Road Trip Essentials: Must Have Road Trip Items

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While you technically need little more than a vehicle and a driver’s license to take a road trip, there are a lot of road trip essentials that will make your next adventure a more pleasant experience.

Think gear that will make getting where you need to go that much easier, equipment to make killer content, items to keep you safe and secure, or games and activities to keep everyone in the car happy and entertained!

Below is our list of essentials for a road trip with product recommendations for things to bring the next time you hit the road!

Want more ideas? Check out these other road trip guides:

Our Road Trip Essentials List:

Navigation Tools

Navigation tools should always be on your road trip essentials list! Most people rely on finding their way via Google Maps or their car’s built-in GPS, but, especially if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar and off-the-beaten path, it’s a good idea to have some backup. This could include a GPS device or even a paper map. Having a reliable way to get from point A to point B will help you stay on track and avoid getting lost.

With a GPS system or Google Maps on your phone, you can just plug in your next stop’s address and let the device guide you there turn-by-turn steps. Even if you already know where you’re going, unexpected road closures can throw you for a loop. Or maybe you’ll want to detour after hearing of a great county fair or restaurant that serves the world’s best pie. GPS is great for getting you to those unexpected stops. A GPS can also guide you straight to the nearest tourist office, gas station, or fast food chain. Don’t road trip without a GPS in your car!

While most smartphones and smart cars now come with built-in GPS tracking apps, a separate GPS navigator could provide insurance in case your phone runs out of batteries, your kids are playing with it in the backseat, or it gets lost or stolen along the way.

Whether or not you’re using a GPS, be sure to pack some old-school maps of the area you’re driving through or a USA atlas too. This will help you avoid getting lost in case of a technology failure. As we said, an electronic GPS is a must-have road trip item, but you should always have a paper map or an atlas in your car, just in case. Technology breaks, batteries die, you don’t want to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere or on an unfamiliar route without a paper map as backup.

Our recommendations:

Garmin 010-02038-02 DriveSmart 65, Built-In Voice-Controlled GPS Navigator with 6.95” High-Res Display , Black
Garmin GPS Navigator 

Even if your phone or car has GPS capabilities, it’s a good idea to invest in a separate GPS navigator tucked away in your car. That way you have that extra insurance in case your phone dies, loses contact, or is in use by a backseat passenger.

Rand McNally 2024 Road Atlas: United States, Canada, Mexico: 100th Anniversary (Rand McNally Road Atlas: United States, Canada, Mexico)
Rand McNally Road Atlas

If technology fails you, always have a backup. Explore the roads in all 50 U.S. states and over 350 cites and national parks. A road atlas is always on my list of road trip must haves.

Entertainment and Games

Games can be a great way to pass the time on long road trips. Some popular options include the License Plate Game, Road Sign Bingo, and Hey Cow.

But games aren’t the only thing you need to keep passengers entertained in the car! There are plenty of other options for road trip entertainment. Journals, music, podcast, audiobooks, and portable DVD players can all keep your companions from asking, “are we there yet?”

Need more ideas for road trip entertainment essentials? Check out these articles:

Our recommendations:

The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book: Everything You Need to Have and Record an Epic Road Trip!
The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book

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 Journal & Activity Book features fun and engaging journal prompts. plus 100 activities and games to play in the car, at your hotel, or at stops along your route.

WONNIE 10.5' Two DVD Players Dual Screen for Car Portable CD Player Play a Same or Two Different Movies with Two Mounting Brackets, 5-Hour Rechargeable Battery, Support USB/SD Card Reader
Portable Dual DVD Players

A duel car DVD player that clips to your headrests can provide hours of entertainment for backseat road trip passengers. This one plays DVDs or digital files stored on a USB or card reader.

Road Trip Journal for a USA Road Trip | Lined Road Trip Diary for Adults and Kids
Road Trip Journal

Record your road trip adventure with a road trip journal, complete with prompts to help you document where you went, what you saw, and what you ate!

Nintendo Switch™ with Neon Blue and Neon Red Joy‑Con™
Nintendo Switch

Play all your favorite games on the go. Keep your family entertained and never hear, “are we there yet?” again. The portable design of the Nintendo Switch makes it the perfect gaming system for road trips and back seat play.

Audible Audio Books

Sign up for a service like Audible before your next road trip and listen to audio books while you drive. Take a break from music and catch up on the latest best seller or classics like On The Road in your car. Sign up for a free trial or dive right in with a membership today.

USA Guidebooks

Guidebooks are among the essential road trip items: they tell you all the best destinations and must-stop places, plus have information about events, hotels, and restaurants along the way. They even provide maps to use when you get where you’re going. Guidebooks are useful roadtrip essentials to help you plan and get where you’re going.

Our recommendations:

While you’ll want to find a guidebook that covers the particular state, area, or route you’re traveling, these general USA road trip guidebooks will provide information and inspiration for many trips to come!

The Open Road: 50 Best Road Trips in the USA (Travel Guide)
The Open Road: 50 Best Road Trips in the USA

This guidebook features strategic lists and road trip options and flexible itineraries that will help you plan the adventure of a lifetime!

Fodor's Best Road Trips in the USA: 50 Epic Trips Across All 50 States (Full-color Travel Guide)
Fodor’s Best Road Trips in the USA: 50 Epic Trips Across All 50 States

Explore some of the best USA road trips, like Route 66, Pacific Coast Highway, and Blue Ridge Parkway with maps, curated recommendations, historical insights, and more.

Lonely Planet USA (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet USA

Get information on the best things to see in the US…and what you can skip with this inside guide to the heart of the USA.

Emergency Supplies

No matter how well you plan your road trip, unexpected emergencies can still happen. It’s essential to have emergency supplies in your car when taking a road trip. From simple items like a first aid kit and flashlights to reflective triangles, jumper cables, a spare tire, and tow ropes, you want to be prepared for anything. If you get a flat tire or an accident occurs, you don’t want to be stuck without the necessary items to keep you safe and get you back on the road. It’s also a good idea to bring along a portable phone charger and a car charger, just in case your phone battery dies and you need to make a call.

Our recommendations:

Thrive Roadside Emergency Car Kit (104 Pieces) - Car Safety Accessories and Tool Kit with Jumper Cables and Mini First Aid Kit - Car Emergency Kit for Women and Men (Red Canvas Bag)
Auto Emergency Kit

You can never be too prepared when packing for a road trip. Keeping a car emergency kit in your trunk is a must for road trips both short and long. This one has an air compressor, reflective warning triangle, tow rope, hammer, jumper cables, and more to give you peace of mind that you’re prepared for any emergency on the road.

299PCS First Aid Kit Portable Red Camping Essentials Multiple Purpose Suivival Kits Plus Case Emergency Set Outdoor Backpacking Gear Suitable for Hiking School Car Home YIDERBO
Small First Aid Kit

Be prepared for anything by storing a first aid kit in your car. Choose a waterproof model like this one packed with everything you expect and need: antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, an emergency blanket, splinter probes, and more.

3pc Snow Survival Kit: Aluminum Shovel, Snow Brush with Window Ice Scraper and Mini Snow Scraper
3-Piece Snow Survival Kit

If you’re taking a winter road trip, you have to be prepared for the elements. You don’t want snow to ruin your drive. At the very least equip your car with a windshield ice scraper, a mini hand car windshield snow scraper, and an aluminum car safety shovel before you take off.

Camera

Cameras are essential to a best road trip gear list. You wouldn’t want to miss capturing a photo the world’s largest pecan, those fantastic diner club sandwiches, or the breathtaking views at a scenic overlook. Whether you use a high-end DSLR, an entry-level mirrorless camera, a point and shoot, a drone, a GoPro, or your iPhone, always have a camera for road trips. Here are some of our favorite cameras for road trips.

Need more ideas? Check out more of my recommendations for road trip cameras here.

Our recommendations:

Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera with RF 24-105mm F/4L is USM Lens, Black - 3380C012
Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera

The Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera is a favorite road trip camera and an essential item in a road trip kit. This mirrorless camera is one of the most affordable full-frame models and offers sharp photos and 4K video in an easy-to-carry package. And the front-facing LCD makes taking road trip selfies a breeze! It’s perfect for capturing all the world’s largest things. Check out our full list of the best road trip cameras for more recommendations!

GoPro HERO11 Black - Waterproof Action Camera with 5.3K60 Ultra HD Video, 27MP Photos, 1/1.9' Image Sensor, Live Streaming, Webcam, Stabilization
GoPro HERO11 Black

GoPro cameras are excellent for capturing the excitement and adventure of a road trip. You can even use the built-in functionality to create epic timelapses of your entire journey!

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Instant Camera - Sky Blue
Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Instant Camera

For fun road trip photos that make retro souvenirs, an instant camera is a must have road trip essential. The Fujifilm Instax Mini is a cute camera that is compact enough to fit in the glove box to make memories on the go.

Road Trip Cooler

Coolers are great for road trips. They allow you to store away picnic sandwiches, snacks for the kids, hot dogs for the campfire, bottles of water, or beers for later. Fill up a cooler with lunches, drinks, and snacks and pack it in the trunk and on your next road trip you won’t go hungry or have to wait at the drive through.

Our recommendations:

RTIC Soft Cooler 30 Can, Insulated Bag Portable Ice Chest Box for Lunch, Beach, Drink, Beverage, Travel, Camping, Picnic, Car, Trips, Floating Cooler Leak-Proof with Zipper, Blue/Grey
Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Bag

A cooler is a must-have item on your USA road trip packing list. Stock up on drinks and keep them cold so you don’t have to buy a soda every time you stop for gas or load it up on sandwich fixings and hot dogs for a camping adventure. A high-quality soft sided cooler like this RTIC model is the way to go: it’s more flexible design allows it to squeeze into valuable trunk space and will keep your food chilled for days at a time.

Igloo Retro Jade 25 Qt Lunch Picnic Basket Cooler
Igloo Retro Cooler

If you’re going to pack up your trunk with cold sodas and road trip sandwiches, you might as well do it in style. The Igloo Picnic cooler comes in fun colors with a retro style that will keep your drinks cool while looking hot in your Instagrams from the beach or the side of the road.

Snacks and Drinks

Never be hungry on a road trip! Always pack up plenty of snacks to get you between meals and to avoid overpriced gas station fare. Snacks in your car will keep the requests for stops down and you and your passengers happy. Choose healthy options like fruits, vegetables, and nuts or your favorite junk food road trip snacks. Be sure to also stock up on plenty of water and drinks!

Our recommendations:

CRAVEBOX Healthy Snack Box (35 Count) Spring Finals Variety Pack Care Package Gift Basket Kid Men Women Adult Nuts Health Nutrition Assortment College
Snack Chest Care Package

Can’t decide what snacks to pack for a road trip? Get a variety pack! You can get a big box of road trip snacks delivered to your door packed with your favorite treats. If you’re looking to snack lighter on your road trip go for a healthy snack pack filled with veggie straws, fruit snacks, granola bars, and trail mix.

Personal Care Items

After a long day in the car you’re going to want to hit your hotel shower and wash away your car sweat. Don’t forget to pack your personal care items, such as shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and any medications you might need. It’s also a good idea to bring along sunscreen and bug spray, especially if you’ll be spending time outdoors.

Our recommendations:

Convenience Kits International Men's Premium, Black, 15-Piece
Convenience Kits Men’s Premium Travel Kit

This 20-piece travel toiletry kit compiles everything you need in one package. Get shaving cream, shampoo, deodorant, lip balm and more in a compact package great for on the go travelers.

Convenience Kits International Women's Premium 16 PC Travel Kit Featuring: Tresemme Hair Travel-Size Products and Hair and Bathing Essentials (8118)
Convenience Kits Women’s Premium Travel Kit

Get everything you need in one convenient package. This 20-piece toiletry kit contains shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, disposable razor, and more.

Comfortable Clothing and Footwear

It’s important to pack comfortable clothing and footwear for a road trip, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car. You don’t want to wear too tight clothing or anything that will have you wiggling around just to feel loose. Look for clothing that’s breathable, stretchy, and easy to move in, and shoes that are comfortable for walking and driving. Don’t forget to pack layers as well, as temperatures can vary widely depending on where you’re traveling. And don’t forget to bring sunglasses to protect your eyes and help you see the road ahead!

Our recommendations:

Amazon Essentials Men's Full-Zip Hooded Fleece Sweatshirt (Available in Big & Tall), Charcoal Heather, X-Large
Full-Zip Hooded Fleece Sweatshirt

No matter what the weather is like, when I’m road tripping I always keep a fleece hoodie close by. You never know when you’re going to enter a too-cold car, restaurant, or hotel room and that extra layer can go a long way.

Road Trippin Cool Retro Vintage Road Trip Distressed T-Shirt
Road Trippin T-Shirt

Wear your love of road tripping on your sleeve…or on your chest. Road-trip themed t-shirts like this vintage distressed shirt are always a fun addition to your road trip clothing wardrobe.

Ray-Ban RB3025 Classic Aviator Sunglasses, Matte Gold/Polarized Brown Gradient, 58 mm
Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sun glasses are a must-pack item for any road trip. Protect your eyes from harmful rays, fight glare while driving, get rid of eye strain, and look cool on the beach with a good-quality pair of shades

Cash and Cards

Don’t forget your credit cards and debit cards! They are essential to pay for gas, hotels, food, and souvenirs. And, while most places now accept credit cards and other digital payment methods, it’s still a good idea to bring along some cash and cards just in case. This could include cash for tolls, parking, or other small expenses.

There you have it! Our essential road trip gear guide. Next time you’re ready to hit the road make sure you have a charged GPS, your guidebook, a just-in-case emergency kit, a cooler full of drinks and snacks, and, of course, your camera! Add all of these to your road trip packing list and you’ll be good to go!

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Road Trip Essentials Guide - Our Top Road Trip Gear List and Must Have Road Trip Items. What gear do you need to pack for a road trip? Here is our essential road trip gear guide with must-have product recommendations to pack in your car! These road trip essentials are musts for your road trip packing list! Save this for your next adventure!
#RoadTrip #RoadTripEssentials #RoadTrip PackingList #RoadTrips
Road Trip Essentials Guide - Our Top Road Trip Gear List and Must Have Road Trip Items. What gear do you need to pack for a road trip? Here is our essential road trip gear guide with must-have product recommendations to pack in your car! These road trip essentials are musts for your road trip packing list! Save this for your next adventure!
#RoadTrip #RoadTripEssentials #RoadTrip PackingList #RoadTrips

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

Plan Your Road Trip

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.

World's Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois roadside attraction

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Last modified: December 22, 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.