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The Essential Road Trip Packing List

The good news: experts are predicting that gas prices will be the cheapest in six years this summer. The better news: that means this is the perfect time to take a road trip to a vacation destination. And since the only restriction on packing for a road trip is how much you can fit in the car, figuring out the road trip essentials might seem overwhelming. But don’t worry—we cover all that and more in our Essential Road Trip Packing List, so buckle up and get ready to pack!

A mother, father, a boy and a girl packing the back of a van with drinks, a cooler and backpacks, ready for a road trip.

Before we dive into specific items, let’s start with a few general road trip packing tips:

TO DRESS FOR SUCCESS, wear loose, comfortable clothes. Sweatpants, leggings, and oversized t-shirts are great road trip outfits. Shoes should be just as comfortable—flip flops can work well unless you’re the driver, in which case, try tennis shoes or sandals with secure straps

TO KEEP EVERYONE HAPPY, bring along a cooler to keep in the trunk. Stock up on water bottles, lemonade, juice boxes, grapes, carrots, and other family favorites. Pack a smaller cooler in the car for easy access, and replenish it from the trunk at every rest stop. Don’t forget items that don’t have to stay chilled. Granola bars, craisins, almonds, and popcorn are all great road trip snacks.

TO AVOID GETTING LOST, get a GPs Unit (or make sure you have a map app on your phone) AND a map. Yep—a real, paper map. If there’s an unexpected detour or the GPS malfunctions, a map can prevent hours of driving in the wrong direction. Keep it in the glove compartment just in case!

TO PRESERVE YOUR SANITY, pack car chargers. Universal car chargers will charge tons of different devices, but even just a car phone charger will make your life a lot more pleasant. Also look for cords to connect MP3 players or phones to the stereo system.

TO STAY SAFE, have a comprehensive roadside emergency kit. This should include a flashlight with working batteries, a spare tire and kit for changing a tire, a first aid kit (Band-Aids, bandages, disinfectant gel, and tweezers), a blanket, and a jumper cable.

TO MAXIMIZE SPACE, use duffel bags and other soft luggage. This makes packing everything in the trunk much easier. Inside the suitcases, roll clothes instead of fold them and think about what clothes can be worn more than once. Jeans and shorts can usually be worn two-to-three times before they start needing a wash—pack fewer of those. It will make more room for extra socks! If it’s a multi-day drive to the destination, pack a separate bag with just the things needed for one-night stay in the motel like pajamas, toiletries, and a change of clothes. During the drive, keep items like food, games, and medication out of the trunk and in a handy bag in the car for easy access.

With those tips in mind, it’s time for the essential road trip packing list!

ESSENTIAL FOR: THE ROAD

These items stay out of the trunk—this bag should have everything needed for the road and will keep you from digging through a suitcase every time someone is hungry.

  • Pillows and blankets
  • Almonds, craisins, pretzels, etc.
  • Ibuprofen or Tylenol
  • Any prescription or allergy medication
  • Kleenex and paper towels
  • Sunglasses
  • Umbrella
  • Phone charger w/ car adapter
  • CDs or a cord that will allow MP3 players and phones to play music
  • Water bottles
  • Small garbage bags
  • Wet wipes for washing hands
  • Change for any tolls
  • Sunscreen—you can still get sun-damaged through a car window!
  • Towel—good for spills or sitting on a hot leather car seat
  • Coloring books, favorite toys, handheld video games for the kids
  • Reading materials
  • Cash or debit/credit cards

ESSENTIAL FOR: EMERGENCY MEASURES


In the perfect world, roadside emergencies would never happen. But if emergencies do strike during your road trip, you’ll be prepared with these tools.

  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and working batteries
  • Spare tire and spare tire changing tools
  • Jumper cables

ESSENTIAL FOR: A MULTI-DAY DRIVE


If you’ll be staying at a motel or campsite for a night before continuing on the trip, pack a separate overnight bag. That way, there’s no digging through luggage or messing up carefully-folded clothes when trying to get a toothbrush.

  • Pajamas
  • Bathing suits
  • Comfortable traveling outfit for next day (sweatpants, etc.)
  • Extra underwear
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Comb or brush
  • Glasses or contacts (if needed)
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Soap
  • Razors
  • Washcloth

ESSENTIAL FOR: THE TRUNK


This is where everything should be packed that won’t be needed during the drive until you reach the destination. There should be clothes for the week (or however long the stay is), extra shoes, and toiletries if you didn’t need to pack them in a separate overnight bag. Everything else is dependent on the destination: it could be swimsuits, a tent, sleeping bags, or skis!

If you use this road trip packing list as a handy guide and keep those tips in mind, you can worry less about what to pack for the trip and spend more time getting excited about your fantastic vacation!

Comments (1)

Jina

Thanks for the terrific post

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