You've been dreaming about an epic road trip for ages, and the stars have finally aligned to make it happen. You know where you want to go and what you want to see, but now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty so your expedition can go as smoothly as possible. What do you need to pack? That depends on how long you're traveling for—packing for a week-long trip looks different from packing for an extensive voyage. You can purchase mesh car storage solutions that attach to the backs of seats or your car's ceiling or use multiple themed backpacks with compartments to store essentials. Below, we cover what you might need beyond no-brainers, like your license, registration, a roadworthy spare tire, and cash for emergencies.
Don't let unexpected car troubles put a damper on your exciting plans. You can buy pre-packed roadside emergency kits or build your own. These kits should be suitable for day or nighttime use and contain items including but not limited to:
First aid kits with antiseptic, bandages, ointments, and tweezers make minor cuts and burns manageable and can tide you over until you reach the next town if need be. You'll also want to pack a medicine pouch with motion sickness tablets or ginger candies, over-the-counter pain relievers, antacids, flu tablets, antihistamines, and meds you often reach for at home. Finally, a toiletry bag containing toilet paper, sunblock, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, lip balm, hand and body cream, a razor, a hairbrush, hair ties, a toothbrush, and toothpaste should cover the basics.
Crossing borders calls for a passport. So whether you're driving from the U.S. side of Niagara Falls to the Canadian side or trekking down to the Baja peninsula, you'll need your travel documents to make your road trip international. It takes about six weeks to get a passport if you don't already have one, so plan for admin and buy a nice passport holder to keep it neat.
Winter road trips come with their own set of must-haves. A collapsible snow shovel can clear a path for you, a snow brush and ice scraper can restore the view through your windshield, and a windshield de-icer is a good idea for visibility too. Tire traction mats can assist in muddy conditions, and antifreeze keeps your vehicle fueled.
Everyone who's ever been on a road trip knows that half the fun is busting out a well-timed snack. Not only do snacks taste good, but they keep hangriness at bay, and good moods are crucial for dealing with wrong turns and annoying drivers. Junk food like potato chips is fine in moderation, but try and pack beef jerky or vegan alternatives, dried and fresh fruit, dark chocolate, mini yogurts, popcorn, savory muffins, granola bars, or trail mix. You can prep overnight oats inexpensively and pop them in spill-resistant containers. Eat your snacks with reusable utensils or eco-friendly disposable ones.
If you get stuck somewhere remote without water, all bets are off, so carry large filled bottles for drinking and cleanups and effervescent electrolyte tablets for an energy boost. Insulated flasks keep cold water cool during hot summer trips when the nearest gas station is a while away. A cooler will also prevent you from gulping down lukewarm juice and keep prepared food at a safer temperature. Small travel mugs that keep hot water warm allow you to have instant coffee on the go when you need a pick-me-up, and the cups are also convenient while driving because you don't have to unscrew any lids.
Unless you're accustomed to living off the grid, you probably want to use your smartphone. That's where a power bank, car charger, USB cable, and a data plan come in. Car chargers can be slow, as can smartphones that can charge other phones, but they should suffice between hotel stops. If you're driving, you must use your mobile phone wirelessly by law, so be sure to sync your phone to your vehicle via Bluetooth before you begin your trip and get a mount for your phone so you can follow navigational apps without looking down and driving distractedly.
America is huge. It takes hours to get from Point A to Point B, and passengers who fit in short bouts of sleep fare better. You need a compact blanket for cooler seasons, small cushions, microbead or memory foam neck pillows for naps that leave you refreshed rather than achy, and shades to cover windows when the sun is too intense. Remember to pack your sunglasses while you're at it.
Strong, reusable bags are great for grocery runs or if you need something to contain loose items in your car before checking into accommodation. They can separate your dirty laundry from your clean clothing or wet clothes from dry ones if you don't have packing cubes. Keep the inside of your car from looking like it got hit by a tornado by placing your trash in biodegradable garbage bags.
While we're on the topic, you're going to need a day pack for when you park your car and stretch your legs. On long walks, you'll need, at the very least, snacks, hydration, sunscreen, a layer of clothing, tissues, and the details of a contact written down in case of emergency.
If you plan on unplugging as far as possible, an instant camera is a worthy addition to your road trip must-haves. Sure, the picture quality could look better. But who cares when the novelty of an instant photograph can put a smile on your fellow travelers' faces or tangibly record a moment in time for your future nostalgia?
Most kids today, and adults for that matter, live in a world of near-constant stimulation. Screen-free time and boredom are healthy, but when entertainment hour arrives, the options are plentiful, and many don't involve looking at the screen. From music playlists, audiobooks, and podcasts, to educational digital games and ebooks, screen time doesn't have to be wasted time. Don't forget earphones or audio splitters for moments of zen.
If you want to steer clear of tablets and smartphones, physical books are classic boredom busters if you can tolerate reading in a moving car. Making your journey with children in tow? You can create or buy games like velcro bingo and crafts that can't go too pear-shaped during a potentially bumpy ride.
When you want a better view, a pair of binoculars will come to your rescue. They're must-haves on safaris and treks through national parks, so you can get, say, a good look at a hungry bear and its cub from a distance or see what's down below in the Grand Canyon or at a hike's summit. You can even take pics through your binocs if your phone's zoom functionality leaves a lot to be desired.
You won't go wrong with flip-flops and an absorbent cotton towel or two. The latter can serve as an impromptu picnic blankie, protect your limbs from overheated seats, or dry you up after you encounter rain or go for a dip in a lake. Wet wipes are fab for tidying up after snacking. Other nice-to-haves include: