Are you getting ready to pack your car for your next road trip adventure? There are some important road trip essentials you’ll want to bring on the trip. Our family has been on a lot of road trips, including an annual multi-day trip from Seattle to Edmonton, Alberta, and driving from Seattle to California. Over the years we’ve discovered some important things to pack!
When you’re planning to spend hours in the car on a long road trip, these essential items will help you stay safe and comfortable and are super easy to pack. I’ve included items that are essential for comfort, cleanup, staying connected, and entertainment.
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It’s important to pack your car well for a road trip! That includes bringing useful items that will help you clean up messes, stay comfortable in the car, and even something to help with bad smells.
Some of these essential items might be easier to pack if you’re driving your own car. If you’re renting a car, consider using this list to determine each essential item you should pack in your luggage to bring along.
List of Road Trip Essentials to Pack
We find ourselves using wet wipes/diaper wipes all the time on road trips. My husband especially likes to use them after filling up the gas tank. I also love using them to clean our hands after eating. Individually wrapped wipes can work well for cars since they don’t dry out like multipacks.
We’ve all learned way too much about how we spread germs lately, so disinfecting wipes are also a big essential item to pack on a road trip! Just know that baby wipes can work well for hands and faces, but disinfecting wipes are normally best for surfaces.
Having a bottle of hand sanitizer is a road trip essential. We store a pump bottle in the cupholder between the front seats and everyone can access it. Works well for eating on the go and after being outside.
Paper towels take up a bit of room, but they are very helpful for spills and messes. Families will find that paper towels can serve them well for cleaning up kid messes. We’ve also used paper towels to clean off messy shoes after a muddy walk. And they can be helpful if you’re eating in the car.
A roll of toilet paper can be useful in a couple of cases. Sometimes you might need to stop at a park or rest stop and they might not have toilet paper stocked.
You might also want some if you’re stuck using a “green latrine” at some point (FYI – that means using the bathroom in the woods). Just make sure you pack your toilet paper in and out. :)
Facial Tissue (i.e. Kleenex)
Facial tissue is always a good thing to bring along if you need to blow your nose. It’s good to keep in mind that allergies might affect you when driving in nature with plants you might not be accustomed to. They can also be extremely useful for wrapping up chewed gum to throw away!
When a few people start spending hours together in a small space there’s a chance there will be some smells. Fast food smells, dirty shoe smells, or human gas can make the car stink. Pack some sprayable odor eliminator and consider an air freshener, too.
This is one of the most vital road trip essentials if you want to keep your car organized on a road trip. I like to tell people to pack a garbage bag for each “row” of seats.
We love using this car trash bag between the front seats, but each of our girls gets a plastic bag to keep near their seats to put garbage into. At the end of the day, we can throw the whole bag of garbage away at our stop for the night. We pack one plastic bag for each day we’ll be in the car.
No one wants to ride along with someone who is hangry, so be sure to pack plenty of road trip snacks. With kids consider packing a separate pack of snacks for each kid so no one has to hear arguments about who ate too much of what.
If you plan to pack your own lunches or snacks that need to stay cool, make sure to pack a small portable cooler. We also own an electric cooler and it’s nice for longer trips where ice packs can’t stay cold. Using a cooler can help you pack some healthy snacks in addition to all that road trip junk food. :)
If you’re using an electric cooler and staying in hotels overnight on a long trip, be sure you have a DC adaptor for the cooler in order to plug it into a hotel outlet overnight.
Gum / Mints
Most people won’t be brushing their teeth during the day while driving, so mints and/or gum are a good thing to pack. They’re going to help keep your mouth feeling a bit fresher and save others from smelling bad breath.
Reusable Water Bottle
While you don’t want to make a lot of bathroom stops, it’s still important to stay hydrated. Bring your own water bottle so you can refill it at restaurants and avoid single-use plastic bottle purchases. An insulated bottle is great for keeping your drinks cold, too.
Having a water bottle on hand is also a good idea if you’re planning any hiking or tourist stops in state or national parks.
Talking about making stops make sure you pack a day bag that you can easily grab when you’re making stops. I pack mine with my wallet plus snacks and a water bottle. It’s great to use whether we’re heading on a small hike or just running into a local store.
This one works for men and women. Paul and I both like to use some facial wipes after we’ve been driving to help us feel refreshed.
Dry lips can be really irritating, especially when you’re stuck in a car for hours. You also might have a change in humidity during your long drive or stops, so lip balm will come in handy.
If you have trouble with dry eyes, or if you wear contacts, pack some eye drops for the trip. I wear contacts and find that driving with the air blowing on my face can make my eyes dry out.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve relied on these flossers to help us get rid of something stuck in our teeth after eating on the go.
This is another comfort item, dry hands can be frustrating if you’re stuck in the car for a long time.
I’m sensitive to sunlight so I couldn’t imagine taking a road trip without bringing a pair of sunglasses. Consider getting polarized sunglasses to help with harsh sunlight glares.
I wear my RayBans, but Amazon has some well-rated polarized sunglass options.
Wearing slip-on shoes is a must for road trips. If you’re not driving then you’ll want to slip off your shoes and having to keep untying and retying them for each stop can be frustrating and time-consuming. I shared some of my favorite shoes in my road trip outfits post.
Passengers will appreciate having a pillow on the long trip. You can pack a full-size pillow from home, or use a small pillow or travel neck pillow.
If you’re on a solo trip, you might be planning to sleep in your car and a sleeping bag paired with your travel pillow can come in handy for throwing on the back seat.
We are a family that prefers different temps in the car. While driving, Paul likes to keep it cooler, which makes me miserable. Bringing a blanket can help everyone stay comfortable, and help keep the driver cool and alert!
A travel towel that is compact can come in handy for a few reasons. Perhaps you stop by a beach and walk into the water. Or you might get stuck in a rainstorm and need to dry off your hair. These are portable and easy to pack, an extra item that can come in handy if you’re planning to make multiple stops.
If you’re planning to stop at parks for a break or to eat then packing a portable picnic blanket can come in handy. Throw in a frisbee, too!
First Aid Kit
While you should make sure you’re covered for serious medical concerns and can access a hospital, minor scrapes can be fixed with a travel first aid kit. Definitely remember some ibuprofen/acetaminophen, stomach chews (Pepto Bismol), allergy pills, and bug bite cream. We’ve used them all on road trips.
Keep in mind if anyone suffers from motion sickness while traveling, and be sure to pack some items to help with that. You can use medicine like Bonine, essential oils, or a Reliefband tech bracelet that uses electricity to help combat motion sickness.
Roadside Emergency Kit
You can either buy a pre-made car emergency kit or put one together yourself with some absolute essentials. An emergency kit will have the necessities and some extra precautionary supplies but will have only jumper cables which won’t help you if you can’t find another motorist to give you a jump. I recommend packing a car jump starter so you don’t have to count on having another car to provide a jump.
And don’t forget to make sure your car is road-ready and any car maintenance is up to date. You’ll also want to make sure your spare tire is in good condition and ready if you get a flat tire.
There are also some important things, like an ice scraper, you’ll want to pack for a winter road trip.
Car Jump Starter
Having jumper cables won’t help you if you can’t find another motorist to give you a jump. I recommend packing a car jump starter so you don’t have to count on having another car to provide a jump.
While we all rely on google maps on our phones these days, there’s always a chance you’ll lose your coverage while driving. Make sure you pack a road atlas so you can navigate yourself if needed. If you’re staying in one particular state or region, you might consider a paper map for that state that you can just store in your glove compartment versus a whole atlas.
Also, keep in mind that digital maps will probably tell you the best way to go to save time or mileage, but it might not be the most scenic way to go. A road atlas can help you look for scenic drives and routes.
Also keep your hotel info, like the address and telephone number, printed somewhere so you can access the info in case you can’t get an internet connection.
If you are using your phone for driving directions, a good phone mount is a road trip essential. I like the ones that fasten to our vents, but others might prefer dash mounts.
You also might need to pack a car charger unit if you have multiple people in the car that will need to recharge their phones or devices during the drive. This multiple-port charger is useful for families with members in the backseat.
Car Power Inverter
If you’re looking to get some work done or charge larger electronics than phones, a power inverter can come in handy. We use one of these to charge our laptops on long road trips.
Don’t forget to make sure each person packs their own headphones. There will be times when each person might want to listen to their own music/movie.
This is definitely a splurge and not really an essential. But, if you’re planning a long trip and want to have excellent cell phone reception during the drive, you might consider a signal booster. weBoost is a popular brand of signal boosters and they have devices that can help boost the signal of a single device or for the whole vehicle – great for families!
Games & Activities
Don’t forget to pack some things to keep the whole family entertained while in the car:
- Road Trip Games – these printable games are great for kids (you can also buy some fun travel games)
- Books (digital or paper)
- Audiobooks (30-day free trial for Audible, titles like Percy Jackson and Pride and Prejudice!)
- Portable DVD Players or tablet mounts (we like DVD players that allow the girls to watch the same movie or different ones at the same time)
Just consider what each person might need to have a good time while riding along in the car. And drivers should remember to think of any road trip playlists or audiobooks they’ll want to listen to while driving. Each person will want to pack a small bag at their feet that contain their activities and any personal items they may need.
Don’t forget to bring credit cards with you on your long drive. You’ll be filling up with gas often and most gas stations use pay at the pump. You may even need to rely on pay at the pump during off-hours at some small-town stops.
You can also bring some cash on your trip since you may want to make a stop at a roadside booth and buy some local food. I find that sometimes these roadside vendors only accept cash.
Lastly, make sure your car insurance and registration are up to date and you have that information with you in case you run into any issues on the road. Also, consider if a travel insurance plan would be useful for your trip.
Now you’ve packed all the road trip essentials and you’re ready to hit the open road!
FAQs about Road Trip Essentials for Car
What essentials do I need for a road trip?
Most road trip essentials are for comfort, like lip balm and snacks, for safety, like emergency gear and navigation, and for entertainment, like music and/or books.
How do I prepare my body for a long road trip?
It’s important to be well-rested and hydrated. It helps to take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch. Also, be sure you wear comfortable clothing.
What to do during long car rides?
Staying entertained depends on your interests. Listening to audiobooks and podcasts can be a popular road trip activity. You can also watch movies that you download. Playing sign letter games is another classic thing to do during long car rides.
What’s the longest you should drive in a day?
Driving over 8 hours is when it starts getting harder. Driving 10 hours or 12 hours, just means you need to take more breaks and start earlier. If sightseeing along the way, I recommend not driving more than 5-6 hours a day.
Coming Soon: Road Trip Packing List
Sunday 30th of May 2021
Kleenex are a brand. The word you are looking for is "facial tissue"
Tuesday 1st of June 2021
That's so true - I say kleenex and don't even think of the branding. I actually think we use Puffs a lot of the time! :) Thanks for the recommendation.
Monday 21st of September 2020
Thank you so much for sharing these amazing tips with us!! I will surely keep these essential with me in my jeep.
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
Road trips are now the way better option compared to flying. I bet a lot of us will be doing family road trips!
Wednesday 20th of May 2020
Yes, I bet there will be a resurgence of the "Great American Roadtrip".
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