Wondering what to bring on a road trip? Don’t miss a thing with this printable road trip packing list. Plan the perfect driving holiday anywhere in the world with this road trip checklist and these road trip essentials.
Road Trip Essentials: What to Bring on A Road Trip
Few things compare to tackling the open road yourself. Stopping whenever you want, eating wherever you want and packing almost as much as you want. The sense of freedom and exploration makes it one of my favourite ways to travel.
Well, here’s a printable road trip checklist PDF so that you can sort out all the admin ahead of time. Then hit the road, ready to enjoy it.
This is the ultimate road trip packing list, the perfect guide to what to bring on a road trip.
If you’re concerned about packing for a road trip because of issues of space, then take a look at the list of long haul flight essentials. Yes, they’re for flying but that means there’s a focus on both volume and weight – and keeping both under control.
I’ve also made a handy video for you here to help with packing light.
How to Use this Road Trip Checklist
You can download a printable road trip checklist for free here.That’s the bare bones road trip packing list, whereas here on the blog, I’m going to talk you through each of the road trip essentials and give you some top tips on packing for a road trip.
I’ve even added links to the products so you can shop quickly or use this road trip essentials list on Amazon. We may earn a small commission if you book or buy through the affiliate links here, so thank you for that!
What to Bring on a Road Trip: In Detail
Health & Safety Road Trip Essentials
- First Aid Kit
- Bug spray, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, tissue and soap.
- Prescription medication and paperwork
- Sunglasses and spare contact lenses
- Snacks if you have specific dietary requirements
The doctor in me always wants to make sure you’re safe and sound first and foremost!
Essential Toiletries for a Road Trip
Depending on where you will be, you will need all kinds of gloop like insect repellent and sunscreen, hand sanitizer and soap.
First Aid Kit & Prescriptions
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. Remember to pack spare contact lenses and glasses and any snacks, especially if you have dietary restrictions or are pregnant.
Even in this digital age, it’s a good idea to pack both a pen and some 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, for example.)
Savvy Road Trip Essentials
Car parks the world over have strange rules and even stranger payment methods. Make sure you can easily manage every situation by bringing a loose collection of change, as well as bank notes, credit cards and debit cards.
In some countries, you’ll need to pay some “protection money” so that your car is still OK when you come back. It doesn’t feel right but you are unlikely to change the world overnight. Instead, make sure you always have a collection of small notes ready. Change any large bank notes as soon as you possibly can in shops or at hotel desks. When withdrawing cash at an ATM or cash point, try to enter a total which will give you smaller notes (eg $70 instead of $100 and so on.)
When you’re driving somewhere which speaks another language, it’s really handy to write down the key phrases you may need. Yes, we have phones and Google Translate these days, but have you ever noticed that your signal disappears and battery runs flat right when you need things the most?
This only takes a few minutes to set up at the start of your trip:
– Dear Officer, I’m sorry.
-Please fill the tank with petrol (or diesel)
-Where is the gas station?
-Can I park here?
– Is this the way to Amarillo? etc
Also, translate key phrases that you will need to understand:
– No parking
_ No access except weekends
– Vehicles will be towed etc
Reward Cards and Apps
Who doesn’t love a good app? Road trip apps have improved tremendously over the years, allowing you to plan out routes, save details, find food, petrol, places of interest and more.
However, once again, it’s best to download everything ahead of time and to bring the details of any reward cards with you. What do I mean by reward cards? In many places, you can pick up points when using your credit card or when buying coffee. You can later cash in these points for other rewards and perks along the way.
Unfortunately, at the moment, most apps and reward cards are heavily country specific. I’ve entered the most popular ones below and will be adding to the list. Any to shout about? Let me know!
- 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.
- Here’s a list of the best reward cards in the US and the best apps for road trips in the US.
Electronic Road Trip Essentials
Where would we be without our electronics? Lost, in all likelihood!
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 more than one person can 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.
Cell Phone Mounts
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.
If you’ll be travelling somewhere with a different phone network, then consider buying a new SIM card in advance or at the airport. That way, you can use Google Maps as much as you like and you’ll be able to make that breakdown call more easily, should the worst happen.
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.
Road Trip Essentials for Your Comfort
Wild Toilet Stops
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 to keep in-car rubbish at a minimum.
Clothing, Travel Pillows and Blankets
It’s also more comfortable to have a jumper or sweater with you. That’s about your lot as the driver, but 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 and reusable water bottle like this 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
While you can usually wear what you like in the car, you may need to smarten up when you get out. I always travel with a lightweight scarf, which comes in handy for visiting mosques, churches and museums. Think about whether you’ll need long sleeved tops and trousers, for both men and women, all across the world because different places have different dress codes.
The strangest example, for me, was when a museum in Florida asked us to leave because our baby had bare feet. However, whenever we travel, we’re guests in someone else’s home. So, baby shoes in the heat or skip the museum altogether.
Fun Road Trip Essentials
Now we’re talking! Here’s the fun part. The part where we get to talk about road trip playlists, boiled sweets, and calling shotgun. I’ll leave that up to you (but pass me the mint humbugs.)
Music and Speakers
A road trip without music is like a birthday without a cake.
Say road trip, think music, at least that’s the way it goes for me. But what should you listen to and how should you do it?
Many people swear by portable speakers, but I always feel a little guilty that I’m irritating other people around me. However, if there’s no-one else around then you can go for it! 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!
Gopro and 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…
Making the Most of the Great Outdoors
One of the best parts about 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.
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.
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.
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 road trip packing list. However, it’s important to choose snacks that won’t melt, leak 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.
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.
For the Car: Car Essentials for a Road Trip
Never neglect your trusty steed. Here’s what your car needs you to remember when putting together your road trip packing list.
Car Breakdown Kit
It’s really not enough to hope for the best – and you know it. Make sure you have 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
- De-icer and ice scraper
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.
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 if you are trying to get them to nap while you drive.
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. The SatNav had failed and my phone had no signal. Without a paper map, I was, quite literally lost.
The solution is to buy and pack a paper map as a backup plan. You can always use it as a souvenir afterwards if you didn’t need it.
Where do you find these maps? In many cases, the car rental company can provide you with a simple one or you can buy one at a gas station or service station. But this isn’t reliable – and this is where I went wrong in Morocco. See if you can buy a map online before you even hit the road.
Your Paperwork Road Trip Checklist
Having the right paperwork with you is one of the most important road trip necessities.
Top tip: start early to make sure you have your paperwork ready. You may need special permits for certain landscapes, parks or camp grounds and this may take time to organize.
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
- To be up to date
- To have ALL the components (eg paper and card)
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 rent a car, this should be part of your package but it’s always a good idea to check.
When driving your own car then remember to bring your own roadside recovery details. Be aware that limitations may apply if you’re out of the country for more than a certain period of time. And, of course, your home package may not cover you if you’re driving abroad.
Keep a copy stored electronically, as well as a paper copy in the car.
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 rental companies will suggest you use an alternative scheme whereby you pay them a fixed fee in order to ignore the tolls as you drive.
Is this good value for money? It depends on how much driving you’ll be doing and where you’ll be going. If you possibly can, try to calculate this in advance. Both jet lag and general travel fatigue easily cloud your mind, making it hard to add things up quickly at the airport counter.
Don’t make the worst mistake of all, of course, which is to pay for the pass and then drive in the wrong lane so you end up paying twice (or end up paying a fine.)
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?
If you plan on picking up a car rental, then go through this list:
- Want more than just a car? You might want to consider private motorhome hire, like this.
Road Trip Planning Essentials
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!
The freedom of the open road is a wonderful thing – but usually we need to know roughly where we’re going and how to get there. When it’s part of a short two week break with a flight to catch at the end, it’s even more important to make it to the right place at the right time!
To save time, start by browsing through other people’s itineraries when drawing up your own. 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. In the US, on the other hand, I’d recommend MapQuest Route Planner. Both sites make it quick and easy to type in key cities and villages and calculate your route.
Beyond the UK and US, Google Maps can cover a lot. What’s more, you can create your own maps on Google Maps with markers, notes and other key information.
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.
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 when it comes to things to bring on a road trip.
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 fire as stars fill the sky.
Ice, Ice, Baby
So, depending on what you have in mind, you will need to bring along some ice. 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.
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.
- Have fun planning your road trip, with these funny road trip quotes.
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!
- You might also enjoy these fun road trip questions and trivia examples to keep everyone entertained.
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 or screen wash, 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.
The striking suspension bridge in Bristol England
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.
How to Put Together the Perfect Road Trip
You’re in road trip heaven here. We love road trips and have everything for them. Check out…
- The road trip essentials you need to know about
- The Ultimate Road Trip Planner with printables and handbook
- 101 fun road trip questions for your next drive
- Inspiring road trip quotes for your instagram caption ideas.
And for other fly drive holidays in North America, check out our New England route and west coast Florida routes. Road trips are among my favourite kind of holiday types and navigating car rental in the States is pretty straightforward. You can buy a fly drive package from a tour operator or arrange the flights and car rental independently. Both options are just as good as each other, but if opting for a package, make sure to check the booking conditions as to whether they are including flights.
Did you enjoy this essential road trip list? Bookmark for later and happy road tripping!
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!
Take care of your road trip essentials and then go and have an absolutely amazing driving holiday!