25 Road Trip Essentials You Shouldn’t Leave Behind

Family high five at the beginning of their road trip


We all love a quick vacation getaway to escape the chaos of our everyday lives. But if you’re making a cross-country road trip to extend your journey, it can be overwhelming to keep track of all the things you need to bring along. Depending on the distance you travel as well as your destination(s) and activities, there can be a wide range of necessary items that you shouldn’t forget. To help you prepare for the long drive ahead, we put together a list of 25 road trip essentials as well as a list of some things you shouldn’t bring on your car trip. We also included some tips on how to keep your car clean for wherever you go!

What Should I Bring on a Long Road Trip? Being prepared for the long journey ahead is important. Here’s a road trip checklist to help you in case of an emergency, save you from a trip to the store, or keep you comfortable, connected, and entertained throughout the ride:

Basic Road Trip Car Essentials

  1. Driver’s license:

    A bit of an obvious one, but make sure you have this with you whether you’re in your home country or abroad as proof that you’re licensed to drive. If you’re in a foreign country, you should check with local laws as you may need to obtain an international driver’s license; your home license might not be enough.
  2. Car registration:

    This one’s just as important as your driver’s license. You need your car registration to prove that you, a friend or family member, or the rental car company owns the vehicle that you’re driving. If you ever get pulled over, you usually need to show this along with your driver’s license.
  3. Car manual:

    This go-to instructional book will be your best friend on any road trip; it covers your vehicle’s maintenance program and safety guidelines and also gives troubleshooting advice.
  4. Insurance information:

    In many countries such as the USA and Canada, it’s mandatory to have car insurance so you are financially protected in case of an accident. Besides having car insurance, you may also need to invest in travel insurance if you are abroad. Regardless of what insurance you have, make sure to check if your insurance policy covers injury due to a motor vehicle accident!
  5. Spare tire (with tire jack and tools):

    Whether it’s bad weather or road conditions, being prepared with a spare tire will come in handy when you need it. They’re often located under the vehicle, attached to the back, or located in the trunk.
  6. Contact information for roadside assistance:

    Just in case your car’s battery dies or your car breaks down, having roadside assistance will be a life saver.

General Road Trip Essentials List

  1. Map:

    As much as we love technology, sometimes it fails us when we lose reception. Having a physical map as backup is especially important when you’re in isolated areas. Plus, they give you a chance to look for scenic routes that your highly efficient GPS might miss.
  2. First aid kit:

    Basic items like band-aids, bandages, and antibiotic ointment are essential for emergencies, especially if the closest drug store is hundreds of miles away.
  3. Cash:

    Paying electronically is much more convenient these days, but having paper money and coins is helpful if you come across a parking meter or road tolls.
  4. Reusable water bottles:

    Keep your road trip eco-friendly while staying hydrated! It might also be a good idea to bring extra water bottles or jugs so you can easily refill anytime on the go.
  5. Snacks:

    Ever find that a store doesn’t have your favorite snack foods? No problem! Save money and avoid the hangry feeling on your long road trip by bringing some of your own snacks and meals from home.

Personal Care Road Trip Essentials

  1. Sunscreen:

    Can’t forget the perfect SPF to protect your skin from sunburns!
  2. Toiletries:

    Bringing personal care items from home like your toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, soap, etc. will save you a trip to the store.
  3. Hand sanitizer:

    Let’s face it; your road trip won’t be completely germ free and there won’t always be an opportunity to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative that can protect you from harmful bacteria or viruses that can make you sick.
  4. Lotion:

    It’s never a bad idea to carry a small bottle of lotion around with you to keep yourself moisturized. After all, having dry skin is no fun!
  5. Tissues:

    Whether you have a runny nose from cold weather or allergy season, always bring a box of tissues with you just in case.

Road Trip Essentials for Comfort

  1. Blanket:

    If you like the idea of curling up with a warm blanket for a daytime nap in the car or watching the sun set, then you should definitely bring one to maximize your comfort.
  2. Travel pillow:

    Sometimes headrests just aren’t enough to make you feel comfortable for some shut-eye.
  3. Hat:

    Whether it’s a baseball cap, sunhat, or hiking hat, you’ll want something to give your eyes some shade.
  4. Sunglasses:

    As pretty as sunsets are, they’re not as appealing if your eyes are being blinded all the time. Protect your eyes and vision by bringing your favorite pair of sunglasses!
  5. Medication:

    Long road trips can take a physical toll on you. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring painkillers and anti-inflammatory or allergy medication for things like aching muscles, headaches, and allergies.

Road Trip Essentials to Keep You Connected and Entertained

  1. Phone charger:

    Did you know that phone chargers are one of the most forgotten items among young travelers? You definitely don’t want to forget this one since your phone is your connection to the outside world!
  2. Travel games:

    If you’re looking to pass some time in the car, bring along some travel games to keep you and your friends or family entertained.
  3. Book(s):

    There’s nothing better than catching up on some reading for your favorite book(s). But if you get carsick easily, you might want to avoid this one.
  4. Music playlists:

    Add some fun to your road trip with some songs that you can belt out to with your friends and family!

What Should I Not Bring on a Long Road Trip?

Although your road trip may be a long one, this doesn’t mean you should take the whole house with you. It’s better to leave certain items behind and pack lighter so you can travel with ease. Here are a few items that you should leave at home and bring less of while you’re traveling:

  • Jewelry and valuables: As a rule of thumb, if you can’t imagine living without your wedding ring or grandmother’s expensive watch, you probably shouldn’t bring it with you to avoid losing it (especially if you’re doing a lot of outdoor activities on your road trip).
  • Too many clothes and shoes: It can be tempting to bring your entire wardrobe with you so you have plenty of outfit choices. However, packing a set amount of clothing and shoes enough to last you for your entire road trip will suffice. Remember to only pack what you need!
  • Too many containers: While it’s necessary to bring containers to store items in, especially food, remember that your car has a limited amount of space. To save yourself some car room, try to limit the amount of storage containers you bring or use smaller-sized ones.
car packed to the maximum with luggage for the upcoming road-trip

How Do You Keep Your Car Clean on a Road Trip?

Now that you know what items are essential to bring and those that aren’t, you’re ready to get going and have a good time! However, you should also be aware that it’s relatively easy for your car to become messy and disorganized throughout your trip since you’re packing quite a few things. To help you stay organized and keep your car clean, here are some useful tips that you should remember:

  • Get a set of car cleaning products like ThisWorx’s Road Trip Bundle
  • Out of all must-have items for keeping your vehicle mess-free during your road trip, remember to always have a car garbage can, a car vacuum cleaner, and a collapsible trunk organizer. Say goodbye to a trunk junkyard, free-roaming wrappers, dirt, and other debris no matter the travel distance!
    • Before entering your car, stomp your feet or kick off any loose dirt at the bottom of your shoes.
    • Take advantage of fuel stops to dump your trash and clean out your car. You’ll thank yourself later!
    • Use air fresheners or odor neutralizers that you can hang in the rear-view mirror or stick in the air vents. Trust me — there will be times when your car doesn’t smell as fresh as you want it to.
    • Avoid eating meals inside of your car to prevent dropped food, spilled drinks, and piles of trash. Besides, eating in restaurants gives you a good opportunity to stretch your legs a little bit.

    What to Pack for a Road Trip: Key Takeaways

    Preparing for a road trip can be a bit of a headache at times. However, as long as you remember the essential items, pack accordingly, and maintain the cleanliness and order of your car, you’ll have no trouble enjoying the long drive and activities you have planned. Happy travels and drive safely!

     Contributing Writer: Rebecca Lee