Four Essential Road Trip Bags (and what to put in them)

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How many road trip bags do you need? You might think you can get away with one duffel bag in the trunk of your car, but if you want to stay organized on the road while maximizing what you can bring with, you might want to think about investing in a few more essential road trip bags.

When packing for a road trip, it’s important to keep in mind how and when you will use each item you bring and then divide accordingly. You don’t want to end up realizing that your atlas is locked in your trunk while you’re in the middle of a highway, or with a backseat full of suitcases when you won’t need your pajamas until you get to the hotel.

When hitting the road for an adventure, you’ll definitely want three or four essential road trip bags to keep all your stuff in the right places, your car organized, and your travels smooth.

Here are our recommendations for four essential road trip bags every traveler should have in their car. Here’s what they are, ideas for what to put in them, and tips on where to keep them while you’re driving. These bags are road trip packing essentials for anyone planning a road trip, whether driving cross country with kids or family or spending a weekend in the next city over as a couple.

Four Essential Road Trip Bags to Keep in Your Car:

Essential road trip bags - luggage for car trunk

Road Trip Luggage

Your road trip luggage can be as big or small as you want. It really depends on the climate you’re driving in, where you’re going, what you plan to do, how many people are traveling, and how long you’re traveling for.

If your destination is somewhere colder, you might need to bring heavier sweaters or a winter jacket. If you plan to hit the town in big cities you might need a couple of dresses and some heels. If you’re taking a weekend trip you might not need to pack that much. If you’re spending a month road tripping Route 66, you might need a few extra pairs of underwear.

Wherever you’re going and however long you’re going for, you’re going to need to bring the essentials: clothes and toiletries. And you’re going to need some road trip luggage to put them in.

What type of luggage should you bring on a road trip? There are many options when choosing the best luggage for car travel. Hard sided suitcases are durable and have wheels that make getting from your Honda to your hotel a breeze. Backpacks are the best option if you’re planning to spend your days hiking the national parks. And duffel bags are roomy and flexible, perfect for fitting into that awkward space between the cooler and the spare tire.

Most of the time, you’ll only need to access what you pack in your roadtrip luggage when you get to your hotel. So this suitcase should be reserved for things you won’t need the rest of the day such as your pajamas, your clothes, your bathing suit, and toothbrush. Because of that you can keep your luggage in the trunk, out of reach, and out of mind, while you’re driving.

Coolife Luggage 3 Piece Set Suitcase Spinner Hardshell Lightweight TSA Lock (orange)
Hard-Sided Luggage

Example: Coolife Spinner Hardshell Luggage

Hardsided luggage is durable and easy to transport between your car and destination. Available in a variety of sizes you can always find hard-sided road trip luggage to fit your needs and your trunk.

Eagle Creek No Matter What Rolling Duffel Bag L - Featuring Durable Water-Resistant Fabric, Bar-Tacked Reinforcement, and Heavy Duty Treaded Wheels, Slate Blue - Large
Rolling Duffel Bag

Example: Eagle Creek No Matter What Rolling Duffel Bag

A rolling duffel bag allows the ultimate flexibility with necessary function. The soft design allows you to pack in oddly shaped items and cram that one last beach towel in before zipping up. The wheels allow ease when moving the duffel bag between locations.

Osprey Atmos AG 50L Men's Backpacking Backpack, Venturi Blue, L/XL
Road Trip Backpack

Example: Osprey Atmos Backpacking Backpack

Backpacks are the perfect option to use as road trip luggage, especially if you’re planning on hiking. Even if not, they make transporting your stuff a breeze!

Four Essential Road Trip Bags (and what to put in them)

Small Car Bag to Keep in Your Car

Since your clothes and toiletries are locked away in the trunk, it’s a good idea to have a smaller bag in your car for things you might need during the day. This is where you’d keep your atlas, snacks, sunscreen, road trip games, and anything else you’d want to keep in easy reach.

A small duffel bag or backpack works great for this purpose and helps you avoid having things strewn all over the car. You, your kids, or your travel companions know exactly where to grab something from and where to put it back in.

Your small car bag rarely, if ever, leaves the car and should be kept somewhere convenient, but out of the way, like on an empty seat or under the passenger’s seat.

Canvas Duffle Bag for Travel, 60L Duffel Overnight Weekend Bag (Dark Gray)
Small Duffel Bag

Example: Plambag Canvas Duffle Bag for Travel

A small duffel bag with lots of pockets will help keep everything you need in your car organized.

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Small Road Trip Backpack

Example: Amazon Basics Travel Backpack

A simple backpack might be all you need to keep all the clutter in your car in one convenient place.

Samsonite Foldaway Packable Duffel Bag, Black, Medium
Foldable Duffle Bag

Example: Samsonite Foldaway Packable Duffel Bag

A foldable duffel bag makes a great option for storing things in the car, while tucking away small if not needed.

Essential Road Trip Bags - woman wearing a fanny pack

Road Trip Purse, Daypack, or Fanny Pack

Your purse, daypack, or fanny pack will be where you store things you need to take with you whenever you leave the car. It’s where you’ll keep your wallet, credit cards, phone, drivers license, and keys when you get out to get gas, to have lunch, or to marvel at the world’s largest bull.

You shouldn’t need anything big. And definitely nothing fancy. A small purse, drawstring bag, backpack, or fanny pack will do. This is just where you’ll keep the things you need to bring with you or don’t want to leave alone in the car. You’ll always want this road trip bag close at hand.

Travelon Anti-Theft Essentials East/West Hobo Bag, Black, One Size
Road Trip Purse

Example: Travelon Anti-Theft East/West Hobo Bag

A roomy bag that offers extra protection against theft makes a perfect purse for a road trip.

Osprey Daylite Everyday Backpack, Black, One Size
Road Trip Daypack

Example: Osprey Daylite Everyday Backpack

A small hiking backpacks doubles as the perfect place to store your essentials on a road trip.

Herschel Supply Co. Heritage™ Hip Pack Black One Size
Fanny Packs

Herschel Supply Co. Heritage Hip Pack

Fanny packs are back. And they make excellent road trip bags because they keep your hands free and your essentials at hip’s length.

Road Trip Camera Bag full of camera equipment.

Road Trip Camera Bag

You don’t need a camera bag for a road trip. If you’re strictly an iPhoneographer, your purse or daypack will do. But if you are into photography and have anything more than a phone, a camera bag is a road trip must-have.

If you have lots of equipment such as a DSLR with multiple lenses and a tripod or multiple cameras like a GoPro and a Drone, a camera bag is essential to keeping them safe, secure, and in order.

Even if you have just one small extra camera, like a mirrorless digital camera or a GoPro, having a separate camera bag will help keep it safe and padded from bumpy terrains. (Need a road trip camera? Check out my recommendations here.)

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Camera Backpack

Example: TARION Professional Camera Backpack

A big padded backpack is a great way to store DSLR cameras, lenses, and accessories while on a road trip.

PellKing Hard Case for GoPro Hero 12/11/10/9/8/7/2018/6/5 Blcak/4 Silvery Action Camera, Accessories Carrying Storage Shoulder Bag With Strap for DJI Osmo Action 4/3
GoPro Carrying Case

Example: PellKing Hard Case for GoPro Hero

If you do GoPro photography on a road trip, this case will keep all your cameras and accessories organized.

MOSISO Camera Case Crossbody Shoulder Messenger Bag, DSLR/SLR/Mirrorless Photography Vintage PU Leather Flap Gadget Bag with Rain Cover Compatible with Canon/Nikon/Sony Camera and Lens, Black
Camera Messenger Bag

Example: MOSISO Camera Case Crossbody Shoulder Messenger Bag

A stylish messenger bag will keep your camera and a few accessories at arm’s reach.

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Four essential road trip bags every traveler should have in their car. Here's what they are, ideas for what to put in them, and tips on where to keep them. These bags road trip packing essentials and organization hacks for anyone planning a road trip, whether driving cross country or spending a weekend in the next city - perfect for adults, families, kids, or couples.
#RoadTripPacking #RoadTripPackingHacks #RoadTripPackingTips #RoadTripPackingEssentials 
#RoadTripPlanning #RoadTripEssentials

Four essential road trip bags every traveler should have in their car. Here’s what they are, ideas for what to put in them, and tips on where to keep them. These bags road trip packing essentials and organization hacks for anyone planning a road trip, whether driving cross country or spending a weekend in the next city – perfect for adults, families, kids, or couples.


Photos by PHUOC LE on Unsplash, Swansway Motor Group on Unsplash, Jose Luis Espindola on Unsplash, Skye Studios on Unsplash

Valerie Bromann

Founder & ROad Trip Expert

Valerie Bromann is a a website manager, content creator, and writer from Chicago, Illinois (currently living in Dallas, Texas). As an avid road tripper who has visited hundreds of roadside attractions, Val always pull over for a world’s largest thing. Founder of Silly America and author of The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book, she visits, photographs, and writes about all the weird tourist destinations she visits and offers road trip planning advice and inspiration based on her own travels so you can hit the road for yourself.

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Last modified: December 24, 2023
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The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book - Everything You Need to Have and Record an Epic Road Trip! By Valerie Bromann

The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book

Everything You Need to Have and Record an Epic Road Trip!

BY Valerie Bromann

Enjoy fun games and challenges to pass the time on your next road trip and have a keepsake to look back on for years to come with this entertaining must-have for your next vacation.

The road trip you’ve been dreaming of starts here! Journal about your stops and get to know your fellow passengers with activities and exercises designed to pass the time and bring you closer together. Instead of “Are we there yet?” you’ll find yourself asking, “We’re there already?”. Complete with prompts you can turn to while driving between locations, this journal will one day be a memento of your life-changing trip.