Roadtripping is a fun way to get across the country and see hidden gems, but it also comes with its own challenges and can be inconvenient at times. I want to make it easier for you and that’s why I have compiled a list of my roadtrip essentials that you will need when you are traveling by car. This road trip essentials list is perfect for shorter trips from a day, weekend, or about 1-2 weeks. When you are traveling by car you do usually not have tons of space and that’s why you need to make sure to only pack what you really need on your trip. This roadtrip essentials list is a list of things we always have with us when doing roadtrips.
Top 10 roadtrip essentials:
1. Find a car that fits your needs
Having a car is probably one of the most important roadtrip essentials. And what is even more important is to get a car that fits your needs and makes sense for the purpose of the roadtrip. Based on factors like the destinations and areas you visit, how much space you will need, you need to make sure you choose a car that works best for you. Make sure to figure out if you need a car with ground clearance. A lot of trailheads in Arizona are off-road for example which is why you need a car with some ground clearance there. That is why it is good to have a rough idea of the itinerary prior to the trip. Johannes and I love hiking in remote areas where you can’t get that easily which is why we usually tend to get a car with ground clearance.
In Colorado, driving up the mountains is not a problem, driving down requires good brakes. A heavy-loaded compact car might not be the best choice. Also, reduced oxygen at high altitudes has an effect on engine performance. Underpowered cars can struggle in high elevations. That’s why you should take this into account when choosing the best car for you.
Another thing that you should check is the tires. Make sure there is enough tread on tires, especially in the winter. Rent a car you feel comfortable with, you can ask for another car if you don’t feel comfortable with driving the car you’re getting. Most rental companies will try to accommodate.
We have been lucky enough to get Chevy Tahoe for our last trip. We needed a lot of space and a car that is comfortable and safe to drive. With a cargo volume of up to 122.9 cu. ft the Chevrolet Tahoe is perfect for big luggage, families, or groups. It is a sporty car and yet offers a lot of luxury features that I found very useful during our trip. We had so much fun cruising around California with our Chevy Tahoe.
My personal highlight was Power Sliding Console which I have never seen before in a car. The Power Sliding Center Console can automatically slide back up to 10 inches, offering a convenient place to store items between the seats while also helping to provide a secure, hidden storage drawer for your valuables. With a lot of car break-ins in some areas of Los Angeles and San Diego, I loved having this feature in a car and being able to store valuables like my phone or wallet. Another feature that I was in love with was the HD Surround Vision Camera and Rear Park Assist because it is so helpful with parking, especially parallel parking. Super useful!
I also love the Four-Corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, to adjust vehicle height depending on road conditions. Whenever you need more ground clearance for rough roads you can just adjust the height of the car. Seriously so impressive and useful!
2. Valid Driver’s License
You might ask yourself why I list a driver’s license as one of my roadtrip essentials but you can’t drive without a valid license :). Make sure to have a valid driver’s license before going on a roadtrip. Check the expiration date on your license to avoid getting in trouble. The license is required for renting a car or when getting stopped by police.
If you own a car and have insurance, check if your current insurance covers rentals. We are using Progressive and have rental cars covered as well. You can also get insurance from the rental company but usually, these ones are more expensive and I try to avoid that.
Another thing that makes it to my top 10 list of roadtrip essentials is electronics. Keep in mind to make sure to fully charge your phone and bring your USB cable to charge it or a power bank that is fully charged. It is important to have a sufficient battery because the phone usually acts as a camera, flashlight, and GPS and this requires a lot of battery.
5. Road trip planning Apps
Before going on a roadtrip download apps that might come in handy on the trip or prior to the trip. My favorite apps for location research are Instagram, Pinterest, and Tiktok. I love using them for inspiration. On Instagram, I usually scroll through my feed or look for specific locations and hashtags and save the images I like into a collection. On Pinterest I look for the location I am interested in and create inspiration boards. Having apps that help you plan your perfect trip is another one of my roadtrip essentials.
Another great resource for me is Google and blogs. Google helps me find the best blogposts for my upcoming trips. Once I am done with the research part, I look through the places I have discovered on Instagram, Pinterest, Tiktok, and Google and save them in an Excel sheet or Word Document, and create an itinerary. Here is a list of more apps that might be useful for your roadtrip.
I also tend to take screenshots of my trip collections because I sometimes don’t have internet and can’t access my Google Files and that’s when screenshots come in handy. I actually have faced this issue several times already. Especially when you visiting National Parks the reception can be really bad.
Google Maps is probably my favorite app for planning roadtrips. Whenever I have done my research and have my itinerary, I add all the locations to Google Maps. Make sure to download offline maps just in case you have no reception. I love how easy Google Maps makes it for you to see if there are places around you that you already saved.
Recently I started using the app Roadtrippers.com for my longer trip routes. It makes it is easier to see the whole route and the distances from location A to location B.
6. Water and Snacks
Pack water and snacks for your trip. We love our Nalgene water bottles, they are perfect for every roadtrip and hike and also help to save the environment because we are not using plastic bottles all the time. If you are looking for great snacks, check out Trader Joe’s, they have my all time favorite snacks like the Cheddar Cheese sticks (so delicious).
Bring paper towels, toilet paper, and Tempo (best tissue) but usually only available in Europe. If you are looking for a good substitute check Aldi, they usually have some good alternatives to Tempo.
8. Clothes and Accessories
Depending on where you are going, pack the right clothes for the trip. Check the weather and temperature and see if you need a wind jacket, rain jacket, or even a warmer jacket. I usually try to pack a little bit of everything, just in case. You never know how the weather might change, especially when you are in the mountains. Don’t forget to pack sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, and bug spray. If you are hiking in the Mountains a bear spray or a bear bell might come in handy as well.
Something else that you should think of when planning your roadtrip is storage and what kind of luggage to use. Think about what you might need and what makes the most sense. A fanny pack, daypack, backpack, camera backpack, rollable luggage, or dufflebag? The options are endless. We usually travel with at least two backpacks: one camera backpack and a hiking backpack as well as a large suitcase or duffle bag that we both share. It really depends on how long we are on the road.
Good music or a nice podcast or audiobook will make your road trip more enjoyable and will be nice during long drives. We recently started to listen to podcasts and love ScienceVS or CrimeJunkie on Spotify!
Check out some of my other blog posts as well like Best Grand Canyon Day Hikes, Vanlife with Cabanavan or, Best Places to see near Page Arizona.