The Best Printable List of Packing Essentials for Your Next Road Trip

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The Best Printable List of Packing Essentials for Your Next Road Trip

Are you planning a road trip soon?  Whether for a weekend getaway, a more extended adventure across the country, or exploring the National Parks, packing the right essentials can make all the difference.  To help you get started, I’ve put together a printable list of packing essentials.  From snacks and water to maps and emergency supplies, this list will help ensure you have everything you need for a safe and comfortable trip.  Happy travels!

Essentials for Navigating the Road Trip

There’s something magical about setting out on an open road trip.  The freedom to explore, the wind in your hair, and the anticipation of new adventures can make even the longest journey feel like a joyride.  But before you hit the road, you will want to ensure you have everything you need for a safe and comfortable trip.  Before you head out, pack these items to make navigating the open road easier.

  • Nowadays, smart phones are essential for day-to-day life, and there is no reason they can’t be just as helpful on a road trip.  In addition to being a great source of entertainment, smartphones can also be used for navigation, keeping track of expenses, and staying in touch with friends and family.  When packing for a road trip, include your smartphone and accessories such as a phone charger and cord, a car mount, and a power bank.  With a smartphone, you’ll have everything you need to make the most of your journey.  If your phone doesn’t automatically connect to your car via Bluetooth or an audio cable, consider picking up an FM transmitter for the trip.  They are inexpensive and can make life a little easier when you can listen through your car stereo.
  • Paper Maps and a GPS:  Some of us are still not using smartphones.  If that’s you, consider investing in a GPS (Global Positioning System) for your vehicle.  Road trips are much more pleasant when you have a happy little voice telling you exactly where you are and where to turn!  But even if you’re using GPS or Google Maps on your phone, it’s always a good idea to have a physical paper map as a backup.  Either way, make sure you zoom in on your route and mark any attractions or stops you want to visit.

I love to get out and stretch my legs at unique and interesting roadside attractions along the way.  Read all about how I find them in The 9 Best Roadside Attractions You Must See on Your Road Trip Through Iowa.

  • Consider getting Travel insurance.  Did you know that AARP offers insurance for travelers over age 50?  If travel insurance is new to you, read this article from AARP to help you understand the benefits and pricing structure of travel insurance. 
  • Be sure to print out your hotel reservations and contact information before you set out on your travels.  That way, if you should lose your cell phone or suffer some other mishap, you’ll still have all the necessary information at hand when you get to your hotel room.  I like to use hotels.com for all of my reservations.  You get a 10th night free.
  • Start your road trip off right by creating a road trip checklist of all the things you’ll need to keep track of during your journey.  This list will help you stay organized and on track throughout your trip, from gas stops to snacks.
  • A basic first aid kit:  Don’t forget to pack bandaids, antiseptic, and pain relievers in case of any bumps or scrapes.
  • A bag for trash (or two) is a great way to keep your car clean.  By packing some plastic bags for all your garbage, you can avoid making a mess in your vehicle.  Plus, it’s a great way to be more environmentally friendly by re-using those grocery store bags that are always in abundance!  If you need something more substantial, check out this nice reusable car trash can.  It even comes in different sizes and patterns – and PINK! 
  • An emergency fund: always be prepared for the unexpected by bringing extra cash in case of emergencies.  You might also consider bringing along an additional credit card.  Many credit cards available will also help you rack up some points for your travels!

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Vehicle Essentials for A Safe Trip

A long road trip can be a great way to see the country and spend time with loved ones.  However, before setting out on any journey, it’s essential to have your vehicle ready so you are prepared for any vehicular emergency.  Essentials for any road trip include:

  • Before you embark on your road trip, be sure that you have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance ready to go.  If you are using a rental car, double-check that all these items are handy before pulling out.  By having all of these documents in order, you’ll be able to avoid any stressful delays or run-ins with the law.
  • A flashlight can be handy on a long car trip, especially in a dark situation.  It’s always better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it, so consider packing a flashlight the next time you hit the road.
  • It might seem counterintuitive, but bringing an empty gas can on a long car trip can be a lifesaver.  If you happen to run out of gas on the side of the road, having an empty can means you’ll have something to fill up at the gas station.
  • Consider having a list of emergency phone numbers handy.  That way, if anything happens, you can quickly get in touch with the help you need.  AAA is an excellent resource for this; their number should be on your list.
  • A roadside emergency kit can be a lifesaver in a breakdown or accident.  But what should you include in your kit?  At a minimum, your kit should consist of a first aid kit, flares or reflective triangles, a flashlight, and jumper cables.  You may also want to add extra items like a portable air compressor, basic tools, and bottled water.  I like this one which has everything listed plus a few additional things. 
  • One of the worst things that can happen on a road trip is getting a flat tire.  Luckily, it’s something that you can quickly fix yourself!  Be sure your spare tire is in good condition before heading out and that you have a jack handy.  Then before your trip, take a look at this video on how to change a flat.  You might want to bookmark it to find it easily in case you need a refresher on the road!
  • Having your car’s manual with you can be handy in case of unforeseen vehicle issues.  Packing your manual should be easy, as most people keep their manual in their glove compartment.  Additionally, packing some duct tape can come in handy for many different purposes – from fixing a loose bumper to securing a piece of luggage in the trunk.
Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Road Trip Snacks and Drinks

When embarking on a road trip, it’s important to pack snacks that will keep you energized and focused for the journey ahead.  While rest stops and gas stations offer a variety of unhealthy and overpriced snacks, packing your snacks can save you money and help you stay on track with your healthy eating goals.  Some great road trip snacks include fruits and vegetables, whole grain crackers, trail mix, and yogurt.  These snacks are easy to eat while driving, giving you the nutrients you need to stay alert during your travels.  Here are some thoughts on what snacks to pack for your road trip.

  • A reusable water bottle.  Not only do reusable water bottles help to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced each year, but they are also a great way to stay hydrated on a long drive.  When you are an over-50 traveler like me, you need to pay special attention to staying hydrated to stave off potential UTIs, dry skin, chapped lips, and several other issues.  And bonus – stopping more often for bathroom breaks helps keep you moving to eliminate swollen feet and ankles.

    I love this water bottle that filters the water as I drink it.  The only thing I would change is the size.  Sometimes I wish for a larger capacity.  The good news is that Brita also makes a 36-ounce water bottle.  Everything else works the same in a bigger size for the extra thirsty traveler.  And it comes in a variety of colors, too.  No surprise that I will be choosing the pink one when I upgrade!
  • Food!  What kind of food snacks should you pack for a road trip?  Well, that depends on a few things.  First, how long will the trip be?  Second, will you have access to a fridge or cooler while on the road?  And third, what foods do you and your travel companions enjoy?  If it’s just a short road trip, you might want to pack some easy-to-eat snacks like granola bars, fruit cups, or veggie sticks.  But if you’re planning to be gone for an extended period, you’ll need to pack a more substantial fare.  In that case, you might consider packing sandwiches, salads, or even homemade meals that you can reheat later.
  • Gum and mints to keep your mouth busy when you’re not singing!  Choosing a minty flavor may also help to stave off carsickness.  And when you arrive at your destination, you’ll be able to pop something in so you have minty fresh breath for meeting old friends or checking in to your room.
  • A cooler with an ice pack or an electric cooler that plugs into your vehicle is a travel necessity for me.  I like this cooler
  • You don’t want to pick trash up off your car’s floor for your entire trip.  A good trash bag can make all the difference.  Choose to use a plastic grocery store bag for free convenience.  Or step up your game a bit and invest in a quality garbage holder that you can use repeatedly. 
  • High Protein snacks such as beef sticks or protein bars are a must.  I have an excellent recipe for homemade no-bake protein balls.  LINK TO RECIPE

Having snacks with you is vital to keep your energy up when you’re on a road trip.  Rest stops and gas stations tend to have unhealthy junk food options that make you feel sluggish.  Packing your snacks will help you avoid those traps and give you the sustenance you need to power through your trip.  Just remember to pack enough for everyone in the car, so no one gets hangry!

Personal Items For Road Trip Comfort

A few essential items can make the journey more enjoyable when embarking on a long road trip.  A small day pack is an excellent option for some of these items.  The bonus is that you can take it with you when you jump out of the car for a bathroom break or a walk around the rest area.  The others can stay handy, so you can reach them while moving down the road.

  • You will want to pack sunglasses and a cleaner or a soft cloth.  First, the sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun.  Second, the cleaner will come in handy when you accidentally smudge a giant fingerprint across your lens. 
  • Sunscreen is especially important if you love to drive with your windows down or your roof open.  If you’re lucky enough to be traveling in a convertible, there is even more reason to pack the sunscreen!  After all, you don’t want to look like a lobster!
  • For several reasons, a brimmed hat is the perfect addition to any road trip packing list.  First, it will protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.  Second, your head will stay cool in the summer heat.  Finally, it can be a stylish accessory to any outfit.  And fourth, they can be a handy way to shield your eyes from oncoming headlights when driving at night.  So make sure to pack a brimmed hat on your next road trip!
  • Chapstick is essentially road trip insurance for your lips.  No one wants crispy lips, and if you’re like me, driving makes my lips dry!  Maybe it’s the air conditioning? Perhaps it’s the heat blasting from the car vents?  I don’t know, but I know that dry lips are distracting and uncomfortable.  Chapstick doesn’t take much space; even better, it will help to ensure your lips are in perfect kissing condition when you pull into rest stops.  I’ve heard rest stop kissing is a thing, and you want to be prepared!
  • You must pack hand cream for your road trip!  Your hands will get dry from all the driving.  The air in the car will be dry, especially if you’re using the air conditioning.  You’ll want to keep your hands hydrated and looking good for all the rest stops and photo ops.  Plus, who doesn’t love a good hand massage?  Treat yourself to a bit of luxury while you’re on your road trip adventure!
  • There are plenty of reasons to pack tissues and wet wipes for a road trip.  For one, you can use them to clean up spills and messes.  Wet wipes can also work to freshen up your hands or face or clean up any dirty surfaces, including a windshield with too many bug splats!  Finally, you may need to use the restroom more than usual.  Rest stops can be few and far between on long road trips, so it’s a good idea to be ready in case you need to make an emergency roadside stop, if ya know what I mean.  Tissues or wet wipes can be used for a quick and easy “bathroom break clean up” in a pinch.  Who needs toilet paper when you have tissues and wet wipes?
  • Be sure to bring a travel pillow and a small blanket in the vehicle, even if you’re driving.  A travel pillow will help you catch some Z’s when you need to take a break from driving.  You never know when you’ll get heavy eyelids and must take a 30-minute catnap.  And a blanket can come in handy if you get cold or want to picnic in the backseat.
  • Compression socks are not just for athletes or people recovering from surgery.  Wearing compression socks during long car rides can benefit anyone, especially women over 50 (like me!).  Here’s why:  compression socks help improve circulation, reducing swelling and fatigue.  They also help prevent blood clots, a serious concern for older adults.  So, if you’re sitting in a car for long periods, make sure to slip on a pair of compression socks!
  • If your car emergency kit doesn’t include a small First aid kit, make sure you pack one.  You’ll want to include the basics, such as Band-Aids, alcohol swabs, pain relief meds, and some antacids.  You never know when you’ll have a surprise headache or indigestion from that spicy snack.
  • Speaking of surprises – always pack your Insurance Card when you plan to travel.  If the worst happens and you have a serious accident, you’ll be glad you have that card in case you end up in a strange new hospital or emergency room.  I mean – even ugly surprises like kidney stones or a gall bladder attack can catch you off guard!
  • A book or audiobook.  Reading can surely pass the time when necessary!  But if you’re driving or get carsick while reading in the car, an audiobook can provide entertainment and help pass the time.  When choosing an audiobook, select one that is engaging and will hold your attention for hours.  My local library allows me to check out audiobooks for free and even has the option to borrow them online and play on the Kindle app on my phone!

    I love the Amazon Kindle Unlimited service that allows unlimited books and audiobooks from their collection for a small monthly fee.  I love that I can read a book on the kindle and seamlessly switch to listening right where I left off.
  • Road trip playlist – One of the best things about a long road trip is listening to your favorite tunes as you drive down the highway with your hair blowing in the breeze!  But one of the worst things is fumbling with your phone to find your favorite tunes while driving.  Be prepared by putting together a road trip playlist before you set out.  A pre-planned playlist will give you a perfect chance to belt out your favorites without risking anyone’s life!

Special Notes for Traveling with Your Pet

Traveling with your dog or cat can be a great way to bond with your pet and create lasting memories.  However, preparing before embarking on a long road trip is essential.  First, ensure that your pet is up to date on all of their shots and immunizations.  Second, take frequent rest breaks so that your pet can stretch their legs and use the restroom.  By remembering a few important things, you can ensure that both you and your pet have a safe and enjoyable road trip.

  • Don’t forget the leash!  You will be stopping regularly to let your dog have a rest break.  Even the most well-trained dog can get nervous in a new area and try to wander or bolt at a strange sound or smell.  A leash is a simple and effective solution for this.
  • It’s also a good idea to bring along some of your pet’s favorite toys or blankets to help them feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Pack plenty of food and water for the journey.  A collapsible food bowl is perfect and takes up minimum space.
  • Consider anti-anxiety meds for the nervous traveler.  You may remember the story of Brandy, my childhood Doberman.  Brandy was an exceptionally nervous rider.  Back in the ’70s, my family had a big cargo-style van with the back hollowed out.  My dad had built a set of benches and a table for us.  Brandy would lie on the floor in the back and pass gas while she was so nervous.  I think there was usually a sizeable green smell cloud in that windowless van when we arrived at our destination.

    If your dog suffers from nervous toots like Brandy, please save yourself the green smell cloud and talk to your vet about some medications that will calm your buddy for the car ride.
  • While we’re talking about meds, if your pup is prone to carsickness, talk to your vet about anti-nausea medications that can help while riding.  The last thing you want to deal with is a vomiting or excessively gassy dog when you’re stuck in a vehicle for the long haul.

Taking a Winter Road Trip?

We can’t call this an ultimate road trip packing list without talking about what to bring if you’re taking a long ride in the winter months.  Driving in cold weather can be a whole different situation, especially if you have car trouble or get stuck somewhere while traveling through remote areas.  Some of these are things we’ve already talked about but become much more critical in snowy winter months.  And there are a few new additions to the list, also.

  • When winter weather happens, you may be more likely to lose your cell phone signal.  So, consider that paper map even more important now!  You never know when you’ll need to make a detour, so it’s always good to have a physical map on hand.  Also, be prepared in case of a car with no power and consider bringing an extra power bank to recharge your phone.  You can even score a great deal on a solar power bank that would come in handy in an emergency.
  • The first-aid kit: This is always a good idea, but it’s even more important in winter if you slip and fall on ice or snow.  Be sure to include essentials like bandages, cold medicine, and pain reliever.
woman in a pink hoodie with an image on the shirt of a travelscape and the words "wander woman"
Everyone needs a cozy go-to hoodie to take on their road trip, so go for one that’s soft, smooth, and stylish. It’s the perfect choice for your traveling fun!
  • Jumper cables: These come in handy if your car battery dies in the cold weather.  It’s also a good idea to bring along a portable charger for your phone in case you need to call for help.
  • A bag of sand or kitty litter: This will be useful to help get your car out of a ditch or if you get stuck in the snow.
  • A small shovel will be very handy if you get stuck and need to dig a little around your wheels.  You can pick up an inexpensive emergency shovel to keep in your trunk for just such an occasion.  You’ll be glad to have a small shovel if you find you need it!
  • Snacks and drinks: Be sure to bring along plenty of snacks and drinks to keep yourself fueled during your trip.  It’s also a good idea to have some emergency food like granola bars or trail mix in case you get stranded somewhere.  And don’t forget the coffee or hot cocoa!
  • A warm hat, mittens, or gloves will be critical if you need to get out of the car to dig yourself out of a ditch or walk for help.  It’s too easy to jump in the car and go with a light winter coat when you’re running errands around town, but when heading down the road for a long trip into unknown territory, it pays to have extra warmth on board.
  • Instant warmers.  I love these warmers that activate with just a little shake.  They are not expensive and last for several hours.  Perfect for heating hands and feet and even the body!
  • Pack a large parka, extra snow boots, and a blanket.  I can’t stress enough how important these items will be if you get stranded in a car with no heat.  You don’t have to wear it all while driving, but you’ll be thankful you have it if you need to bundle up while waiting for help to arrive.

With these items in your car, you are prepared for anything the winter roads throw at you.  Happy travels!

Wrapping it All Up!

So, what’s the one thing you cannot leave home without for an epic road trip?  If you said your car emergency kit, snacks, or sunglasses, then pat yourself on the back – you are well on your way to being ready for any scenario that may come up on your trip.  Don’t forget special considerations about the time of year and whether or not you’re traveling with a pet.  And don’t forget to double-check that you have all your essential paperwork before hitting the open road!

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