woman smiles on road trip
Go on an adventure – Andrea Piacquadio (pexels)

Nowadays, when it’s so easy to hop from one major city, or even country, to another with cheap flights, it’s possible to miss out on all the beauty in between. Some people are looking for exciting alternatives, one of which is the road trip. These kinds of adventures are very different from city breaks and package holidays, and you have to make sure you’re fully prepared. There are many must haves for road trips, but here they’re narrowed down to the absolute essentials.

You can download the printable road trip packing list here. You can also opt to use the pdf as it is by using the checkbox and the quantity box. Here’s how it looks:

must haves for road trips

Vehicle Essentials

Car

Make sure you bring suitable car for your destination
Make sure you bring suitable car for your destination – Hamann La (pexels)

Let’s start with an obvious one: for a road trip, you need a vehicle. What you must figure out is what kind you need. If you already own a car, you can base your trip around its functionalities. If you’re going to rent one, you can have more options.

With a smaller car, you can quickly zip from one destination to another. Your space is limited, but you can focus on the absolute essentials and rest up in hostels. If you’re looking for one that doubles as a place to stay, a campervan might be your best option.

And let’s not forget about 4x4s and jeeps. If you’ve always wanted to drive through the Australian bush or the rainforest, a smaller car isn’t going to cut it. Look into hiring a higher car with more power.

License and Car Registration

No matter which country you travel through, you will always need your driver’s license and proof of who owns the car. For some countries, you may need to look into getting an international license. Make sure to check before embarking on your journey.

Insurance

Get a car insurance since anything can happen in long road trip
Get a car insurance since anything can happen in long road trip – stevepb (pixabay)

In most countries, it’s mandatory to have car insurance in case of an accident. Most rental agencies offer insurance for an additional fee. You can also look into third party providers.

It’s always a good idea to take a look into personal travel insurance too. You never know when an accident can happen, and it’s always better to prepare for the worst.

Car Manual

You might feel totally comfortable with your own car’s appliances, but if you’re renting, it’s best to have a manual to help you with any unexpected issues. It might be something as simple as resetting the radio, or you may need to change a fuse to get the lights of the car working again. No matter the problem, the manual is sure to have the correct information.

Spare Tire

As mentioned before, you never know when an accident can occur. Popping a tire can be a common problem, especially when traveling off-road. Always make sure you have a spare in good condition, so that you can make your way to the nearest garage without waiting hours for assistance.

Tire Changing Kit

In the case of a burst tire, you’re going to need a jack and a lug wrench to change it. And it’s important to remember your safety triangle when you’re stuck on the road with traffic coming by. Some countries require two triangles, one for behind the car and one for up front, so make sure to double check where this is needed.

Roadside Emergency Kit

A few items you need to have in your car for emergency
A few items you need to have in your car for emergency – VadimVasenin (depositphotos)

Along with your tire changing kit, you can keep an emergency kit with other supplies. Some important things to remember are oil and coolant for the engine, jump cables for battery troubles, and a high-visibility vest.

If you’re traveling in cold regions, store some thermal blankets in case you need to keep yourself warm in plummeting temperatures, and an ice scraper for removing ice from your windscreen and windows.

Winter Driving Kit

Some more items to remember when driving through colder climates are absolute safety necessities: winter tires or snow chains, and a shovel. In some countries, it is mandatory to have special tires or chains for certain periods of the year, so double check if you need them at your destination. And a shovel is always useful if you need to dig through a bit of snow.

Multi-Tool

A good multi-tool have everything you need in one compact package
A good multi-tool have everything you need in one compact package – RiaanMarais (pixabay)

Multi-tools are great companions on any kind of trip. You never know when you’ll need a pliers or screwdriver to fix little things in your car or to help set up camp. Some even come with a bottle opener, so you can relax with a glass of wine after your handiwork.

Torch

Torches are useful in so many situations: changing a tire at night, or just looking for your toothbrush before bed. Even better than a regular torch is a headlamp, so you can see in the dark and still have the use of both your hands.

Sunshade

A good sunshade keep temperature inside the car on decent level
A good sunshade keep temperature inside the car on decent level – aapsky (depositphotos)

When traveling in hot countries, it’s important to remember a sunshade. This handy accessory goes on the inside of your windshield and stops the car from getting too hot when you’re parked. It’s a blessing to not burn your hands on the steering wheel when you get back in.

Windshield Cleaner

If you’re planning a trip through a cold country, you’ll likely be using the AC to keep yourself warm. The difference between the interior and exterior temperatures can cause the windshield to fog up, and the ventilation might not be strong enough to remove it.

Look into getting a windshield cleaner. It’s a bit like a cloth or sponge on a telescopic arm, making it easy to wipe the glass. Anyone who has tried wiping the inside of a car windshield with their hand will understand how useful this tool can be.

Jerry Can

If you’re planning long trips through remote areas, it’s best to look into getting a jerry can so you can have some spare fuel. It can be the difference between waiting for hours for roadside assistance and being able to drive yourself those last few miles to the nearest filling station.

Some countries limit the amount of spare fuel you can have, so make sure to confirm before traveling.

Map

The good ol' printed map still have a place in your trip too
The good ol’ printed map still have a place in your trip too – Dominika Roseclay (pexels)

Maps may seem old-fashioned and out-of-date now that you can look anything up on your phone, but there are several benefits to having a set of road maps with you.

There’s a small chance that your phone will run out of data or battery (more on that later), but if it does, you’ll have lost your capability of finding out where you are. Also, when traveling through more remote places, there mightn’t even be a digital map of the area.

One of the beauties of having a physical map is that you can study the area you’re traveling in and discover places you might not notice on your GPS. Your phone can guide you straight to your next planned destination, but your map may show you a remote lake or secluded forest just off the main route.

Extra Car Key

If you have a spare car key, give it to your travel companion. You never know when the main key could be lost or stolen, and an extra key in a locked car doesn’t help anyone. If your companion keeps the spare in a secure spot with them, you’ll be ready for any emergency.

Clothing and Hygiene Essentials

First Aid Kit

Always have first aid kit ready in car
Always have first aid kit ready in car – Roger Brown (pexels)

Now that you’re prepared for any unexpected car problems, you should prepare for unexpected health problems. A first aid kit is absolutely essential on any trip, and can be filled with simple products to help you through any type of distress.

You can buy one in any good supermarket or sports store, or you can make your own. Stock up on painkillers, anti-inflammatories, band-aids, and disinfectant, plus something for upset stomachs or heartburn. It’s also a good idea to have a pair of scissors and tweezers.

It’s important to keep your first aid kit in an easy-to-access area. You don’t want to be rummaging through an entire van after having an accident.

Prescription Container

Pill organizer is a good way to bring only the amount necessary for your trip
Pill organizer is a good way to bring only the amount necessary for your trip – Towfiqu barbhuiya (unsplash)

It’s easy to forget prescription medicine as it can be associated with home. Make up a little box or container of your daily medications so you don’t forget them. A good place to store it is with your toiletry bag, or even with your food if you usually take your medication with meals. You can also store your vitamins and supplements in this box.

Sunblock

It’s important to keep a good bottle of sunblock in your vehicle, so you can top up at any time of the day. You can get sprays, creams, or lotions. No matter which one you choose, it’s best to get a water-resistant option so you can have a refreshing swim after a long day of driving.

Moisturizer

After a hot day in the sun, revitalize your skin with some moisturizer. You can even get moisturizing products with SPF protection. It’s not just for trips to sunny countries though: driving with the heating turned on can dry out your skin too.

Water Bottle

Reusable water bottle is good both for you and the environment
Reusable water bottle is good both for you and the environment – NatureFriend (pixabay)

It’s important to remember to stay hydrated while on any kind of trip. You may not feel it, but driving and discovering new places can be tiresome, even if it is a holiday.

It’s easy to find water in any small shop or café, but aim for a reusable bottle. They’re long-lasting and better for the environment, plus you can fill them up for free almost anywhere.

Water Purifier

In places where you’re not so sure about the water quality, it’s handy to have a purifying system. There are many products that can kill any bacteria or viruses lurking in the water using UV light, plus a filter that removes particles of chlorine and metals.

Toiletry Bag

A toiletry bag with hook
A toiletry bag with hook – Timur Weber (pexels)

The best way to store your hygiene products is in one convenient bag. There are fantastic options which are waterproof and that come with a hook. This way you can bring the whole bag into the shower and hang it up while bathing. This makes it even easier to reach for your soaps, shampoos, lotions, etc.

If you’re traveling for more than a few days, don’t forget to pack a nail clippers or scissors, and some cotton ear buds.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Another important addition to your toiletry bag is a toothbrush and toothpaste. If you’re worried about any soaps leaking onto your brush, look into getting an antibacterial cover to keep it fresh.

Hand Sanitizer

While on a road trip, you’re never too sure of when you’ll be able to wash your hands. Keep a bottle of disinfectant with you at all times so you can sanitize them regularly. You can easily get small spray bottles or gel.

Insect Repellent

Insects can be annoying travel companions. Keep them at bay with some good repellent. This is especially useful when camping, as there are a lot more bugs in the countryside. Try and find a spray or lotion that wards off mosquitoes and ticks, as well as flies, as they can transmit diseases.

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is an absolute essential item for a road trip. You never know when you’ll need it, and you’ll never know when it’s available, unless of course you pack it yourself.

Wet Wipes

Another great way to stay fresh during your trip is with wet wipes. They’re perfect for giving your hands or face a quick clean after eating, or even when you’re feeling dusty from the road. They can also double up as wipes for keeping the surfaces in your car clean.

Travel Clothes

Choosing travel clothes: bring the one that is suitable to wear at your destination
Choosing travel clothes: bring the one that is suitable to wear at your destination – Liza Summer (pexels)

It’s not always easy to choose the right clothes for traveling. You want to be comfortable but still look your best. You’ll need clothing for different activities and different weather conditions. But don’t forget about the limited space…

This can seem a bit overwhelming, but no need to worry. There are many great brands that offer attractive clothing that is light and multifunctional. You should also aim for certain materials which are thermo-regulating and don’t gather bacteria so easily. This will keep them fresh for longer.

Hat

Hats aren’t just fashion accessories. They’re very important in keeping your head safe from tough weather conditions. If you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling, get a baseball cap for sunny days, and a woolly beanie for colder conditions.

Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses will definitely help when you drive for hours
A good pair of sunglasses will definitely help when you drive for hours – Pexels

Here’s another important accessory to shield yourself from the weather. Sunglasses will keep your eyes safe when you’re exploring and driving. They’re even essential for colder climates: sunrays reflected off snow can be just as strong as those reflected off sand at the beach.

Make sure to invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses. These will reduce the amount of glare, so you won’t be squinting into the sun.

Rain Jacket

The weather can be very unpredictable, no matter where you are. Always have a rain jacket handy in case of sudden showers of rain. It’s easy to find a light jacket that you can simply fold up and keep in your backpack.

Rain Pants

Despite generally being overlooked, the same thing goes for your legs. There are many options for lightweight rain pants, which can easily be stored in your backpack. Once it starts to pour, just slip them over your regular trousers.

Shoes

Sneakers or boots? Choose the one that you need at your destination
Sneakers or boots? Choose the one that you need at your destination – Quang Anh Ha Nguyen (pexels)

It can be tricky to find the perfect pair of shoes for a road trip. Running shoes are generally best for driving, walking, jogging, and easy hikes. Look into breathable options, which will keep your feet fresh and are easy to dry.

In case your trip is directed towards hiking destinations, light boots might be your best choice. If your space isn’t too limited, you could think about bringing boots and shoes so you can be perfectly comfortable in every situation.

Flip-Flops

Flip-flops aren’t a good choice for driving (which can even be a fineable offense in some countries), but they’re essential for camping trips and days spent at the beach. They’re small and easy to store, so no matter how much you’ve packed, there will probably be space for a pair.

Swimwear

Bringing swimwear on a road trip is always a great idea, as you never know when you’ll pass a beautiful lake, beach, or waterfall. And, just like flip-flops, it’s easy to store, no matter how little space you may have.

Towel

Towels are always important to bring on your road trip. You’ll be needing one for showering, or for drying off after a swim. Microfiber towels are a great option, as they are small and extremely absorbent.

Laundry Bag

Different sizes and shapes of laundry bags you can choose
Different sizes and shapes of laundry bags you can choose – Hanna_photo (depositphotos)

What to do with your dirty laundry? You don’t want to keep it with your fresh clothes, and your car will get untidy quickly if you don’t have a dedicated space for it. Bring a good-sized bag for your used clothes. This will make it easier to keep your vehicle tidy, but also to carry your laundry to the nearest laundromat.

Rubbish Bags

There are many reasons to bring rubbish bags on your trip. First, it makes it easier to keep your vehicle clean and tidy if you have a dedicated spot for your trash. Second, it’s an offense in many countries to dispose of rubbish in non-designated areas.

If you’re camping along the way, they’ll really come in handy for keeping your site clean too.

Camping Gear

Camping gear: items that you might need
Camping gear: items that you might need – Karson Chan (unsplash)

There are plenty of other essentials for people who will be camping. First off, a tent to sleep in. Next, you’ll need blankets or sleeping bags. Blankets can be used for lots of other things, but for colder climates, a sleeping bag might be the best option.

And don’t forget something to sleep on. Air mattresses are the most compact choice, but need to be pumped up. Foldable mattresses are ready to use, but take up more space. See which option best suits your needs and space availability.

Food and Drink Essentials

Snacks

Trail mix is a good snack option and can be easily purchased anywhere
Trail mix is a good snack option and can be easily purchased anywhere – bhofack2 (depositphotos)

If you’re planning on driving long hours or are trying to save money on the way to your destination, bring some snacks for the trip. The best options have high amounts of protein and fibre, like fruit and nuts, which will keep your energy levels steady. You don’t want to have a sugar-crash on a long drive through a new place.

Some good examples are granola bars, crackers, protein bars, and canned vegetables or meat. The best kinds of fruit are ones that you don’t need to slice, so apples, oranges, grapes, etc. Plus dried fruits like raisins, which you can mix with nuts.

It’s also a nice idea to bring some flavoursome drinks that will last and are easy to store. Juices in cartons are a good choice.

Food Containers

It will be hard to know exactly where the next open supermarket or restaurant is on your route. Bringing some collapsible containers is a great idea as you can keep food stored and fresh, and they take up very little space when empty.

You can also use them for leftover food from your bigger meals. Today’s dinner can be tomorrow’s lunch, or a handy snack while you drive.

Reusable Coffee Cup

Collapsible silicone coffee cup
Collapsible silicone coffee cup – cottonbro (pexels)

If coffee is an essential drink in your life, a reusable coffee cup should be an essential item for your trip. It’s better for the environment, as takeaway cups aren’t recyclable. If you don’t have time to relax in a café, you can fill it up for the road. And isn’t it nicer to have your dedicated cup no matter where you are?

In case you’re worried about space, get a collapsible silicone cup. They’re compact and easy to store.

Food Utensils

Unless you’re planning on eating everything with your hands, it’s a good idea to bring utensils. If you’re bringing pre-made meals, all you’ll need is a knife, fork, and maybe a spoon. You can bring these from home, or invest in long-lasting plastic or bamboo cutlery.

If you prefer to cook on your trip, you’ll need a few extra pieces of gear. There are amazing sets of camping pots and pans which are compact and can be stored together.

Cooler

Fill the cooler with your favorite drinks
Fill the cooler with your favorite drinks – Sandrene Zhang (unsplash)

If you’re camping along your trip, it’s a good idea to bring a cooler to keep your food and drinks fresh. There are some amazing compact options that will fit neatly into your car or van. You can fill your cooler with ice packs, or get an electric one that can be charged using the vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket.

Accessory Essentials

Phone Charger

Phones have made road trips a lot easier compared to what they used to be. They can be your contact, GPS, payment, and entertainment systems all rolled into one. So, it’s important to remember a phone charger to keep them alive.

USB Cable

Most devices can be charged using USB cables nowadays, so it’s always a good idea to have one handy. You can keep your phone charged while using it as a GPS or for playing music while you drive.

Power Inverter

While traveling, it’s important to keep your phone and other gadgets charged. The best way is by using a power inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter of your car. Some inverters come with both electrical socket and USB outputs.

Phone Holder

GPS displayed on a phone strapped in phone holder
GPS displayed on a phone strapped in phone holder – birthofthequeen (depositphotos)

If you’re planning on using your phone as a GPS, it’s best to use a phone holder. You can get one with a suction cup that allows you to stick it to the dashboard or windshield, or with a clip that attaches it to the ventilation system.

Looking at your phone while driving is dangerous, so look into adjustable holders so you can get it into the perfect position. This will allow you to check it for upcoming changes in direction, but it won’t affect your field of vision.

Backpack

Road trips aren’t only about hitting the road. You’re going to want to explore the areas you pass through, and the best way to be comfortable doing that is with your trusty backpack. Fill it up with the essentials for a quick hike, stroll to the beach, or walk around town, and leave everything else in the car.

Blanket

Having a blanket in your vehicle is always a good idea. It will keep you warm on cold days or after a swim, and can be used as a picnic groundsheet. You could even hang it off your van to create some shade to sit under.

Music

No road trip is complete without great tunes. Prepare and download a playlist on your streaming service, or go old-school and bring a collection of CDs. Make sure to have a good selection for everyone to enjoy.

Podcasts

Driving for a long time can be tiring, so listening to a podcast can keep you alert and interested. You can pick a show that’s informative, entertaining, funny, etc. Why not choose a few different ones so you’ll be ready for anything?

Books

Bring a few of your favorite books, or an e-reader
Bring a few of your favorite books, or an e-reader – Perfecto Capucine (pexels)

There are many books that can inspire you on a road trip. Many authors have created classic driving stories that are exciting and might give you some ideas of where to go or what to do on your trip.

Books are mostly a great option for passengers, so look into some audiobooks for the driver. That way they can be enjoyed by everyone on your drive. Jack Kerouac immortalized the road trip in On the Road, as well as many other novels. Other classics include America Day by Day by Simone de Beauvoir and Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent.

Games

Road trips can be exciting and interesting, but they can also be boring at times. It’s natural when you’re driving for hours at a time. So, keep the atmosphere lively with some fun games. There are so many to choose from, and can involve watching out for interesting sights, singing, general knowledge, among many others.

Camera or Drone

Controlling drone now is easier than ever
Controlling drone now is easier than ever – The Lazy Artist Gallery (pexels)

A camera is an amazing way to capture your trip. It can be a beautiful experience to relive your travels with photographs and videos. Of course, the easiest way is to use your phone, which is always with you. Nowadays, phones have fantastic photo quality.

You can also consider bringing a drone. This device can make the experience even more unique, especially if you’re visiting places with huge open space such as mountains, plains, or waterfalls. With drone getting even more compact, affordable, and easy to control, anyone can opt to get one. Just be aware of certain places where you’re not allowed to fly it.

Solar Powered Light

It’s always handy to have a light with you for searching through your van or hanging in your tent at night. Solar-powered lights are a great option, as you don’t need to worry about batteries dying or recharging them. You can just hang them up during the day so they’re ready for the night.

Power Bank

Bring a good power bank, especially if you're depending on your smartphone for navigation
Bring a good power bank, especially if you’re depending on your smartphone for navigation – StockSnap (pixabay)

Power inverters are great for charging your devices while your vehicle is running, but what about when you’ve parked up and don’t want to use the car’s battery? Power banks are a fantastic choice as they can be used at any time. They charge quickly and last for a long time.

Make sure to get enough for the people on the trip. One power bank isn’t going to last long for four people with phones, tablets, and smartwatches.

Cash

In a time when everybody’s so used to paying with cards and contactless systems, it’s tough to remember that not everywhere accepts these forms of payment. If you’re traveling in remote areas, the chance of finding an ATM is pretty low.

Always remember to have some cash with you, especially some coins for laundry machines, toll booths, and parking meters. If you want to keep a higher amount, split it between everyone in the car so if anything goes wrong, you’ll still have some left over.

Your Favorite Buddy

Let’s finish with a true essential for a perfect road trip: a friend. Solo trips can be exciting, but having a buddy to keep you company can really heighten the experience. They will be your conversation partner, navigator and map reader, DJ, and snack assistant.

Pick someone that is as excited about road tripping as you are and who can drive. Driving long distances is much easier when split between two people. It’s also a good idea to choose someone with similar tastes in music and who won’t get too bored or grumpy along the way.

But who’s to say you only need one driving buddy? If you have more friends who are interested in taking a trip with you, fill up the car and split the costs between everyone. Just make sure that everyone’s back in the car after stopping for a bathroom break.

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