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Are you trying to pull off a successful road trip? As road trips grow in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing how to pack for a road trip is vital. The last thing you want is to get stuck somewhere or realize that you forgot something essential. Here is a checklist of what to bring on a road trip.

Mountain Road in Stowe, Vermont
Once you determine what to bring on a road trip, you can enjoy views like this one of the changing leaves on Mountain Road in Stowe, Vermont.

What Car Will I Drive?

In addition to where you’re heading and who’s coming with you, your car size determines what to pack on a road trip. You won’t be able to bring as much into a compact Kia Soul versus an SUV or minivan.

Smaller cars get better gas mileage, are good for solo travelers or couples, and can be best for shorter trips. But if you’re taking a family road trip and plan on driving, you might consider renting a larger vehicle than what you normally drive. You can be grateful for the extra legroom and cargo space.

If you decide to rent a medium SUV, the gas mileage can be better than you expect. You may even want to take it further and rent an RV. Services like RVshare have a variety of options to choose from, including pet-friendly RV’s to travel in.

Related: Best credit cars with rental car perks

What To Bring On A Road Trip Checklist

While you may decide to add a few personal items to your packing list, don’t forget these road trip essentials. This checklist breaks down what to take on a road trip by category for quick reference.

Health and Hygiene

Packing your favorite soap and shampoo is a good move if you don’t want to rely on what your vacation rental provides. Packing these health items can also prevent running into various pharmacies and discount stores, hoping the shelves are not empty.

  • Soap and shampoo (travel-sized bottles may work best)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Mask
  • Latex gloves
  • Wet wipes or baby wipes
  • Toilet paper (at least one roll)
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick

You may also decide to substitute body wash if you don’t want to pack soap and shampoo. Antibacterial wet wipes or baby wipes can be handy if you must clean your hands or a mess and don’t have ample spare water.

This road trip can be an excellent way to use your stash of old hotel toiletries as well. Packing your items into a travel toiletry kit keeps them all in one place and can be less cluttered than placing them in a basket.

Your toiletry packing list may look a little different when taking a road trip during coronavirus. For instance, having extra face masks and latex gloves is good as most hotels now require personal protective equipment in all public areas. You may also want to bring disinfectant and extra cleaning supplies, just in case.

Bringing extra toilet paper from home can be smart too. Some vacation rentals may only provide one or two rolls, even for a multi-night stay. Plus, stores across the country are still rationing how many rolls you can buy.


A road trip in 2020 can look different than the ones you took as a child. For instance, streaming content on smartphones or tablets is still a relatively new phenomenon.

  • Travel phone charger
  • Power inverter
  • Standalone GPS unit
  • Portable travel speakers

A phone charger keeps your phone battery charged if you rely on it for streaming or navigation.

Bringing a power inverter is good if you want to stream movies on a laptop or tablet. Digital entertainment can keep parents and children content on a long drive. The inverter lets you watch your favorite show or listen to music for hours beyond your device’s normal battery range.

Snacks and Drinks

Food is another road trip essential. Bringing snacks and drinks from home gives you more flexibility, saves money and reduces your exposure in public spaces. You might also drive several hours before seeing a legit restaurant if your road trip goes through rural America.

  • Small cooler (hard-sided or collapsible)
  • Food containers
  • Ice packs
  • Disposable eating utensils
  • Paper napkins or paper towel
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Portable drinking water filter

Bottled water and protein-rich snacks that have little or no sugar can be a good bet. Healthier snack food can keep your energy levels high and less likely to cause a hard-to-clean mess. Spills will likely happen in your car on long trips and cleaning up sugary drinks or melted candy can be time-consuming.

Safety Tools

Even if you have roadside assistance, you should prepare for an emergency. Having the right tools can prevent you from being stranded in a strange town or out in the middle of nowhere. It’s also good to have if you need to provide urgent first aid.

  • Travel first aid kit
  • Roadside emergency kit
  • Battery jumper cables
  • Portable tire inflator
  • Paper maps
  • Pocket knife or basic hand tools
  • Ice scraper (if traveling in a cold climate)
  • Extra jackets, gloves, hats, and warm clothing (if traveling in a cold or rainy climate)
  • Umbrella

Having all of these safety items can help you with basic emergencies and minimize your travel delay. If traveling during winter or in a cold climate, bring extra warm clothing or other winter essentials. Keep them separate from your suitcase, yet in an easy-to-access area.

Check your windshield washer, brake, power steering, and engine oil before leaving. A quick mechanic inspection accomplishes this task.

Random Road Trip Essentials

If you have any remaining space in your travel car, you might bring these items too. Don’t worry, you’re still leaving the kitchen sink at home.

  • Paper money (not every merchant accepts credit cards or digital payments, but credit cards are more likely to be accepted due to coronavirus)
  • Portable garbage bins or trash bags
  • Electronic toll pass
  • Your child’s favorite toys and books
  • Travel pillow
  • Travel blanket
  • Laundry bag
  • Pet treats (if you’re traveling with a pet)

You may also decide to bring a spare box to keep souvenirs safe. What else you bring depends on your travel plans and your travel mates’ interests. You may also want to bring extra bags to store shoes or any other items that may be contaminated in the event someone becomes ill.

Rewards Credit Cards

Regardless of how or where you are traveling, there are many opportunities to keep earning rewards points and miles on everyday purchases. When you’re on the road, one of the best companions for your wallet might be a gas credit card or one that comes with rental car insurance protections, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Depending on where you are going and how long you are staying, you may also enjoy the perks of one of the best credit cards for groceries, especially if you’re at an Airbnb or home rental and plan on saving some money by cooking. Alternatively, if you’d rather try some of the local favorites, one of the best credit cards for eating in can be a helpful option.

Hotel credit cards are also rewarding. You may be able to earn free nights for future stays, depending on the card.

It’s good to know that many of the best credit card rewards for road trips are also many of the same credit cards for everyday spending. Earning points and/or miles now can get you more rewards for future travel.

Packing Your Car

Once you gather everything you plan on bringing, plus your travel suitcases and backpacks, it’s time to pack the car. You might be asking, “How do I organize my car for a long trip?” Many road trip enthusiasts ask this same question.

Using a portable car organizer can keep your small and easy-to-lose items in one place. You might keep your sanitizer, gadgets, travel maps, and some dry snacks in this organizer if it’s where you sit. A trunk organizer can keep your safety tools and those other random hygiene items (like wet wipes) in place.

As far as loading your belongings, load the bulky items you don’t need immediate access to first. Try to make these items as stable as possible so they can handle sharp curves without shifting. They can also cushion things, if needed.

Load your overnight bags and food last as these are likely the first items you need access to. Having these items on top also prevents you from unloading the entire car just to get one bag for a quick rest at a hotel before you start driving again tomorrow.

You should also pack your car to keep as much of your window and mirror visibility as possible. There’s no reason to create additional blind spots if you can prevent it.

Summary of What Should You Bring On A Road Trip

You should try to pack as lightly as possible while bringing what you need to prevent needless shopping trips during the pandemic. Not stuffing your car full gives your passengers extra space to spread out on long trips. You also have more room to go souvenir shopping.


What should I bring on a long car trip?

Long-distance road trips require you to pack differently than day trips or a one-night trip. Road trip essentials include:

  • Snacks and drinks
  • In-car entertainment (streaming apps, DVDs, CDs, books, portable video games, etc.)
  • Travel first aid kits or roadside emergency kits
  • Extra hand sanitizer, face masks, and latex gloves
  • Travel pillows and blankets
  • Warm clothing
  • Collapsible umbrella

What should you not bring on a road trip?

You shouldn’t bring excessive amounts of these items on a road trip:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Books
  • Children’s toys
  • Full-size board games
  • Hard-shell suitcases
  • Full-size umbrellas
  • Junk food and sugary drinks

Bring what you need for the above items. Consider using hotel laundry machines or collapsible items that require less space.

How can I be comfortable on a long road trip?

Being in a car for multiple hours can be like flying on a long flight. However, you must keep your seat belt on when riding in a car. These tips can keep your comfort levels high when riding in a car:

  •  Wear comfortable clothing (dress in layers if the temperature fluctuates)
  • Bring a travel pillow and blanket
  • Plan stops every few hours for a minimum 15-minute walking period
    • Stretch and walk continuously once you stop
  • Avoid sugary snack foods and drinks that can cause jitters and energy crashes
  • Bring your favorite music or audiobooks to listen to
  • Make a list of interesting conversation topics to talk with your companions
  • Get a good night’s rest before departing

Taking a road trip can make for a memorable experience. Road trips can be a great way to see more of your surrounding area as well. Are you taking a road trip this summer?

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