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55 Essentials for a Road Trip Packing List

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Need a packing list for road trips? We got you covered! Road tripping is our favorite way to explore the national parks and little towns in the USA and Canada. In this post, we have compiled 55 essentials for a road trip packing list for your next getaway!

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55 Essentials for a Road trip: Packing list for road trips

Canada Road trips
Canada Road Trips in winter

My first introduction to travel was as a road trip, from my hometown (Sibsagar, Assam) in India, to Kaziranga National Park, one of the popular parks in the country. 

Fast forward a few years, in the past 10-12 years we have extensively explored Canada and the USA via road trips. So whether it is the stunning Canadian Rockies road trip, the Prairies, or the West Coast of the USA, embarking on these road trips have equipped us with the experience of driving in peak summer months, and severe winters. 

In this post, we will share all the packing essentials for road trips in all seasons, to get you ready in no time. We have taken our years of experience and put together a printable checklist so that you can print it prior to your trip.

Beautiful Canadian Rockies Road trip

What are the essential and fun things to pack for a road trip? 

So what should you pack for a road trip?

While preparing for a road trip, it is essential to pack the right things (and pack them!). However, don’t overpack, but ensure you have the essentials to get you to the road and back.

We love to travel light, and our road trips are no different. However we do not compromise on the required items. 

So here’s the list,

Emergency car kit

An emergency car kit is essential should things happen on the road like a breakdown, or start-up issues. You can create an emergency kit from scratch or buy one pre-pack from Amazon.

Here is an emergency car kit from the Canadian government site. Either way, ensure you carry it on your road trip. 

Emergency first aid kit

Keep an emergency first aid kit inside of your car. Always (always) check for expiry dates prior to your road trip. You don’t want the bandages or disinfectants to be expired. If you don’t have any at home, here is one that you can buy from Amazon. 

Driver’s license

Check your driver’s license. Make sure it is up to date, and is in your wallet when you start your road trip

Dashboard mount for phone or GPS

Go hands free while you are driving. Use a dash mount to keep your phone or GPS for navigation

Road tripping through national parks
Road tripping through national parks

GPS or navigation system

Don’t forget navigation systems. Add your road trip stops prior to your journey. It is also important to keep TomToms (or any navigation system) updated.

We love to plot our road trip itinerary on Google Maps. And before we begin our trip we download it to our account/phone app so that we can access it on the go and without cell connectivity (offline Google Maps)

Charging cables

Unless your car has cable-free charging, it is important to pack one for your road trip. We do have wireless charging in our car, but it can only charge one phone at a time, so we also carry charging cables (to charge the second phone and to charge inside the hotel upon arrival). You can buy a car charger here 

Cell-phone

Don’t forget your cell-phone. Stay connected with family, let them know where you are heading. On your cell-phone, store the hotel or campsite contact information, and don’t forget to save the roadside assistance number for emergencies

Camera

We always carry our cameras on our trips. Our Sony mirrorless camera is usually the one that comes with us on our quick road trips. It is small, compact, and lightweight to carry around. When Salil is behind the wheel, it is my passenger duty to snap photos from the car. Buy Sony Mirrorless Cameras our favorite

Playlist

No road trip is complete without an amazing playlist. Save your playlist on iTunes, or your ipod. Radio is also a good option for entertainment but it is tricky in certain parks and you may not get a consistent frequency

Headphones

LOVE my Bose noise-canceling headphones. We keep the music going for my husband in the car, and I listen to blogging podcasts or Netflix from my phone (without distracting the driver/husband)

Download movies/podcasts

Don’t forget to download movies, podcasts, songs on your phone, iPod, or USB stick, prior to your road trip

Healthy snacks and other road trip food 

LOVE this care package, and they are healthy snacks to carry on your road trip. Munch them if you are hungry, whilst feeling light. When we start early morning on our road trips, we keep these non-perishable snacks. It is handy when you don’t wish to stop or eat at a fast-food chain 

Travel Mug/Thermos

Coffee and tea lovers, pack your travel mug and refill it on the go. Some days we prepare our warm beverage from home, and on others we just zoom through a drive-through and store them in the warm travel mug 

Road trip cooler

We carry coolers (stuffed with frozen food) when we are planning to camp, or stop for a picnic. This one from YETI is a great buy, it keeps our food great for day-long road trips

Utensils

Carry utensils for eating/serving your food. They are handy when you are eating inside the car (on your stops)

Water bottle

Super important to stay hydrated on the go. Carry your water bottle, and sip H2O as you enjoy the drive. Grab this item from Hydro Flask

Kleenex or paper tissue

We always keep paper tissue in our car at all times. Multi purpose use – to clean up after eating, or use at a toilet in a convenience store or gas station (cause sometimes they don’t have any!)

Clothes

Comfortable Clothes in road trips

We wear comfortable clothes on our road trips. Do pack essential clothing with you. Like if it is a 2 day road trip, pack 2 sets of shirts/tops, one pant, underwear, and a light jacket 

Comfortable Shoes

Peak Design Bag Review in Canada

Always wear comfortable shoes. It is helpful while you are behind the wheel or taking rest stops. With comfy shoes, you can venture out for a stroll, or even go sightseeing. My favorite: KEEN Hiking shoes

Pair of flip flops

Flip flops are useful inside the hotel or at the beach (road trip stops or overnight stays). These ones from Teva are the best

Warm clothes for winter

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

While driving in winters, don’t forget warm clothing like your parka, warm socks, gloves, and a beanie


Hand warmers


Hand warmers are great little items to keep inside the car. Super useful if you are stuck in traffic (in winter), or if a car breaks down 

Sunglasses


Sunglasses are super essential on road trips. The sun can be a little harsh while driving, especially in the afternoon or evenings. Carry and wear your favorite sunglasses when needed. Opt for shades that are polarized to prevent UV rays from harming your eyes. I LOVE my Rayban Ericka, which is made of polarized glasses. Salil uses RayBan Aviator

Sunscreen

Summer or winter, sunscreen is a must in your road trip packing list

Hand cream


We keep a hand cream inside our car, cause in summer or winter, our hands get super dry on the roads. Pick up a nice hand cream with your favorite fragrance

Chapstick

Just like your hands, your lips need some TLC too. Don’t forget your chapstick

Toothpaste and toothbrush

For all overnight stays, it is essential that we carry toothpaste and toothbrush (plus mouthwash)

Medications

Always pack your medications. We also keep Advil pain killers, Ibuprofen, etc. just in case we need it. Do take a break if you are on medication and do not drive

A scarf or a Blanket  

I recommend packing a warm scarf or a blanket. This is completely optional. But we pack one, as I am always cold while the A/C is on, so it is super handy for me

Small pillow

Salil never forgets to pack a small pillow for me! And I love it, nice when you want to relax whilst soaking in the views. If you are planning to break for a short nap (on long road trips), a pillow is useful

Umbrella

Very important, especially when you are driving in the rain, and need to get out for a bathroom break or to your final destination/accommodation. We keep a big size umbrella (perfect for 2 adults) inside our car all time. Get yours here

Flashlight  

A flashlight is super handy if you are car camping or driving overnight

Day pack or weekender bag

Packing a Duffel Bag

A day bag or a weekender bag is useful to carry your clothing, items for day hikes, or sightseeing needs. My favorite: Peak Design Weekender Bag to store my road trip essentials.

Car freshener

Refresh your car, using a refresher. I LOVE vanilla or lavender based fragrances, super yummy (smells pretty), and lasts for days

Road trip games

When traveling with kids, carry road trip games to keep them busy. Favorites include license plates, sing-along, card games (for kids). Salil and I love to talk about our future plans, our past travels, and pretty much anything – this is also our time to re-connect.

Duct Tape

Duct tape is handy to fix anything, and everything like broken mirrors, sunglasses, tent, selfie stick, etc. We never had to use it to date, but we have kept one with us (for ages) whenever we go on road trips and scenic drives!

eReader

We carry our Kindle e-readers when we travel, and road trips are no different. At one point, when I was studying for my HR licenses, I downloaded all of my PDF files on the Kindle, and prepared for my exams, as Salil drove :). You can also swap an e-reader for a tablet if you have kids with you to keep them entertained!

Tablet

Grab your tablets for entertainment when you are car camping (or camping). Ensure you download the video, audio, or PDF files ahead of time. 

Camping essentials

If you are camping, carry essentials for your overnight stay (clothes, tent, sleeping bag, camp food, etc)

Hiking essentials

Planning to go on day hikes? Add your hiking shoes, moisture-wicking socks, a small compass, reusable water bottle, and a hiking backpack to your list 

Car or Travel insurance

Car insurance is essential, so is travel insurance if you are traveling from overseas. Ensure your car registration papers, license and insurance are all up to date. 

If renting a car, you can also secure insurance with the rental company when you pick up the vehicle. Our credit card provider in Canada has car rental insurance included, and also provides favorable daily rates. Do check with your insurance provider before embarking on your road trip for options.

Pack a Hygiene Kit 

With today’s unprecedented times, it is important to carry a hygiene kit. This is something that you have to create itself, and include the following 

Masks

Reusable Face masks Carry a few, depending on the number of passengers in the car and the duration of the trip. 

Hand sanitizer We have a few places where we keep hand sanitizers – inside of my purse, car organizer, backpack to sanitize doorknobs, remote control, etc in our hotel or Airbnb

Disinfecting Wipes are handy as well. They are useful when we sit down to eat in a restaurant or use public washrooms. Remember to dispose of them in designated areas

Disposable gloves

And always maintain 2 metres distance while embarking on sightseeing or walks at local parks. Check local news, to ensure the parks and sightseeing attractions are open, and that there are no restrictions in terms of movement or quarantine regulations. 

Emergency Car Equipment like car jack kit + spare tire

We rely on emergency roadside assistance if we were to get a flat tire. But many of our friends rely on this car jack kit to remove and replace tires safely. 

As always, ensure you have a spare tire in your vehicle. 

Power Bank Jumper Kit

A jumper kit to boost dead batteries. 

Windshield Chip Repair Kit

Windshield chips are unavoidable on the road. But leaving them unattended will lead to expensive repairs later. Use this affordable repair kit to fill chips and cracks, and prevent them from spreading.

Windshield Fluid

Windshield wiper fluid helps to keep the windshield clean and free of dirt and grime (especially on long road trips in the countryside. We have bugs all over in the Prairies in Canada). It is important to use proper windshield washer fluids.  In the winters, ensure you use a washer fluid that won’t freeze or even a de-icer solution

Alarm System & Remote Start

To protect your vehicle, and the valuables inside of your car, you must arm it with an alarm system. Plus with a remote starter you can start the vehicle automatically (and from a distance).

This is also super handy in the winters so that you can start your vehicle before you get in (and not freeze yourself).

Winter Road Trip Packing Essentials & Travel Tips 

Driving in winter has its challenges, especially where snowfall, and icy road conditions are common. Think slippery road surfaces, unpaved lanes, blowing snow and poor visibility to name a few. 

Vancouver to Banff road trips

Winters call for special attention and after having traveled (for pleasure and work) in severe Canadian winters, here are some useful tips 

  • Winter tires – It is super important to have winter tires on. On icy roads, all-seasonal ones are a no-go. 
  • Windshield fluid – Don’t forget car fluid, and use windshield fluid that won’t freeze in the cold temperature
  • Slow down – While driving in the winter, drive slow and maintain distance. Be very careful when you drive in residential areas or make turns. Sometimes after a fresh snowfall, many residential lanes may not be cleared
  • Winter packing – We have included a few items above that are needed for winter road trips, like parka, beanie, scarf, etc. Keep woolens in your car to stay warm, in case you are stranded. In winters you might face road closures (due to accidents or natural disasters), so it is important to keep warm clothes and some snacks in the car
  • Check local news before you start – It is important to check the weather and local news to ensure it is safe to embark on road trips in the winter, and the route is clear. Any forecasts about the weather and road conditions will help you determine if additional travel time is required
  • Travel time – During winters, be open to adding extra time to your road trip duration due to road conditions and possible delays 

Mistakes to avoid while road tripping

Here are some of our tried and tested hacks and tips for planning your road trip, and mistakes to avoid,

Pin for Road trip packing list

1. Not taking ample breaks 

It is important to take breaks on your road trips. On most of our road trips in North America, we break at stations, convenience shops, and restaurants. In the national parks, there are rest-stops and lookout points where you can stop by to take a break. 

You can also use washrooms (for free) in gas stations and (most) fast food chains here. 

2. Follow a loose itinerary – don’t plan everything to the T

To enjoy a road trip to the fullest, don’t plan everything. It is a good idea to have a rough itinerary in mind, with sightseeing stops. But don’t be afraid to explore an attraction a little longer if you want to. Or take ample breaks in between. 

We do recommend not venturing into unknown areas, and to plan for reaching the accommodation or campsite before it gets dark. 

3. Try to complete the large portion of your drive in the daylight

We avoid driving super late at night. It does get very tiring, especially if you drive all day, and then in the evening. So our recommendation is to start early and complete the major portion of your drive during the day. 

4. Rushing, and not allowing enough time 

It is a good idea to enjoy the road trip and go slow (of course no speeding and adhering to traffic rules). Take time to soak in the views, stop when needed and take a break. 

Eat, stretch your legs – that is the fun for taking on road trips. 

5. Not booking hotels or camp reservations 

Imagine embarking on a road trip with high spirits (and gear/bags) and when you arrive at the city or park, you realize that a hotel or camp-site is all booked. 

You might be able to find a hotel, but room rates could be expensive. Campsites are hard if you don’t reserve ahead of time. So don’t worry about last minute reservations and plan for your accommodation in advance 

6. Not grabbing snacks or good music

Healthy snack items are a good idea if you are not planning for a meal stop on your road trip. And hungry drivers are not happy drivers 🙂 

Plus a good playlist is crucial (for a jolly ride)!

More Road Trip tips : How we enjoy and plan ours 

We LOVE taking road trips in Canada – that is our favorite way to explore cities, small towns and national parks here. Here is how we do it

Few weeks to a month

  • We decide where, and when we want to go. Usually, we opt for long weekends (or Friday + long weekends)
  • We book hotels or Airbnbs, attractions, or camp reservations in advance 

Pro tip: If you are traveling from overseas, reserve car rental around the same time

A week prior to roadtrip

  • Mayuri: Ready with her weekend bag, all packed 🙂 Starts plotting Instagram spots for photography
  • Salil: Takes the car for servicing, prepping for the road trip
Road tripping in the rain
Road tripping in the rain

A day before the road trip

  • Salil: Fills up gas, and packs his backpack. Checks weather.
  • Mayuri: Doesn’t sleep, she is super excited about the trip. Does her nails, finishes small tasks around the house

D Day

  • We start as early as possible. During summer/autumn months, we start at around 5:30 am or 06:00 am
  • We stop for breakfast and fill our travel mugs at Tim Hortons for coffee/tea (SUPER IMPORTANT)

Road trip itinerary 

  • We take breaks every hour or so. Stop by attractions or take photos. And explore
  • By late evening, we check-in to our hotel. Wander around the national park or the city after settling into our hotel 
  • Repeat, keep exploring the next day (2,3,4….)
  • We return the day before our work week begins, preferably by late afternoon/evening (depends on driving time). We plan to arrive in time to prepare for the next day, or to have dinner at home

This is how we like to do our road trips, and have been doing it together since 2011 together as a couple. Our favorite road trip till date has been to the Canadian Rockies, exploring Banff and Canmore!

We hope you found our road trip packing list useful. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below!

Travel Resources 

Pin: Ultimate Road Trip Packing List Items 

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