Having the right road trip essentials is the first step to having a good time when traveling.

I love road trips, and for each and every one I take I make sure to be prepared with all the road trip essentials. I have taken road trips anywhere in the world. The most fun one was with with my sister: we rented a car in Mexico and drove from San Cristobal to Cancun and all around Yucatan.

Summer is the best time of year to hit the road. This is as much a part of summer as backyard BBQs and days spent at the beach; a tradition for many in the USA and Canada, and beyond.

There are some epic road trips on the East coast of the USA. And in Italy, driving around in search of the best beaches in Sardinia is the ultimate pastime!

While short road trips hardly require a road trip check list, longer ones need more careful planning.

I know from experience that there is always something I may forget, but I now typically write down a road trip packing list, so that I can check it in order to make sure I have everything I need. Feel free to use it as a cheat sheet for all the road trip essentials you will need to take with you.

So, before pulling out of the driveway, make sure to have everything you need!

road trip check list

Speaking of road trip essentials – how about a car?

13 Road Trip Essentials For The Perfect Summer Road Trip

A valid driver’s license

Sounds obvious, right? Well it is not. My sister has recently been to Crete with her husband. She was meant to rent a car, except when she pulled out her license she realized it had expired more than a year ago. In fact, she had been driving her car around Sardinia on an expired license for a long time! Good thing her husband could drive the car, but the minute she got home she had to go to renew her license. Having a valid license is one of the most basic things for a road trip.

Rental car insurance

Number one in the list of road trip essentials would have to be a car, right? While most people who go on road trips own their own cars, there is a rising number of city dwellers who have given up on them up to make a go at living an automobile-free life. They are able to get 99% of tasks done on foot, by bicycle, or by using public transportation.

I do own a car at home, but as I live on an island and I have to fly everywhere, I typically end up renting a car whenever I travel outside of Sardinia. Indeed, there is still that 1% of activities that requires a car – in this instance, it’s tough to go on a road trip without one.

To fill this gap in their lives, people who do not own a car hit up a local rental car agency and hire a sedan, or whatever vehicle meets their needs. However, many tragically choose to forego rental car insurance in a bid to save money. Wrong! If there is one item that has to be on top of the road trip essentials list, that has to be a rental car insurance.

All it takes is one fender bender to turn a fun holiday into a financial nightmare, so it is definitely better to pay this cost up front to avoid shelling out a lot later. It is the most basic of road trip necessities, really.

Rather than go with the package offered by the rental car provider, I recommend going with a third-party company like Bonzah. These firms are often able to offer much better rates, and provide great help in getting the best deal possible for those of us who have to work hard to earn money. So remember: a rental car insurance is one of the most important things you need for a road trip. I made sure to get it when I went on a road trip around Trentino.

Road trip packing list

Nobody wants to find themselves in the middle of the desert with no cash – that’s one of the road trip essentials

Spare cash

I admit I regularly forget taking cash out. I live in a city, and most of the time I pay with my bank card – it is just so easy. But there are occasions where cards are not accepted, where there are no ATMs available, and where simple old cash is needed for whatever reason. I recommend taking some spare cash on your road trip. Because one never knows.

A cooler filled with drinks and snacks

Some road trips may be short in distance, but most involve at least one day spent exclusively on the highway. On days where miles need to be made up, having a cooler packed to the brim with drinks and snacks is definitely one of the road trip essentials, as it will help keep stops to a minimum. It certainly helped me out when I had to drive for 24 hours all the way from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, in Chile.

Besides, a cooler has to be in any road trip packing list as it will also keep a happy vibe going inside the car, as thirst and hunger pangs will be kept at bay by the supplies at hand whenever the distances between convenience stores are too long. Just be sure to buy plenty of ice beforehand, and keep refreshing it as it melts.

road trip essentials

An app to establish the route and warn about traffic jams is one of the road trip necessities


There are a lot of mobile apps which have made road trips much easier these days – for starters, Google Maps comes to mind. As a driver, however, few apps are more useful these days than Waze. This really is one of the the best apps for a smooth trip!

There are a variety of features that will make life easier for drivers – it alerts them to the presence of cheap gas, speed traps, traffic jams and accidents, and other obstacles that will slow the trip to a grinding halt. It is one of my go to road trip essentials any time I plan a day out of a major city!

Another thing I love about Waze is that it alerts me when I am going above the speed limit – I admit to having a bit of a lead foot. Doing this will prevent me from falling victim to that laser trap I never see coming. Easy to see while this is one of the most basic road trip necessities.

A paper map

I know, I have just talked about all the wonderful apps that help me get around while on a road trip. But one of the most basic things to bring along during a road trip is actually a paper map. I have travelled to places where there is no phone signal, and trust me: having an actual map I could pull out to understand where I should go helped out a lot!

A tablet filled with movies and games

I do not have children that I should keep entertained, but all my cousins do and I occasionally go on short road trips with them. Sure enough, kids get bored quickly. This leads to restlessness which can make the journey a difficult one. One of the top road trip essentials, then, is a tablet that is loaded with movies and games. It helps leaving any concern about the kids being bored at home.

With their favorite cartoons and mobile games available to keep them occupied at any time, if the scenery gets dull or the license plate game stops being an entertaining diversion, including a tablet in the road trip packing list will provide essential help for those long drives.

road trip checklist

Shall we include stunning views among road trip essentials?

An emergency kit

It’s not a pleasant subject to think about, but stuff can go wrong on the road. From minor incidents involving a scraped knee after an unfortunate tumble in the parking lot of a roadside restaurant, to the times when I may witness a motor vehicle accident where life-threatening injuries occur as it happened to me when I was in Cape Town, it is vitally important to have an emergency kit at the ready. This definitely is one of the road trip essentials.

A good emergency kit should contain the following: bandages (both Band-Aids for minor cuts and the ones used for dressing serious wounds), hydrogen peroxide, an emergency blanket road flares, a flashlight, candles, and matches.

Note this is a partial list. Typically, as I put together my kit, I may find I’ll need other supplies and include them as well. Having a road trip check list helps me out in this sense.

road trip essentials

A daypack has to be included in the list of road trip essentials

A day pack

Whenever I go on a road trip, whether short or long, I carry a small day pack with me and put in it what I consider some road trip essentials for the day – stuff such as lip balm, sunscreen, a sweater (it may get cold at night!) and my sunglasses.

A spare tire/jack

BANGphttphttphtt – this is a sound all drivers dread, as it means they now have a flat tire. It happened to me a few times, when driving around in Israel and other places. Try as I might, there’s no way I can see a shard of glass or a nail on the surface of the road driving at full speed, so it’s important to be prepared to deal with an affected tire as soon as it is compromised. There are a few items that have to go on the list of road trip essentials, then.

Many motorists have a jack and a donut tire in the back of their car, but the majority would have no idea how to exchange their flat for the one in their trunk if they were put in that position. One of the basic things you need to know before embarking on a road trip is how to change a flat tire, so make sure to learn how to do this before hitting the road.

If the time of departure is approaching soon, it may be a good idea to sign up for roadside assistance through an organization like the American Automobile Association. I have realized before that attempting to learn by myself on the side of the road can put me at risk for serious injury.

And some spare gasoline

When it comes to Europe, cities are so close one to the other that it really is impossible to get out of gas (though it has happened to me!). But places like North America or Southern Africa are not quite the same, and even though one may fill up right before leaving, it is not uncommon to get stuck on the side of the road on an empty tank. Make sure to carry a tank of gasoline, to be on the safe side.

road trip packing list

Don’t be left in the middle of nowhere with no gasoline – carry a tank, it is one of the road trip essentials!

Your favorite tunes

Music is one of the basic road trip necessities. Hitting the open road in search of uncharted territory is a big part of the allure of road trips, but let’s be real here – the further you may get from the big city, the faster music on local radio stations gets, well, interesting.

Try and drive on the Israeli highway on Shabbat, and the music is nothing short of horrible. The same goes for the popular music played in the Andes of Peru. It may be endearing in an odd way at first, but then you’ll get sick of it in a hurry if you don’t have some auxiliary tunes to resort to when passing through a musical desert. Make sure to bring a playlist of your favorite tunes.

I typically create a playlist suited to the trip on which I am going, upload it to my iPhone and I’ll be ready to roll. I always make sure to have the right cables to plug into my car stereo (that is, if it doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity), and I’ll have the perfect go-to when local radio starts to stink up the joint.

Miscellaneous stuff

Other things that I include in my road trip packing list are things such a roll of toilet paper, which is really handy in case I need to make a bush stop (also take hand sanitizer!); a plastic bag I can use for trash (I would never ever want to leave my trash behind!); and bug spray (I hate it when a fly gets in my car and does not want to get out!).

What are your favorite road trip essentials that you would add to this list?

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Discover all the road trip essentials - via @clautavani