Ultimate Road Trip Checklist: 60+ Essential Items to Pack

A road trip can be a perfect way to get away, letting you and your family travel safely while enjoying the scenery and exhilaration of the road. Before you leave, though, it’s important to be prepared for both the good and the bad that may come your way.

A road trip checklist can help you prepare and pack all the essentials you need for the best road trip possible: one that’s both safe and fun. Use these travel tips to pack the road trip essentials you won’t want to hit the highway without. You can download our printable road trip checklist for help.

Download the Ultimate Road Trip Checklist

Road trip documents

Before heading out on your next road trip, whether you’re going to a secluded campground or checking out our national parks, you’ll want to be sure to have all the necessary resources. While you can store some of these documents online, others you’ll want to have in the car.

Driver’s license or ID

Naturally, you don’t want to be without your driver’s license (or another form of ID) if you’re pulled over.

Plus, it identifies you if you’re in an accident and can’t speak for yourself. If you lose your purse or wallet, having a driver’s license inside can identify who it belongs to and help the finder return it to the rightful owner (you!). And don’t forget: If you want to buy alcohol on the road, you may need ID.

Proof of car insurance and vehicle registration

While we all try to avoid being pulled over, you still need to be prepared if it happens. Proof of car insurance and your vehicle registration are essential.

In some states, you need proof of insurance to register your car in the first place, so when you receive these documents, put them in your glove compartment right away so you can reach for them quickly.

Emergency contact information

When you’re traveling, you always want someone back home to know where you are, and where you’re headed. Keep the numbers of your emergency contacts both in your phone and also on a paper copy that’s easily accessible in your glove box, console, or visor.

Make sure those lists also contain contact information for emergency services, roadside assistance, and your auto insurance company.

Vehicle owner’s manual

Always keep your vehicle’s owner’s manual in your glove box, too. During your trip preparations, check to see if your car is due for servicing before you leave. The manual can tell you where parts are located for maintenance if you plan to DIY.

Once you’re on the road, the manual will come in handy if you break down and need information about repairing your vehicle, like how to pop the hood and jumpstart a dead battery.

You also can refer to your car manual for instructions on how to use safety features, such as hazard lights and airbags, as well as features like keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth, and hands-free devices.

Car rental contract

If you’re road tripping in a rental car, you’ll want to keep the contract handy, too. It provides information about the rental agreement and the company that owns the car, including how to reach them in case of an emergency or a change in plans.

Health insurance card

You don’t want to think about the possibility of going to the emergency room or health clinic during a vacation, but the fact is that it could happen. Health conditions don’t take a holiday, and accidents are always possible.

Keep your health insurance card in your wallet to make an unexpected visit easier or, in a worst-case scenario, to verify coverage and permit medical treatment if you’re incapacitated and unable to communicate.

Paper maps

It’s easy to rely on GPS, but it doesn’t always work the way you planned. If you’re using your vehicle’s installed GPS, you may need to update it (which can cost money) to keep your maps current, plus it may not tell you about road and traffic conditions.

If you’re using your cellphone GPS, an app like maps.me or Google Maps can be great, but if you’re out of WiFi or cell service range, you’ll need a backup.

Paper maps don’t have to be the old-school fold-up kind you used to get at the gas station. Laminated maps or Thomas Guide books are much easier to handle.

Pen and paper

You never know when you’ll need to write something down. If you’re in a fender-bender, a pen and paper might be the easier way to exchange information with another driver.

If you have to ask directions and don’t want to rely on your memory to turn left here, then right at the picket fence, then right again at the third mailbox, a pen and paper can come in mighty handy.

Basic road trip travel supplies

Depending on where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone, create a list of travel supplies to fit your plans. (You’ll want to pack more, and differently, for a long road trip.)

Some are essential no matter where you end up; others may be more specific to your trip or destination. Here are a few supplies that road trippers might want to consider:

Cash and credit cards

Always carry both cash and a credit card with you. Cash is important for those places that don’t take credit or debit cards, plus you’ll want some pocket money. There’s always the possibility, too, that the electronic system accepting plastic may be offline, so it’s important to have at least some cash in your pocket.

On the other hand, you’ll also need a credit card as a backup if you run out of money. It can be essential for renting a car, too: Rental companies require a credit card as a form of security, even if you’re paying with cash, to guard against potential damage to the vehicle.

Cooler with water, ice, drinks, groceries, and snacks

Having road trip snacks, drinks, and munchies on hand at the outset of your trip can save you time and money along the way. Who needs the extra cost of paying $2 for vending machine sodas at rest stops or convenience stores when you can get them cheaper at your local supermarket?

To save space, consider packing blue ice reusable ice packs — which you can refreeze in your hotel room — instead of heavy, bulky bagged ice that can melt all over the place. Compact, non-perishable snacks like granola and energy bars are also convenient and easy to pack.

Water bottles and insulated mugs

Another way to save space (and money on bottled water) is to pack a reusable water bottle. It’s also a must if you plan to go hiking or biking.

Insulated travel mugs can keep drinks cool or warm longer; insulator sleeves are inexpensive and can do the trick, too.

Medications and prescriptions

Remember to take along all your over-the-counter medications and prescriptions to keep you healthy on the road. Pack enough to last the entire trip, with a few extras just in case. But don’t risk losing the entire pack or bottle on the road; leave a supply at home for when you return. A pill organizer can be helpful.

If you don’t travel with the actual bottles, you should still know the names and prescription numbers of your medications so you’ll be able to refill them if necessary — or accurately alert physicians if you need medical care


Personal hygiene items and grooming utensils are a must on any road trip. Before you hit the open road for your USA road trip, remember to pack your toiletry bag with items like:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Soap or body wash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Contact solution
  • Razor
  • Towelettes
  • Hairbrush
  • Nail file
  • Tweezers
  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
Sun and insect protection

Be ready for whatever environment you’re likely to find yourself in. Take along sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, insect repellent (especially if you plan on hiking or camping out), and lip balm for dry weather.

When applying bug spray, avoid cuts or irritated skin. Apply only to exposed areas (never under clothes) and don’t use them near food.

When it comes to sunscreen, the CDC recommends applying a broad-spectrum product “that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher before you go outside.” Reapply after two hours or a dip in the water, and always check the expiration date so an unexpected sunburn doesn’t derail your plans.

Umbrella and sunshade

Speaking of protection from the elements, road tripping also involves being prepared for inclement weather. Check a weather app ahead of time, and take along an umbrella just in case.

Or, if you’re headed toward sunny weather, grab a sunshade that can darken passenger windows while you’re driving, or stretch over an outdoor space during roadside stops. Sunglasses and a hat can also offer protection against harmful rays.

If you’re heading to a snowy climate, a warm, well-insulated jacket and gloves are in order. If stormy weather is in the forecast, take along a rain jacket in addition to your umbrella.

Towels, blankets, pillows

Take along towels to dry off after a dip in the pool or ocean and comfy blankets and a travel pillow or two when it’s time to relax.

Soft items are especially important if you’re planning to camp, but still not a bad idea if you’re staying indoors, too. How often have you had to pester the front desk for an extra blanket on a cold night or put up with a stiff pillow that leaves you with a sore neck in the morning?

If you’re roughing it, you’ll also want a sleeping bag or a mummy bag for maximum insulation and warmth in cold weather.


Bags are useful in any number of road trip situations. Take along the following:

  • Trash bags for disposal
  • Sealable/zip bags for storing toiletries, medications, snacks, etc.
  • Reusable bags for shopping and carrying
    • Zipper-secured tote bags for keeping items secure in public places
    • Beach bags for carrying towels, blankets, sunscreen, flip flops, etc. to and from the beach or poolside — or for exercise items like yoga mats and leggings
  • A backpack or daypack for hiking
Baby food and supplies

If you’ve got little ones along for the ride, don’t forget items like:

  • Car seat
  • Diaper changing pad and diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Baby shampoo and soap
  • Pacifier
  • Baby formula
  • Baby food and snacks
  • Baby OTC medications
  • Baby bottles
  • Baby blanket
  • Baby-safe toys
Pet food and supplies

Besides food, water, treats, and a leash, don’t forget chew toys for the pups, disposable waste bags to scoop that poop, plus seat tethers and a blanket to rest on in the car.

Camera and media players

You might want to leave behind your most expensive technology to avoid damage, but consider taking some items along for entertainment or to document your trip.

Cellphone cameras produce far better pictures than they once did, but you still might want to pack a traditional digital camera for telephoto, wide-angle, tripod, or special filter shots.

Listening to audiobooks, podcasts, or tunes on a Spotify playlist or your MP3 player can help pass the time on “travel days” between destinations when you’re on the road for hours. And video players or streaming devices can keep children (and adults!) entertained during long car trips.

Extra batteries and chargers

It goes without saying: A portable charger is a must. But don’t stop there. You don’t want to run out of power, so take several backup chargers plus extra batteries for any items you can’t plug in.

If you have three different people with three cellphones, it’s a good idea to pack three separate chargers. This ensures you won’t be taking turns with just one when you’re in a hurry to get back on the road or for overnight charging.

And don’t forget to take along plug adapters: Your car charger may plug into your vehicle just fine, but while some motels have USB outlets, others don’t.

Cards and games

A deck of playing cards can go a long way toward easing boredom and helping family and friends engage with one another — especially if you’re struck with an unexpected power outage.

If possible, pack games that don’t rely on unwieldy boards or have a lot of separate parts: You don’t want to lose dominoes, Scrabble or mahjong tiles, or Monopoly pieces under the hotel bed or at a campground.

Mad Libs is a great game for a car trip. A Rubik’s Cube is also a fun solo game. But you don’t even need to take a manufactured game: You can use a pencil and graph paper to play homemade Battleship.

Or make a scavenger hunt checklist with items like different kinds of traffic signs, gas station brands, and other landmarks — statues, cemeteries, etc. — that passengers can keep track of right from the car.

Safety and survival supplies

As much as you want to enjoy your trip, you want to get there and back in one piece at the bare minimum. Here are some items to help you do just that.

Water and non-perishable food

Allot one gallon of water per person per day of your trip. And try to pack — or arrange to pick up — a 3-day supply of food per person. Non-perishable options with plenty of protein are best, like granola bars, peanut butter, nuts, vacuum-packed tuna, etc.

First aid kit

When building a first-aid kit, make sure to include the following items to handle minor emergencies:

  • Adhesive bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Gauze roll and pads
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Cold compress
  • Non-mercury oral thermometer
  • Disposable gloves
  • Pain reliever
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Soap
Fire extinguisher

For engine and other vehicle-related fires, as well as for campfires that threaten to grow out of control, a fire extinguisher can keep a small fire from becoming a big threat.

Smartphone and charger

A smartphone isn’t a luxury item; it can save your life if you need to call for help. (When’s the last time you saw a phone booth?)

A Wi-Fi booster can be important, too, if you’re traveling to isolated areas with poor cellular signals. If you’re the adventurous type, you might want to hike to Deseret Peak in Utah or visit the Denali Glaciers in Alaska; with a booster, you can still be confident of reaching the police or paramedics if you run into trouble along the trail.

A phone mount for your car can help you drive safely — and legally — with your hands free. Models are available that mount on your dashboard, clip onto your AC/heater vents, or fit in your cup holders.

If you find yourself stranded along the roadside, you’ll be glad you brought your phone and a charger so you can call AAA or your preferred roadside assistance.

Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes

While hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes became crucial travel companions during the COVID pandemic, it’s not a bad idea to keep them on hand from now on.

Germs and viruses thrive on all kinds of surfaces — from restaurant tables to gas pumps to dashboards — that you’re likely to touch during your travels. Having sanitizer and wipes on hand will minimize your exposure to bacteria and viruses like a cold or flu.

Emergency blankets

Emergency blankets are essential to have on hand in case someone in your vehicle develops a fever or you break down and have to spend the night (or a significant amount of time) in your car — especially during winter in cold-weather areas or in almost any desert at night.

Duct tape

You can use duct tape to fix anything, or so the saying goes. But it’s only half-humorous: It’s actually pretty close to the truth. Whether you want to repair a tent, seal a bottle, fix a broken strap on your luggage, or even block light or remove lint from your clothes, duct tape can do the trick. Like a Swiss Army knife, it serves many functions — all in one handy roll.

Multipurpose tool, knife, or scissors

Speaking of Swiss Army knives, there’s a reason why they’re so popular, and it’s not just the corkscrew and can opener! If you need to slice cheese, cut fabric for a tourniquet, open a bottle, trim twigs off a walking stick, or unscrew a battery terminal, a multipurpose tool offers what you need for dozens of occasions.

Vehicle supplies for your road trip

Before you even get started road tripping, a thorough inspection of your vehicle can help make sure you won’t need some of the items on this list. Check your headlamps to make sure they’re working. Change your oil and filters, and check your spark plugs. Have your tires rotated and check the tire pressure.

But even if you do everything right on the front end, there’s a chance something could go wrong on the road. To that end, here are some travel tips on items to pack in a roadside emergency kit, so you’ll be prepared for every contingency.

Tool kit with pliers, screwdrivers, socket set

A vehicle tool kit should include a few basics. Pack both regular and Phillips-head screwdrivers, as well as a plier set that includes slip-joint pliers, cutting pliers, needle nose pliers, and wire strippers. A ratchet and small socket set also can come in handy.

Extra set of keys

If you’re traveling with a spouse or other companion, have them hold on to an extra set of car keys, in case you accidentally lock yourself out. If you’re traveling alone, consider a heavy-duty metallic key holder you can hide somewhere on the frame of your vehicle.


You’ll need a reliable flashlight if you break down on a dark road in the middle of the night or are just camping in the woods. Remember to take along extra batteries, too.

It’s probably a good idea for every member of your crew to have their own flashlight. They don’t have to be bulky; compact LEDs can give off a lot of light from a tiny lens.

You also have other options to suit your situation: Some flashlights can strap to your head; others are solar-powered, and there’s even a larger model with a tripod, so you can set it in one place to free up your hands.

Jumper cables

Jumper cables are a must. They can save you from having to call roadside assistance or a tow truck — you’ll just need another friendly motorist to stop and offer their battery.

Tire gauge

Use a tire gauge to check your tire pressure if your tires look low or you’ve just driven over a hazard and want to be sure you’re still good to go. You can ruin the rims and throw off the alignment by driving on a flat or underinflated tire.

A tire gauge is also helpful when adding air to your tires, so you know you’ve hit that sweet spot — the tires have enough air but aren’t overinflated. Many air machines at gas stations have tire gauges, but it’s not a bad idea to double-check them for accuracy against your own.

Spare tire, tire iron, and jack

If you have a blowout or a flat, keeping a spare tire, a tire iron, and a jack on board (and knowing how to use them) can save you from having to call a tow truck.

For heavy vehicles with high road clearance, you might also want to consider ramps, which can work better than jacks in such situations.

Tow strap or rope

If you slide off the road, a rope or tow strap can help someone pull your vehicle out of the ditch.

Road flares or hazard triangles

If you break down and have to leave your vehicle near or partially on the roadway, road flares or hazard triangles can save you from disaster. They let other motorists know to steer clear. While flares work well at night, you should also be sure to use your vehicle’s hazard lights.


Antifreeze is a chemical additive (usually ethylene or propylene glycol) for the water in your cooling system that lowers the point at which liquid freezes. It also works as a coolant — another name for the same concept — to keep your engine from overheating.

In short, antifreeze regulates your vehicle’s temperature on both ends, and it’s worth taking along some extra, just in case. As a bonus, it helps prevent corrosion in your radiator and cooling system.

Gas can

If you run out of gas and find yourself needing to hike up the road a mile or two to buy more, you’ll need a gas can so you can bring it back. Gas stations often sell gas cans, but it’s best not to rely on chance: Carry one of your own at all times, just in case.

Can of tire sealant

Tire sealant will repair a flat tire on the go and will hold for a short time until you can replace it or repair the puncture.

It’s a fibrous liquid that comes in a can, which makes it relatively lightweight and portable. Simply inject the sealant into your tire through the air valve, and it coats the inside, flowing to the puncture and plugging the hole to seal it until you have time for a more permanent solution. Pretty nifty.

Seatbelt cutter tool

If you need to get out of your car but you’re stuck inside by a seatbelt that won’t release, a cutter tool can free you.

Window breaker tool

Also known as a window hammer, a window breaker is another tool you can use to escape if you’re trapped inside your vehicle. Window hammers and seatbelt cutters are often available as components in 2-for-1 tools.

Winter weather supplies

If you’re traveling in or to cold weather, you’ll need to carry some tools specific to a more brutal climate. An ice scraper does exactly what you’d expect: It’s a hand tool that scrapes ice off your window.

You’ll also want either snow chains or snow tires, and a foldable shovel (in case your car gets stuck and you need to dig out from snow that’s fallen around your vehicle). Cat litter can keep your wheels from spinning on ice: Just sprinkle it under your tires for extra traction.

Travel always involves a good deal of packing and forethought to make sure you’re prepared for most situations, but the advance effort is worth it once you’re traveling with safety, comfort, and peace of mind.

Get prepared for almost anything you might encounter on a road trip by assembling the items on our printable road trip packing list. Then, all that’s left to do is hit the road and have fun!

Download the Ultimate Road Trip Checklist