Ah, road trips. The allure of the long white line drawing you into the distance and toward adventure. But forgetting some crucial road trip essentials is an easy way to turn your dream vacation into the car ride from hell. We rounded our list of the must-have, can’t forget items that will keep you and your fellow travelers happy, entertained, safe, and fed no matter how far the road takes you.
Your Road Trip Essentials Depend On Your Road Trip
What you’ll need in your perfect road trip supply kit will depend on how many miles you’ll be putting on your wheels. While short trips are more forgiving, it can be a serious hassle to deal with an extended trip without one of the necessities! Longer trips will require more thought about what you may need or want on day 6 or 7 of your trip, not what’s immediately apparent as you leave your driveway.
Top 10 Road Trip Essentials Everyone Needs
No matter how long your trip is or where you’re headed, you can always do to have these road trip essentials on hand. Don’t miss our free The Road Goes On Forever Road Trip Essentials Checklist, which you can download at the bottom of this post.
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1. Snacks and Drinks
It’s number one because it’s the most obvious and, for some, the most important. Having a good supply of your favorite snacks and drinks on hand will not only save you time stopping along the route for food, but it’ll also save you money. Stock up at a traditional grocery store, rather than a convenience store or gas station, and take advantage of bulk packaging. When it comes to drinks, grab a pack of your favorite soda, juice, or water. Our favorite snacks include trail mix, fresh fruit, candy, and potato chips or pretzels. Plus, snacking gives you something to do to occupy your mouth and mind during duller stretches!
A cooler takes your road trip eating game to a new level. Now, you’re no longer limited to fresh items at the beginning of the trip or after you’ve just picked them up, and you’ll always have an icy cold drink at the ready when you need one. Keep the size of your cooler in mind here – it’ll probably end up competing for space with your luggage or other travelers in the back!
3. Water Bottle
Our final food and drink-related essential is perhaps the most critical. Staying hydrated is important to staying healthy, and the last thing you need while on the road is to find yourself sick. You’ll want a bottle that’s insulated to keep your drinks cold or hot and also sized appropriately to fit in your car’s cupholders. Few things are more annoying than finding your water bottle is just slightly too big, forcing you to store it elsewhere or hand it off to a fellow passenger after every drink.
Our favorites are made by Hydroflask, which are double wall vacuum insulated to keep your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot. They also have a wide mouth for easy pouring and filling and are very sturdily constructed.
4. Car Charger/Adapter
The days of the “cigarette lighter” in a car actually being for smokes are long over, but this humble port can be the key to unlocking your car’s potential as a giant phone charger. Most power adapters are similar these days, and you can find them everywhere from Best Buy to the drug store bargain bin. But certain models (like this one, with two USB charging slots) may offer additional benefits.
Depending on your vehicle, you may be able to skip this one altogether. Many newer models or medium- to high-end cars from the past few years are now building USB ports directly into the front console and elsewhere.
5. Rechargeable Power Bank
Take that extra power on the go with you with one or more rechargeable power banks. These are perfect choices if you have more devices that need charging than you have ports on your car charger, or if you’ll be leaving the car behind for hikes, bike rides, or other adventures. Keeping one of these charged and tucked away in your bag will ensure you’re never panicking as your phone or other crucial devices shut down – whether that’s in a traffic jam or stranded in the wilderness.
Our favorite choice in rechargeable battery banks is the Anchor PowerCore Slim, for $17.99.
6. Car Maintenance Kit/Auto Club Subscription
Unfortunately, things happen while out on the road. From a blown tire to an overheated engine or other mechanical problem, the time to figure out what to do is before you get behind the wheel. Invest in a quality roadside assistance and repair kit, and make sure it gets restocked with any supplies you may use during your trip. Double-check your donut tire to make sure it’s ready to go if necessary, as well as the tools to put it on with.
If the previous paragraph caused a reaction somewhere between your eyes glazing over and your stomach turning, don’t worry. Millions of Americans are just like you and don’t want anything to do with repairing their car on the go. AAA is the most popular nationwide option, and is a favorite for also providing discounts at certain tourist attractions or other sites. But you have a wide variety of choices, so pick the one that fits your travel style and budget.
Still, it’s important to have a basic understanding of minor roadside repairs and other issues, in the event you’re stranded somewhere and can’t get in touch with your auto club.
7. First Aid Kit
Just like things may happen to your car, things may happen for you and your fellow travelers, as well! Keeping a first aid kit with you is an absolute road trip essential, whether you’re dealing with a minor headache or a fellow passenger has a serious cut or other issues. You can assemble your own, based on the Red Cross guidance for a family of four, adding or removing items as needed. If this is too much hassle and you just want a pre-assembled kit that you can stash and forget until it’s needed, we recommend the Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit, which comes with a full-sized 120 piece kit, and a smaller, more portable 32 piece one as well. The entire package sells for $17.39 on Amazon.
8. Backup maps/directions
We live in a GPS world, there’s no doubt about it. It can feel like eons ago that people were printing out directions from Mapquest, or charting their courses on a road atlas. But as surprising as it might be, there are still vast swathes of this country where cell service is spotty, GPS can be unreliable, and friendly locals with directions are nowhere in sight. That’s why it’s crucial to plan ahead with backups.
Print out your Google Maps directions, or use one of the many methods available to take your phone GPS maps offline. Nine times out of ten you may end up tossing out the paper when you reach your destination – but for that one other time, you’ll be grateful for the rest of your traveling life.
Conversation is great! And so is checking out the sights through the window. You should absolutely prioritize time with your fellow travelers and soaking in the scenery of the trip. But on any road trip of any significant length, chances are there will a few lulls where everyone just needs a break. This is also true on solo road trips, where it can be crucial to keep your mind occupied while you drive.
Plan ahead by determining the total time you expect to be in the car, and split up the length amongst your passengers. Each can prepare a Spotify or other streaming service playlist and trade off DJing. This is a great way to keep everyone engaged and stimulate conversation, along with potentially learning about some great new tunes.
Not feeling music? Audiobooks and podcasts are also excellent ways to stay entertained behind the wheel. However, as the style and content of these can vary quite significantly, it may be more difficult to settle on one that everyone enjoys. The flip side of this is that this amazing diversity also means you can almost certainly find something that you’ll enjoy personally, which can be great on solo road trips or for drivers whose passengers have all decided it’s naptime.
10. Neck pillow/eyemask
Did someone say naptime? A good old-fashioned nap in the car be positively invigorating – not to mention, a great way to pass a chunk of time. Centers for Disease Control data shows more than a third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7 hours of nightly sleep on a regular basis. So long trips can be a great time to catch up and make sure you’re energized for your destination.
Still, you don’t want to be that person slumped over on your neighbor in the back seat, or waking up with an aching neck from leaning on the window. Invest in a solid neck pillow as well as an eye mask (we recommend this combination set.) Both of these relatively affordable items can dramatically improve your car naps.
Still, don’t forget about your driver. It’s never fun to be the only one awake for long stretches in a car of peacefully sleeping fellow travelers!
BONUS #11: Dashcam
While calling it essential may be a bit of a stretch, a dashcam can be a crucial addition to your road trip arsenal for two main reasons. Firstly, it can help document your trip for you, automatically. Those with a little video editing skill can slice out the best or most beautiful portions to share with others or relieve your trip later. The second and less pleasant use is if you get into any sort of crash or accident. There are more than 16,000 of them every day, and if another driver is involved, things can get messy. Insurance scams abound, as do unpleasant other drivers open to fudging their stories to avoid responsibility for a crash. Having your dashcam rolling provides irrefutable proof of how things went down if the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
We recommend the Garmin Tandem, which comes with front and rear cameras and is well known as one of the easier cameras to set up. You can find it available on Amazon for $299.99.
BONUS #12: Power Inverter
Unlimited charging for items powered through your car’s USB ports or adapter is great. But wouldn’t it be even better to be able to plug in tons of other items that use a regular outlet? That’s where car inverters come in. These devices contain more sophisticated electronics that allow it to convert your car’s DC power to the AC needed to power a traditional plug. This will allow you to charge things like laptops, power appliances like small coffeemakers, or even run a small TV Still, you should be careful not to overload your inverter’s capacity by plugging too many things in.
Our top choice is this 300W Inverter from Geloo, for $29.99 on Amazon.
Don’t Forget Your Essentials!
Knowing the essentials you’ll need on your next road trip won’t do you much good if they’re sitting forgotten at home when you hit the highway. For many of the less commonly used items, remembering them is easy. Just keep a “road trip bag” stocked with these non-perishables and non-chargeables. Stash it in your garage, coat closet, or anywhere you’ll remember on your way out the door on your trip. You can either toss in your additional items when you’re ready to leave, or pack a separate smaller bag on the day of your trip.
Checklists are also a crucial element of packing for all experienced road trippers and travelers. You can make one on the fly, design your own, or better yet, use our The Road Goes On Forever Road Trip Essentials Checklist.