woman and dog on beach with car

Be prepared for every sort of road trip adventure. (Photo: Getty Images)

Road Trips

Hitting the Road? Here’s Your Ultimate Road Trip Packing List

It’s road trip time, and you’re checking off boxes: Route? Mapped. Out-of-office reply? Set. Now, you’re ready to load up the car.

Whether you’re hitting the road for a day trip, weekend drive or cross-country adventure, there are some key items that are essential for any road trip. (In fact, many of these are good to have in your car at any time.) And as always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Road Trip Essentials

Paperwork: If you’re renting a vehicle, make sure to have the rental agreement and paperwork somewhere accessible in case you need to call the rental company. If you’re driving your own wheels, be sure you’ve got your license, registration and proof of insurance handy.

Polarized sunglasses: A road trip is not the time for a cheapo pair of shades. Pick up sunglasses with polarized lenses, which will help prevent eye strain and make it easier to stay focused on the road and the sights around you.

Power inverter: Most cars now have USB charging outlets, but not everything runs on a USB. A power inverter will plug into your car’s lighter outlet and can charge laptops and other devices with AC cords.

USB charger/splitter: If you have multiple devices that need a charge, toss a dual USB plug in your bag. This type of charger plugs into the cigarette lighter and can charge two devices at once.

Car phone mount: If your car doesn’t have GPS or doesn’t connect to your phone’s map, a cell phone holder that clips onto the dashboard will let you see your route with ease.

death valley road trip
Be sure to pack essentials like plenty of water. (Photo: Getty Images)

A good cooler: Keep your drinks and refrigerated snacks cool with an insulated cooler, like this backpack version from The Ritz-Carlton. For nonperishable items, toss a reusable tote bag, like this summery striped beach bag, in the mix as well.

Napkins and travel cutlery: It’s always good to have an extra fork and knife on hand, and you can never have too many napkins. We recommend packing a reusable set, but in a pinch you can grab some from a takeout restaurant.

Reusable water bottle: Avoid single-use plastic bottles by refilling a glass or metal bottle. Many national parks and visitor centers have water fountains where you can refill your bottles.

Cash: While most road tolls and businesses have gone digital, some state parks and parking lots may still be cash only. Try to keep some smaller bills on hand just in case.

Road Trip Apps

Local parking app: If you’re stopping in cities or towns and plan to park at paid meters, it can be useful to download the local parking app and load your payment info ahead of time.

Gas Finder: Be smart about gassing up — tools like GasBuddy can scout out gas prices and point out where you’ll get the best deal. Google Maps also integrates gas prices into its maps.

Entertainment

Podcasts and audiobooks: Download books and podcast episodes before you hit the road in case you hit areas with limited service. For stories about the lesser-known sides of popular cities and road trips, check out the About the Journey podcast.

Binoculars and bird guide: Birdwatching is an easy road trip activity — keep your eyes peeled for eagles, hawks and other birds along your drive. A good bird book or app will help you identify local species. Binoculars make it easier to spot or identify birds, as well as other wildlife.

A solid playlist: Of course, no road trip is complete without rocking out to the perfect tunes. Give Marriott Bonvoy Traveler’s road trip playlist a listen.

woman looking at map near water
A paper map can come in handy even in the digital age. (Photo: Getty Images)

Outdoor Gear for Road Trips

A national parks pass: This annual entry pass is a great deal if you’re going to visit multiple parks over the course of a year.

Folding chairs: Lightweight foldable camp chairs can turn any spot into a picnic area.

Waterproof blanket: A blanket can come in handy for pop-up picnics or bundling up on a chilly morning. Splurge on one that’s waterproof on one side so you can set it down on damp ground without worry.

Sunscreen and bug spray: Stash a bottle of each in the car to make sure you’re protected from sunburns and bites.

Car Organization

Car trash bin: Accumulated trash from snacks, meals, receipts and other random tidbits can quickly clutter your car. A small car trash bin keeps car waste concentrated in one place and can easily be dumped out when you stop for gas. Paper and plastic bags can also be reused as trash bins.

Car organizers and bins: It’s easier to find and reach everything you packed when the car isn’t stuffed at random. Just as packing cubes keep suitcases organized, bins and over-the-seat pockets can stow large and small items.

In Case of Emergency

Portable tire pump: If your tires lose air, a portable tire pump can be a game changer. The device plugs into your car’s lighter outlet and will inflate a tire to your desired PSI. It also can double as a tire gauge to check air pressure.

Portable battery charger: Just like a portable tire pump when you have a flat, if you need a jump-start and no one’s around, a portable car battery starter can be a trip-saver. Charge up the battery pack, stow it in your car and use the jumper cables to kick-start your engine if the car battery stalls. The pack can also charge USB devices.

A headlamp: Sure, your phone has a light, but a headlamp lets you go hands free.

A paper map: If you’re driving out of cell phone range, make sure to grab a paper map of the area. (Many visitor centers have them for free.)

First-aid kit: You should have a few emergency first-aid items on hand, like adhesive and elastic bandages, antiseptic wipes, sterile gauze and antibiotic ointment. It’s a good idea to toss in a few extra surgical masks, too; some businesses may require them for entry.

Winter gear: If you’re road tripping during the winter, or in the mountains at any time of year, be sure to pack cold-weather essentials, such as a blanket, hat, mittens and a snow/ice scraper in case the weather turns.

Kids and Babies

dad buckling child into car seat
Keep the littles happy on your road trip. (Photo: Getty Images)

A lot of planning goes into road tripping with the littles. Overall, some key things to pack for a road trip with kids are:

A good car seat: You can rent one from the car rental agency, use a local baby gear rental service or bring your own.

Window shades: Even with tinted windows, sun can be hot and harsh on backseat riders. Retractable window shades can protect skin from sunburns on long drives and help keep the car cooler.

Car vacuum cleaner: If you want to keep crumbs at bay, a portable hand vac can come in handy on a long drive — look for one that charges via USB cord or your car’s lighter outlet.

Portable changing pad: If you’re in the diaper years, a foldable changing pad can turn any surface — a picnic table, parking lot or backseat of the car — into a changing table. Get one that can be easily wiped down.

Games and toys: While tablet screens may be your go-to’s, remember that coloring books, Mad Libs and sticker books are lightweight and provide lots of fun. Don’t forget some toys for outside the car, like balls, Frisbees or lawn games.

Extra food, wipes and diapers: Trust us, it’s better to have too many than not enough.

Pets

From travel beds to road trip toys, there are a few essentials to pick up when you’re driving with your dog.