From camping, to glamping, to grandma’s, to Airbnbs…efficient road trip packing is an essential art. Two main ideas: (1) Don’t overdo it, but allow yourself more creature comforts than you would bring on a flight. Having most of the things you need on hand will leave you free to enjoy the journey. (2) Be organized and know exactly where everything is located in your car; set yourself up for success and minimize the not-fun stops. We’ve compiled our recommendations for you on everything from your vehicle’s infrastructure to our favorite road trip snacks. Even though some of this may be a no-brainer if you’re a seasoned road-tripper, use it as a checklist!
- Storage bins or tote bags: No matter the size of your vehicle, you need at least one bin/bag for snacks. If you’ve got more room, you can branch out to a bin for drinks, and a bin for chargers, electronics, games, and books
- Trunk organizers: These come in all shapes and sizes, with tons of features like differently-sized pockets, pouches, mesh bag attachments, cooler bins, velcro bottoms, and more. They’re great for keeping liquids upright and each person’s belongings separated. We recommend something collapsible so you can get it out of your way if you need to.
- Plastic bags and/or or trash bags for trash, wet clothes, dirty clothes, etc.
- Seat-back cup holders and organizers: Seat back cup holders are great if your back seat doesn’t come with cupholders, and there are other all-in-one cup holders/organizers that include pockets for electronics, snacks, games, and clamps for tablets/phones for moving watching
- Seat back tablet holder: Essential for kids
- Car swivel tray: Attaches to your cupholder and provides a non-slip, swivel capable surface for sharing your snacks and fast food with your travel companions
- Camping or beach chairs: For actual camping, and additional seating at your destination
- Electronics and chargers: Power bank, at least two car-chargers, a power inverter, and any necessary adapters and batteries. We also recommend a bin or bag to contain all of these things. Don’t forget any entertainment or work-related electronics, including headphones and a travel mouse.
- A cooler: Bring whatever size you have room for
- Water bottles: At least one reusable water bottle per person. I like one for water, and another for coffee and tea
Your glove compartment:
- Masks, bandanas, and hair elastics
- Hand sanitizer
- Medical info and emergency contact numbers
- Paper napkins
- Paper money and coins
- Electronic toll pass(es)
- A pen, a pencil, and a small notepad
Clothes and laundry
To minimize the amount of clothing you bring, plan to wash clothes if your trip is more than 3 or 4 days. If you’re fashion-conscious and don’t like wearing the same clothes frequently, bring solid, neutral colors that you can pair in different combinations, and/or layering options. Also bring:
- Quick dry and wrinkle-free clothing
- Packing cubes or sacks. Best intentions to keep your belongings in your suitcase on a road trip fall apart. Even if your socks escape your bag, they can at least be contained by a packing cube.
- For doing your laundry: Quarters, a packable mesh laundry bag, travel clothesline and clothing wash bag if your campground doesn’t have facilities
- Shoes: We always try and do-double duty with shoes…no unitaskers or high-fashion for road trips. But don’t forget some simple flipflops for camp showers.
- Comfort clothing: Sweats, leggings, hoodies, flannel, and your favorite t shirt
- Swimsuits: At least two
- Scarf and warm hat (a hat or hoodie is my camping-sleeping hack for keeping extra toasty)
- Hat(s) (ball cap or wide brim)
- Lint roller
Healthy is the theme here. Stock up on healthy stuff at the grocery store before you leave…there will be plenty of opportunities for the inevitable Doritos and candy along the way. I’m not a fan of excess packaging, but I will admit that having individual-sized products is really helpful on road trips.
- Savory snacks: Popcorn, pretzels, trail mix, jerky, nuts, corn chips, seaweed snacks, cheese crisps, olives, crackers
- Sweet snacks: Homemade rice-krispie treats, bananas, apples, chocolate chips, nut butter packs, cereal, applesauce pouches, granola, protein bars, dried fruit
- The cooler: Hummus, guacamole, baby carrots, celery, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, grapes, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, cuke spears
- Drinks: Plan for more than just water…you’ll want to shake things up. Include sparkling water, flavored sparkling water, sodas, kombucha, tea, coffee, and a bottle of wine or beer to enjoy once you get where you’re going.
- Instant teas and coffees (packets for hot or cold water), and electrolyte water flavorings are small, lightweight, drink technology to help you get some variety
- Quick-access toiletries bag: Even if your travel companions have their own specific toiletries stowed away, there should be a common bag that’s within arm’s reach with: face masks, hand sanitizer, wet/antibacterial wipes, hand towel, at least one roll of toilet paper, bar soap, bar shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush, sunblock, lip balm, bandages, pain reliever, hair elastics, and quick touchup cosmetics.
- Cleaners: Wet wipes or roll of paper towels and cleaner (for mishaps, cleaning shoes, cleaning the car, you name it)
- Eye mask and earplugs: You never know what your sleeping/curtain situation will be If you’re up with the sun but don’t have to be, an eye mask could be your key to extra sleep. Same goes for earplugs. We always think of camping as a quiet and peaceful way to unplug, but prepare for the annoying camping neighbor. And if your road trip includes stops in big cities when you’re used to sleeping in the suburbs, these are a sleep saver.
- Compact travel umbrellas and/or packable rain coat
- A pack of playing cards or a few pairs of dice
- A hammer or mallet (for everything from tent stakes to car troubles)
- Quick-dry travel towel
- A daypack
- Travel blanket
- Inflatable travel pillow
- Packable, waterproof picnic blanket/surface
- Swiss army knife or multi-tool
First aid kit
At a minimum, here’s what a road trip first aid kit should contain:
- Pain relief, a variety. It’s nice to have it on hand immediately, so you don’t have to go out again or ask grandma to rifle through her cabinet
- Bandages: Just a few each of a variety of sizes (fingers, knees, etc.)
- Neosporin/Antibiotic ointment that contains pain reliever
- Gauze and tape
- A thermometer
- Alcohol wipes
- Ace bandage
- Blister pads
- Butterfly closures
- Bug spray
- Tire pressure gauge
- A real spare tire (not a donut)
- Portable jack
- Jumper cables or emergency charger
- Extra fuses
- Ice scraper
- Duct tape
- LED flares
- A small tool kit
What do you always pack that makes your road trip a success? Let us know!
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