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The Ultimate Road Trip Essentials List

Open Road Highway View

Road trips might seem simple, they also might seem tedious and longer than they need too but there is something unique about it that you can’t get from a flight. Its flexible, you can load up all the things you need without worrying about a weight limit or the extra cost of checking a bag. Road trips are an inspiring way to travel, have quality time with someone, and you can make it into any type of adventure you want. But we do not want part of that adventure to be you with a flat tire and no spare to change it. We have been quite lucky so far to never experience a full flat tire on a road trip but I have experienced Vic quite hangry which might actually be worse. (We both agree on this one 😊) 

Packing the car for the trip can be over whelming if you’re not Gus who feels that “The process of packing your things, organizing your car and knowing you will be driving hundreds or thousands of miles just spurs a sense of adventure that flying nor any other mode of transportation offer”. But if you don’t go on road trips often you might not have this same joy and know what is a priority, what is nice to have, should we fill it up to the brim, should we keep it simple? So many questions. We have the answers! 

Travel Clothing Essentials 

One thing that a lot of people do not think about when traveling, especially during a road trip is their travel clothing. By this we don’t mean what you need to pack for your hikes or going out to dinner but what you will be wearing during your drives, at the hotels, etc. 

Not only is what you take with you important but how you pack it is twice as important. We are firm believers in packing clothing in groups so that when you stop at a hotel for one night you do not need to unload your entire car. This also makes it easier for when you are heading out to a National Park, you know which bags need to be in the car with all your hiking gear.  

  • Joggers and Leggings – Gus might not rock the leggings in public but comfortable pants can make or break a road trip. Imagine being in a car ride for 10 hours and being stuck in uncomfortable jeans that dig into your waist. Comfort is priority when it comes to being in a car for a long time and we love our joggers and leggings. We also push for joggers or leggings since depending on the weather you will be driving in your day might start warm and then turn into snow. So being ready for anything is key! 
  • Driving Shoes – this might sound like an odd thing to think about when doing a road trip but again comfort is king! If you are doing a 10-hour drive or multi day road trip nothing will be worse than being stuck with a pair of shoes that are just uncomfortable to be in for hours on end. It is pretty crazy how uncomfortable some running shoes can become when wearing them for multiple hours while not moving. So, make sure whatever you are wearing is comfortable and preferably something you have driven in before.  

The two things that we swear by on these road trips to make packing and organizing clothing a breeze are packing cubes and duffel bags.  

  • Packing Cubes – If you have never used packing cubes then get ready for your world to be turned upside down! We truly do not think we would travel without them whether on a road trip or an international backpacking trip. They make organizing clothing a breeze in order to make sure you have everything you need and when living out of a suitcase it makes it so much easier to not have your clothing just pile on the floor.  
  • Duffel Bags – While we normally do not use duffel bags when flying, they are extremely convenient to use on road trips since they allow you to easily store a lot of clothing and really smush it into the trunk and fit into any nook or cranny that is open. We normally use hard shell luggage when flying but, in a car, they just aren’t as forgiving in tight quarters. 

Car Running Essentials 

There are a number of things we always do before our road trip and a few specific accessories we never leave home without. Making sure your car is safe and primed for the road is definitely step 1 for any road trip planning! 

  • Car Scheduled Maintenance – Make sure you are getting you oil changed, tires rotated, etc. This is a non-negotiable for us even when we aren’t on a road trip. While Gus might have to be on Vic to make sure this is done on time, Gus is a firm believer that if you take care of your car, it will take care you. This means less breakdowns, better gas mileage and overall peace of mind. 
  • Proof of Insurance – While we know this is probably a no brainer, the main reason it is included on the list is from a past experience that mostly affects us Millennials. Most of us carry our insurance on our phone apps now instead of paper and there is nothing worse than being in a situation where you need to show proof of insurance and you have no cell service! This will be less important on short trips in your home state but if you are traveling to far places or even crossing borders where cell service might not work with your phone plan a paper copy always works! 
  • Spare Tire and Tools – A flat tire is something no one wants and something a lot of people have never experienced, but we at Escape Our Ordinary always try to plan for worse case scenarios so we can have our best trips. Making sure you have a spare tire in your trunk, on the back of your SUV or under your truck is 100% essential! Remember to make sure you have all the necessary tools to change a tire as well. Some newer cars bring wheel locks that need an extra tool to unlock and let you change a tire.  
  • Tire Pressure Check – This is something we make sure to do before any trip by stopping at my local Discount Tire which offers free tire pressure air checks and so do most tire places across the country. If you have not checked your spare tire in a while, we suggest you have them check the pressure on it as well since having a flat spare isn’t very useful either.  
  • Battery Portable Jump Starter – A battery jump starter kit has been an indispensable part of our cars for a very long time now and come in handy more often than you would think. This piece of gear is not just to save yourself on a long road trip but also that coworker that left their lights on when they got to work in the morning. We got our portable batteries from Amazon but plenty of retailers also sell them. We also carry regular jumper cables since they are key to have in-case the battery portable jump starter has an issue, but the independence that a portable battery gives you is lifesaving sometimes.  
  • Portable Tire Air Compressor – While a flat tire is an issue in itself getting one without a spare or after using your spare could be disastrous for any trip. A portable tire air compressor is an affordable and compact way to take one less chance while out on a long or remote trip where getting help could be challenging, if possible, at all.  
  • Flash Light and Lanterns – This might not seem like a big deal since hey we have lights on our phones but for such an affordable item keeping one in your trunk is a must for us. We normally carry a small hand-held flash light as well as one or two LED lanterns that we can use in case of emergencies. They are also useful when the sun sets and you are at an outdoor event where light could extend the evening.  
  • Snow Brush / Ice Scrapper – While we do live in Texas you can bet, we have an ice-scrapper/snow brush in our cars and it has come in handy countless times. If you have seen the recent Texas winter storms you can bet, we were glad to have a handy and easy way to clear our cars. Not only are they compact but they make clearing your windshield and also a snow-covered car like what happened during our winter Utah Mighty 5 trip a breeze! 
  • Tire Snow Chains – This last item is a new addition to our gear collection but one we wish we had planned for earlier. We wished we had these chains during our Utah Winter Trip especially during our Canyonlands portion which tested our SUVs ability to navigate snow and ice. Snow chains are quite affordable especially if you are not looking for top of the line daily drivers. If you expect to encounter snow during any trip then snow chains are a must for your car kit! 

Entertainment and Navigation Essentials  

Something that can make or a break a road trip besides a broken-down car is a lack of entertainment. One thing we have learned during some of our longer road trips is that an 8–10-hour drive can feel like an eternity if you don’t have the right things to distract you sometimes. Not only do you need to worry about entertainment but making sure you know how to get somewhere is just as crucial. The number of times you will lose cell service on a cross country road trip will cement the idea of downloading offline maps just as often as you download offline music and podcasts.  

Road Trip Podcast Car Photo
  • Podcasts, Audiobooks and Music – We love our podcasts on our road trips and have slowly been building our list of top producers that keep pumping out binge worthy listens. Wondery is one of our favorite podcast publishers and one we actually pay a separate yearly fee for and think it’s completely worth it! You are able to listen to them on Apple Podcasts but sometimes it’s extremely annoying to listen to the same ads hours on end so paying a small yearly fee is a great way to avoid that and also support a great company. We also have Spotify for our music needs which is great since it easily allows us to save music for offline listening. Lastly, we recently have been using Scribd for audiobooks and love the low monthly fee for unlimited books! 
  • USB Cables and Chargers – In our opinion you can never have enough chargers in your car and of course USB cables for all your devices. We normally have a small bag in the car already with at least 1 cable for each type of device (USB-C, Micro-USB, Lighting, etc.) this allows us to make sure we can also charge batteries and other devices we need between destinations.  
  • Tech Organizer – We have been using two different tech bags for all our cables and it is so much better than shoving everything into a Ziploc bag or throwing into the center console. Our two favorite ones are one from Thule and one from Peak Design, both have their positive and negatives, and mostly comes down to size. Thule is definitely the smallest and portable but Peak Design offers so many organizational pockets that we love it also! 
  • Google Maps – There is still no better on phone navigation in our opinion and being able to download maps for cities and states makes this a must have travel app. If you have never used the offline features, read up on it ASAP and get it ready for your next trip! 
  • Paper Maps – While Google Maps might be king, sometimes a solid paper map is something you should always have in the back seat. We have had to rely on them quite often especially when you are in some lesser travelled areas and are having issues getting a GPS signal.  

Food and Drinks Essentials  

If there is one thing, we have learned to avoid in our road trips is hunger or hitting that hangry level. Snacks and drinks are as essential to our road trips as anything else on this entire list. We have slowly learned to always have food on hand since sometimes you might hit a stretch of road without any stop for 100 plus miles. The other main reason for always having a cooler with food and drinks is the shocking amount of money you can save by not buying snacks and drinks at every stop you make on the road.  

  • Yeti Cooler – We have been using the Yeti Roadie for a few years now and cannot recommend it enough. There are definitely bigger and of course cheaper coolers out there but this one ticks all the boxes for us. The cooler fits perfectly in our backseat so it is easy reach while driving and the ice can last all day long. (There is a redesign of the Roadie Cooler which is taller and we are still undecided if we love it or hate it LOL). 
  • Car Trash Can – This is an item that we do not see a lot of people use and until recently it was not on our must have list. During our last road trip, we cemented that a car trash can is a game changer for long haul road trips. Our favorite is extremely affordable and easily hangs off your headrest and even includes extra bags! (Gus is a neat freak in the car and this probably has saved our relationship multiple times!) 
  • Napkins, Paper Towels, etc. – Sometimes the little things are the things you forget to pack and we cannot count the number of times we needed napkins or paper towels due to a spill. Also a small bag of forks, spoons, and knives can really come in handy when takeout forgets your utensils. 
  • Snacks and Drinks – Making sure you have plenty of snacks from chips to PB&J sandwiches is pivotal, since variety will make sure you don’t get bored of the same thing on a long road trip. A case of water bottles in the back or jugs of water in order to refill your tumblers and save some plastic waste is super handy. We tend to make sandwiches turkey/cheese and PB&J the morning before our long drives to make sure we have calories even on long empty stretches of road. This is even more important when we are driving in remote areas and food choices are limited to just random gas stations or fast food.  

Comfort and Safety Essentials 

If you are like us normally a few hours into a trip is when you realize that you forgot that one pillow that lets you rest on a long road trip, it could be a small cut and you do not have any Band-Aids with you, or you just forgot your sunglasses. The list of comfort and safety essentials is always evolving and during our Coronavirus year our safety list definitely looked quite different than previous years.  

  • Sunglasses – We loved our Shady Rays Sunglasses and they have become an essential part of our travel gear and highly recommend them to everyone. We love the variety and love the price even more! 
  • Neck Pillows – This might not seem like an essential at first but after a few hours on the road and trying to nap in a car this is a life saver! 
  • Tissues – This one doesn’t need an explanation except that Kleenex are much better to use than some paper towels for a runny nose. We love the small travel packs and keep them stashed in our glove compartment and backpacks at all times.  
  • First Aid Kit– We cannot stress this one enough, while something like a Band Aid is minor you never know when you might need something more for a deeper cut, allergic reaction, etc. We have been carrying this basic first aid kit you can get online and just replenishing it after our trips if anything is running low. This kit lives in our car so we encourage everyone if you are doing the same to check the items that might get dried out or expire over time.  
  • Pain Killers, Allergy Medicine, etc. – While you are able to buy these on the road it is normally quite expensive at gas stations and sometimes you just need a pain killer for a headache on the road and the sooner you get it the better.  
  • Tumblers – We love our HydroFlasks and Yeti’s and they are super useful to let us save on single use plastic and keep our drinks hot or cold on the road.  

Storing and Organizing  

Organizing a car for a road trip is a careful balancing act of including everything you need for your trip as well as making sure what you need throughout the drive is within reach. We have adjusted our packing, storing and organizing over the years and think we finally have settled on something that works for us well.  

There is no perfect system for organizing a car for a road trip but we do think there are some simple rules you can follow along with the list of essentials above to find what works for you and your car.  

Car Trunk Packed Road Trip

One of the things that we cannot recommend enough are plastic storage containers for most items from snacks to hiking gear since they are stackable and allow for ease of finding what you need without having to go through numerous bags and making a mess.  

Storage containers are also great to keep snacks. In the past we used to just fill tote bags with chips, bars, etc. But they would end up getting squished and destroyed after a few days on the road. Using plastic storage containers lets us organize all our food, keep them safe in a sturdy container and also visually accessible through the see-through plastic.  

Road Trips What Next? 

Road trips are an essential part of our travel lifestyle since they offer something that no other mode of travel can. Being able to take everything and anything you need is just one perk. While it might not be the fastest way to travel sometimes taking it slow and visiting those small towns on Historic Route 66 or that one unique Navajo Gift Shop near Monument Valley that is the prize for patience.  

Hopefully the list is useful to you and makes planning a road trip that less stressful and that much more convenient.  

Let us know below if there is an item, we missed that you think is essential for a great road trip, we are always eager to grow our list! 

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10 Responses

  1. I’ve done a few long distance road trips, driving a car, so would defo have to agree with everything here. The comfotable trousers and shoes was my first agreement. I travelled for two weeks in a pair of jeans that were really too tight for sitting in for long hours in a car seat. Also my trainers had big soft, chunky heel areas that whilst comfy for walking, gave me a wrong angle on the car paedals.
    I’ve also done a week travelling in the sun when I forgot to take sunglasses and had to buy some expensive ones en-route – n I had 5 pairs of them sitting at home – dduuhhh!

    1. OMG the jeans and shoes was us so many times but we learned our lessons the hard way!

      Once it happens it wont happen again LOL

  2. Such a great list! I’m not a driver, so rarely think about all the car essentials, but was definitely nodding along with your packing, entertainment and food/drink lists. Packing cubes are so key for long trips and I recently used a Yeti cup and can totally see why the cooler is worth the investment. We’re also big podcast fans over here and love binging one on a long road trip.

    1. We love our podcasts and have been expanding that list big time lately!

      I thought the Yeti coolers where all hype but it is so clutch to be honest LOL

  3. The car trash can: Total game changer. My mother in law got me one for my new car at Christmas and I had no idea they existed. Definitely with you on the driving shoes too

    1. The car trash can might be one of our fav purchases in a long time! It truly changed the game for us.

  4. I think you’ve captured it all! Some great tips here. I love creating Spotify play lists but also cue up some great podcasts or audio books to listen to. And can’t forget the snacks!

    1. You can never have too much entertainment on a long car ride! Audiobooks are definitely creeping up on our top must have on road trips.

  5. Great post! There’s a lot of important and pertinent things in here that make road trips so much easier to pack and plan for. I’m glad to see that others have similar things in their cars as well. I have a portable battery charger as well, although it’s not great when your car battery is completely dead. I also have spare clothes, blankets, first aid kit, food, snacks, beach chair, USB cables, sunglasses, and so much more in my car that I usually have on a daily basis (I’m a social worker so most of my time is on the road).

    1. We always carry spare cables after realizing a fully dead battery sometimes will not come back to life! We can only imagine as a social worker you def must be in the road all the time!

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