Road Trip Essentials: 55 Items You Can't Forget! - The Olden Chapters (2024)

There is nothing more exciting than an open road and a new adventure awaiting you! I get goosebumps just thinking about it. But, before you head off on your next journey, you have to do the prep work, right? This inevitably involves the task of packing the car. So… what should you pack on this epic adventure? Don’t worry, I’ve totally got you covered! This list of road trip essentials includes everything you might need. Let’s take a look…

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Road Trip Essentials for the Car

Let’s start with the obvious road trip essentials you’ll need on your trip… items for the car!

  • Navigation Essentials: Be sure to prepare both phone apps and paper maps for your car. Paper maps are incredibly handy when you begin your day with no service (this one is gorgeous, practical, and at a great price). As for phone apps, here are some I recommend: Google Maps, AllTrails, and Weather Underground.
  • Spare Tire and Jack: Check your spare tire and jack before you hit the road, and replace if necessary.
  • Cooler: Where else are you going to keep your food?
  • Handkerchiefs and Hand Towels: Easily clean up any mess with a few small towels.
  • Garbage Collector and Garbage Bags: Your vehicle can get cluttered quickly without some type of garbage bag.
  • Car Chargers: Keep all of your devices charged with a multi-input car charger.
  • Hidden Car Key on your Vehicle: Two broken car windows later, I can tell you from first-hand experience that having a hidden car key is essentials, especially when visiting remote places with no cell service or people nearby! You can get a copy of your car key made at most home-improvement stores and just fasten it under your car with a wire (in a safe place, of course).
  • Duct Tape: An easy temporary fix to most problems and a great outdoor resource with so many possibilities.
  • Headlamp or Flashlight: Even if you aren’t camping, having a flashlight handy is incredibly useful, especially when traveling in the dark.
  • Batteries: Bring along extra batteries for each of your electronics.
  • First Aid Kit: If you don’t already have one, be sure to pack a good-quality first aid kit in your car.
  • Car Fluids: Top up your car fluids before you leave and be sure to pack some extras for your trip.
  • Portable Self-Starting Jumper Cables: It is always a good idea to keep jumper cables with you, but self-starting jumper cables are even better! They are attached to their own battery and can jump your vehicle without any assistance required.
  • Car Manual: Your car manual can work wonders, especially for those small, random car issues.
  • Roadside Emergency Kit: The last car-related essential is a roadside kit. Hopefully, you won’t need it; but it will be there if you do.

Non-Essential Car Items to Consider:

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Personal Items You Can’t Forget

Next, let’s take a look at a few personal must-haves. These are items that are usually kept easily at hand throughout your trip, perhaps in a smaller tote or backpack for easy access.

  • Sunglasses: Definitely a must-have on any trip! Go one step further and be sure to grab some nice, polarizing sunglasses. These are perfect! Stylish, cheap, and protective.
  • Sunscreen: Do yourself a favor and put on sunscreen every day, especially if you’ll be spending any amount of time outdoors! The last thing you want is to have a sunburn while traveling. I am currently OBSESSED with this Supergoop face sunscreen. It is a bit pricey but because it is only for your face, it lasts forever and is… I can’t put it any other way…. fabulous. Perfect to pair with cheaper spray-on sunscreen.
  • Bug Spray: You might be surprised just how often you’ll need bug spray…
  • Water Bottle: Stay sustainably hydrated by bringing your own water bottle along for the ride. How cool is this one?! Makes drinking water so much more fun!
  • Chapstick: Always a must-have travel item.
  • Spare Cash: Head to your bank and grab some spare cash in low increments for parking, entrance fees, and other random expenses. It’s probably a good idea to have some change as well (for parking meters).
  • Personal Toiletries: Don’t forget to fill up a personal toiletries bag with items such as medications, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, contacts, contact solution, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, hair ties, makeup, hairbrush, nail clippers, etc. Also, how cute is this toiletries bag?
  • Keys, Identification, Phone, Car Insurance, and Registration: This list wouldn’t be complete without the absolute essentials. Be sure to add a Passport to your list if needed!

Non-Essential Personal Items to Consider:

Related: The Ultimate Pre-Travel Checklist

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Clothing Items to Pack

Next, you’ll definitely want to pack along some clothes for the trip!

  • Travel Tops: Pack around one top per day for shorter trips, or around one top per day of the week for longer trips (be sure to bring laundry supplies!). When traveling, clothes can get dirty quickly – so plan accordingly! You’ll also want to make sure you are packing actual travel clothing that is durable, comfortable, quick-drying, and breathable. Here are some of my favorite travel tops, but there are a ton of options out there!
  • Travel Bottoms: Similarly, pack around one bottom per day for short trips, or about one bottom per day of the week for longer trips. When looking for good travel bottom options, think: pockets, comfort, and durability. You also might want to consider pants that turn into shorts, waterproof options, or bottoms that can easily be layered in cold weather. Here is my absolute favorite pair of travel pants, I wear them all the time!
  • Wind-Breaker/Rain Jacket: No matter the weather, it is always a good idea to have a windbreaker/rain jacket on hand.
  • Walking Shoes: Chances are you’ll be walking around throughout your journey, so be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes.
  • Merina Wool and Athletic Socks: Likewise, you’ll need some good quality socks.
  • Sleeping and Lounge Clothing: There is nothing like hopping into a cozy pair of jammies at the end of the day!
  • Undergarments: Of course, you’ll also need to pack undergarments for your trip. If you’re hiking, you might want a few pairs of compression shorts as well.
  • Hot Weather Clothing: If you’ll be in hot weather, don’t forget to pack a sun hat, long-sleeved UV-protective shirts, breathable pants, etc.
  • Cold Weather Clothing: On the other hand, if you’ll be in cold weather, you’ll want a few different items, such as gloves, snow hat, scarf, and layers (thermal base layer, insulating middle layer, and protective shell layer). REI has created a great Expert Advice post about layering for more info!

Non-Essential Clothing Items to Consider:

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Food Essentials

Food is definitely a must-bring essential on the road! But… what food should you really stock up on? Let’s take a look!

  • On-the-Go Breakfasts: To make things simple on the road, pack quick and easy breakfasts that are all pre-made. Some ideas might include muffins, cold breakfast burritos, parfaits in a cup, fruit cups, and overnight oats.
  • An Arsenal of Snacks: Stay healthy on the road by having easy snacks at hand to keep you fueled all day long. Some of my favorites include trail mix, protein bars (my fav are Clif Bars!), fruit, apple sauce, jerky, hummus, pita chips, guacamole, tortilla chips, cheese, and crackers.
  • Easy Lunches: Depending on your schedule, you might not have time to have any elaborate lunches. This is why pre-made or easy-to-assemble lunches are perfect! Plus, they are incredibly budget-friendly. Some ideas include sandwiches (either pre-made or just pack sandwich items to make on the road), crackers, cheese, veggies, veggie dip (dressing or hummus), chips & salsa, pasta salad, egg salad, fruit salad, deviled eggs, and cookies. All can easily be kept in your trunk cooler (but, don’t forget to drain the melted ice refill with new ice every other day or so).
  • No-Fuss Dinners: If you don’t plan on eating out, are looking to save money, will be in remote locations, etc., be sure to pack easy, no-fuss dinners. Honestly, most dinner recipes you normally make can be pre-made before you leave and just heated up over a fire (within four days of cooking.). For dinners after that, some easy ideas include salads, grilled chicken, grilled veggies, hot dogs, burgers, and pizza.
  • Emergency Foods: It is also a great idea to pack few emergency meals. You never know when you’ll need them! Dehydrated meals are perfect for this and can easily be ordered online or picked up at any outdoor supply store.
  • Travel Water Container: Grab a large water container and be sure to fill it up before you leave your home. This will make it easy to fill your water bottles on the road!
  • Travel Plates, Cups, and Food Containers: Depending on the meals you plan on having, you’ll probably need a few plates, cups, and food containers on the road.
  • Eating Utensils: Don’t forget to pack spare utensils from your home, or pick up a good travel set.

Non-Essential Food Items to Consider:

  • Hot Beverage Mixes (hot cocoa, tea, coffee, etc.)
  • Camping Kettle
  • Candy
  • Baked Goods
  • Fun Drinks (juice, soda, etc.)

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Entertainment to Bring on the Road

Let’s face it, driving long distances can become repetitive and boring. Spice things up with some entertainment along the way!

  • Audiobooks: Perhaps my favorite road-trip tip is to listen to audiobooks! I can’t tell you how much of a game-changer it is. If you choose the right books for your adventure, you won’t be able to decide which is more fun: the open road (so you can listen to your book) or the awesome destinations you explore. Personally, I use Audible. Your first book is free (which is probably enough for your trip anyway!) and you get to pick from all of the newest and greatest books with no wait time.
  • Physical Books: It is also a good idea to bring along some paper books for your down-time. Reading is a great way to unwind.
  • An Amazing Playlist: Before you leave home, be sure to prep an amazing road-trip playlist! I personally love using Amazon Music, you can listen offline (perfect for spotty service), you have unlimited access to any song, and they have a great trial period that should last you the length of your trip. Win-win-win!
  • Deck of Cards: Everyone in my family keeps a deck of cards in their glove box and, after my road trip adventures, I know why! A deck of cards is so versatile and a great way to add some fun to your evenings. Plus, they are incredibly cheap! Don’t know any good card games? Here is a great list to print and bring with you.

Non-Essential Entertainment to Consider:

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Camping Essentials

If you plan on camping during your road trip (which I highly recommend, such a money-saver and makes your trip much more of an adventure!), then you’ll definitely need to bring some camping gear.

  • Tent: Obviously you’ll need to bring a good tent with you. If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend or order a new one, you never know when you’ll need it next! Here is a tent nearly identical to mine, which I’ve used for almost 10 years now and still love (plus it’s lightweight so you can use it backpacking too). When looking for a tent, be sure you get a tent that is water-proof, not too big (smaller tents help keep you warm at night), and won’t wear out after the first use.
  • Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad: You’ll need a good sleeping bag and sleeping pad to be able to get a good night’s rest each evening. No, I don’t recommend using your old childhood sleeping bag. Instead, you should be sure to use a sleeping bag that is rated for cold temperatures and good for the uses you need (backpacking, car camping, cold temperatures, etc.). For car camping, I recommend this sleeping bag and this sleeping pad. But, I encourage you to do your own research if you’re in need of some new gear. REI has a great blog post about sleeping bags to start you out.
  • Camping Stove and Lighter: Cooking over a camp stove instead of a fire can be incredibly handy (and much easier). There are several options for camp stoves, I personally love my cheap backpacking stove (you’ll also need some fuel with it), but other people prefer more heavy-duty camping stoves. Either way, don’t forget a lighter!
  • Cooking Utensils: Probably the most forgotten camping-related item is utensils. Be sure to grab items you know you will need based on the food you’re bringing. Here is a great, cheap camping utensil set, or you can just grab the items from home! Some ideas to help you out: spatula, bread knife, butter knife, can opener, large serving spoon, and tongs.
  • Cutting Board: Another easily forgotten item. A cutting board is so versatile and useful! This one actually doubles as a collapsible dish tub or produce basket!
  • Water Filter: Depending on where you will be traveling, especially if you’ll be backpacking or camping, you might want to consider bringing a water filter. I personally love my MSR filter, but there are a ton of great options on the market!
  • Camping Towel: Great for after a shower, a cool swim, or to clean up any major mess around camp!
  • Firewood: If you plan on having a fire anywhere, consider bringing some of your own wood – some locations will run out quickly or won’t have any at all. But, don’t forget to look up fire restrictions in the area!
  • Alarm Clock: It is always a good idea to bring a small, cheap travel alarm clock so you don’t have to rely on your phone battery (which usually drains quicker in cold or hot weather).
  • Dish Soap: To wash your dishes, clothes, or hands, be sure to grab some biodegradable soap. I personally love Campsuds, as it is small, made in the US, and a little goes a long way!
  • Rope: Never leave home without some rope, you’ll never know what you’ll need it for!

Non-Essential Camping Items to Consider:

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Other Road Trip Essentials

Finally, let’s take a look at all the other, miscellaneous road trip essentials that will be useful on your adventure!

  • Waterproof Travel Duffel Bag: Use a sturdy and protective bag to keep your clothing and personal items safe and dry at all times.
  • Day-Hike Backpack: In addition, be sure to bring a day backpack to keep your frequently-grabbed items, snacks, and hiking 10 essentials.
  • Camping Chairs: Pack some small, light-weight chairs for those quick roadside lunch breaks or evening downtime reading sessions.
  • Storage Tote: One great way to keep your gear organized is to store it in a plastic tote. You can have one for road trip essentials and another for dirty items (trash, dirty clothes, etc.).
  • Combination Lock: Locks are cheap and an easy way to lockup a campsite while away, keep a storage bin locked on top of your vehicle, or lock a storage locker when you encounter one.

Related: 10 Hiking Essentials – What You Can’t Forget on the Trail!

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Bonus: Top Six Road Trip Tips

Bonus round! Let’s take a look at my favorite road trip tips to ensure your adventure is the best it can be!

  • As mentioned before, audiobooks can be an absolute game-changer on the road. Music can only last you a while. If you choose the right book, I promise you won’t regret it. Personally, I love using Audible for my audiobooks. They have a fantastic selection that can be downloaded to your device so you can still listen when service is spotty. Need some book ideas? Here are some of my current book lists to help you out.
  • Create a road trip itinerary before you leave the house. Your signal might be spotty on the way and reservations can sometimes be difficult to get on the spot. Stress less on the road by planning ahead!
  • Write down the weather reports for each location before you leave the house, just in case you lose service! This is really important for safety purposes, especially when camping.
  • It’s also a good idea to jot down a phone number of someone you can call in the event of car troubles. Perhaps AAA, a list of nearby auto shops, etc.
  • Try meal prepping actual meals to put in the cooler and heat up over a fire, or just eat chilled! Chicken, veggies, potatoes, rice, ground beef (tacos, nachos, burgers), pulled pork (sandwiches, burritos), mac and cheese, pasta, and meatballs all work really well for this. Just be sure to also pack a good pan to use over a fire (this cast iron pan is perfect!).
  • Make a full list of each of the foods you have packed in the car and cross them off as you eat them. Also, be sure to add what day you need to eat the food. This way, you know exactly what needs to be eaten, what you have in your cooler at all times, and when you need to re-stock your food stock.

Check out Audible to download the perfect audiobook for your adventure!

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Road Trip Inspirational Ideas

The photos used in this post have been taken during my various road trip adventures. Here are some of my favorite road trip itineraries, tips, and destinations to help you plan your next big adventure:

  • The Best Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary (plus everything you need to know before you go!)
  • The Ultimate Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip
  • How to Plan the Perfect Utah Road Trip
  • A Complete Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
  • What You Need to Know Before Visiting Yellowstone
  • Top Ten Must-See Australian Destinations
  • Ten Things You Can’t Miss in New Zealand
  • Top Ten Day Hikes in Washington State
  • The Top Ten Day Hikes Near Denver You Just Can’t Miss
  • An Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park
  • The BEST Hikes in Zion National Park

Further Reading

Looking for even more great travel tips and tricks? Check out these related blog posts.

  • 10 Hiking Essentials: Every Item You MUST Pack on the Trail
  • The Ultimate Winter Bucket List
  • 50 Spring Activities to Keep You Busy All Season Long
  • A Complete Summer Bucket List filled with Adventures
  • 50 Exciting Autumn Activities You Have to Try This Year

And… that’s a wrap! My ultimate list of road trip essentials. These items have taken me across the country and have even helped me explore other parts of the world as well! Hopefully, you’ll be able to use these items to ensure your next road trip is spectacular. Happy trails!

Does your road trip have any hikes planned? Be sure to pack the 10 hiking essentials to ensure you’re ready for anything along the trail.

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Road Trip Essentials: 55 Items You Can't Forget! - The Olden Chapters (2024)

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