attach to just about anywhere inside your car and can hold up to two gallons of trash without so much as a leak.

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Unscented wet wipes

Wet Wipes: Amazon Elements

If you’re a parent to young children, you know quite well that literal sticky situations will arise on your next adventure. Be prepared for anything with this mammoth supply of baby wipes that’ll help keep your car and your children clean until the next backseat disaster.

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Amazon Fire HD tablet

Tablet: Kindle Fire HD 10

When all of the games, singalongs, and coloring books get old, the kids are going to get bored. That’s when you dazzle them with a tablet loaded full of fun games, apps, movies, and kid’s shows. Boredom will turn to delight, and all in the world will be right again.

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Blue and red kids headphones

Volume-Controlled Headphones: JBL for Kids

At $25 a pop, these just-for-kids headphones are a no-brainer for road-tripping families. These headphones max out at 85 decibels, which is designed to protect its listener’s hearing. They’ll pair up well with a fully loaded tablet to make for the perfect distraction when you need it most.

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Family card game called 'Kids Against Maturity'

Family-Friendly Card Game: Kids Against Maturity

If you were to play Cards Against Humanity with your young children, you might just be a bad parent. Instead, play Kids Against Maturity, which is a family-friendly spin-off. It’s entertaining for both children and parents and is a great way for families to goof off on long rides in the car.

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Two black window shades for cars

Sun-Blocking Window Shades: Enovoe

Children don’t enjoy having the sun shining in their eyes; nobody does actually. So, help them out by shielding the sun’s annoying (and sometimes harmful) rays with window shades. This transparent set won’t block the view out the window or create any blindspots, either.

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Helpful Organization & Storage Systems

A black Yakima storage box for tops of cars

Rooftop Cargo Storage: Yakima Skybox

Sometimes, there’s just not enough room inside the car for all of your wonderful gear. Don’t worry, though, you can create more space. Slap a Skybox or two on the roof of your car and, just like that, you don’t have to leave any of your precious gear behind.

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A trunk organizer storage tote

Trunk Organizer Tote: JACO CargoPro

In the heat of car travel, trunks can turn into a disaster zone in a hurry. Prevent the mayhem by setting up a few helpful organizer totes to keep all of your gear, gadgets, and accessories in order. Or don’t, and prepare yourself for a lawless and chaotic trunk of oblivion.

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A laundry bag with a world map on it

World Map Laundry Bag: Kikkerland

Stinky, dirty clothes have no business mingling with clean road trip supplies, so stash them in a laundry bag like a civilized human being. This world-map bag packs down into the palm of your hand, and can stash a decent amount of clothing when thrust into action.

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Road Trip Packing List + Interactive Checklist

Here’s the exact packing list and interactive checklist I use to get ready for my road trips. Click the ‘+’ sign to expand the category, and use the checkboxes to stay organized as you pack for your trip.

Security & Safety

Roadside Emergency Kit

First-Aid Kit

Gas Container

Tool Set

Car Jack Kit

Jumper Cables

Air Compressor

Windshield Chip Repair

Road Atlas

Electronics

Cell Phone

Car Charger

Charging Cables

Battery Bank

Lantern/Light

Head Lamp

Bluetooth Speaker

Laptop

Camera

Camera Lenses

Camera Batteries

Headphones

Kitchen

Camping Stove

Fuel

Pot

Pan

Cups

Plates

Bowls

Silverware

Knife

Cutting Board

Spatula

Bottle Opener

Coffee Maker

Thermos

Spices

Cooking Oil

Sponge

Cooler/Refrigerator

Food

Drinks

Coffee/Tea

Ice

Clothing

T-Shirts

Long Sleeve Shirts

Button-Up Shirts

Tank Tops

Sweater

Sweatshirt

Rain Jacket

Light Jacket

Winter Jacket

Pants

Jeans

Belt

 Shorts

Athletic Shorts

Skirts/Dresses

Bathing Suit

Underwear

Long Underwear

Socks

Shoes

Sandals

Hiking Boots

Baseball Hat

Winter Hat

Gloves

Sunglasses

Wallet

Laundry

Soap/Laundry Detergent

Laundry Bag

Wash Bag

Clothing Line

Safety Pins

Toiletries

Toiletries Bag

Soap

Shampoo

Conditioner

Hair-Styling Product

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Deodorant

Bug Spray

Dental Floss

Glasses

Contacts

Contact Solution/Case

Ear Cleaner/Swabs

Ear Plugs

Razor

Nail Clippers

Tweezers

Advil/Aspirin

Sleep Aid

Multivitamins

Medication

Hair Dryer

Makeup

Entertainment

Frisbee

Playing Cards

Hammock

Tablets

Sporting Equipment

Games

Books

Magazines

Journal/Pen

Camping & Outdoors

Tent

Sleeping Pad

Sleeping Bag

Travel Pillow

Water Filter

Water Bottles

Camping Shower

Multitool

Miscellaneous

Folding Table

Camping Chairs

Backpack

Packing Cubes

Reusable Grocery Bags

Storage Totes

Window Shades

Water Storage

Wet Wipes

Tissues

Toilet Paper

Garbage Bin

 Towels

Lighter/Matches

Umbrella

Windshield Scraper

Documents

Passport

ID Cards

Medical Insurance

Itinerary

Car Registration

Car Insurance

Helpful Road Trip Resources

A yellow Porsche parked in the streets of Hong Kong
What vehicle will you take on your upcoming road trip?

Now that you have your essentials and packing list squared away, it’s for some tools to crush your next road trip. Here are a few helpful resources that’ll help your next adventure go smoothly:

  • RoadTrippers – Incredibly detailed trip planner to build your dream itinerary
  • Hipcamp – Connects users with private landowners who offer camping on their property
  • Booking.com – My go-to website for booking affordable hotels, hostels & homestays
  • Couchsurfing – Budget-friendly lodging option where hosts offer up a free place to stay
  • Turo – Rent private cars at fair prices to avoid going with big-box companies
  • RentalCars – Puts users in touch with car rental agencies all over the world
  • GasBuddy – Helps users find the most affordable gas prices within a certain radius
  • WorldNomads – Widely-trusted travel insurance popular in the backpacking community

Essential Gear + Packing List = Perfect Road Trip 

A man standing in front of his car looking over a Hawaiian shoreline
Road tripping the Hawaiian coastline on the North Shore of O’ahu

Well, I’ve divulged about as much info as either of us can handle when it comes to road trip essentials and packing lists. I hope you found some useful gear, hacks, and resources to help you plan your next journey on the great open road.

While you do that, I’ll be busy plotting my next adventure: a 3,000-mile adventure to the Pacific Northwest region of the US. I’ll be booking campsites, gathering a long list of can’t-miss destinations, and piecing together the most scenic route possible. I’m going to get as prepared as I possibly can.

But, if my wild and unpredictable history of car voyages is any indication, few things will go according to plan. At least I’ll have my road trip essentials and packing lists to cling to when life on the go gets dicey.

Stay safe out there, and may the open road lead you to fascinating new places.

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

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Noel Krasomil

Hey, I'm Noel Krasomil, the founder of The Packable Life. I pack light and explore the globe searching for awe-inspiring hiking trails, rich cultural experiences, and ways to continue traveling indefinitely.

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links help support this website and keep it 100% ad-free.

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