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Road Trip Essentials | Printable PDF Road Trip Packing List
October 19, 2022

Road Trip Essentials Checklist

Road trips are a classic American pastime. The windows are rolled down, music is playing and your car is filled with all your favorite people. The only thing on your mind is where your next stop is going to be and the beautiful landscapes outside your window. Whether you are making a long trek to an exciting destination or road tripping to see as many places as possible, here is everything you need to stay safe, be comfortable and have fun. Before You Go

Before you head out, you need to verify that your car is functioning safely and correctly. A professional inspection can offer you peace of mind while you are driving down the highway, and it is a great way to save money and spare yourself the hassle and lost time of an unexpected breakdown.

A professional should check the following items:

  • Headlights and taillights
  • Oil level and filter
  • Fluid levels, including transmission, windshield wiper and brake
  • The heater and air conditioner
  • The air filter
  • Windshield wiper blades
  • Turn signals
  • The horn
  • The brake pads
  • Battery performance and visible corrosion
  • Identify and correct all dashboard warning lights

Man using a squeegee to clean the windshield of his car.

Cleaning Your Car

A clean car is a comfortable car, and a comfortable car means happy passengers. Before you leave, consider gathering the group to work together to get the vehicle in tip-top shape. Take time to scrub both the inside and outside, and make regular stops at car washes along the way if necessary to remove any mud, salt or debris buildup that could impact your vision on the road.

Here are some tips for cleaning your car:

  • Wash all windows and the windshield with window cleaner
  • Dust and wipe down the dash
  • Remove trash from the console, glove compartment and under the seats
  • Wipe down interior and exterior door handles
  • Wash floor mats
  • Vacuum all seats and floorboards
  • Wash and polish the outside of the car at home or in a car wash

Closeup of woman changing a flat tire.

Safety

No matter how long your road trip is, safety should always be your primary concern. With a little preparation and pre-planning, you are doing your part to ensure a safer drive for you and other people on the road. Keep your safety items and a roadside emergency kit in the trunk or hatchback of your car so they are secure but out of the way. Consider investing in a car organizer to keep everything sorted and easy to find.

Make sure you have the following emergency and non-emergency safety items:

  • Jumper cables
  • A flashlight with spare batteries
  • Insect repellant
  • A travel-sized fire extinguisher
  • A non-combustible can of tire inflater
  • Car oil
  • Antifreeze
  • A spare tire
  • A car jack
  • An emergency blanket
  • Nonperishable emergency food
  • A folded plastic tarp
  • An empty, spill-proof gas can
  • Sunglasses
  • High SPF sunscreen
  • Contact information for a towing company and insurance company
  • A multi-tool pocket knife
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • A plastic funnel
  • Tire chains
  • Bottled water
  • Sand or cat litter for traction on icy roadways
  • A snow shovel
  • An ice scraper and snow brush
  • A windshield cleaning squeegee
  • A spare set of car keys, just in case

Red emergency stop sign and broken silver SUV car on the road

Roadside Emergency Kit

Every car should have a roadside emergency kit on board in case of minor accidents, flat tires or other hazardous circumstances. You can usually find roadside emergency kits pre-assembled at auto stores or travel centers, but you can also collect your own items and keep them in a durable, water-resistant bag.

At the minimum, your roadside emergency kit should include:

  • Road flares
  • A tow strap
  • Work gloves
  • A disposable rain poncho
  • A tire pressure gauge
  • A window breaking devices
  • A seatbelt cutter
  • Duct tape
  • A standard tool kit with flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers, cutting pliers and wheel wrench
  • A reflective vest to wear during inclement weather or low light
  • Bungee cords
  • Ratchet straps

Keep certain items, like the seatbelt cutter and window breaking device, easy to reach from the driver’s seat.

Young woman looking in a first aid kit near the back of an suv.

Travel First-Aid Kit

It is a good idea to have a portable first-aid kit on hand in case of minor injuries while on the road. You can adapt this first-aid kit to suit your specific needs and those of your passengers. Unlike your other safety items, keep your first-aid kit somewhere in the front or backseat of your car, so it is easily accessible if someone needs it while in transit.

Some items to consider are:

  • Your health insurance information
  • A list of all known allergies for each passenger
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Over-the-counter medications, including pain relievers, antacids and antihistamines
  • Sterile wipes
  • Gauze
  • Finger splints
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • A pair of non-latex gloves
  • An oral thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • A first-aid kit instruction manual
  • Eyewash solution
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Cold medicine
  • Cough drops
  • An EpiPen
  • Any prescription medications

A young couple navigates a road trip using a paper map.

Travel

The best way to keep the car clean and enjoyable for all is to be prepared for anything, including messes. As you are planning your travel route, consider where all rest areas, toll booths, gas stations and pull-off points are so you have enough supplies to last between stops. Always fill your water bottle every time you have the opportunity to do so. If your route includes a lot of back roads or rural areas, fill your gas tank as often as you can. Keep an eye on the weather forecast as you travel and set up emergency weather alerts on your cell phone, so you can be prepared to pull over if necessary.

These travel items are essential for a successful trip:

  • Your driver’s license
  • The car’s registration information
  • Your proof of insurance
  • A paper map
  • A GPS
  • A car phone charger
  • Money for toll booths
  • Spare cash
  • Your wallet with credit and debit cards
  • A stain-removal laundry pen
  • A travel-sized umbrella
  • An air freshener that is not too overpowering
  • A roll of toilet paper and plastic bag
  • A car mount for your cell phone
  • A cell phone with hands-free optimization
  • A roll of paper towels
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Travel tote bags to hold supplies
  • A keychain or lanyard to keep track of your keys while out of the car
  • Trash bags or a car trash can
  • A mini vacuum cleaner
  • A copy of each lodging reservation confirmation
  • The vehicle owner’s manual

View of a vehicle and rainy road from the windshield of a car.

Comfort

Road trips are a lot of fun, but they require a little bit of pre-planning if you want things to stay comfortable for each passenger. This includes regularly emptying trash at rest stops, creating a comfortable temperature inside and staying dry. While packing your road trip bag, be sure to check the weather forecast and factor in the climate of each destination you plan to visit.

To make the ride as smooth as possible, bring along the following:

  • Hand and body lotion
  • Baby wipes to stay clean
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Hair ties to keep your hair from blowing in the wind
  • A travel pillow
  • Seat cushions
  • Seat warmers
  • Window shades
  • Motion sickness bags
  • A towel to dry off in case you get caught in the rain
  • A sunshade for your windshield
  • A toiletry bag with eye rewetting drops, tissues, etc.
  • Comfortable clothes for long trips, like leggings, sweat pants and light layers
  • A soft sweater or hoodie
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Rain gear, including a rain jacket with a hood and slip-on boots
  • Winter clothing, including an insulated coat, hat, gloves and scarf

Little boy and little girl look at a tablet in the backseat on a road trip.

Recreation

Just because you are on the road does not mean there are not ways to keep yourself entertained. As long as you do so safely, there are many memories to be made from both the inside of your car and at the places you stop overnight, like a campground.

For example, you could bring:

  • An external car rack for bicycles, kayaks or luggage
  • A water-resistant picnic blanket and basket for rest stops
  • A tablet to watch movies on-the-go
  • A book or e-reader
  • Travel games, such as cards or travel bingo
  • A playlist, CDs or satellite radio subscription
  • Headphones or earbuds
  • A travel journal and pen to record your memories from each stop
  • A daypack for exploring stopping points

In addition to physical recreational items, research different games you can play while on the road, like the alphabet game, I Spy, the license plate game or 20 questions.

Mom giving her kids a snack in the car.

Snacks

Although there is no substitute for stopping at a restaurant or drive-thru for a complete meal, every road trip needs snacks. Have a snack bag or individual snack containers, so everyone has easy access to food whenever they are hungry. You could also use food storage containers and include cooked foods and cutlery. Bring along a travel cooler filled with ice or ice packs to keep drinks and perishables cold.

These are some easy-to-prepare, mess-free road snacks:

  • Trail mix
  • Granola
  • Chips or crackers
  • Beef jerky
  • Veggies and dip
  • Apples
  • Fresh fruit cups
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Energy bars
  • Dried fruit or gummies
  • Snack cheese
  • Candy bars
  • Muffins
  • Popcorn or kettle corn
  • Pre-made salads with dressing on the side
  • Snack cakes
  • Gum or mints
  • A spill-proof snack container
  • A travel mug or thermos
  • An insulated, refillable water bottle

Father is adjusting child's car seat, while kid is playing with toy binoculars. Side view

If Traveling With Kids

Road trips are an excellent way to show your child different perspectives and expose them to new places, foods and activities. To keep them entertained on the road, bring along plenty of activities and make an effort to include older children in your plans by asking questions about the places you visit and letting them help you choose the next stop.

In addition to frequent rest stops, stock your car with the following items to keep your child safe and happy:

  • Kid-friendly tablets with their favorite movies or cartoons
  • Your child’s favorite stuffed toy
  • A coloring book and crayons
  • Activity books
  • A change of clothes
  • A portable diaper changing station
  • Prefilled bottles or a jug of water for filling bottles on-the-go
  • Plenty of diapers, baby wipes and baby food
  • Board books
  • Your child’s favorite music
  • A car seat mirror so you can keep an eye on your baby while traveling
  • An over-the-seat organizer to keep everything sorted and within reach

Shiba inu dog enjoying a car ride. Happy dog riding in the car, while sticking his head out of the window and screwing up his eyes in pleasure.

If Traveling With Pets

Traveling with your pet can be a rewarding experience. Before the trip, schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian to make sure they are healthy and in good traveling condition. While you are there, consider having your pet microchipped if they are not already. If they have never traveled in a car before or road trips make them anxious, try working your way up to the big day by starting with small drives around the neighborhood. Remember that pets need restroom breaks and exercise just as often — if not more — than people do, so be sure to stop regularly.

Here is what you need for a pet-friendly road trip:

  • A pet bed or plenty of blankets and pillows
  • Seat covers
  • A pet seatbelt
  • A small animal carrier, if applicable
  • A jug of water and a spill-proof water bowl
  • Treats
  • Chew toys
  • Pet ID tags
  • Up-to-date vaccination records
  • A pet first-aid kit
  • Pet waste bags
  • A leash and harness
  • Motion sickness or travel anxiety medication, if prescribed by a vet

Click here to download the checklist!

Reserve a Stay at Kampgrounds of America

Take your road trip to the next level by staying at KOA Campgrounds along the way. What better way to experience what each area has to offer than by immersing yourself in your surroundings? Every KOA has clean, level and spacious campsites for every type of camper. Choose from Tent Sites, RV Sites, cabins or opt for a unique lodging experience, such as a Glamping Tent, Airstream or caboose. On-site amenities are a great way to stretch your legs and get some exercise before hitting the road again.

Visit KOA online to learn more and reserve your stay today!


About the Author: Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting KOA.com/blog.

 

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