What to Bring on a Long Road Trip – Your Ultimate Travel Checklist

I just finished a 9-day road trip from San Francisco, California to New York City. I covered 4,000 miles, 12 cities, 28 rest stops, and dozens of delicious places to eat.

Leading up to the trip, I did weeks of planning. From restaurants to national landmarks, I meticulously researched the best way to travel cross-country.

Interestingly, I didn’t find many guides on what you should bring in such a trip. I put together my inventory, and this checklist now includes the essential items you should bring on any long road trip!

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Trash Bag for your road trip

Unsurprisingly, you will produce trash while driving across the country. Your car will collect plenty of trash, whether it’s snack wrappers, used tissues, or fast food containers. Keep things tidy by having a dedicated space to dispose of your waste. 

I advise placing a plastic bag inside a larger paper bag for support. If you want to get fancy, as I did, Amazon has several makeshift trash containers designed specifically for cars. They don’t take up much space, and many are even collapsible!

Disposable plates and utensils

Sometimes you have food you don’t want to eat straight out of a container. This is especially the case if you do light grocery shopping between stops.

Grab a pack of disposable plates, bowls, and utensils to ensure you never have to worry about transporting food to your mouth. Pick up an eco-friendly pack to help save the environment. These products are usually made from recycled materials and have a smaller carbon footprint than typical plastic sets.

Hand sanitizer

If you are traveling cross country, you will likely stop at sights along the way. You’ll touch public surfaces and meet new people. It’s all part of the adventure!

At the same time, you will want to maintain your hygiene on the trip. One small bottle of hand sanitizer should be enough to keep your hands clean regardless of where you go.

Car charger

A car charger may be the most compact item on this list, but it is a powerful tool. If your car has no built-in GPS, you’ll probably use your phone to navigate. Many phone GPS platforms also offer live traffic updates as a bonus. If you aren’t careful, this burns through your battery quickly and will leave you lost in an unknown area.

Get an appropriate car charger for your vehicle. If your car has a USB port, you can likely just use the charging cable that came with your phone. Otherwise, look at the cigarette lighter charging options to keep your cellular device at full strength.

Portable power pack

Speaking of keeping things charged, some of your devices will have a battery supply that isn’t compatible with standard car chargers. Electronics like laptops, tablets, and mobile gaming devices need a bulkier power source to stay topped off.

Luckily, plenty of products act essentially like a wall socket. Just bring the charging cable for the power pack to avoid being sad, like me.

Water

On the road, you are probably drinking more non-water than water. Tasty drinks are everywhere, and your nightlife may be filled with alcohol.

Please remember to stay hydrated with some agua! I tried to drink at least a gallon of water over the course of 48 hours, but this will depend on your bladder size and dedication to H20.

Make sure to stay hydrated on your road trip!

Flashlight

Need to go out in the dark, but you don’t feel like turning on the car headlights? No problem! Bring a small rechargeable flashlight to navigate through the night safely.

Some might say “what about the flashlight on your phone?”. This is a great point, but your phone may be dead or charging. Having a dedicated flashlight handy on your long road trip is nice. 

First aid kit for your road trip

Here’s another one you don’t want to use, but it is great to have when you need it. If you’re on the road for weeks at a time going on adventures, it’s not uncommon to get cuts or scrapes. 

To meet your base needs, a small first aid kit should include bandages and antibiotic ointments, like Neosporin or Bacitracin. You may even have rubbing alcohol for cleaning up a wound. If your first aid kit has no over-the-counter medicine, bring your own Advil or Tylenol just in case.

They don’t take up much room, and this is something you can keep at home after your road trip.

Paper towels

Realistically, you’ll only need 1-2 rolls of paper towels to keep hands and surfaces clean. You will pick up plenty of napkins from your food stops, but you’d be surprised at how often a paper towel comes in handy.

Make sure to bring paper towels and toilet paper on your road trip

Toilet paper

Again, you probably won’t need it, but you’ll be glad it’s there. You don’t want to find yourself at a remote gas station that’s run out of paper products. This is also even more important for travelers planning a camping session.

Like the last item, you need a few rolls to be safe. I stored these in an airtight container to protect them against spills or unexpected rain.

Handheld vacuum

With this much time spent in a vehicle, it’s sure to get dirty. You’ll have everything from food crumbs to dirt on your car floor and seats.

You don’t need anything too fancy in this category. A cheap handheld vacuum should have at least 30 minutes of battery life, which should be more than enough throughout your trip.

Snacks

You don’t want to stop too frequently for food; the costs can add up quickly. The best snacks have a long shelf life and don’t require any temperature control.

I went with popcorn, cookies, chips, and pretzels, but you can grab some healthier options to balance things out. Find a grocery store to grab fruits like apples and bananas along your route.

Snacks to bring on your road trip

Cash

There are plenty of great places out there that are cash-only. Additionally, you’ll need to pay about $85 in tolls if you go from coast to coast. 

Moreover, plenty of establishments, like bars and restaurants, only deal with cash. Be sure to bring at least a couple hundred dollars of cash to make things easier on yourself and avoid paying ATM fees.

Sunglasses

You’ll drive in the direction of the blinding sun at least a handful of times during your trip. Whether you drive east to west or take the trek from west to east, this is the case.

Prepared drivers will have a decent set of shades to avoid being unable to see the road. Purchase a cheap pair that you wouldn’t mind losing, preferably ones with polarizing lenses.

Get yourself a good pair of sunglasses!

Offline maps

Most areas will have reliable cell phone coverage. However, you may see a drop in connectivity when you get to more rural areas. Here’s where the offline maps come in handy.

Look at your entire route and consider downloading the offline map of stretches with a low density of buildings. I opted to download several maps from google for areas in the midwest and small towns I planned on visiting.

Swiss army knife

A Swiss army knife will, at minimum, have a knife, screwdriver, and pliers. Ideally, you would also have a bottle opener, tweezers, and corkscrew.

I like any swiss army knife made from high-quality metal and has manageable locking mechanisms. Most good ones will last several years and can be useful even after your road trip.

Jumper cables

This is one of those “hope you don’t need it” items. Jumper cables are a cheap way to protect against a dead car battery. You’ll need to find a friendly stranger with a live vehicle, but it’s best to have your cables in case your helper doesn’t have any.

Spare tire

In 2023, I think most vehicles will have a spare tire store onboard. If your car doesn’t have one, acquire one before starting your journey. By having a spare, you can avoid spending hours waiting for a tow truck to come to pick up your disabled vehicle.

Audio content

My road trip meant dozens of hours spent in the car. While there are plenty of nice things to look at on your drive, you’ll eventually want to listen and drive.

My audio content library included podcasts, audiobooks, music playlists, and comedy shows. It took less than an hour to download weeks worth of audio entertainment.

Rain gear

Rain is usually fine, but you must be prepared for the elements before starting your trip. Make sure to have wiper fluid, decent wiper blades, and an umbrella. To get even more serious about rain protection, consider investing in rain boots and a rain jacket.

Games to bring on your road trip

At this point, some games can keep anyone busy for days. Between mobile games, card games, and board games, you can have plenty of entertainment when you stop at destinations along the road.

I advise looking at mobile games since plenty of free options can capture your attention for weeks.

Other people

Sure, people aren’t things, but they make a big difference when embarking on a long road. Fortunately, my brother and a couple of college buddies joined me for different road trip stretches. 

Not only did they keep me entertained, but they also took on some of the driving burden. If you can coordinate to have a travel companion, this can further enhance your road trip journey.

Making the most of your road trip

Equipped with these items, you will surely have a magical experience as you travel long distances. If you need help planning, check out my checklist in this Google sheet for inspiration!

What else would you advise bringing on a long road trip? Join the conversation in the comments section, below!

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