How To Pack For A Road Trip

April 21, 2021

With over 4 million miles of road, the United States has some of the most beautiful drives in the world. Hopping in the car and heading into the unknown is undoubtedly one of the best feelings you will ever know. 

Whether you are cruising through natural vistas, bustling metropolises, or charming towns, you are sure to learn more about the world, yourself, and whoever’s in the passenger seat on your road trip. 

But before you can get out there, it is essential to plan ahead. Below, we have broken down all you need to know about packing for a road trip. Each category is broken down to help you stay organized, maximize efficiency, and keep you safe in even the worst-case scenarios. 

We will also offer some useful tips on how to maximize savings both on your road trip and during normal driving. So, let us get started and make sure you are fully prepared to hit the road with confidence!

Pro tip: if you primarily use your car for road trips, you could be saving as much as 15 percent on your monthly car insurance premiums. Depending on whether you need car insurance for business or pleasure, many companies offer discounts based on average annual work commutes. 

Packing The Essentials

First and most importantly, you will need to be sure you have your license, registration, and current insurance information (in many cases, digital policy cards work fine). You may want to also check into rental or non-owner car insurance if you are planning to rent a car to save your personal vehicle’s tires.

Do NOT leave home without them. No one wants to find themselves stuck with a sticky, out-of-state speeding ticket without valid proof of ID.

Bringing along a written copy of important contact numbers never hurts either. While cell phones will work fine nine times out of ten, that small chance of your phone breaking or being out of service means you will be left stuck without access to this key information. It is worth the time to write the big numbers down and store them in your dash. 

Check that you have a copy of your car’s manual or access to a PDF version, too. 

From there, you will need to double-check that your spare tire is in good condition, and you are almost ready to get to the fun parts of packing. Investing in a quality roadside emergency kit never hurts either. 

There are plenty of all-in-one options available online, but if you want to purchase things individually, try to be sure you have:

  • Battery booster cables
  • Reflective vest
  • Rain poncho
  • Warning triangle
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Window breaker
  • Paper maps (or downloaded offline google maps)
  • Spare cash (for tolls and emergencies)
  • First aid kit (band-aids, antiseptic, Neosporin)
  • Flashlight (ideally two)
  • Bug spray
  • Large filled water bottles (keep these in your trunk in case of emergency)
  • Toilet paper (you never know when you’ll be hundreds of miles away from the nearest town and direly in need of going number two)
  • Sunscreen 

Still essential, but perhaps a bit less essential are: 

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wet wipes (perfect for cleaning up spills or sticky messes)
  • Chapstick
  • A roll of garbage bags

Finally, be sure to bring along a good supply of snacks. Coolers can make storing semi-perishable items like cheese, lunch meat, and yogurt super easy, too. 

Pack The Non-Essentials

Especially if you are on a long-distance road trip, some wonderful non-necessities make all the difference come mile 200 and onward. Most of these items will help keep you entertained, engaged, and enjoying every moment of your journey.

A car charger, while technically non-essential, will save the day again and again. Nobody should have to worry about conserving battery while running maps and playlists. A full phone battery is also vital in making sure you can call for help in case of emergency. 

Speaking of playlists, compiling an expansive collection of your favorite songs is one of my absolute must-haves for a road trip.

Spotify is especially useful as you can add to your queue podcasts and audiobooks to help keep you company along the way. A hands-free mount for your phone is also a great idea, as operating your phone while driving is illegal in many parts of the country. Plus, it will help keep you safe and focused on the road. 

Portable WiFi can also be incredibly useful, especially if you are driving with other passengers. This will allow you to watch Netflix, get some work done, and generally stay connected. For those of us looking to enjoy some time off the grid, packing a book or two is another wonderful idea (depending on your relationship to motion sickness). 

Now for the creature comforts:

  • Sunglasses
  • Blanket to help get cozy (one of the most common things people forget to bring on road trips)
  • Travel pillow (especially for longer distances where you may need to catch some z’s while your driving partner takes the wheel)
  • UV window shade 
  • An extra layer (coat/fleece)
  • Painkiller/Anti-inflammatory medication like Advil or Tylenol (a lifesaver if an unexpected headache strikes and relieves muscle strain caused by prolonged driving)

Prepping For The Worst Case Scenario

Traveling to somewhere you have never been is one of the delights of road tripping. But, if you are not used to weather conditions, you can end up in some very dangerous situations. Above, we have already mentioned the importance of bringing along emergency water bottles in case you get stuck. If you are traveling through the desert, having extra water is even more important. 

For winter or snow driving, it is always a good plan to check in on cold weather driving 101. 

Once you have a handle on the theory of safe driving in the winter, make sure you are packing the appropriate tools for your drive. Some places may require tire chains to help maintain traction on slick roads. Pack an ice scraper and snow shovel as well.

Finally, no matter what weather conditions you head to, bring along an umbrella. Even if forecasts call for clear skies, you could end up soaked and wishing you would just popped that umbrella into the trunk.

Questions? Comment Below!

With these essential and non-essential items, you are ready for your road trip! If you have any questions or comments about your road-trip essentials (or beloved add-ons), please let us know in the comment section below. We hope this gets you excited for your next road trip, wherever it may take you. Happy driving, and stay safe!


Kalev Rudolph is a food and travel writer for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org. Kalev is based out of Philadelphia, PA. 

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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