Must Have Things to Bring on a Road Trip

If, like us, you’re well and truly fed up with the platitude-filled inspirational sayings you seem to see everywhere these days, you’re probably miffed every time you read that the journey matters more than the destination. 

There’s one situation where that’s definitely true, though — if you’re planning to take an epic road trip. We know you’ve already armed yourself with an adventurous spirit and a plan to have lots of spontaneous fun, but let’s face it, you also need essential supplies. 

The things you take with you ensure you and your crew are ready for anything, including emergency situations, and they’ll help you avoid costly, unexpected purchases while you’re on the road.

You can use this handy checklist as an easy way to make sure you’re always ready for your next trip, no matter where it might take you. Remember that one size never fits all, and don’t be scared to adjust the list.

  1. General Essentials

Let’s start off with some necessities every prepared and responsible driver should really always have in their vehicle — but which become extra important if you plan to cross state lines or venture into truly unfamiliar territory.

  • Always have your driver’s license, registration, and insurance with you! Don’t forget to bring the contact details for your roadside assistance provider, either.
  • Be ready to navigate. We all have GPS these days, but you never know when the service may stop working or your device breaks, so back it up with detailed physical maps of the areas you’re visiting.
  • Arm yourself with basic vehicle maintenance tools like jumper cables, a tire gauge, a spare tire, a jack, motor oil, windshield fluid, and coolant.
  • In addition to cards, bring a solid amount of cash — including coins.
  1. Emergency Supplies

Your emergency kit should be tailored to the length of your trip, and we’d advise you to consider the terrain you plan to traverse in advance. If you want to be prepared for anything, bring:

  • A well-stocked first-aid kit, including any prescription medications. (And make sure you know how to use everything in your kit!)
  • Emergency contact numbers.
  • Reflective triangles in case your vehicle breaks down.
  • A good flashlight.
  • Mylar blankets.
  • A compact whistle to signal for help and, if you’re going to truly remote areas, a flare gun.
  • A high-quality multitool that allows you to break windows and cut seatbelts.
  • Duct tape. 
  • Zip ties.
  • A tow strap.
  • Extra potable water (plan for a gallon per day per person).
  1. Camping Gear

If you’re going camping, which we absolutely recommend, make sure you’re ready for the adventure of your lifetime — instead of condemning yourself to a nightmare experience by failing to plan.

You’ll definitely need:

  • A high-quality tent (nope, not from Walmart) suitable for the climate you’re going to, catering to the number of people coming with you.
  • Weather-appropriate sleeping bags along with air mattresses or padding.
  • A good camping stove and fuel, along with kitchen supplies. A portable grill is another very nice option, especially if you plan to go fishing.
  • Camp chairs. 
  • Lighting and flashlights (which should also be part of your emergency kit).
  1. Clothing, Food, and Entertainment

Unless you’re planning for a full-on wilderness survival situation, you’ll also want to take stuff that makes your experience comfortable and enjoyable. Let’s take a look at absolute musts and great to haves.

  • Clothing suitable for the climate you’re going to. Think layering, but never bring too much. Four full outfits, extra underwear, and plenty of socks should be enough. Always pack a windbreaker, and plan to bring slippers or sandals as well as hiking boots to give your feet some breathing room.
  • Always bring some food — even if you mostly plan to buy food as you go. If you plan to cook, bring non-perishables (including some spices) with you. If not, some nut-based energy bars or protein bars are always good to have.
  • Travel pillows and comfy blankets for in the car.
  • Reusable water bottles.
  • Trash bag. 
  • A medium-sized cooler for snacks.
  • A large power bank to keep your devices charged.
  • Books and (card) games.
  • Binoculars to watch wildlife.
  • A travel journal. 
  • Fishing supplies.
  • A camera or GoPro for those moments when your phone isn’t good enough.

Of course, you can think far beyond that. You could bring a paddleboard and swimming supplies to turn your journey into an even bigger adventure, for example. The “fun extras” you bring really depend on the kinds of activities you’re into and your willingness to lug additional stuff around with you. (If all else fails, after all, you could always go the rental route for paddleboards.)

  1. Personal Hygiene

You don’t want to spend too much time in close quarters with people who have no reliable means to wash! Always be prepared with the essentials you need to keep clean. 

  • Toothpaste and a toothbrush (not electrical).
  • Soap and shampoo (you can get shampoo bars if you want).
  • Toilet paper.
  • Shaving supplies.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent. 
  • Hand sanitizer and wet wipes.
  • Towels.
  1. Reflecting Back

We hope this checklist inspired you to think bigger about the things you’ll need to make your next trip an enjoyable and well-prepared one. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a broken-down car without adequate emergency tools, but far simpler situations can stand in the way of a good time. If you want to grill and you don’t have a grill, well, that’s unfortunate. 

Planning ahead is the best way to make sure you have the experience you’ve been craving, so feel free to print our list off and add any other items that will help you make the most of your trip. 

Do you do this kind of thing often? Great! Consider setting up several kits (each with a unique purpose) in your garage, so you can always indulge yourself when last-minute wanderlust takes over.