Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: 60+ Essentials (With a Free Checklist)

Ultimate Road Trip Packing List (Tested and Approved by Mom)

Nothing says family vacation in the US quite like a road trip. They are an affordable way for American families to transport 3.1 children to the beach, the mountains, or Grandma’s house. So it’s no surprise that nearly 70% of all American family vacations are road trips.

But packing for a road trip can be overwhelming, especially when you are packing for kids and pets in addition to yourself. Whether you plan to drive from coast to coast or travel just a few hours to visit family, this road trip packing list will help ensure you don’t forget any of the essentials.

When “The Bigs” (my three oldest kids) were little, it was easy for the four of us to pile into the car and take off on a two-week-long road trip at least once a year. We called it our “big adventure,” and we tackled one unanimously selected region of the US at a time.

From Mount Rushmore to the American Southwest to the Land of Lincoln to driving the Pacific Coast Highway, it was nothing but us, the big open road, and an unquenchable sense of adventure.

With The Bigs off at college, road trips today are limited to just Louise (currently 14) and me. While the car is a lot emptier (and quieter) than in years past, our road trip essentials checklist remains constant.


Do You Love to Road Trip?

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Road Trip Packing List for the Journey

Paper map of the United States

Sage Advice:  If you’re driving a long distance on your road trip, be sure to check out these helpful tips.

Paper Map – Half the fun of a road trip vacation is all the memories you make along the way. So ensure things go smoothly on the road less traveled even if your digital maps stop working or are out of cell/satellite range. Download your route from Google, pack an atlas, or buy a map for the destinations you’ll be visiting.

Sage Advice:  If you are a AAA member, be sure to take full advantage of the free maps and travel guides that come with your annual membership when packing for a road trip.

Cash and Coins – While more and more toll roads and parking meters offer a credit card or digital payment option, some places still require old-school cash and coins.  

Notebook and Pen or Pencil – Whether you want to keep a travel journal or need to exchange insurance information with another driver, toss these pre-Internet communication devices in the glove box so you have them if you need them.P

Trash Bags – Whether you stash a few plastic grocery store bags or bring a small roll from home, these come in handy for storing everything from wet clothes to, um, trash.

Reusable Shopping Bag – Great for toting snacks from the car to a picnic table during a pit stop or carting a few souvenirs to the car.

Flashlight and/or Lantern – Even if your roadside emergency kit contains a flashlight, it’s always a good idea to store at least one more. I keep a small flashlight stashed in the glove compartment and at least one camping lantern-style flashlight in the trunk.

I also pack my BioLite Alpenglow lantern. About the size of a coffee cup, this lightweight portable lantern has been a life saver when the power has gone out in my hotel room. It’s also been a comforting nightlight for my daughter.

Headlamp  – One of my best tips I can share is to pack a few headlamp lights on your road trip. From unloading the car after arriving at your destination after the sun goes down to making s’mores over a campfire, it provides hands free illumination like no flashlight or lantern can.

Sage Advice:  Don’t forget to pack enough AA, AAA, and other batteries needed to power your flashlights and other electronics for the duration of your road trip.

Road Trip Packing List for Your Passengers

First Aid Kit

Emergency Contact Information – Nothing on this comprehensive list is more important than the passengers who travel with you. I believe that preparing for the worst means that everything will go smoothly. So print out emergency contact information for your parents, siblings, or whoever else you’d want contacted if something horrible were to happen on your journey.

First Aid Kit – Similar to the roadside emergency kit for your car, this kit is for the people and pets along for the ride. I like this first aid kit because it’s fully stocked and in a hard plastic (rather than soft-sided) case. But you can easily make your own first aid kit by filling any container with bandages, pain reliever, burn cream, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, a thermometer, a pair of safety scissors, antacid tablets, and antihistamine. I also keep motion sickness pills in my first aid kit, because my daughter Charlotte tends to throw up at least once every road trip.

Yucky Bucket – Charlotte, the one who always gets car sick, is now a freshman in college. But we still plan for her to have motion sickness when we travel. (And, yes, we still call it a “yucky bucket” from when she was a toddler.)

Most Essential of Oils – Because they help clean cuts, heal burns, and keep seasonal allergies at bay, I never travel without these three essential oils.

Bug Spray and Sunscreen – Keep your passengers (and their fearless driver) free of bug bites and sunburn during your road trip.

Sunglasses and Hat – Keep the sun further at bay with these road trip essentials.

Umbrella and Rain Ponchos – From a spring shower in the Arizona desert to a torrential downpour in the Midwest, it’s hard to know what Mother Nature has planned every day of your journey. And without these road trip essentials, it can be a chilly and uncomfortable ride until you can properly dry off.

Blankets and Pillows – Since I’m always the one behind the wheel, I forget about these road trip necessities. But my kids don’t. I can always count on them to have a full-sized pillow and comfy blanket with them in the car.

Sage Advice:  Get more into each passenger’s suitcase by using compression packing cubes.

Related Article:  14 Super Easy Ways to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

Road Trip Essentials for Four-Legged Friends

Dog in the front seat of a car looking into the back seat

Spoil your fur baby with treats, toy, and more from

If at least one of your road trip companions is a furry, four-legged friend, then don’t forget to pack:

  • A leash, collar, and name tag with your contact information
  • Vaccination records, especially proof of a rabies shot
  • Pet food and bowls
  • Bed or crate
  • Seat Belt Harness
  • Toys

Sage Advice:  If you plan on traveling with your dog, be sure to check out this petiquette guide. It details dog etiquette rules for traveling with your four-legged best friend to ensure a “pawsitive” experience for all.

Road Trip Packing List for Your Entertainment

Don't forget to pack your phone charger when taking a road trip.

Phone Chargers and Car Adapters – From navigating your journey to capturing photo memories along the way, you need your phone to be fully charged and ready to work hard for you. One of the ways your phone can work hard for you is by leveraging these road trip planner apps.

External Battery – What I like most about this power bank is that two road trippers can quickly recharge at once.

Road Trip Playlist – From Katy Perry’s California Gurls to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York and from Blake Shelton’s Sunny in Seattle to Will Smith’s Miami, the right tunes can help the miles fly by fast.

Tablets Loaded with Movies and Games – Before you hit the highway, be sure your  Netflix shows and movies are fully downloaded and your digital games are ready for the road. (My current Netflix addiction is Schitt’s Creek, so…)

Sage Advice:  To help everyone enjoy the movie, music, or game of his or her choice without 100 decibels of distraction circling the driver, be sure to pack a set of headphones for each passenger.

Audio Books – These digital discoveries are the best thing to happen to road trips since cruise control. No matter who is riding shotgun, there will be a point in your road trip when you need a break from each other. (When I traveled with my teenage daughters, that moment often arrived at the end of our driveway.) Nothing makes endless miles of open road move faster than an audio book!

When the kids were younger, we loved listening to the adventures of the Cahill family in The 39 Clues series together. Now that it’s usually just Louise and me in the car, we both disappear into our own stories via our phones. See, another reason you want to keep your phone charged!

Sage Advice: Here are 20+ of the best audiobooks for family road trips.

Games – If you want to digitally disconnect, but you’re not up for a rousing chorus of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, then be sure to plan or pack road trip games. If there were an Olympic event for license plate bingo, I’d have a gold medal. At least that’s what I always tell my kids. (And, yes, they usually roll their eyes, just like you’d expect.)

Sage Advice:  Spot the state and color the plate with this free license plate bingo download.  

For a more traditional game that isn’t too tough to play in a moving vehicle, we love the Five Second Rule Game. I picked it up for a road trip with my sister and nieces, and it’s harder than you think to come up with three related items in five seconds or less!

Road Trip Packing List for Your Belly

Drinks and Containers – From a reusable water bottle to a travel coffee mug, be sure you are prepared to stay hydrated (and caffeinated) on your journey.

Collapsible Car Cooler – We keep everything from drinks to snacks to my son’s medication in a collapsible cooler that fits easily around us in the car on road trips.

Food and Snacks – In the cooler, we pack cut vegetables (like celery and carrot sticks), hard-boiled eggs, and yogurt. Our favorite snacks that don’t have to stay chilled include nuts (like almonds and cashews), apples, bananas, peanut butter (to eat with the celery or fruit), and granola bars.

Related Article: My Favorite (Mostly Healthy) Road Trip Snacks

Sage Advice:  Don’t forget to pack a small paring knife to slice apples, share something with a road trip companion, or open tricky packaging. It’s also a good idea to tuck some paper plates, napkins, and a tablecloth in your vehicle for tailgate and picnic table snack breaks.

Related Article:  8 Ways to Eat Healthy While Traveling

Road Trip Essentials for Winter Travel

A white SUV driving on a snowy road

While the majority of Americans embark on road trips between Memorial Day and Labor Day when kids are out of school for the summer, there are plenty of road trips tied to Thanksgiving, winter holidays, and the ski slopes. If you’re traveling during the winter months, be sure to add winter travel necessities to your road trip packing list. Don’t forget tire chains, a small bag of sand or kitty litter, extra blankets, and warming packs.

Related Article: Winter Road Trip Essentials

What’s On Your Packing List for Road Trips?

Do you like to road trip? Is there anything you’d add to this comprehensive list? Share your advice in the comments section below.

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24 thoughts on “Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: 60+ Essentials (With a Free Checklist)”

  1. I can tell these are mom tested and approved. 🙂 I love it. I especially love the practical tips, like an extra set of car keys…so important!

  2. Erwin Magalang

    Great list and I appreciate that you included road trip essentials for your car on the list. Sometimes people forget that their car should be included on their check list and packing list for their car to ensure a smooth road trip. Keeping things on the list will allow us to handle the situation better on the road. Another thing that I do for my car before a road trip is by bringing it to my trusted car shop to have it checked for possible repair and maintenance. Doing this will lessen the chances of experiencing an unexpected car breakdown while having a road trip. Also, it will give us peace of mind knowing that our vehicle is in good condition. A few days ago, I also found a similar blog post but this is focus on car’s checking before hitting the road. You might want to check it, here’s the link: https://blog.beepbeep.ph/road-trip-essentials/

  3. What a great travel list! A couple of things I would add for the pup’s list…a harness for extra safety when traveling as some dogs may slip their collars. It is also a good idea to hook them into the seat belt on the back of their harness rather than their collar for neck protection. If you are hiking or doing outside activities in hotter weather, you may want to consider paw protection for your pup. We like MuttLuks, but now there are many boots on the market to choose from. (Something to consider for ice and snow also).

    1. These are great additions to the pet list! I wish I’d known about MuttLuks when my old golden, Kavanaugh, climbed A Mountain in Las Cruces with us a few years back. My poor boy got a cactus needle stuck in his paw. Poor thing!

  4. You KNOW I love my road trips, and this is a fantastic list! I also pack a bucket of homemade trail mix with a few individual-sized containers that we can refill. I also put the grocery bag in a plastic container (cereal or pet food) to keep it from getting trampled on and spilling. Now excuse me while I go plan another adventure.

  5. I love roadtrips, especially when I am not the one driving, tee-hee 🙂
    Great tips, and if you have roadtrip tips for pre-ados, pretty please make a post about it. My two pre-ados are by far the hardest passengers to entertain XD

  6. I LOVE road trips, every year my husband and I are sure to take at least one! Now that we have a little one on the way, I’m so glad that I read your post! I’m the person who never forgets a single snack, but definitely forgets all of the essentials. I am especially never prepared for snow. So, the idea of the ice scraper is a must. I should probably always just leave it in my car so I never have to think about it! I like the idea of doing a two week trip to one region of the US. The Southwest is high on my list! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Congrats on your little one on the way! I highly recommend a road trip in the Southwest in the spring. Absolutely gorgeous! Maybe you can sneak one in as a “babymoon” before your wee one arrives?

  7. I love roadtrips and have enjoyed a few in the USA, it’s such a GREAT country to self-drive, with wide open roads, not too much traffic once you’re out of the big cities, and the most wonderful vistas and natural landscapes. We’ve also found some amazing places to stay and eaten well too. The first time I visited was with my parents, and the packing was a big deal, for sure, your list is going to be a huge help for first timers. We definitely missed some things out but of course, we could find and buy them from local stores once we landed.

    1. I’m always exited to find a fellow road tripper. Yes, our roads (and vehicles) are way wider (and bigger) than what I experience in Europe. That’s for sure! 🙂

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