The Ultimate Road Trip Checklist

Setting out on a road trip is one of the most liberating experiences you can have: Just you and your travel companions, a vehicle, and the open road. A destination is not required. And neither is a solid plan or schedule.

From the coastline to the mountain tops, a road trip can help you see the beauty of nature that the world has to offer. From off the grid to a major city destination, a road trip can give you the escape you seek to experience life outside of your norm.

Whether you’re looking for a way to stretch your traveling legs after being at home for a little too long or you just want to take a road trip for the sake of taking a road trip, here is the ultimate road trip checklist. You’ll be prepared for all that awaits you no matter what kind of road trip you have in mind.

On the road

To take a road trip, you need to decide how you’ll travel. Do you want to take your vehicle or use a rental for your trip? Whatever you choose, there are a few essentials that you have to have, and there are a few things that you’ll just want to take to make your trip more accessible, more affordable, and more enjoyable.

  • License
  • Registration and/or rental agreement
  • Proof of car insurance
  • A spare set of keys
  • Car manual
  • Spare tire, jack, and tire changing essentials
  • Cooler
  • Emergency kit
  • Trunk organizer
  • Phone charger and handsfree mount
  • Flashlight
  • Pillows and blanket
  • Car garbage bin
  • Water
  • Food
  • Empty gas can, especially if you’ll be traveling in remote areas
  • Hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and a towel
  • Car air freshener
  • Snow kit, if you’re traveling in the winter
  • Solar-powered or battery-operated fan, especially if you’re traveling in the heat

These are essential items to have in your car for a road trip, but there is always room to add the things that you think would make the trip better for you in the car. Of course, we always hope to make it through our journey as safely as possible, but you have to prepare your vehicle and yourself for multiple scenarios.

The best way to plan your car essentials is to imagine a situation that would have you in your vehicle for several hours in which you aren’t moving. Waiting for roadside assistance is a much more pleasant and safer experience when you’re prepared.

On your person

Just as you would prepare your car for a road trip, you need to prepare yourself. Of course, you’ll pack for your destination and all the things you’ll need, but to make your trip as enjoyable as possible, you need to prepare and pack for the road trip itself.

To help you be road-trip-ready, here is a list of the essentials you need to keep on you or in your road trip bag. Just as you would pack a carry-on for a plane, it’s not a bad idea to have a carry-on type bag for the car, whether it’s your car or a rental.

  • Personal water bottle: Fill it up at every opportunity, and remember to stay hydrated.
  • Snacks: Pack your favorites, of course, but be mindful of odors when traveling in a confined space. You also want to pack more than you think you’ll need, whether you need them or have to share with someone less prepared. Some good road trip snack examples:
    • Nuts
    • Granola bars
    • Trail mix
    • Sandwiches
    • Jerky
  • Tumbler or mug for coffee: Even on a hiking trail, you’ll want your morning jolt.
  • Spare cutlery: You never know when you’ll need it when you’re eating on the go.
  • Quick-dry tops: Tanks, t-shirts, or long sleeve shirts
  • Quick-dry bottoms: Shorts, capris, or pants
  • One set of sleepwear 
  • Spare underwear and socks 
  • One pair of walking/running shoes
  • A rain jacket or umbrella 
  • A sweatshirt, jacket, or hoodie: Even if you know it will be hot, nights can be chilly.
  • Hat and/or sunglasses: The sun can be brutal.
  • Sunscreen: Again, the sun can be brutal.
  • A personal towel: Not the same towel that you have for the car, but one for your person.
  • Toilet paper: It happens.
  • Main toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc.
  • A hairbrush
  • Personal skincare items: Lotion, lip balm, etc
  • Insect repellant: Even if you choose an all-natural repellant, you’ll want it.
  • First-aid kit and any personal medication
  • Notebook and pen: If you need to ask for directions, you’ll want a way to write it down.
  • Firestarter kit: You may not have meant to go camping, but you may need to stay warm in the outdoors.
  • Medical insurance card

It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t if you pack wisely. As with the car, you can always add what you think you might need. Also, when it comes to traveling, you will never fault yourself for being overly prepared. 

When you’re on a road trip, you leave the comfort and safety of home behind, so the only thing taking care of you is what you have in your car and what you have on your person. If you don’t have it in those two places, you’ll have to hunt it down, and that’s not always convenient when you’re traveling.

On the fun side

Being prepared for your road trip isn’t just about planning for every worst-case scenario. Bringing the right entertainment and fun supplies can make a big difference in the memories you make and the enjoyment you feel. 

To make the most of your road trip, here is a list of items you’ll want to consider for your road trip:

  • Road trip playlist: You don’t want to need a wifi signal to listen to the playlist you’ve been curating on your lunch break for the last month, so be sure you save it in offline mode.
  • Headphones: You and your travel companions may love each other, but you may not love each other’s playlists. Headphones ensure an easy way to escape the car when you need a break on the road.
  • Kindle, audiobooks, or books: Digital options mean that you have a larger library to choose from, but there’s also something really enjoyable about holding an actual book. Whatever your preference, reading is a great way to pass the time, relax, and travel in more ways than one.
  • Tablet or iPad: Watching your favorite show on your streaming service app before bed will help you complete your regular nightly routine, even when you’re away from home on your road trip.
  • Journal, notebook, sketchbook: When you’re traveling, you may find yourself inspired, or you may just want to capture your thoughts and feelings about your trip. Having writing supplies means you’re ready for whatever inspires you. 
  • Offline maps or traditional paper maps
  • A portable charger: You don’t want to miss capturing the sunset of a lifetime because you didn’t charge your phone. A portable charger means you won’t be reliant on your car’s battery to keep your devices charged.
  • Cash: There are instances, like with state parks, where the only form of payment that is accepted is cash. It’s better to be prepared for these situations than patting your pockets in frustration.
  • A camera: Your mind’s eye will capture so much of your trip, but a good photo will always jog your memory. Whether you keep them to yourself or share them with everyone, you’ll be glad you brought a way to document your trip and the things you saw.
  • A deck of cards: Even if you’re traveling alone, you can always play solitaire. A deck of cards can be a fun way to pass the time, and your traveling companions may even have a new game to teach you.
  • Fidget cube: Traffic can be frustrating, even for passengers, so having a small way to release some of the tension that can build can keep any anxiety in check.

These all may be items that provide entertainment or fun, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need them on your road trip. Traveling is meant to be an adventure, and it is meant to be fun. So, the same way you ensure your safety and prepare your car and yourself, prepare to have fun. Add whatever other items you think will make the most of your road trip.


Setting out on a road trip is an exciting time at any age and any stage in life. The destinations may be different, but the way we prepare for any of them is similar. The time you take to prepare for a safe, fun, and enjoyable road trip can make a difference in the end. 

If you follow this ultimate road trip checklist as a guide to customizing your own, you’ll be ready for whatever happens along the way. On the other hand, if your traveling companions don’t plan, you may find yourself with new hero status. 


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