How many times have you packed for a trip, crossed everything off your list, and still felt like you forgot something?
I think it’s one of those inevitable parts of life. I bet everyone feels like this every time they pack for a trip no matter how many vacations they’ve taken. I know I do.
I find this especially true for road trips. Most of us don’t take a road trip on every vacation. We forget which items we realized mid-journey we ended up needing last time. You know the ones. Those quick Walmart-run items you swore you’d add to your packing list once you got home so this wouldn’t happen again.
In this post, I will layout the twenty-eight essential things you need to add to your packing list for your next road trip, so you don’t find yourself needing to make an emergency stop.
1. Small Ice Chest
If you’re road-tripping, a small ice chest is a must-have, especially if your travel budget is tight. Bringing along an ice chest will mean you aren’t limited to only canned or non-refrigerated foods while eating in the car. You’ll be glad for the variety and how easy it is for you to save leftovers.
We always bring along our 28-quart rolling Igloo ice chest. It fits perfectly on the floor behind the driver’s seat. This position makes it very convenient for the passenger to get into the ice chest and pull out any food we need while driving.
Since we’re a family of two, the 28-quart fits plenty of food for both of us for a few days. With a larger size, we’d be hauling a giant ice chest in and out of a hotel room each night.
When we road trip we choose not to camp out in our car. If you are planning to do some car camping and have a larger vehicle, you may find a bigger ice chest suits your needs better. Or without access to a fridge, you may skip the cooler altogether and decide to eat out more.
2. Paper Plates & Utensils
How many times have you used a paper towel as a plate and your food rolls off when the driver makes a sharp turn? Then you have to mourn the loss of that chicken nugget.
For easy clean-up and fixing food on the drive, we always bring a pack of paper plates and utensils with us. The paper plate won’t let your food roll away like a paper towel does. You won’t regret getting the utensils when you’re trying to eat the leftover spaghetti you just heated up in the hotel microwave.
3. Mini Grill
Cold sandwiches get tiring after a while, but they’re an easy meal to eat in the car. To mix things up, fix a panini for dinner once you’ve gotten to your hotel or Airbnb.
We bring a small, portable George Foreman grill that I’ve had for over seven years. It’s nothing fancy and extremely lightweight.
If you’re road-tripping on a tight budget and can’t eat out at many restaurants, a mini grill is a lifesaver. It gives you more variety in your food, so you don’t find yourself tempted to run to the closest restaurant come dinner time.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to resist the temptation to go out to eat when you can fix yourself something warm for dinner. I’ve grilled sausage, cooked hot dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches on my little George Foreman.
4. Car Snacks
You may think ahead enough to pack lunch and dinners for your trip, but don’t forget about the snacks. Even if you don’t often snack between meals at home, remember you’ll be in a car for long periods on a road trip. Don’t underestimate the power boredom has on your urge to snack.
Make sure you have enough and plenty of variety. You’ll probably want to stay away from anything chocolate since it tends to melt and make a mess in a hot car. Trail mix, dehydrated fruits, and granola bars are some of my favorites when it comes to car snacking.
5. Wet Wipes & Paper Towels
If you’re eating in the car, it’s going to get messy sooner or later. I like having some wet wipes on hand, so I don’t have to leave my hands sticky until we reach the next rest stop. Paper towels are a must for when someone eventually spills their drink.
6. Empty Water Bottles
Fill them up for free at rest stops! Skip the pack of water bottles you picked up at Target before your trip. That takes up way too much room in your trunk – costs more too. A large refillable water bottle is all you need. Plus it’s eco-friendly!
This trick is especially helpful if you’re flying to get to the starting point of your road trip. You can bring your empty water bottle through airport security and fill it up when you get on the other side. TSA won’t make you throw away an empty water bottle, and you won’t have to buy a $7 airport bottled water.
7. Beach Towel or Picnic Blanket
You never know when you’re going to run into the perfect spot for a picnic. Whether it’s a scenic overlook or just a rest stop, you need to bring a beach towel on your next road trip. You can lay it out on the grass or drape it over a dirty rest stop picnic table to give yourself a pleasant place to eat.
8. Trash Bags
You don’t want to have a designated trash pile corner in your car. I have been in this situation a time or two when we forgot to bring trash bags along on our road trip. As the pile grew, my leg room shrunk, and I’m trying to make sure no food gets on the floorboards. It’s beyond inconvenient.
You can buy smaller trash bags, but I prefer to bring along several grocery store plastic bags. They don’t take up too much room, and they’re easy to throw out at rest stops or gas stations.
If you’re going to be driving a lot, you don’t always feel like fixing your hair, especially if you plan on getting in some car naps. Since my hair is short, I don’t have the luxury of throwing it back in a ponytail. My hat is my go-to when it comes to covering up messy road trip hair.
10. Travel Pillow
Bring along your favorite travel pillow to make your car naps as comfortable as possible on those long drives.
You can grab a travel neck pillow, but honestly, if I can I bring my pillow from home. On a road trip, I’m usually not flying, so my space is not as limited. I prefer my full-sized pillow to make it easier for me to fall asleep in the reclined seat.
However, if I am catching a flight before the start of my road trip, I stick to my travel neck pillow. I never check a bag unless absolutely necessary, so saving space is a priority.
11. Throw Blanket
A throw blanket will make sure you don’t freeze over when you aren’t the person in the sun. On a road trip, someone always wants the car’s AC cranked up. Half of the vehicle is in the sun, and the other half is shady.
It switches back and forth throughout the entire drive, but because there will always be those people sitting on the sun side, the AC will always be on high.
If you’re anything like me, when you’re in the shade and the AC is on full blast you slowly turn into an icicle. I always bring a throw blanket, so I’m not shivering during a long drive.
Along the same lines as the throw blanket, if you’re cold-natured, you’ll never regret bringing a sweatshirt.
I bring along a sweatshirt to keep my arms warm and a throw blanket to keep my legs warm. If I forget my sweatshirt, I have to form a blanket cocoon and can’t use my arms, which is a hassle.
13. Ear Plugs
To make your car naps more peaceful and uninterrupted, pack your earplugs.
Road noise is loud. There’s always an obnoxious truck muffler or eighteen-wheeler honking.
Even if you don’t plan on napping during the drive, you won’t regret having earplugs. Sooner or later on a road trip, you’ll accidentally book a hotel near an airport or lively area of town.
14. Hot Hands Hand Warmers
If you’re road-tripping during winter or in a colder climate, getting out at windy scenic overlooks will be miserable without some Hot Hands® hand warmers stuffed in your pockets and shoes. You don’t want to be looking at beautiful scenery, thinking, “Great, but I just want to get back into the car with the heater ASAP.”
15. Air Freshener
What’s the first thing people do when they settle in for a long car ride? Take their shoes off.
The more people you have in one car, the more you’ll wish you’d brought this along. You can roll the windows down, but it will start raining eventually. Just riding in the same car with the windows up makes the air start to smell stale.
I bring Ozium® air sanitizer spray for our road trips. It works better than any other car freshener I’ve ever used, because it eliminates the smell instead of trying to cover it up.
When driving down hundreds of miles of interstate, you are bound to run into bad weather at some point. If it’s sprinkling, I might make a run for it to get indoors.
However, in a downpour, I don’t want to get drenched. It’s pretty miserable having soaking wet clothes and then sitting back down for a long car ride.
Not to mention you’ll probably be freezing as well as wet once that car AC starts hitting you.
17. Comfortable Car Shoes
You’ve got to have some comfortable, easy off and on shoes on a long road trip.
You don’t want to trap your feet in tennis shoes for hours on end. There is no telling when the driver is going to give you little notice that you’re stopping at a gas station or rest stop so you want to make sure they can slip off and on quickly.
My comfy car shoes of choice are either my flats or my flip flops, but the latter is only when we are beach-bound.
Sunglasses are my go-to accessory for any road trip. Sometimes I bring a back-up pair in case mine break because I don’t want to be without them.
My bet is if you’ve ever forgotten your sunglasses on a road trip, you stop not far along your route to get some. It’s annoying having to squint constantly. You can’t put up with that for long.
19. Toilet Paper
Unfortunately, not all rest stops have the same conveniences. Some have hoards of tourists with many smiling state workers ready to tell you about their state as they hand out free coffee. Others look like ghost towns with flickering lights, broken water fountains, and no employee in sight.
You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you realize you need toilet paper and the bathroom has none. If you bring some on your trip and you don’t need it, no harm done.
20. Multi-Port USB Car Charger & Cables
I bet you browse through different apps on your phone on a long car ride to help pass the time or maybe you have your phone out a lot as you take pictures of everything. Or it may be your primary form of navigation as you travel to your next destination.
Either way, this can drain a phone battery fast. The more people you have on your road trip, the more cell phones are getting low and in need of the car charger.
With a multi-port USB car charger, you won’t have to take turns keeping your charge up.
I use my cell phone as a GPS and to play music on the drive as well. Since the GPS takes priority, a multi-port USB charger lets the passengers charge up along the way. No more alternating charger usage.
21. Change For Toll Roads
You wouldn’t think it, but having exact change on hand for a toll road can save you a lot of aggravation.
A few years ago, we were driving into Orlando on our way to Disney World. Not all of the toll booths still had an operator anymore since it was late at night when we were arriving. We got to a toll booth that didn’t have anyone in it, and there was a sign that said to drop the exact toll into a slot.
Well, we didn’t have the exact amount. A sign said if we didn’t have it, we could grab an envelope and mail it in. The booth took a picture of our license plate, and if we didn’t mail it in the state of Florida would send us a fine.
With no other choice, we grabbed an envelope and kept driving intending to take care of it once we got home after the vacation. As I read the instructions on it, I became increasingly frustrated. You couldn’t send the three dollar toll in dollar bills. You had to get a money order.
They also only gave you five days before they would fine you. We wouldn’t be home in five days. So at the beginning of this vacation, we had to go to Publix, a popular grocery store chain in Florida, to get a money order doubling the cost of this toll and mail it in.
What a great start to a magical vacation. I now keep plenty of change around for toll roads.
22. Portable Air Compressor
A road trip is the worst time to find yourself with a flat tire. Having a portable air compressor that plugs into your vehicle is a must.
If you’re going to be driving a lot, you don’t want to put on the spare and find an auto shop to get a new tire unless there’s no other way to get around it.
Even if you find the tire flattened again later on and you realize it’s not something you can patch, airing the tire up enough to get you to a shop will save you the time it takes changing into the spare tire.
On road trips, any setback can mean having to skip over destinations you wanted to see. Having this tool at your disposal can minimize delays.
23. Fix-A-Flat Tire Sealer
If your tire slowly keeps leaking air, you probably have a small hole in it somewhere. Instead of delaying your road trip plans to find an auto shop, you can use Fix-A-Flat tire sealer to repair the hole.
You still may need a new tire when you get home, but this will at least save you from a considerable inconvenience in your travel plans.
24. Air Pressure Gauge
If you think a tire looks a little low on air or you’ve fixed a flat and want to keep monitoring how well the fix is holding, you’ll need an air pressure gauge to check it.
Many people may keep an air pressure gauge in their car on an everyday basis anyway, but just in case you don’t, you’ll want to make sure you pack it for your journey.
25. Jumper Cables
If the car’s not starting, there’s not much you can do to avoid a trip to an auto shop while on vacation. However, you have to get it started again to get to the shop. Rather than relying on someone else to have jumper cables, bring them along in case your car breaks down.
26. Flashlight & Batteries
If you’re changing a tire at night, you’ll be glad you brought a flashlight. Although you carry a miniature flashlight around all the time in the form of your phone, this light isn’t going to create a focused beam. In my experience, a flashlight lends a much brighter light which you’ll need if you find yourself doing any car repairs at night.
We usually bring small, handheld flashlights, so they don’t take up much room and aren’t very heavy. A headlamp would be especially helpful if you have to do any work on your car at night since it’s hands-free.
27. Day Pack
Part of the adventure of a road trip is stopping unexpectedly in places you find fascinating and going out to explore them. Your whims may take you to a downtown food market in a bustling city or a deserted scenic overlook that has a mile-long walking trail. Either way, if you’re going far, you’re going to want a day pack to bring the essentials in – water, sunscreen, cell phone, trail mix, etc.
28. Hiking Boots
Some scenic viewpoints have trails you can hike or you may see free hiking trails off the side of the highway. Even if you aren’t seeking out nature paths at your road trip waypoints, you may find yourself walking through some muddy or uneven terrain.
In cases like this, I like to have my hiking boots ready. I don’t want to wear them the entire time unless we’ll be stopping very frequently, but I don’t want them packed away. If you’re road tripping in a scenic area that typically has many trails, bring along your favorite hiking boots. You don’t want to get those comfortable car shoes muddy.
No matter how comprehensive your road trip packing list is, I hope I’ve been able to give you ideas for new additions to it.
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