Road Trip Essentials: Updated June 30, 2022
Whether you’ve got a few weeks or just a few hours to get out and explore our country, road trips are a great way to feel more together with your friends and family.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know much we love road trips. In fact, it was a 150-day road trip across Canada that launched our Youtube channel back in 2017. What’s not to love about a road trip? You have a vehicle that gives you the freedom to go where you want to go, the comfort of having a bunch of things with you, and you get to see the scenery as you move from place to place. It’s the ultimate form of travel in our opinion, and Canada is one of the best places to do one.
But planning what to pack for your road trip can be a daunting task, especially when you don’t do it very often. That’s why we’ve created this article to help you pack the best road trip essentials for your next road trip.
Road Trip Essentials Packing List
In this extensive packing list below, we detail some great road trip essentials to consider for your next road trip.
Insulated Water Bottle
We all need water and it’s important to stay hydrated while on the road. However, buying bottled water is not only very expensive but it’s highly unnecessary and bad for the environment. That’s why we always pack at least one water bottle. We prefer insulated water bottles because they keep water cold much longer. If it’s a plastic or glass water bottle, it’s going to get warm very quickly, and no one likes warm water do they? There are also a couple of different ways to keep your water bottle full. Most of the time, we just bring 1-2 full water bottles each and fill them up when we can, such as at restaurants or hotels. However, we’ll also occasionally buy a big water jug from a convenience store. Then, you can just fill up your water bottle as you go. You could even keep that bigger jug and fill that up at hotels, eliminating the need to buy more.
Another option is to buy a filtered water bottle. These usually aren’t insulated but everything you drink gets filtered first, which means you can fill it up from non-trustworthy water sources, or even lakes and rivers, and still be safe. However, make sure you read the label of the filter you’re getting. Not all are created equal. Unless you’re hiking for long periods of time, it’s unlikely you’ll need something like this in Canada, but if we were road tripping in Mexico or another country with not-so-good tap water, it’s a great option. Whatever you buy, water bottles are road trip essentials.
Insulated Mug or Bottle
We both have an insulated tumbler and they come in handy for keeping hot drinks hot. So, whether you opt for an insulated mug or a big bottle, having them on a road trip can be a good idea. For example, maybe you buy yourself a portable coffee brewer and make your own coffee using the beans you like. Well, you can keep as many as 4-8 cups (or more) steaming hot in an insulated bottle, ready when you are. Or, perhaps you rather run to the coffee shop for a cup of java. Well, maybe instead of using a paper cup, you can have them pour it into your insulated tumbler, which will not only keep it hot much longer but will also stop yet another paper cup from going into the landfill. Plus, you’ll usually get 10% off for using your own cup! Win-win-win!
This one might be obvious, but honestly, I would never want to be on a road trip without a pair of sunglasses. Not only can the sun make driving dangerous without wearing sunglasses, but it’s also extremely bad for your eyes. Talk to any eye specialist and they’ll recommend you wear sunglasses that wrap around your eyes, stopping UV light from all directions. I actually have two pairs. I have inexpensive plastic polarized sport sunglasses that cover my eyes entirely, and I have my more expensive and beautiful designer sunglasses, which don’t block the sun on the sides but are amazing to look through. The most important thing is wearing a pair of sunglasses, so just grab some that you like and keep them with you. I also like having at least one cheap pair for when I’m out on the water or doing something where they might get broken. Keeping your eyes safe is part of a solid road trip essentials plan.
We all get hungry so snacks are road trip essentials. If you’re planning some longer road trips (or going on road trips with kids), packing snacks is definitely a good idea. While you’ll certainly find convenience stores all over the place, buying snacks like this can become expensive and unhealthy. By packing your own snacks ahead of time, you can choose healthier options and save money by purchasing from markets instead of convenience stores. Popular items could be beef jerky, granola bars, and crackers, but vegetables and fruit make great options too.
We’ve already mentioned snacks and water, so we may as well mention coolers too. Just like camping, having a cooler can be a great way to keep drinks cold and food fresh. Having a cooler can open up the possibilities for different snacks, allowing you to bring deli meats, cheese, and maybe some toppings for your vegetables. It’s also great to bring other drinks as well. If you buy a cooler, don’t forget ice packs. They’re better than ice for many reasons, but the most important part is that they don’t become a pool of water in the bottom of your cooler. Although expensive, one of the best brands is YETI.
Flashlight or Headlamp
Personally, we love our headlamps and we find them to be road trip essentials. They come in handy for all sorts of situations, such as road trips, camping, or even backpacking across the world. Any flashlight will do, but the nice thing about a headlamp is that it frees up your hands. Maybe you need to check something under the hood at night or cook something in the evening, so being able to just strap it on your head is a great way to keep doing what you need to do.
Even before the pandemic, I loved having some sort of sanitizer with us at all times. Sometimes you need to use the bathroom along the way and there’s no soap or running water. Sometimes you may have touched some nasty things and have no access to soap. Sometimes you may want to clean the lid of the can of soda you just bought. Unless you don’t mind germy hands, your road trip essentials packing list should include hand sanitizer or soap.
Tissues and Napkins
Whether it’s a runny nose or a spilled drink, having both tissues and napkins (or paper towel) come in very handy on a road trip. We have one of those water bottles with a straw inside and for some reason, when it gets too hot or we’re at altitude when we open it up, it shoots out a stream of whatever is inside. If it’s water, it’s not so big a deal but one time it was juice, and not only did it make the car sticky, it smelled like juice for a while. Thankfully, we had some wipes to clean it up quickly, but we could have really used a Febreze CAR Vent Clip to help keep the car smelling fresh as well.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Whether you’re driving on a hot sunny day or stopping along the way to enjoy some hiking, sunscreen and bug spray come in handy. Even when driving, it’s easy to get a sunburn, but it’s especially useful when you stop to do some hiking or to walk around a new city or town. We like to always have a small bottle in the car so that we always have it on hand if need be. Bug spray is the same way. You obviously don’t need to use it in the car but there’s gonna be that time when you’re outside at night or camping and wish you had it, even though some can smell really bad.
We all love our phones but if you’re using them for music and taking pictures, they run out of juice quite quickly. New cars often have wireless charging if you have a wireless-capable phone, but it’s always a good idea to bring your charging cables with you. If you keep it plugged in while you drive, it’ll always be fully charged when you arrive at your destination.
However, maybe you have other things you can charge too. Perhaps it’s camera batteries or a headlamp. Do your homework before you start your road trip and pack the necessary cables and chargers.
Having a mini container of painkillers on hand is never a bad idea. We don’t take them very often but when you have a headache or another ache that’s bothering you, it can really put a damper on a road trip. I forgot them one time and needed one badly. So, now I always have one of those mini 10-pill containers (they often cost $2-4 at a market) on hand. I usually have one in the car and one in my bathroom kit. I only go through one bottle maybe once per year, but when you need it, you’ll be thankful you have it.
To be honest, we’re guilty of not often packing one of these. We do have one now, but it’s quite old and we’ve never actually looked inside to see if anything expired. But again, this is one of those road trip essentials you rarely need, but when you do, you might need it quickly. They usually include things like bandages and alcohol wipes, as well as body wraps and so forth. Even if you buy a small one and just keep it under the seat, you never know when it might come in handy.
Now, this is truly one of the top must-have road trip essentials. Even with a new car, you never know when you might break down. Perhaps you’ll accidentally leave your lights on while out on a hike, only to return to a car with a dead battery. If you’re lucky enough to find some help from someone willing to give you a boost, they may not have cables. This has happened to us a couple of times, and now we always have a pair of jumper cables in the trunk. You won’t use them often but the day you need them you’ll truly be thankful you had them. Plus, they may come in handy to help someone else in a pickle.
Tire Pressure Gauge or Roadside Emergency Kit
Without a doubt, if you don’t mind shelling out for a roadside emergency kit, it’s a good thing to have. If you do break down, they often have flares and lights to help people avoid hitting your car, and they may have an emergency blanket as well. But if you don’t want to go that far, at the very least you should have a tire pressure gauge. If your tires are low and you need to get air, gas stations don’t always have these to lend out, so you’ll need a way to know the PSI of your tires. They’re only $5 or so, and all vehicles should have one.
This one should be obvious as well, but in case it’s not, make sure you have a navigation app on your device. It’s such a breeze to travel almost anywhere now as you can just plug in the info on your phone and have accurate directions in an instant. You can even connect them with your car and have the app guide you by voice.
As much as I love navigation apps, paper maps are also a good thing to have on hand depending on where you’re going. Not only are they nostalgic, but they also come in handy when you suddenly find yourself with no phone service. Plus, paper maps can be a great way to find your orientation, allowing you to see where you are and where you want to go over a big area.
Lip Balm and Body Lotion
No one likes dry skin or dry lips, so it’s always a good idea to pack some lip balm and body lotion. I don’t use them as often as I should but especially in dry climates, it’s easy to get dry hands, which can lead to cuts and overall discomfort. Applying a bit of cream alleviates so many issues. The same goes for lips. In fact, if you can, buy a lip balm with sunscreen so that you keep your lips soft and protected from UV rays.
While it’s obvious that the driver shouldn’t be using a pillow, it will come in handy for anyone else in the car. Not being behind the wheel for long periods of time can cause drowsiness, and sleeping can be difficult without a pillow. Maybe it’s one of those neck pillows that wrap around your head, or maybe it’s a full-size pillow that you fold up against the window, but either way, you’ll be happy you have one.
Whether it’s a road trip or any travel really, it’s great to have a couple of pairs of shoes. For me, it’s a pair of sandals, a pair of running shoes or skate shoes, and a pair of hiking shoes. But this all depends on what you intend to do on the trip.
Rain Jacket and/or Umbrella
There’s an old saying that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. At some point during your road trip, it will rain. That’s almost guaranteed. We almost never have an umbrella and yet we always wish we did, so perhaps keeping even a small cheap one in the car will come in handy. Another option is to have a rain jacket. We almost always bring a rain jacket with us wherever we go. They’re thin and compact and they do a good job at keeping you dry and the wind at bay.
I love ball caps. Not only do they look good on me and keep me from ever having a bad hair day, but they’re also great at blocking out the sun from burning my head and my retinas. There are all sorts of hats out there, including ball caps, cowboy hats, beach hats, and more. Whatever hat you enjoy, bring one or two along with you as it’s bound to come in handy either in the vehicle or during one of your many outings.
Of all the road trip essentials, this one can also be crucial. The most common car fluid to have is windshield washer fluid. We’ve actually been in a situation, especially in the spring when roads are mucky, that we’ve run out of windshield washer fluid and almost couldn’t see through the windshield. Once I had to get water from my water bottle and just use that to clean a small area of the windshield until we could find a gas station. You can mitigate this problem by having the fluid in your trunk. Some people may also stock things like oil, but in reality, your car shouldn’t be leaking. Otherwise, get it fixed!
Music and Podcasts
Silence can be great from time to time, but after a while, we all need some of our favourite music and/or interesting podcasts. However, it’s always a better experience to plan ahead and make sure you’ve downloaded your favourite playlist or have a bunch of podcasts lined up for easy access. I can’t count the number of times where I’ve wanted to listen to a podcast but was out of cell coverage and didn’t have them downloaded. The same goes for music.
While playing games in the car might not be possible, games can come in handy once you’ve reached the destination or maybe if you’re waiting in line for a ferry or something like that. Also, if you have kids, it might be good to have them focused on something else, instead of bothering you.
Insurance and Paperwork
This one should be obvious, but you never know! Make sure you have your insurance papers and your driver’s license and any other paperwork you might need. For example, in Banff National Park now, you need to have a permit on you if you’re using any kind of watercraft, including boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. This form is free and can be printed off at home, but you need to carry it on you and have it filled out. Other types of “paperwork” could be park passes, discount cards, and more.
Speaking of paperwork and insurance, another great thing to have is a good credit card. It might sound silly, but if you’re renting a car for your trip, a good credit card is a must. First off, most of them include car rental insurance, which saves you money on your rental, but they also earn you all sorts of travel points for the next time you get on a plane. In addition, they make it far easier to buy things as you don’t have to worry about having cash or getting your pockets filled with change.
Tote Bags or Backpacks
Even when we’re home, we always have empty tote bags in the trunk. This started when grocery stores stopped handing out plastic bags. By having them in the trunk, they’re always there when we need them. But even on a road trip, some extra tote bags, backpacks, or day packs can be a great thing to have. Maybe you’re walking around town, going for a short hike, or visiting a beach. When you do, having a bag to pack some extra shoes, water, and sunscreen will make a big difference.
Gum or Mints
I don’t know about you but I hate having bad breath. It makes me very self-conscious. Maybe you just woke up from camping or ate something funky (like garlic), you’ll be thankful to find some mints or some gum in your glove compartment. Also, sometimes gum is just nice to chew when focusing on the road.
We always have a blanket in the vehicle. Sometimes we use it to cover our belongings when we go inside a shop or restaurant. Other times we may use it under our dog when we bring her on road trips or to keep ourselves warm if we visit a beach or campground on a chilly night. They can be quite small and can come in handy. Another option is an emergency blanket that is better at keeping you warm, especially if you break down during the winter months.
This is another thing we almost always have, whether it’s on a Canada road trip or a backpacking trip across the world. They’re very small, they dry quickly, and you never know when you may need one. You might be staying at a hostel that has no towels, visiting a beach where you might get wet, or even showering at a campground. They’re about the size of a pair of boxers and will probably last you many, many years if not your whole lifetime.
Dashcams are becoming quite popular these days for a number of reasons. These are low-cost cameras that allow you to record your entire road trip as well as giving you added security should you get into an accident. If it’s not your fault, you’ll now have the video evidence to prove your case easily. There are all sorts of reasons people have these nowadays so you may want to consider one for your next trip.
Speaking of dashcams, don’t forget your camera. This is something I always have. Whether you use your phone, an adventure camera, or a fancy mirrorless camera, you don’t want to miss snapping many photos along the way and capturing memories that you can treasure for a lifetime.
What Do You Consider Essentials for a Road Trip?
This is a pretty extensive list and while we may not pack every single item every single time, we do carry most of it. But did we miss something? Perhaps there are different road trip essentials for different types of people. We’d love to hear what you consider a road trip essential. Let us know in the comments below!
For some road trip ideas, consider these travel guides below:
As a glasses wearer, I always keep a copy of my latest prescription with me – I have not ever broken my glasses while on a trip, (knock on wood), but if it does happen, I will be able to get them replaced pretty easily.
Matthew G. Bailey says
Good point! I used to wear glasses too. Once, while camping, I left them on the dash of my car. Big mistake. The sun clouded the lens
Many of these items should always be in the car or on your person, not just for road trips.
This is a good list for summer. For winter, a few additional/different items are needed: tire chains and/or snow tires, a folding or collapsible snow shovel, a bag of sand or kitty litter, emergency blankets, hand warmers, etc.
Matthew G. Bailey says
Good point! I wasn’t thinking winter but yes, definitely need different things…
LILLIAN BROWN says
Thank You will be saving the list
Thanks for sharing this great list!
Sandra Dufoe says
This is the best list I have found for road trips you thought of everything.
Leeanne C says
What a great list. Important to keep items in your car when travelling such as flares, flashlights and emergency roadside kit
Sandra Nageleisen says
Thanks for the tips on what to bring. Definitely going to print this out
Scott Nahirniak says
I would added glasses cleaning supplies. Dirty glasses are horrible!
melissa arditti says
Great list! I don’t think we could ever travel without our dashcam. It’s been extremely helpful to have.
Matthew G. Bailey says
Very cool. What has made it useful?
Jahdo Rose Dryden says
Reg Lister says
The list is very helpful
Like Scott said back in July – good list but if you are a knowledgeable driver,
most of the items should be in your car 24/7/365 – including a part jug of antifreeze, and quart of oil, in case. Those that never venture ever off the beaten path, may find the last two extraneous. As a Cub, Scout and then a Leader in all aspects of Scouts,
the Motto is BE PREPARED!
Obviously some things are extra for summer (sun screen and bug juice) that are not needed for winter and vice-versa
However I think I can add one more new one – we have like most – black seats and interior – for summer have vented seat cushions and window screens to keep the heat off YOUR seat and not so hot in the car.
In the winter, I have a heated seat cushion which cost so much less than ordering it with the car
Very useful. Thank you!
Kelly H says
Hand lotion, lip gloss and air freshener for sure!
Linda Bragg says
All good tips and things to pack when traveling. Maybe pack a little sew kit in case something needs fixed like a tear or button off a pair of pants etc. Can’t think of anything else.
Thanks for the tips!
Jason Melanson says
Great article with great advice! Thanks
Piero Giorno says
If you need to bring a friend with you on a road, not counting your other half, make sure they bring charging cables with them. Believe me, a second set of cables is great to have, especially when you can’t find the one that is supposed to be buried under all the junk you have with you.