Last updated on June 3rd, 2021 at 05:09 pm
Whether we are hitting the road for the weekend in the truck with the camper on top or in the car headed to an Airbnb or hotel, these items go along with us. We use them either while we travel or when we get to our destination–and some items we use during both. These are our road trip essentials and when one of them gets left behind, we feel its absence.
40 Road Trip Essentials: No Matter How We Travel We Pack These Items
Links in this post are affiliate links. I will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking those links. See disclosure page for more information.)
This list does not include our clothes, cosmetics, or medications. I figured everyone knows to bring those. This list instead includes everything else we bring besides those bare basics.
1. Poncho Style blanket
I prefer a poncho-style blanket like this one on a road trip because I find they shift less than an ordinary blanket when I try to sleep in the passenger seat. They also cover up the fact that I have undone every button and buckle possible so I can rest as comfortably as possible. And when we pull into a rest area, I can get out of the car still wearing it and discreetly do up everything I opened before taking it off.
2. One Headlamp Per Person
We don’t use these while driving. Our headlamps are for once we reach our destination. They come in handy for checking out a campsite should you arrive after dark. They also help you safely make your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar hotel room or Airbnb home without having to turn on the light and wake up your spouse.
3. A Lap Blanket
So the poncho covers the top half of me when I sleep while Jack drives and the lap blanket covers the bottom half; I prefer this style. They are so cozy and wash well. This blanket also comes into whatever accommodation we are staying at as there is just something about a blanket from home that makes anywhere feel homey.
4. A Neck Pillow
After waking up one too many times with a stiff neck while napping in vehicles, I invested in a neck pillow and now regret all the years I said they were unnecessary.
5. A Small Pillow
Even though I have a neck pillow, I still like bringing along a smaller travel pillow. I mainly use this at the small of my back when it starts to hurt on long drives, but I also use it behind my head above where the neck pillow sits to make sleeping in a vehicle more comfortable. My pillow came from a chair in our home, but it is roughly the same size as this toddler pillow.
View from the West Tower in Brown County State Park, Indiana
6. A Paper Road Atlas
The GPS system in our smartphones has proven to be unreliable a few times for various reasons. As a backup, we now carry a paper road atlas of North America that shows the major roads. If the state’s visitor center we are in has a free road map specific to that state, we pick that up too. We have used both to get us out of a GPS malfunction before.
7. Spare Keys
After owning a Honda van that locked us out moments after we exited the vehicle with it still running, we now make sure we have spare keys in the pockets of our pants or my purse that I grab every time I exit the vehicle.
The mark-up at convenience stores for road snacks is crazy, so we purchase our favorites from the grocery store before we leave.
9. A Cooler Full Of Drinks And More Snacks
Another overpriced item at gas stations is bottled water and other drinks. We bring along our 12-volt cooler with two big ice packs similar to these (one at the end without the cooling fan and one in the center of the cooler) and fill it with drinks and snacks requiring refrigeration.
By having both ice packs and a 12-volt cooling system, we can keep our drinks cool the whole trip even if we leave them in the vehicle overnight several days in a row.
10. Extra Water
I started feeling bad about the environmental impact of the case of small water bottles we went through during our monthly weekend road trips. So I bought a few gallon water jugs that we wash and then refill with each trip. I then fill up two of these reusable water bottles and place them in the cooler then refill them as needed.
The shores of Lake Michigan on the other side of Mount Baldy Sand Dune, Indiana
11. A Small First Aid Kit
We keep a larger first aid kit in our RV, but no matter what we are driving, a smaller one comes in the vehicle with us. Usually it is pretty basic, having a few bandaids, headache pills, etc.
12. Facial Tissues
Changing weather gives me nosebleeds–enough said.
13. A Roll Of Paper Towel
One of us can be pretty messy, and the other one likes to keep their vehicle clean. You decide which one. Paper towels are good for more than cleaning, though. We also use them instead of a paper plate for smaller, less messy snacks.
14. We Bring These Instead Of Paper Plates
A few years back, we had a carnival-themed party for our son’s graduation. We had a tonne of these paper trays leftover and decided to bring them camping with us to use them up. We never went back to paper plates. They are way easier to eat out of while driving and can hold anything from a sandwich to chili.
15. Baby Wipes
Baby wipes take out just about any stain (making you wonder what is in them). They also can freshen you up just enough to feel human again after a long trip.
Exploring a limestone sinkhole in Lebanon State Park, TN
16. Hand Sanitizer
We had this in our vehicle long before COVID-19 hit. Sometimes rest areas are just gross and you have to wash your hands one more time, even though you did wash them in the restroom.
17. Rubber Gloves & Trash Bags
Trash bags come in handy for keeping the vehicle clean on a road trip. The rubber gloves and trash bag combo come in handy when we take our truck camper out camping to a free campsite area and we pick up trash so that we can leave it cleaner than we found it.
18. Since COVID-19 Hit: Toilet Paper, An Emergency Toilet, And Extra Masks
We have noticed that since COVID-19 hit, there are not as many public restrooms open as there once were. Just in case my post-carried three babies to term bladder can’t make it, we have an emergency toilet option with us. I won’t get TMI with you and tell you what we use, but go to Amazon and search for them and you will find plenty of options, pick the one you feel most comfortable with.
We also carry a few extra masks with us in case one of ours should get misplaced or break.
19. Reading Material
We are both bookworms so we don’t go anywhere without at least a few options of things to read.
20. Downloaded Entertainment
We like to make sure that my Kindle Fire has a few music albums downloaded to it should the radio station selection be slim. I also download a few hours of Netflix content for those “can’t sleep in this strange bed” nights.
Sign found in the Nashville Farmer’s Market during our road trip to Nashville.
I listen to those Netflix downloads with earbuds in so as not to wake the hubby. I prefer wired earbuds, as it eliminates the need to charge one more item while traveling; these are the type I buy.
22. Ear Plugs
New places come with new sounds and sometimes it is hard to get to sleep because of them. We find falling asleep easier to do when we travel with earplugs. After trying several types, we have found that this brand and style works best.
23. Charging Cords And A Portable Charger
I round up all our charging cords into a pouch similar to this one so that I know at a glance that I have all the ones we need for our trips. We also bring along two of theses Anker portable chargers. We have had them for years, and they are still going strong, charging our phones a time and a half or so before they themselves need to be recharged.
24. A Collapsable Tablet Stand
The stand I have for my kindle fire is so handy. It collapses super small and weighs next to nothing, yet holds my tablet at the various angles I need it at for best viewing.
25. Insulted Cup With Lids
Cold drinks stay cool for hours longer when they are kept in an insulated cup. Here is our favorite brand. Ice seriously lasts all day–even in a hot car–in one of these.
One of several giants found in Bernheim Arboretum during our road trip to Elizabethtown, KY and surrounding areas.
26. Shoes That Are Easy To Slip On And Off
This tip is more for the passenger than the driver. If you are like me and like to kick off your shoes on road trips, then wear clogs, sliders, or flip flops on travel days.
27. A Rain Coat With A Good Hood
A raincoat, of course, protects you from the rain, but it also makes a good outer layer on windy days to block the cold of the wind.
28. A Fleece Jacket
Jack and I find the combo of a fleece jacket paired with a raincoat allows us to be prepared for almost all types of weather. When it is super cold, we put the raincoat over the fleece jacket. When it is a warm day but sprinkling, we throw on the raincoat and leave the fleece jackets in the car.
29. A Weather Appropriate Hat
A ball cap is good protection from rain or sun, but we prefer winter hats long enough to cover our ears for colder temperatures. This hat is both super thick and super long and comes in a wide range of colors.
30. Car Battery Booster Pack
We invested in a NOCO Boost Pro a few years ago and think that the peace of mind it offers us on road trips is worth every penny we spent on it. It allows you to jump your car’s battery without the need to find another person willing to allow you to hook your jumper cables up to their car. It can also be used to charge devices and acts as a very bright flashlight.
The Folly Beach Pier was just one of several free places we explored during our road trip to Charleston, SC.
Squinting out the car window to look at the views is irritating–make sure to pack sunglasses to avoid this.
Make sure to pack along a bottle and place it in a ziplock bag to avoid spills.
33. Bug Spray
Itching all night because you forgot the bug spray isn’t worth it!
34. Eating Utensils and a Sharp Knife
I throw all takeout plastic cutlery in our road trip box, but I plan to buy reusable cutlery sleeves if that supply ever runs out. A sharp knife also comes in handy for cutting farm stand finds.
35. Quick-Drying Towels
Quick-drying travel towels take a bit of getting used to since they are not as fluffy as regular towels, but the adjustment period is 100% worth it. Nothing smells worse than a damp fluffy towel left in the trunk for days; these travel towels never seem to get smelly. Plus they take up so much less space.
Jack soaking up the sun during our road trip to the Red River Gorge Area of Kentucky
36. At Least One Travel Sized Game
We usually bring UNO and Travel Yahtzee wherever we go. Since it is just the two of us, we don’t play them while traveling, but we have played UNO while waiting in line for a ferry before and we do play a least one round of either each night once we reach our destination.
37. A Daypack
We love to hike, so a daypack comes with us everywhere. We find it comes in handy for more than hikes, though. We pretty much bring it everywhere with snacks and water packed inside. It comes in handy to store layers of clothing we might take off as the weather changes during our excursions. We recently bought this folding style one and really like how little space it takes up when we are not using it.
38. This Type Of Umbrella
After having the wind break several of our umbrellas, we switched to this style of umbrella and found that they can survive even the strongest wind and rainstorm.
Even in this day and age, we find that the best mom-and-pop roadside food stands accept cash only.
40. My Knitting: Whatever The Passenger Wants To Do During The Drive
You might not knit and that is okay; bring whatever you like that keeps you busy if you are not the one driving.
Looking for a way to save money on gas used during road trips? Try the Get Upside app. Sign- up for an account (and if you use my referral link here or enter my referral code YG5ZB into the promo code area during sign-up, you will receive a one-time bonus of 15 cents off per gallon your first time using the app). After that, you can expect to save anywhere from as little as 1 cent per gallon to as much as 8 cents per gallon or even more, depending on the cash-back deals offered in your area.
WHERE WE HAVE TRAVELED LATELY
POSTS TO HELP YOU TRAVEL MORE FOR LESS
Want to know how we afford to travel so often? It is because we have developed thrifty living principles that allow us to live a full life for less money. You can learn exactly what those economical living principles are when you read my book, Thrifty & Thriving: More Life For Less Money. You can stop dreaming about travel and start traveling when you apply the 40 thrifty living principles shared in this book.