January 30

53 Road Trip Essentials with A Printable Road Trip Packing Checklist [PDF]

Gear, Reviews and Packing Lists, Plan Your Next Trip

Wondering what to bring on a road trip? Don't miss a thing with this printable road trip packing list.

Learn from my mistakes and plan the perfect driving holiday - anywhere in the world.

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Ultimate Road Trip Packing Checklist PDF Cover Image

The Road Trip Packing List at a Glance

Download your free printable road trip packing list PDF here.  And don't miss the special circumstances packing checklist at the end.

For You

  • Food and snacks
  • Camera
  • In car charger
  • Sunglasses
  • Pen & paper
  • Apps all downloaded
  • Key phrases
  • Tissues & wet wipes
  • Plastic bags
  • Smartphone dash mount
  • Umbrella & waterproofs
  • Sunscreen & bug spray
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First aid kit
  • Hands-free kit for phone
  • Power banks
  • SIM card if abroad

For the car

  • Paper and digital map
  • License and permits
  • Cash and card for tolls
  • Insurance
  • Emergency road kit (see below)
  • Car manual
  • Sun shield / windscreen cover
  • Blanket
  • Bottle of water
  • Emergency recovery details
  • Car seats for children
  • Car organizers
  • Torch
  • A suitcase that fits
  • Folding pushchair
  • Snooze shade for pushchair
  • Tent
  • Table and folding chairs

For fun

  • Music playlists
  • GoPro
  • Picnic blanket
  • Air freshener
  • Cool box
  • Swiss army knife or toolkit
  • Towel and swimwear
  • Toys
  • Scarf
  • Travel pillow
  • Day bag
  • Flip flops or hiking boots
  • Cutlery & eco napkins
  • Music speakers
  • Ice
  • BBQ or portable cooker
  • Dishwashing soap
Road Trip Essentials - what to bring on a road trip - toy car on map of USA

Road Trip Essentials: What to Bring on A Road Trip or Driving Holiday

Looking for what to pack for a road trip checklist? 

Few things compare to tackling the open road yourself. Knowing you can stop whenever you want, eat wherever you want and pack almost as much as you want gives a great sense of freedom and exploration - with the road trip essentials that make the journey more enjoyable.

Why should you trust me?

I've gathered up my decades on the road as a travel writer along with tips from the Inside the Travel Lab community. This is the ultimate road trip packing list, the perfect guide to what to bring on a road trip. I've even added links to the products so you can shop quickly. We may earn a small commission if you book or buy through the affiliate links here, so thank you for that! I've also put together different road trip packing lists for different types of trips.

Enjoy your essential road trip packing list!

Peloponnese Map and Driving Itinerary for a Road Trip in Greece

What's my road trip resumé?

From Australia's Great Ocean Road to the heights of the Atlas Mountains driving in Morocco. From the west coast of Florida to a road trip from New Orleans. Two weeks driving Massachusetts and then speeding around the mountains of Austria. The big fat Greek road trip. The length and breadth of Spain. And probably the best of all, all the way through Patagonia to the southernmost point before you need to set sail for Antarctica. And more...I wont' list them all here, but let's just say that I'm lucky and I love the open road.

What to Bring on a Road Trip: In Detail

For You

Health & Safety

The doctor in me always wants to make sure you're safe and sound first and foremost!

Depending on where you will be, you will need all kinds of gloop like insect repellent and sunscreen, hand sanitizer and soap. It's also a really good idea to have a basic first aid kit in the car at all times. You can pick up a pre-prepared first aid kit like this easily on Amazon, or make one yourself. Also, don't forget your sunglasses (prescription if required!)

Don't forget the road trip essentials that are specific to you. This includes any essential medication and the paperwork to explain why you need it, spare contact lenses or glasses and any snacks particularly if you have dietary restrictions or are pregnant. If you're worried already about how you're going to fit all of this in, take a look at the list of long haul flight essentials. There's a handy video here to talk you through how you can keep your road trip packing to a minimum.

Inside Tip

Even in this digital age, pack pen and paper for your driving holiday. Why? It's handy to be able to leave a note on your dashboard if you need to. (Just unloading, back soon!)

Money, Honey

Car parks the world over have strange rules. So do vending machines if you need water or a snack. Bring a loose collection of change, as well as notes and credit cards. In some countries, you'll need to pay some kind of bribe or protection money so that your car is still OK when you come back. So avoid only having large notes and get small change as soon as you can. 

Key Phrases

It's really handy to have written down any phrases you'll need in case your signal dies and Google Translate runs for the hills. For example,  Dear Officer, I'm sorry. Please fill the tank with petrol. Where is the gas station? Do you know the way to Amarillo. I clearly called shotgun... etc

Electronics, Reward Cards and Apps

Again, it's best to download any road trip apps ahead of time and bring the details of any reward cards with you. Check out our list of the best travel apps for Europe and look into the AA app and reward system if you're driving in the UK.

Make sure you have a device to help mount your smartphone to the windshield or dashboard. You can pick up cheap and cheerful dash mounts like this. Alternatively, if you want to be able to angle the phone just the way you want and charge wirelessly, check out a more elaborate dash mount like this.

All the gadgets in the world mean nothing if they're not charged. That's why it's so important to bring an in-car charging adapter like this and a portable power bank as back up. I like this power bank because you can both charge at the same time, a far more sociable option for a road trip! Plus, those in-car chargers are often on the slow side, so even if you're driving alone, I wouldn't rely on them as your one and only power source. 

Finally, don't forget that many countries have extremely strict laws about using your phone while in the car and they're getting stricter all the time. Pack your hands-free kit for your phone (or use the car manual to link it up to the car itself) and don't risk breaking the rules.

Comfort and Hygiene

Always bring some tissues and toilet roll with you, in case you need to stop at ill-equipped restrooms or out in mother nature herself. With that in mind, pack some plastic bags to help manage the same situation, think about bringing soap and wet wipes, and some bin liners and to keep in-car rubbish at a minimum.

It's also more comfortable to have a jumper or sweater with you and passengers can enjoy the heights of decadent luxury with blankets, inflatable travel pillows like this, and warm, thick socks to stay warm. 

Remember to bring a refillable water bottle and some eco-friendly cutlery to cut down on disposable plastic. Those gorgeous bamboo travel kits are enjoyable, but your own metal cutlery works just as well.

Sightseeing and Cultural Tips

It's a good idea to pack a lightweight scarf and cardigan or long trousers if you plan on stopping to visit any mosques, churches or fancy restaurants. Wear what you like in the car but dress appropriately whenever you get out.


Fun Road Trip Essentials

Here's where you get into the realm of road trip playlists, boiled sweets, and claiming shotgun. I'll leave that up to you (but lemon barley is my favourite.)

Music & Speakers

Say road trip, think music, at least that's the way it goes for me. Many people swear by portable speakers, but I always feel a little guilty that I'm irritating other people around. These waterproof bluetooth speakers don't take up much space and can share the sound better than just the car radio. Load up with this Road Trip Playlist from Spotify and drive on!

Making the most of the great outdoors

One of the best parts of any road trip or driving holiday is the chance to make the most of the great outdoors, far from the crowds and crushed commuters! You'll have a much better chance of enjoying all this with the right outdoor clothes, of course. 

Swimwear

Ah... Life offers few pleasures sweeter than pulling up at a beach and plunging into the sea. Pack your swimwear, obviously, but also a towel and a plastic bag to put your wet clothes in. Be careful about areas without lifeguards and pack some flip flops to help you walk over hot tarmac or sharp pebbles. Flip flops can also be handy for spas, shared campsites, and for quick access when your bare feet have been curled up on the dashboard...essentials for a road trip.

Hiking Essentials

Likewise, make the most of all those viewpoints, hiking routes and trails with the right hiking gear. We have a separate hiking gear essentials list over here for those planning to make this the main point of their trip. 

For everyone else, I'd just highlight the importance of good hiking boots and a lightweight but effective waterproof jacket. A portable, folding umbrella can also save the day as well.

GoPro & Road Trip Camera Tips

If you've been wondering whether or not to invest in a GoPro and have an epic road trip or driving holiday coming up, then now's the time to buy. With accessories that mount the camera to the dashboard and software to magically turn your miles of shaky footage into a neat, clipped vision of wonder, these babies are made for road trips. 

Or... Failing that, buy something to mount your smartphone to the dashboard instead. Hit timelapse when the going gets pretty and enjoy the memories for years to come...

Day Pack & Suitcase

Hard-wearing soft-sided suitcases suit road trips the best: it's easier to squeeze them in and out of the boot without damaging either them or the car. I love the Osprey range and would recommend this bag for a family trip and this one for a solo trip. Check out our other travel gear reviews and packing lists here.

Make sure to bring a day bag that can also function as a beach bag, museum sightseeing handbag or shower and shopping bag as well. 

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What food should you pack for a road trip?

Snacks are to road trips what pine trees are to Christmas. A non-essential essential!

Whether your goal is to stay healthy while on the road or to junk like there's no tomorrow, food should be on your list. Choose snacks that wont' melt, stick or stink out the car. 

Here's a shortlist: 

  • Dried fruit like raisins, apricots and nuts
  • Dirty treats that don't melt like Haribo, tins of boiled sweets, mint humbugs and lemon sherbets
  • Fruit like apples and satsumas. Bananas tend to go brown really fast in the car.

Cooking on the Road - Long Road Trip Essentials

When it comes to cooking on the road, you generally have the following options. Cooking in a self-catered apartment, cooking in a caravan or RV or cooking in a campsite or glamping area. Since my early backpacking days, I tend to be a self-catered or glamping kind of girl (or, let's face it, a quick shower and head to a restaurant kind of person.)

But, cooking for yourself can not only save money, it can also save sanity when you're travelling with young children or when you're travelling for anything more than a week or so. There's also a tremendous feeling of satisfaction about sipping that first cup of tea outdoors in nature or roasting marshmallows around a group fire as the stars fill the sky.

Ice, Ice, Baby

So, depending on what you have in mind, you will need to bring along some gear. At the very least, you'll need a coolbox and some ice packs for anything perishable. If you're going to fly-drive, then pack a folding cool bag like this. If you're driving from home to begin with and weight is not an option, then consider making life easier by buying a cool bag with wheels. Meant for old ladies or frat boys? Frankly, who cares?! Bring an ice cube tray or be prepared to buy ice at supermarkets. Most hotels in America have ice machines on each floor but that's not the case in Europe so you'll need to top up as you go.

Make it hot

Obviously, with self-catered apartments, cottages, villas and when glamping, you won't need to bring too much equipment. But a portable stove and camping mugs and plates can mean you can easily prepare a simple meal and cup of tea almost wherever you like. 

Picnic Perfect

At the very least, it's a good idea to pack a decent picnic blanket with a waterproof base so that you can relax wherever you find the space instead of huddling in the front seats or boot. I often find the standard sizes too small by the time you've added in all the food and people, so I love the idea of this larger picnic blanket here. 

Another solution is to throw in a couple of folding camp chairs for adults (you can even get them for kids) and make the most of those outdoor moments. 

A Tool for All Occasions

My ever faithful Swiss Army Knife comes in handy on driving holidays, for everything from cutting open stubborn food packets to prising lost toys or coins out of the strangest places. 

FOR THE CAR: CAR ESSENTIALS FOR A ROAD TRIP

Car Breakdown Kit

Don't forget safety essentials like a spare tyre, jack, water, high-vis jacket, jump leads, hazard sign, fire blanket and torch. These are mandatory in some countries. A decent car rental company should make sure they're provided if you need them but check in advance. Never neglect this essential road trip gear.

Also, it's good sense to pack spare bulbs and fuses. You can buy roadside emergency kits or put one together yourself with this road trip essentials list:

  • A torch
  • A high visibility jacket
  • A hazard triangle
  • A bottle of water
  • A fire blanket
  • Tow rope
  • Jump leads
  • Spare bulbs
  • Gloves
  • De-icer and ice scraper
  • Compass
  • Toolbox

An Air Freshener That's Good for You

Swap synthetic swinging Christmas trees for this car air freshener that hangs on the back of the front seats. Made of activated charcoal and bamboo, this air freshener absorbs all those unsavoury smells leaving the air fresh for your road trip.

Car Organisers

For family travel with older children or road trips with passengers in the back, consider a car organiser that hangs over the front seats into the back. Stock with snacks, toys, games, wet wipes and rubbish bags and you have most of your family road trip essentials covered.

Windshield Sun Shade and Sheets

For privacy and for temperature control a windshield sun shade is a great investment. We couldn't live without them when driving in Spain as the inside of the car reached burning temperatures without them. When travelling with a young child, it helps to have some dark sheets to use in the back.


Maps, directions and SIM cards

The biggest ever mistakes stem from just one thing: not having a paper map. 

In the passion of our smartphone love affair, we forget that sometimes signals fail, batteries run out, Google Maps freezes and that gremlins take over the Sat Nav. 

If you are travelling anywhere remotely off the beaten track, then buy a paper copy of the map you need well in advance of your road trip. If all else fails, ask the car rental company or look for one at service stations (gas stations.) But please do not rely on this. I lost at least half a day, and luckily not more, in Morocco without a map to my name, just hoping to hit my hotel on the coast by nightfall amid goats, police checks and an awful lot of sand.

So please. Repeat after me. Paper map. Paper directions. AND a SIM card or other way of getting online while on the road. It's one of the most important things to bring on a road trip.

What paperwork do you need to bring on a road trip?

Road Trip Necessities: start early to make sure you have your paperwork ready. Tackle the obvious driving license and insurance conditions but don't forget you may need special permits for certain landscapes, parks or camp grounds.

Driving License

Let's get the obvious one out of the way, shall we? You need to have your license with you and it needs to be...

  • Valid in the country you wish to drive in
  • Up to date
  • Has ALL components required (eg paper, plastic and/or electronic)
    Backed up online somewhere (maybe with a photocopy in your suitcase.)

Insurance

Car insurance is NOT something to mess around with, obviously. But it can also become extortionate because it's one of the ways car rental companies can make money out of your confusion (and apathy since, let's face it, it's such a dull topic.) For hiring a car in the UK, this guide from Money Saving Expert is a great way to navigate hidden charges.


Roadside recovery Details

If you hire a car, this should be part of your package (but check in advance!) If you're driving your own car then remember to bring your own roadside recovery details. Bear in mind that limitations may apply if you're out of the country for a certain period of time or, of course, your home package may not cover the country you're driving through. 

Keep a copy stored electronically, as well as a paper copy in the car. 

Permits

Many beautiful places in the world require permits. Permits to enter, permits to drive, permits to park and permits to take photographs. Gathering these permits may require more time and paperwork than your mortgage application did, particularly when it comes to national parks.

Start early and be thorough. 

Roaming through the Australian outback, US National Parks, the national parks of Tierra del Fuego and many more besides all have permit restrictions. Some you buy at the gate (so you'll need the right method of payment, in the right currency with the right ID) and others you MUST arrange in advance.

If something like this forms the raison d'etre for your trip then I cannot stress enough that you should look into it in advance!

Toll Pass Deals

Long drives through certain parts of the world (particularly in America and Spain) require frequent stops to pay tolls. These can be pretty confusing for visitors, not to mention irritatingly expensive. Sometimes, car hire companies will suggest you use an alternative scheme. It's worth checking this out in advance since jet lag and general travel fatigue can prevent you making the right choice on the ground. 

How to choose the right vehicle for your road trip

Again, this feels oh-so-obvious! But there are pitfalls that I've seen others make (and, ahem, I've made) time and time again. 

When You're Using Your Own Car

Is it up to the task? Will you be driving through different conditions that require, for example, different equipment like winter tyres and snow chains? 

Have you taken into account that you'll have lots of luggage with you? And passengers? Is it too big for city parking?

Do you have your car manual? If not, an electronic copy?

Car Rental Checklist

Checklist when booking

  • Will you have enough space for all passengers, including luggage, pushchairs, car seats, surfboards, golf clubs and anything else large and cumbersome!
  • Can you drive it? Many countries, especially in Europe, have manual cars as the default option, not automatics. 
  • Can your rental car handle the road? Do you need a 4WD for off-road terrain? Snow chains for the mountains?
  • Is it small enough ;-) Smaller is better for city driving. As long as you can all fit in.
  • Do you need to book SatNav or child car seats? 

Checklist on pick up

  • Check which type of petrol or gas you need and note which side the petrol cap is on.
  • Note down the emergency breakdown number and ask what to do if you lose your key.
  • Check the returns process, particularly if you are returning outside normal business hours.
  • Walk around the car looking for obvious damage and check the condition of the tyres.
  • Check the petrol level and miles on the dashboard and note them down.
  • Check the car has a manual, spare tyre, jack and lug wrench already.
  • Check the lights, mirrors and windscreen wipers and drive around the parking lot before leaving.
  •  Check that you know how to find the reverse gear as it differs from car to car.
  • Get all your road trip essentials in place (snacks, water, Sat Nav, music) and then hit the road!

Checklist when returning your car

  • Make a note of the mileage and petrol level.
  • Check for any damage and take photos of the car.
  • Check under the seats, in the glove box and in the boot or trunk.
  • Obtain a receipt if possible or photograph the car in the return space.

Whether using your own vehicle or hiring a car, make sure that it can tackle the road conditions ahead, has space for all passengers AND luggage and (ahem) make sure you know how to drive it.

Know the Rules of the Road

In Britain, you drive on the left. And Japan. And Australia,  Jamaica, Malawi and the Maldives and many more. 

So, for one, check whether to drive on the left or right with this handy website.

But the rules don't end there. Some countries require certain equipment, such as a spare pair of glasses in the glovebox, or restrict various others. See not being allowed to drive in flip flops in Spain, among others.

Check the rules of the road in the country (or state) you plan to drive in. You may be surprised...

Road Trip Planning Essentials

Driving Itineraries

It makes sense to use someone else's itinerary as a guide. You can always add to it, tweak it, tinker with it and everything else but at least you have a starting point. 

Check Drive Times

In Europe, I find the best way to do this is through the AA route planner. Elsewhere, Google can be handy and you can save your own map there as well. 

Book Key Accommodation

The older I get, the more I book. Booking on your phone is easier than ever, which, unfortunately has meant that it's now harder than ever to book somewhere by just showing up. 

Find a guide to some of the best websites for booking accommodation here.

Road Trip Planners

From pen and paper to fancy schmancy apps, you'll find lots of options for planning your trip. And it doesn't really matter which you use, so long as you use something!

Factor in Parking

Parking can make or break your trip. It's definitely worth making it a key point of your checklist when you book accommodation to avoid driving around circles or paying more than your whole trip cost for the pleasure of getting out of the car. 

Check your checklist and book essentials like accommodation (and possibly parking) in advance. Download apps and templates in advance and check drive times between key destinations.

Road Trip Essentials for Special Circumstances

So far, we've covered pretty general scenarios. But this article promised to cover the road trip essentials to help you plan the perfect driving holiday anywhere in the world, right? So, a few more things to think about...

Solo Road Trip Essentials

I've driven solo in Morocco, Austria, Australia and more, through cities and on long, extended trips. And believe me, if I can do it, you can do it. BUT there's no need to be foolish. A very well educated and responsible friend of mine nearly lost her life on an academic dig in the Australian outback. 

In some ways, of course, it's no different to travelling with other people. In others, it's all the difference in the world, particularly but not exclusively for women. All of the road trip essentials apply equally here...

But. You will need to be a little more cautious in the ground you cover (however great you are, there's only one of you.)

Plan for more breaks, more stops for navigation, more streetwise approaches to camping outside or what you plan on doing if your car breaks down. Be extra vigilant in how you dress and what you leave in your car at night (ideally, nothing on show.)

Family Road Trip Essentials

Car seats, car seats, car seats! Different places have different rules but physics and gravity stay the same wherever you go.

Children's car seats save lives, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to back that up. Check the rules where you go (bear in mind that even between Europe and the US, the specs change, even within states in America.) 

Is it worth taking your own car seat to use on the plane?. Do you need to reserve a car seat in advance with the car rental? Will you need a bigger taxi to take the car seat if you're not picking up the car right away but spending a few days in the city?

Apart from that, double down on all the road trip essentials we've talked about. Little people can't tolerate as much as adults and, remember, you're only happy if the kids are happy.

Road trip essentials for kids include snacks, hats, sunscreen, entertainment, water, shade... Read the whole article again and double down on it for travel with children! 

Driving in the Snow

Will you need snow chains and do you know how to put them on? A torch is essential for this, as well as decent, waterproof gloves. Have you changed to winter tyres? Do you have a snow shovel and ice scraper. Don't forget to put the windscreen wipers up in the air overnight. Look at what others are doing and follow!

Driving Somewhere Remote

Hey, look. If any of the following are likely to be scarce, stock up: spare fuel, wiper fluid/screnwash, coolant and extra water. Consider a compass and a personal locator beacon. Have a backup plan. Check with park or land authorities and ask for their advice.

Driving in the Heat

You'll need plenty of water in the car and look for air conditioning when booking your vehicle.

Buy and pack your own silver reflective windshield guard reflector and use it. Pack sheets or dark cloths to use as shades if you have children (or adults!) trying to sleep in the back.

Sunscreen, obviously. Make parking in the shade an absolute priority. 

Driving Around Wild Animals

It's obviously not a good idea to be stranded in the Serengeti at night when the temperature plummets and the man-eating animals prowl around. Particularly if you need to pee.

What's possibly not so obvious (particularly if you live in Britain) is that dangerous animals are more common than you might think. You know those cute yellow kangaroo signs in Australia? They're not just for fun.

Kangaroos can be massive. Collide with one of them, or a moose or bear in Canada, a kyote in the US or a cow in India, and everyone's in trouble.

On the Great Ocean Road, for example, which runs from city-slick Melbourne, you're advised not to drive around dusk in order to avoid hitting kangaroos. In Morocco and in Oman, you have roaming camels to contend with.

Ask around online before you go and at the car hire pick up desk when you get there for any locally specific wildlife warnings. And follow them. 

Driving Around Cities

First of all, do you have to? In some cities you need to drive, but in most it's just a hassle. Traffic congestion and parking charges, not to mention teeny-tiny pre-car roads mean that driving in many global cities is about as pleasant as ending up with the middle seat on a long haul flight with turbulence.

Honestly, in many old cities, like Seville in Spain, it is simply physically impossible to drive through many of the central old parts of town. 

Carless for a few days?

Consider a few days in the city before going to pick up your car for the bigger journey ahead. Or, if you must, pick a smaller car to make parking easier (and car rental cheaper.)

Finally, don't forget that many modern cities have inner city charges that the visiting traveller has little hope of understanding. The London Congestion Charge and the Dublin orbital motorway charge spring to mind.

Check with your hotel concierge and, well, you have been warned!

Different conditions call for different plans. Consider your passengers, the weather and the access to help if you need it when thinking about what to pack for a road trip.


Did you enjoy this essential road trip list? Bookmark for later and happy road tripping!

What to bring on a road trip - packing list for weekend and longer road trips
Road trip Packing List - what to bring on a road trip for families and solo travelers

Road Trip Essentials: In Summary

1 - Get your paperwork in order
2 - Get the right vehicle for the job
3 - Learn the rules of the road
4 - Plan your route
5 - Pack for you and for the car
6 - Check any special circumstances
7 - Explore the world and go and have a lot of fun!


Get Your Free Road Trip CHECKLIST

Sign up to get your free printable road trip essentials PDF in your inbox now.

 Take care of your road trip essentials and then go and have an absolutely amazing driving holiday!


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About the author

Abi King

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Find out more.

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