70 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials Checklist: The Ultimate List for Travel

70 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials Checklist: The Ultimate List for Travel

By: Eric Mees

 | 

May 23, 2022

There’s more to a successful road trip than fast food and fossil fuels—we’ve made a comprehensive list of the 70 must-have road trip essentials you’ll want to make sure are close at hand for your next excursion. 

Tired of staycations? Still not looking forward to the hassle (or cost) of airplane travel? Well, when vacation time rolls around this summer, consider the road trip, the ultimate search for America by Americans. Download our helpful PDF checklist below, and keep reading for road trip essentials and  travel tips that will make life on the road a fun, memorable adventure.  

roadtrip checklist download

The Road Trip Checklist is filled with all the things you need to make sure you bring on your next Road Trip. Download the Road Trip Checklist PDF (Printable) for free today.

Road Trip Essentials for Your Vehicle 

road trip essentials in glove box

There are a number of travel essentials that should be in your car at all times, or at least for any lengthy road trip. Sure, the cell phone has become the de facto roadside emergency kit for 99% of situations motorists encounter, but the further you are away from home, the more likely you are to encounter that other 1%.  

  • Driver’s Licenses of All Drivers — Don’t forget your license, you might need it to check into hotels, to verify a credit card purchase, or even show the state patrol if you’re breaking the law. 

Travel tip: If you have a teen driver in your family with their learner’s permit, just keep in mind that they might not be allowed the same driving privileges once they leave your home state.  

  • Proof of Insurance – Sure, you probably have a copy of this on your phone, but what if you get pulled over in a dead zone?  
  • Contact Info – Make a list of people you might need to contact, including your insurance company, doctors, neighbors, pharmacists and so on.  

Travel Tip: Try not to have anything in your car with your home address printed on it.  

  • Owner’s Manual – You never know when some random combination of buttons on the remote will suddenly lower all your car’s windows, or when your steering wheel will lock due to a tripped safety sensor. 
  • Trip Insurance – Yes, trip insurance is even valid for road trips. If you can afford it, it’s great to have in case things like natural disasters, illness, theft, or other unforeseen circumstances prevent you from going on your trip. Some hotels also offer the option to make late cancellations (for a small fee), which might be worth the cost if you don’t want to go all-in on insurance, but still want to retain some peace of mind. 

Paper Maps — Do they still make these? Just kidding. Still a good idea to have a backup road atlas just in case you’re out of range of a cellular network and your in-car navigation hasn’t been updated since the Obama administration. And in an emergency, you can always use the “Oklahoma” and “Nebraska” pages to start a fire or wipe up a spill.  

Spare Coins and Paper Money — While you probably don’t use any paper money in your day-to-day interactions at the grocery store, restaurant or coffee shop, there are still places that don’t accept credit/debit cards (We know, right?). Also, some toll roads  have a surcharge for license plate tolls (versus stopping at the booth) or just don’t even have pay-by-mail options.   

First Aid Kit — Whether you buy a premade one or want to build one yourself, it’s important to prepare for everything from cuts and scrapes to serious injuries, because you never know when an accident is going to happen. Read about How to Make a First Aid Kit on the Red Cross website.

Roadside Emergency Kit – Either build one yourself or pick one up at an auto parts store or online retailer. At a minimum, you should have the following:  

  • Tire Pressure Gauge 
  • Emergency Tire Repair Kit 
  • Window Breaker/Seatbelt Cutter 
  • Jumper Cables  
  • Light Sticks or Flares  
  • Reflective Triangles 
  • Flashlights 
  • Candles & Matches 
  • Poncho or Tarp 
  • Ice Scraper (a Costco card works in a pinch) 
  • Blanket 
  • Batteries 
  • Quart of Oil 

How to Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip 

car oil being changed before road trip

Before you hit the road, it’s important to make sure your car, truck, SUV or motorhome is up to the task. We’ve compiled some of the basics below.  

Get to know your car 

It’s your car so you already know it, right? Well, if you haven’t had it on a long road trip before—especially one with the whole fam and all their gear—you may need to figure out what kind of gas mileage you’ll get. It will probably be less than normal, especially if you’re towing something or have added storage atop your roof rack. Your vehicle will also handle differently when it’s fully loaded, and its braking characteristics may change as well. Just take it easy to start and give yourself and fellow motorists plenty of time and space to react until you’re up to speed, literally and figuratively. 

Pre-trip inspection 

Most tire shops and auto repair shops offer road trip service packages, which will cover everything from air conditioner refrigerant to brakes, to oil and coolant and general roadworthiness. Save money by performing these simple checks yourself, but be prepared to head to the shop if you find anything out of the norm or you’re not comfortable in any way.  

Fluids 

Oil Level – Even if your car’s oil has recently been changed, it’s a good idea to check it before heading out. On level ground after the car’s been resting at least 5 to 10 minutes, open the hood, remove the dipstick, wipe it off with a clean, lint-free cloth, then insert it back into the tube. When you take it out again, oil should be visible on the dipstick between two sets of marks or on a crosshatch. If it’s below the lowest mark, you need to add oil per instructions in the owner’s manual.  

Tip: While checking the oil, make sure the color is in a range between golden and black, and that there are no metallic bits in or milky appearance to the oil. 

Oil Change – If you need to change your oil, your owner’s manual should give you the recommended weight (such as 5w-20 or 10w-40) as well as the number of quarts you’ll need to purchase whether you’re replacing the oil filter or not.   

Every car is going to be a little different, but the process is mostly consistent across makes and manufacturers.

Coolant Level – The high and low levels for your radiator fluid are typically well-marked on the side of the plastic coolant fluid reservoir. Your owner’s manual will tell you the specific type of coolant to use to top it off, usually at a 50/50 mix of coolant and water.  

Note: Do not check or open the overflow reservoir or the radiator when the radiator cap is warm to the touch or the car is hot! 

Windshield Washer Fluid – Top it off, but use washer fluid, not tap water.  

Tires 

Tread Depth – It’s easy to check the tread depth on tires. Just take a penny and insert Abe Lincoln’s head (upside down) into the groove. If you can see the top of his head, your tires are worn out. Uneven wear, cracks or bubbles are also indicators that it’s time to shop for new tires.  

Tire Pressure – Having your tires under- or overinflated can greatly influence a car’s handling characteristics and gas mileage and could even cause one to burst without warning. Your car’s correct tire pressure should be listed on a sticker inside the driver’s door, and in the owner’s manual as well. If you’re towing a camper or traveling with an exceptionally heavy load, a higher tire pressure might be recommended.  

Spare Tire – Check the roadworthiness of your spare tire. There’s nothing quite so deflating as unpacking an entire car to get to the spare, only to find it’s flat as well. Unless it’s a full-size tire, it probably has a much higher standard air pressure than a regular tire. Also, if it’s been used in the past, its lifespan will have been greatly diminished. Another tip: Make sure all the tire-changing tools are in their place, such as a jack and lug wrench. If you have locking lug nuts, check to see that you have the key somewhere handy, too.  

Battery 

Nothing invokes frustration like the silence that comes from turning the key or hitting the start button and getting no response. But your battery will probably give you some signs well before it dies, so start with a simple check.  

Here’s a tutorial on how to test a car battery at home (with no equipment), from Firestone.  

TL;DR: Purchase a pre-road trip inspection and service package from a local auto repair shop.  

How to Prepare for a Road Trip 

The interstate highway system in the United States can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it allows for fairly rapid transit between points A and B. It’s a curse because it can be exceedingly boring and generally routes travelers around smaller towns, cities and places of interest.  

Couple that with drivers who are more concerned about the destination than the trip, and that can lead to long, unfulfilling road trips. At times, surviving a road trip can be more about boredom management than enjoying the moment.  

This becomes especially true when traveling with kids and pets. Expecting them to sit still and be quiet for three- and four-hour stretches is not a realistic goal.  

Planning a road trip, therefore, should take into account the side trips to the goofy tourist attractions, stops for hikes and scenic overlooks, and plain old exercise breaks.  

Of course, there will be SOME driving involved, so here are some more considerations for traveling with kids and pets.  

Traveling with kids 

Children need things to keep their attention during a road trip. Sure, you can leave them to their own devices, but it’s a prime opportunity to talk with your kids, play games, share music and reconnect.  

Side trips and attractions: Don’t forget to plan for a few interesting side trips. Your kids will be more excited and engaged if you let them pick their favorite.

Take exercise and restroom breaks: important to let the kids stretch their legs a bit from time to time.  

Be engaging: it can be hard to engage with kids (especially teenagers) at home, when the distractions of school, social media, work and life, in general, get in the way. But road trips can change all that.

Travel tip: Invite the kids to sit up in the front seat from time to time. Seeing the road ahead leaves a much greater impression than staring at the back of a car seat.  

Electronics on Standby 

Of course, you probably can’t keep them entertained all by yourself the whole time. Make sure you have contingencies for when the songs and conversation hit a dead-end. Most of the games, movies and media your kids will want will probably be accessible on a phone or tablet, just make sure you have device chargers for everything, including headphones/earbuds.  

Travel tip: Download movies rather than relying on them to stream in case you travel through areas with poor connectivity.  

Additional items to take:  

  • Tablets and/or smartphones 
  • Device chargers & cables 
  • Games and playing cards 
  • Books and magazines 
  • Pillows and blankets 
  • Backpacks 

Traveling with Pets 

If you’ve decided to travel with your dog (we suppose you could bring a cat), make sure you plan for extra stops for exercise and potty breaks. Get your dog acclimated to a crate before traveling by taking micro-trips in the weeks leading up to vacation.  

Read more tips for traveling with pets on our blog, and make sure you’ve got these essentials for your pet:  

  • Crate 
  • Food & Bowl 
  • Treats 
  • Water & Bowl 
  • Leash 
  • Toys 
  • Blanket 
  • Towel (for after hikes) 

Going on a Road Trip alone

Road trips need not be a family affair. There’s no rule that you can’t drive somewhere all by yourself. It’s a great opportunity to let one’s mind wander, ponder the meaning of life, and catch up on some podcasts or audiobooks. “War and Peace,” anyone?  

One of the biggest concerns about solo travel is the safety factor. Here are some of the safety tips to consider:  

  • Tell someone your route 
  • Check in on a frequent basis 
  • Save photos to the cloud  
  • Don’t look touristy 
  • Stay in well-lighted places 
  • Leave valuables at home 

Solo Travel Tip: We’ve all hit the proverbial wall when driving at night. If you’re too tired, it’s too late to find a hotel, you’re low on funds, or concerned for your safety, consider parking in a police station lot. Check with the duty officer, tell them the situation, and more often than not, you’ll have a safe place to catch some shut eye for a couple of hours. The Road Trip Expert posted 19 Places You Can Legally Sleep In Your Car And Park Overnight, which you can read on their blog. 

Road Trip Food

cooler with road trip food and snacks

Selecting road trip snacks is going to be a highly subjective matter, but we’ve got a few of the favorites and some tips to keep in mind when picking out the in-car menu.  

One of the keys is to select snacks higher in protein, such as nuts, cheese, and beef jerky, which will keep you feeling full for longer. Avoid snacks that are high in sugar (especially if you’re susceptible to that sugar crash), instead, opt for fruits and veggies. 

For beverages, water is really the best option, but juice boxes are acceptable, especially for the kids. While caffeine can be important to staying alert while driving, just keep in mind that for some people, tea can have a diuretic effect, while coffee can have a laxative effect. 

Make sure to have a small cooler available to keep perishables fresh. Ice should be available at gas stations, convenience stores, hotels or grocery stores.  

No refrigeration:  

  • Beef Jerky 
  • Protein Bars 
  • Red Vines 
  • Almonds 
  • Crackers  

Chilled:  

  • String Cheese 
  • GoGurt 
  • Grapes 
  • Apples 
  • Berries 
  • Snap Peas 
  • Carrots 
  • Hummus 

Beverages:  

  • Water 
  • Seltzer 
  • Juice Boxes 
  • Coffee 

Don’t Forget:  

  • Napkins/Paper towels 
  • Trash bag(s) 
  • Tissues 
  • Plasticware or Silverware 
  • Sharp knife (Sheathed) 
  • Reusable Cups/Mugs 
  • Reusable Water Bottles 
  • Paper Plates or Reusable Camp Plates 

Other items to consider include popcorn, hard-boiled eggs, celery, graham crackers, cookies, yogurt-covered raisins.  

What to Pack for a Road Trip 

packing a suitcase for road trip

Despite what your brain is telling you, packing can be done anytime right up until your spouse is pulling out of the driveway, so stop stressing about it. After you decide where you’re headed on the road trip, take a look at the weather forecast for the area when you plan to visit and pack based on that. Free apps like AccuWeather, Weather Underground and Radar Scope offer forecasts up to two weeks out. Just make sure to check the weather in the areas you’ll be passing through, too!  

Clothing 

Your ultimate destination will largely determine the types of clothes you’ll want to take with you. But just keep in mind that the climate at home might be different than you’ll encounter along the way, and that could be different still from your destination.  

Make sure to have plenty of wrinkle-free options available, since no one wants to iron on vacation. If possible, pack at least two of everything, in case something gets wet. Prepare to layer items if it ends up being colder than anticipated. Even if you’re not heading to a beach, take swimwear for trips to hotel pools, hot tubs or hot springs. Bring at least one nice(r) long-sleeve shirt and pants, in case you want to sneak off to dinner one night.  

  • Shirts: Breathable cotton for the car; UPF protective clothing for outside 
  • Socks: Multiple pairs and thicknesses 
  • Pants: Multiple pairs of shorts, pair of pants 

Travel tip: People have been making fun of convertible cargo shorts/pants with the zip-off legs for years, but they save space while serving dual roles, plus there are stylish options available, even from companies like Nike.  

Outerwear 

Even if you’re going to a warmer climate, it’s a good idea to have some emergency cold-weather gear on hand, as well as rain protection (which can double as wind protection). Hats are important for sun protection, as well as protection from ticks.  

  • Rain Gear: Poncho or raincoat and pants 
  • Jackets: Lightweight pullover, plus fleece or down 
  • Hats: Knit, plus a wide-brimmed fedora or baseball cap 
  • Shoes: Flip-flops, sneakers & boots 

Personal effects & Toiletries

Even though there’s probably a Walmart near wherever you’re headed, it’s still a good idea to pack the essentials before leaving home. Here are some of the things we like to pack: 

  • Prescriptions 
  • Sunscreen 
  • Hand Sanitizer 
  • Aloe Lotion 
  • Cotton Swabs 
  • Toothpicks/Flossers 
  • Toothpaste 
  • Toothbrush 
  • Toilet Paper 
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl) 
  • Pain Reliever (Tylenol) 
  • Tweezers 
  • Shampoo/Conditioner 
  • Hair Gel 
  • Body Wash/Soap 
  • Anti-diarrheal (Imodium) 
  • Antacid (Tums) 
  • Bandages 
  • Bug Spray (Deet) 
  • Cortisone Cream/Ointment 
  • Lotion 
  • Eye Wetting Drops 
  • Feminine Hygiene Products 
  • Super Glue 
  • Multi-tool (Swiss Army Knife, Leatherman) 

Travel Tip: Make sure your prescriptions have been filled and are up to date. Take a picture of the bottle (with name, dose, prescribing doctor, etc.) in case you need emergency refills on the road.  

Words of Caution on the Homefront 

Of course, it’s also important to have a safety plan in place for your home or apartment while you’re traveling.  

  • Get someone to watch your house: they don’t have to live there while you’re gone, but the occasional drive-by to make sure everything’s in place is a huge relief. If you’re asking someone to water your plants or collect mail or packages, make sure to pay them for their efforts.  
  • Suspend mail and deliveries: The United States Postal Service can hold mail for up to 30 days, with as much as 30 days (or as little as next day) notification. Check to see if the service is available in your area at usps.com. Also, don’t forget to reschedule recurring deliveries, such as those coffee pods from Amazon.  
  • Be anti-social: Don’t post updates on your social media accounts until after you return. Why advertise that you’re not at home?! 
  • Give someone your itinerary and contact info: In the unlikely event that something does happen, you’ll want someone to reach out.  
  • Dog (or cat) sitter: If you have multiple pets and aren’t going to board them, a sitter might be a good option while you’re gone.  

Making Memories 

Of course, the best part about your road trip is going to be the memories you make along the way. Don’t listen to someone if they scold you for taking “too many pictures” — just keep on snapping. There will be plenty of time to edit out the bad ones later.  

The Boomer generation was the subject of many Super 8mm home movies or Kodak Instamatic prints. Polaroids took the spotlight for a few years before point-and-shoot film cameras and video cameras came to dominate the market. Digital photography and videography eventually supplanted actual film, to the point where the average consumer takes the majority of their pictures on a smartphone or tablet.  

Whereas the lifespan of virtually anything put on social media these days is somewhere between a swipe and infinity, a true road trip deserves to be documented with actual pictures. What better way to relive the excitement of the trip than by creating a scrapbook with the kids or spouse? 

If you’re using a video device or larger format camera (such as a DSLR), it’s a good idea to have the following on hand for your road trip:  

  • Camera 
  • Camera bag 
  • Tripod 
  • Memory cards 
  • Battery charger 
  • Wi-Fi device 
  • Photo storage account 

Travel tip: It’s OK to post pictures on social media, but it’s a good idea to wait until after you’re home. This gives you ample time to curate a select few photos to share and won’t alert the “wrong people” that you’re out of town.  

Take our Road Trip Essentials Checklist and get on the road

Preparing for a road trip shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the same time, don’t stress about it. We know that sounds like a bit of a contradiction, but the whole point of vacation is to relax and have fun. You can only control a certain amount of what’s going to happen, so get a firm grasp on those items and don’t worry about the rest.  

While this seems like an extensive checklist, bear in mind that many of the items on this list can be purchased online or at a local discount store, while many of the tasks outlined can be completed over time, often in just a few minutes to an hour or so apiece.  

Going on an RV road trip? Check out our 5 best RV road trips and our RV Road Trip Packing List.

At Store Space, we are Storage That Cares about helping you get the most out of life.  

Eric Mees

Writer who also enjoys cars, guitars and Mars bars.

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