If there’s one thing I love, it’s a road trip and I know I’m not the only one. Back in 2017, we took a three-month road trip around America in our self-converted ford Econoline campervan. Since then, we’ve gone on many a road trip around BC and Washington State both in summer and the depths of Canadian winter. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve got our road trip packing list down. If you’re planning a road trip and wondering how to pack for a road trip, then make sure you check this road trip packing list before you head out. This road trip essentials list will help keep you safe and entertained on the road.
Much of what’s below was on our packing list for our cross country road trip in the USA. We also ended up packing a bit more since we were moving countries (from the UK – Canada, via our 3 months touring the US). If you’re wondering what to bring on a long road trip this is a great place to start.
Road trip packing list
Make sure you pack these essentials for a road trip whether you’re taking a short road trip or looking for a road trip pack list for a longer journey. There are lots of road trip packing lists out there but I hope you’ll find this one useful! I’ve also included a checklist for road trip that you should go through to make sure your car is in tip-top shape.
Your car’s packing list
When it comes to what to pack for a road trip, it’s not just you that needs a packing list for a road trip; your car does too! There are some important things you should pack for a road trip.
A spare tyre (& tools and know-how to change it!)
If you’re going on a road trip you’re going to want to check you’ve got a spare tyre. Flats and blowouts can happen when you least expect it and if you don’t have a spare and are without cell reception (not unusual), then you’re kinda screwed.
If you do already have a spare tyre, then you’re going to also need to know how and the tools required to change the tyre. There’s no point having one if you don’t know what to do with it! Changing a tyre is pretty easy, the hardest part is often getting the bolts undone. Make sure you’ve got your jack, a lug wrench and a spare tyre and you’re good to go!
Another of the road trip car essentials is the manual. Your car will have come with an owner’s manual that you probably never even looked at. If you bought your car second hand it should still have the owner’s manual, but you can often find them online these days.
This manual has everything you’ll need to know about your car. So, if you’re out on your road trip and a new emergency light comes on you can check what it is in the manual to see how serious it is and how quickly you need to get to a garage.
Car license, registration and car insurance details
While you’ll hope it doesn’t happen, getting pulled over by the cops can happen wherever you are. Your license and registration details will be what they ask for (and likely your license too). Plus, should you get into a car accident these details will come in handy.
Your driver’s license
One of the road trip items you really can’t forget!
Winter emergency kit (if travelling in winter)
If you’re travelling in winter or doing a spring or fall road trip in higher elevations, make sure you’ve got a winter emergency kit. At the very least, your winter emergency kit should include:
- A shovel
- Ice scraper and snow brush
- Traction aid
- Tow strap
You can buy these separately, or you can buy them as a kit. We bought a kit from Canadian Tire a while ago and it came with a year’s free roadside assistance which was a great little bonus.
Jumper cables or a battery booster
If you’ve got an older car, or an older battery having some jumper cables in your car, or a battery booster is a great idea. We went through a phase where our van wouldn’t start, it seems to be fine now we’ve replaced the battery, but this booster pack we bought was a life-saver.
While jumper cables are great, the issue is you need another vehicle. With this booster pack, we could give our battery a kick-start on its own. It can boost your battery several times on one charge too.
Snow chains (in winter)
For winter road trips, snow chains are super important. In many areas, it’s a legal requirement to carry them. For example, here in BC, if you’re going out of the city to pretty anywhere, you’ll need snow chains in your car. A lot of the time you won’t have to use them, but they’re incredibly useful.
Oh, and as with changing the tyre, make sure you practice how to use them!
No matter how old your car is, breakdowns can happen. If you’re signed up to a roadside assistance plan, then that’s one less stress to deal with and the price is usually well worth it should you need to get towed.
A road map
Sure, GPS on your phone is great an all, but sometimes cell reception lets you down. A road map will make sure you’ve headed the right way in case that happens.
Backcountry Maps are our goto for our local areas. They not only include the main roads, but also the forest service roads and dirt roads, as well as backcountry camp spots and more. If you’re an outdoors lover then these maps are perfect!
Eating and drinking
Wondering what to pack on a road trip when it comes to eating and drinking? Sure you are! Because what’s a road trip without some good snacks?!
In place of a fridge in our campervan, we have a coolbox which is perfect for a few essentials. If you’re on a road trip, having a little coolbox is a great idea. There’s nothing better than a cool drink after you’ve come back from a hike, and any veggies you buy will do better in cooler temperatures.
Yeti are renowned for being great, but they’re pretty expensive. Depending on how long you’re planning on road tripping will affect what sort of coolbox you get.
Reuseable water bottle & travel mug
Keeping hydrated is always important so make sure you pack your reusable water bottle. My favourite is my Nalgene bottle as they’re super cost-effective and don’t leak. Plus, they come in nice colours too. Hyrdroflask bottles are also great and they keep your drinks cool or hot for ages too.
These are among my must have road trip items simply because getting a take-out cup is wasteful and these keep my drink hotter longer anyway.
Road trip snacks
Every road trip needs snacks. Looking for what to bring on a road trip when it comes to snacks? Here are some of my favourite healthy-ish road trip snacks. Depending on whether you’re doing a car road trip or a campervan trip, your ability to cook will be impacted. That means road trip food lists will vary greatly, but this road trip snacks list is a great place to start.
- houmous with veg to dip in
- sandwiches: buy some bread and whatever you want to go in it, and make on the go. Much cheaper and nicer than pre-made ones!
- fruit – apples and oranges store well
- protein bars
- oats – for breakfasts! Instant oats are easy to make wherever you are.
- nuts & trail mix
- powdered milk – super useful since fresh milk goes off pretty quick.
Extra water containers
We take a couple of 10-litre water containers with us when we go on a road trip. You can pick these up from outdoors or home-hardware stores, or just buy a couple of 5L bottles from the supermarket and reuse them.
Tech gear & entertainment
While you’re on the road you’ll need something to keep you entertained and the tech to document all the things you’re seeing on the road. Read on for the following ideas of what to pack for a road trip to keep you entertained. Don’t forget the following in your cross country road trip packing list.
While I still much prefer to read a paper book, when you’re travelling e-readers are the best. You can take a load of books with you and get new books on the go and they take up barely any room.
If you and your road trip partner have different tastes in music then packing some headphones for your road trip is a great idea. Also, if one of you is an early bird (me) and wants to listen to something while your partner sleeps, headphones are a real winner. If those situations sound familiar then these will surely be road trip essentials for couples like us.
Thom got me these recently and I love them. He reckons they’re probably the thing I use the most these days.
Smartphone & charger
As if you’d go anywhere without your phone, right? Make sure you don’t forget it when you’re packing for a road trip! AND the charger too.
Hands-free phone mount
Since driving while using your phone is illegal and incredibly dangerous, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a hands-free phone mount installed in your car if you’re using it for directions. We have one that sticks to the dashboard in our van, but there are many different types you can get.
When you pull up somewhere with a great view it’s a nice to chill out to some tunes. These Ultimate Ears ones look great too (& they’re waterproof!). A speaker is one of my top things to bring on a road trip as the music sounds so much better than when played directly out of your phone.
Battery pack(s) & charging cables
Using all this tech is going to drain your batteries and you’ll; need somewhere to charge them up.
Battery packs are a great way to keep things charged on the go and nowadays they’re super light and can do multiple charge-ups.
Packing some charging cables that connect to your car through the 12v/cigarette lighter, or USB (depending on how modern your vehicle is) is super useful to take on a road trip.
MP3/phone connector to play music
Our van is pretty old-school so we use an FM radio transmitter to play our music and podcasts through the car speakers. If you’ve got another set up then don’t forget your USB connector or aux cables.
If you’re looking for something to listen to on a road trip, try some audiobooks or put together a banging road trip play list.
We take our camera gear wherever we go. If it’s a big trip we’ll take all of the following, for smaller day-long road trips we tend to take less. You’ll want to capture memories, which makes these things to pack for a road trip pretty essential.
- DJI Mavic Pro and DJI Mavic Mini drones
- Sony camera & lenses
- Our tripod
- SD cards (these ones work well in drones & GoPro)
America the Beautiful, Parks Pass (If you’re doing a US road trip)
You can buy a yearly pass at REI.com which I think it’s by far the best value if you plan on visiting a few, or the same National Park more than 3 times in one year.
You can also buy a pass at the park gate but that’s $30 whereas this year pass is $80!
Useful road trip apps
Install these road trip apps on your phone before you set out and they’ll make things a lot easier.
Of all the road trip necessities, this has to be one of the most needed. Chances are you have this on your phone already since it’s by far the easiest way to navigate to where you’re going.
The following apps make it a lot easier to find accommodation while you’re on the road.
- iOverlander: If you’re camping, check out iOverlander to find free places to sleep for the night, as well as campsites and other useful amenities.
- Booking.com: Booking.com is my go-to whenever I need to book accommodation. If you’ve not booked anywhere for the night, then use their app to find last minute deals near you.
- Airbnb: If you’re looking for somewhere self-catering, Airbnb is the place to look. Plus there are so many gorgeous homes on there!
The Gasbuddy app is a huge money saver when you’re travelling around. It crowdsourced the prices at gas stations so you can see how much the price changes as you travel.
Besides whatever else you’re planning to pack for a road trip, make sure you don’t forget the following essentials on your road trip list!
- Swimwear: who knows when you’ll need a leisure centre shower or fancy a wild swim!?
- Towel: My favourites for road trips are these quick drying towels
- Blankets: For cosy sunset watching
- Day bag
- Rain jacket
- Walking boots
- Extra sweater
- Sandals/flipflops: easy to take on and off when you’re in and out of your car/van/campsite showers and toilets.
Don’t forget to pack these road trip essentials! They’ll make things a whole lot nicer on both you and your travel partner.
- Baby wipes: Great for a refresh in between showers or sticky hands after some tasty snacks.
- Hand sanitizer: pretty essential when you’re travelling.
- Toilet roll: For campsites and emergencies.
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Garbage bags: so your car doesn’t become a big trash can. Much easier to clean up if you’ve been putting things in a bag rather than just wherever.
- First aid kit: You never know when accidents are going to happen, so include the following in your mini travel first aid kit. You can also buy first aid kits that come with these and more too.
- Pain medicine, band-aids, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, chapstick, tweezers
Extra things to pack if you’re camping during your road trip
These extra items to add to your packing list for road trips if you’re camping will come in super useful. They’re definitely on my list of long road trip essentials since staying in a hotel every night gets expensive SUPER quickly.
A camp stove & gas
If you’re camping you’ll need something to cook on, unless you plan to eat out all the time. We have a 2-burner camp stove in our van all the time so we’re good to go. Just make sure you don’t forget to pack the gas to fuel it too!
Camp chairs aren’t essential, but they will make things a lot more comfortable. We don’t actually have camp chairs and tend to use our sleeping mats instead, but the next camping item we buy has to be some chairs. Basically cause I’m just jealous of how cosy people look when they’re in them. AND the best ones have somewhere to store your beer too.
What’s camping without a sleeping bag? I still love my Vango sleeping bag, and Thom uses this one from MEC.
A self-inflating sleeping mat is ideal for camping. They pack up pretty small and they’ll make your night a lot more comfortable.
Pre roadtrip checklist
Before hitting the road, check and double-check the following items of this road trip checklist. Checking this will help prevent breakdowns which add extra expense and time to your road trip. This checklist for a road trip in a car is something we do before heading out on longer trips.
- Check your oil
- Tyre pressure & tyre type
- Washer fluid
- Spare tyre + tools