By: Katie Lemon
Road trips are one of the best and safest ways to travel during a pandemic, so it makes sense that they’re exploding in popularity. Road trips require special planning, but I’ve got you covered: these 29 road trip essentials are organized by category. Just check your way through and you’re ready to hit the road!
Road Trip Essentials Checklist For The Long Haul
(table of contents)
CLOTHING ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
The first step on your ultimate road trip packing list is figuring out what you’re going to wear. The key is to prioritize comfort, versatility, and layers. Here’s what to bring:
2. FUNCTIONAL LAYERS
Think minimalist clothing in breathable fabrics like hemp, linen, or merino wool. You’ll definitely want cozy options like sweatpants or leggings, boy shorts underwear, and tee shirts. If everything goes together, throwing an outfit on becomes a breeze!
3. PROPER FOOTWEAR
Make sure to pack a set of adventure shoes and a pair of cozy shoes for chilling in the car or popping into the grocery store. You should be covered with just:
- Tennis shoes or hiking boots
- Slip-ons or flip flops
- Maybe water shoes, depending on your destination(s).
FOOD ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
It’s easy to just stop off for fast food all the time, but not only is that pretty unhealthy, it’s also really not good for the earth! Here are things to bring on a road trip that’ll help you avoid feeling gross from too many combo meals and ditch excess plastic waste:
Keep food and drinks chilled all day with a good cooler. This is the easiest way to successfully pack your own snacks! You can get away with restocking on bags of ice from grocery stores and gas stations every 48 hours or so.
5. REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
Save the earth and stay hydrated at the same time with a reusable water bottle. The most eco-friendly options are made from metal or glass, but as long as you’re not buying a disposable bottle every day you’re still doing the earth a favor.
6. TRAVEL MUG AND CUTLERY
Keep beverages hot or cold for longer with a travel mug, and expand your snack options with a simple set of cutlery. We’ll get into how you’ll keep them clean later, don’t worry!
7. MESS-FREE SNACKS
Hate to break it to ya, but you probably won’t be snacking on sushi or super juicy fruits on the road. You might even want to avoid super crumby stuff, like some baked goods and crackers (brushing them off your seat every 5 minutes gets old fast.) Instead, opt for these:
- Granola bars and/or trail mix
- Dried fruit, apples, or bananas
- Popcorn (but avoid the super salty stuff if you can)
- String cheese and jerky
- Carrot and celery sticks
TOILETRY ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
In addition to bringing your tried-and-true beauty products, there are a few long road trip essentials when it comes to your toiletry bag. Here are a few things to bring on a road trip that will keep you looking fresher for longer, because showers can become quite a luxury when you’re on the road.
8. DRY SHAMPOO
Stretch your hair a day or two extra between each wash with some dry shampoo. If you really want to keep things easy, just throw some baby powder in your toiletry bag! Sprinkle it along oily sections, let it sit for a couple minutes, then massage it throughout your scalp. Ta-da! Fresh hair.
9. ECO-FRIENDLY SOAP
You might find yourself brushing your teeth on the side of the road or washing your face in a local swimming spot. Sounds like a dream, but you’ll need to pack eco-friendly soap to protect your natural environment. I recommend a good hemp soap like Dr. Bronner’s—you can wash yourself and your dirty dishes with it, too!
10. QUICK DRY TOWEL
Nothing is funkier than a musty cotton towel sitting in the backseat of your car. Save yourself the trouble by bringing a quick dry microfiber towel. They’re super soft and will dry much faster than traditional towels.
COMFORT ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
Road trips are incredibly fun, but they’re not always comfortable. Keep yourself as sane as possible by packing the following items—you can thank me later.
11. EYE MASK
Eye masks belong on your road trip packing list because they’ll save you time and energy almost every time you need to take a quick snooze. It’s easy to get road weary on long road trips, so when you can pop on an eye mask it’ll make all the difference in helping you fall asleep.
12. TRAVEL PILLOW
Just like the eye mask, it’ll be much tougher to catch ZZZ’s if your head is lolling all over the place. A good travel pillow will keep you super comfortable no matter how bumpy the ride gets.
13. CAR AIR FRESHENER
Don’t skip this part of the road trip checklist—no matter how clean and tidy you are, things can get smelly and stale when you’re spending a lot of time in the car. An air freshener will help keep things feeling fresh for much longer.
ORGANIZATIONAL ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
When you condense your main living space down to a single vehicle, things are bound to get a little chaotic. Save yourself the headache and time wasted looking for stuff by bringing these organizational essentials:
14. PHONE MOUNT
You never want to be groping under the seat for your phone while driving; pack a phone mount so you can always access directions and other important info. Of course, always let your passengers do most of the navigating, you should never drive distracted!
15. TRUNK ORGANIZER
Do not, under any circumstances, just throw all your long road trip essentials in the trunk of your car and hope for the best. It’ll become a jumbled mess and you’ll never find anything. A simple trunk organizer will help keep everything in its place. You can also just use bins you already own!
16. REUSABLE TRASH BAGS
These are perfect for holding garbage between stops, stashing wet clothes or dirty shoes, and a whole host of other things. Try to use reusable bags to be kinder to the earth, or at least repurpose some old plastic grocery bags you probably have stashed in a drawer somewhere.
EMERGENCY ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
Hopefully it’s all smooth sailing on your road trip, but in case you run into an emergency, it’s good to be prepared. Stay ready for whatever the road throws at you with the following emergency essentials.
17. FIRST AID KIT
For boo-boos and bigger wounds alike, a first aid kit will do the trick. Make sure yours has:
- Sanitizing wipes and tweezers
- Band-aids and antibiotic cream
- Any necessary medications
- Medical gloves
18. CAR KIT
If it’s your car that sustains an injury, you’re going to need more than a band aid to fix it. AAA recommends that you have a few things, including:
- Jumper cables
- Traction aids
- Spare tire
19. YOUR CAR INFO
You should always have your driver’s license and registration when behind the wheel, but it bears reminding. On top of that, make sure you’ve got your car manual and updated insurance information in your glove box.
20. OFFLINE MAPS
Don’t be surprised if you lose cell service while on the road, especially in remote areas or national parks. You can either use the app Maps.me for detailed offline maps, or get TripTiks from AAA—they’re personalized booklets filled with maps and other useful info, and are best if you know your route ahead of time.
FUN ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
Now that we’ve covered the emergency stuff, let’s go over your fun long road trip essentials! Here’s what to bring on a road trip to keep everyone entertained and energized.
Sure, you can use your phone, but a real camera makes all the difference when taking stunning landscape shots. Another fun option is to bring an instant camera—a no fuss way to make instant road trip memories!
22. ROAD TRIP PLAYLIST AND/OR AUDIOBOOKS
For killer tunes, make a collaborative playlist on Spotify that everyone can continuously contribute to (just make sure to download it so you can listen in no-service areas). If you get tired of music, you can always throw on a good audiobook.
23. TRAVEL GAMES
If you’ve got kids, don’t skip this part of the road trip checklist. Keep little ones entertained for hours with mini game sets, puzzles, Sudoku, and more.
CORONAVIRUS ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
Road trips are a great way to travel during the pandemic, but there are still a few items that should be on your road trip packing list so you can stay safe and healthy (and keep the virus from spreading!).
24. FACE MASKS
Pack enough reusable face masks that you can cycle through them between washes. I recommend a hemp face mask, because they’re naturally antibacterial but still nice and soft on your face.
Pack either liquid or spray sanitizer and make sure to sanitize your hands before and after every pit stop. And don’t forget wipes! They’re perfect for cleaning communal surfaces, like public bathroom doors and gas pumps.
26. SAFE, SOCIAL DISTANCE
One major benefit of being on the road is that you can usually stay in your own bubble most of the time. But when in stores or at popular viewpoints and attractions, it’s important to keep a safe social distance of at least 6 feet.
MONEY-SAVING ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS
Road trips are already a great way to save money, as gas is almost always cheaper (and greener) than flying. That being said, here are a few more ways to stretch your dollar even farther while you’re on the road.
27. HAND WASH EVERYTHING
This is where that hemp soap will come in handy again—save yourself the time and money of getting your laundry cleaned by hand washing your clothes. For extra tips, read our guides on how to hand wash underwear and how to hand wash bras.
28. EAT IN
As often as you can, go to the grocery store rather than sit-down restaurants. Not only will it be cheaper to grab simple ingredients from the store, but cooking on a camp stove outdoors or slapping together a sandwich on the trunk of your car is all part of the road trip experience. Plus, it’s way safer during these uncertain times!
29. GET CREATIVE WITH ACCOMMODATIONS
If you’re trying to save money, splurging on a hotel room every night isn’t going to be your best option. Here are a few different ways you can save on accommodations:
- Car camp: if your car is roomy enough, you can sleep in it! Long road trippers recommend Walmart parking lots, well-lit truck stops, and even casinos.
- Tent camp: you can camp for free in most national forests and on BLM land. Or opt for paid camp sites, which is still much cheaper than your average hotel.
- Stay with friends: if you know people who are down to host you safely and responsibly, go for it! Visiting friends always makes a road trip that much more fun.
- AirBnB it: Often cheaper than hotels, plus you’ll have more living space and a kitchen so you can eat in and just enjoy the creature comforts of being in a real home rather than a car for a bit.
ROAD TRIP CHECKLIST: CONCLUSION
Once you’ve checked off these 29 road trip essentials, you’ll be set for the trip of a lifetime! Remember to stay safe and healthy by following all CDC guidelines, and be mindful of the changing laws and regulations across different towns and states as you travel.
Have you taken a road trip during the pandemic? Where would you go on your dream road trip? Let me know in the comments!