| March 9th, 2020 | No comments

Prepping for your adventure and wondering what you need to bring? We’ve put together a list of road trip essentials and necessities to help!

A cross-country road trip is, without doubt, one of the great American traditions. Whether it’s with friends after graduation or alone for clearing your mind, it is one of the most memorable life experiences. It’s also one of the best travel experiences an American can have, in our opinion. The diversity in both people and landscape you encounter when driving across the United States is incredible. 

Cruising down the highways of the United States gives you the amazing feeling of freedom you can’t get anywhere else.

But before you hop into your car there’s some packing to be done. Some people will give you a mile-long list of road trip “essentials” that boggle the mind. Others are more spartan and will suggest you head out with only the clothes on your back. Neither approach, in our opinion, is great. If you pack every little knick-knack you might need on the road, you’ll get bogged down in preparations and miss the whole point. Conversely, if you head out empty handed you might regret it later. 

With that in mind, we came up with a definitive list of road trip necessities. The items aren’t meant to cover all your comfort needs, but to help you get through problems without a hitch. That’s why they are called road trip essentials. And not the road trip Ritz package. Getting your hands dirty is a part of the experience!

Road Trip Essentials and Necessities

road trip essentials moab utah yellow van

Car Maintenance

The bare minimum in road trip necessities are of course all related to your car. This includes everything that you need to keep your ride running and all emergency bits and pieces you might need.

License and registration – Make sure to check twice that you have these on you before you head out.

A copy of your insurance policy and relevant contact information – Hopefully you won’t need these, but better safe than sorry!

A spare tire and tools – We assume that you have the necessary know-how to change a tire. If not, learn it before you start your trip. As for tools, you’ll obviously need a jack to lift the car, and a lug wrench to take off the faulty tire.

Fluids – This includes a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), oil, wiper fluid, as well as transmission and brake fluids. Again, you might not need any of these, but having them in your trunk can save you a lot of trouble.

An empty gas can – If push comes to shove, you’ll have to go to the nearest gas station. In that case, having a container for the gas is better than cupping your hands.

Miscellaneous – Under this category think anything that can help you in a tight spot on the road. Flares, tire chains, jumper cables, signaling lights, a first aid kit, and so on.

There are pre-packaged emergency kits that should cover all your needs. But just using common sense and buying the stuff separately will work just as well.

A shovel or spade – Whether it’s snow or mud, getting stuck in it and hearing your tires not getting any traction is a nightmare. In those situations a good collapsible military-style shovel or spade can save your hide. Use it to clear the space behind the tires, and pack the snow or mud in front of it, so that the tires may get a better grip. And you should be out in no time.

This is the absolute bare minimum of road trip essentials. Without this don’t even leave your driveway.

Things for Yourself

joshua tree road trip

The next point on our road trip necessities list are things to bring for yourself. As important as it is to keep your car going, without you it won’t get too far. So, make sure that you are in perfect working condition. A special note of caution at this point is to those of you who travel alone. If you feel yourself getting drowsy, pull over and have a nap. Don’t endanger yourself and others by driving on the edge of consciousness.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the stuff you should pack.

Food – Pick up stuff that’s high in energy content, preferably rich in protein as well. The classics are granola bars and beef jerky. Whatever you get, the important thing is that it is ready-to-eat and non-perishable.

Drinks – Some people prefer soda or coffee when driving. The reasoning is sound, because the caffeine will theoretically keep you awake and alert longer. However, too much of it can make you jittery. And besides, it’s known to dehydrate you, so keep it to a minimum. Pack a lot of water instead. If you DO opt to drink a bunch of coffee or tea, make sure to bring  thermos to keep your beverages warm (or cold)! 

Medication – Besides the things you specifically need, you should pack some essentials. We mainly mean ibuprofen and aspirin, because headaches and migraines travel with you as well!

Sleeping gear – This one is personal as well. If you are fine with sleeping reclined in your seat, more power to you, maybe pack a blanket if you get cold. If you need a little more comfort, investing in a sleeping bag can be a good idea. Especially when you travel through colder climates, it might be necessary to keep you from freezing when you need to take a nap.

Clothes – Bring a couple of changes of clothes with you, you never know when you might need them. And by change of clothes we mean the whole deal – shoes, socks, underwear, pants, a shirt, and a warm jacket if you are driving through the snow.

Miscellaneous – Garbage bags, flashlights, bug spray, rain coats, sunglasses and everything in between.

Hygiene products – Wet wipes, tissue paper, toothbrush, toothpaste. Done. You’re set.

Some people will argue that items like sleep gear, clothes, miscellaneous and hygiene products aren’t really road trip essentials. To them we say they are when your back hurts from sleeping in the driver’s seat, you are freezing, surrounded by garbage and you stink like a skunk.

Orientation and Navigation

taking a road trip essentials

In our modern age of fantastic coverage and map apps, getting lost is becoming exceedingly rare. However, there are still places where coverage is bad or non-existent. For those cases, having a back-up plan in terms of orientating yourself is crucial. Here’s a list of things you should pack for this purpose.

Paper map – You can buy any old paper map of the area you’re going to be driving through at gas stations and convenience stores. A word of warning – those things can be a pain in the neck to read, so make sure you know how to find your position on paper map.

Offline map app – An alternative to paper maps, which will work just as well as long as you have your phone charged. Be advised that it doesn’t give you step by step directions. The benefit of this option is that they sometimes access the phones GPS to give you an estimated location, which is fairly accurate.

GPS navigation – If you don’t mind shelving out some money, this is probably the best way to go about it. Since it doesn’t require cell phone coverage or internet access. It also uses a lot less power than your phone. Some of them are integrated into the dashboard as well.


In the case of an emergency, having a few things packed and ready to go can make all the difference. We have in mind the already mentioned first aid kit. But besides that, having some other odds and ends won’t waste too much space, and might make a big difference on your road trip.

First aid kit – There’s not much to say about this. It contains all the basic medical supplies for absolute emergency situations. Having one of them in your car at all times is a must.

Swiss army knife – Any multitool will work actually. The Swiss army knife is just the most popular. Sometimes you might get into a situation where you need a Philips head screwdriver, a knife or a toothpick. This covers all your bases.

Duct tape – It won’t fix any cracks, leaks or major damage, but it can keep you going for those few more miles to the next rest stop or mechanic shop.

A lighter or a matchbook – It might seem ridiculous, but a way to easily start a fire can save your life.

Safety jacket – If you need to walk down the road in the middle of the night, it’s best to have one of these. They use next to no space, and again can save your life.

Road Trip Necessities – The Rest

There are some things that for most of you won’t even have to be mentioned, but just in case, here’s a list to double check.

Cash – You’ll probably be able to pay for most stuff with a credit card, but cash is still king in some places. Having some pocket money for those situations will save you a lot of frustration.

Your phone – In case you are not glued to your phone 24 hours per day, make sure you have it in your pocket before you leave. This is your main way of calling for help if something goes terribly wrong. Put the emergency numbers on speed dial. Get the AAA number and save it.

Music – Record your mix-tapes, label them properly and rewind them with a pencil. You don’t want to listen from the middle of the tape! Just kidding, put some awesome music on your phone or make a Spotify playlist.

Phone charger and power bank – You have to have a way of keeping your phone charged. Same applies to any other electronic device you might bring with you.

Well, that’s about it for our list of road trip necessities. Add a good buddy or three and you are all set! Safe travels friends, and don’t forget to have fun.

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Road trips are amazing, and there's no better place to take one than the United States. But don't set out before doing and packing everything on this list of road trip essentials!

Written by Just a Pack


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