The sun is shining, the wind blowing through your hair, the tunes are jammin’. It’s road trip season, and it’s time for new horizons! Don’t be caught off guard and be prepared for anything that could happen with this essential road trip packing list.
Hey there – this post likely contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. This helps me earn a few dollars to run this website. For more info, check out my terms here.
Road trips are the freaking best. I mean, not only do you get to arrive at your destination ready for adventure, but you also get to explore along the way. Who else wants to stop at every GIANT roadside attraction!?
I’ve road tripped across Canada 11 times, and I haven’t taken the same route twice! We have a freaking big country, and there are so many places to stop and explore. Each time, I think, oh next time I’ll bring (blank) to add to my road trip enjoyment. So, I’ve compiled this list of EVERYTHING you need so you’ve got an idea of what to pack for your next road trip.
Car care essentials that you hope you’ll never need to use
Let’s first talk about the absolute essentials. You might think that you can get away without some of these things, but trust me, you’ll smack yourself if you end up needing them and didn’t bring them.
I am the QUEEN of being prepared for emergencies. When I learned how to change a tire, my dad taught me in the worst possible conditions, using only the tools that came with the car (rather than the using super easy compressor drill). Why? Because he said when I’m going to need to change a tire on the roadside, it might be raining and you might not have the easy tools on hand.
Well, it turns out he was right. The first time I blew a tire, it started pouring buckets. And I mean POURED. The next time a nail pierced my tire, and it was in the middle of a snowstorm. So yeah, he was right.
All of these items can be stored in a box in your trunk or your glove box. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use them, but at least you’ll be prepared.
Car care essentials to store in your trunk:
- Jumper cables
- Work gloves
- Duct tape
- Tow rope
- Multipurpose tool or pocket knife
- First aid kit
- Roadside emergency kit (it’s got everything you need!)
- Car fluids like windshield washer fluid
Essentials to store in your glove box:
- Flashlight and batteries
- License and registration
- Your insurance policy
- Car manual
- Car Escape Tool (this one can go right on your key chain)
Tech to make road trips easier
There’s nothing like listening to the best playlist or taking fun photos and videos as you wiz by. So, don’t forget to include these tech essentials on your road trip packing list.
Cell phone holder: Bring this along if you’re using your phone as a GPS. If you’re not, then put your phone away. Distracted driving is dangerous and using your phone while driving is illegal in Canada.
Personal hotspot: Stay connected on the road with a personal hotspot.
Chargers and batteries: Gotta stay juiced up!
Kick ass play list: See below for suggestions.
Camera: I don’t go anywhere without my camera and road trips are prime places for pictures.
A book or audiobooks: I love listening to audiobooks while driving, like the Harry Potter series narrated by Steven Fry, but Audible is a great place to start. See below for more suggestions.
Four-port charger: This makes it easy to make sure everyone is charged up!
Stopping at a store to get change for a toll, stopping every hour for food and stopping to ask for directions are counterintuitive for a SUPER FLY road trip. That’s why these in-car essentials should absolutely be on your road trip packing list.
Printed map: Physical maps serve two purposes, one to tell you how to get somewhere the old-fashioned way, but also a neat souvenir. Passengers can keep track of your route with a highlighter. Later, you can take those pages and make a fun road trip memory craft.
Printed copies of your confirmation numbers: You might need them for campsites, hotels, motels, ferries, etc. You can keep it all in this amazing travel document holder.
Cash and coins for tolls: Canada doesn’t have too many places where you have to pay a toll; however, many other countries do. It’s best to keep some coins and small bills on hand for when the time comes. Just keep them hidden to deter theft, but in an easy to reach spot for the driver.
Toilet paper rolls: Look, not all rest stops have all the amenities. You might want to bring along a roll as a just in case option.
Garbage bags: You’re not going to want to stop every hour to throw out a banana peel or wrapper. So set up a garbage bag that you can use to throw out at the end of the day. You can line a slim container with a bag and stick it behind the passenger side seat for the perfect location. Or use a cereal container with a lid to keep the smell contained!
Car cooler: These are the best inventions. They plug into the car and run while you drive. Once you’re parked for the night, you can bring it with you and plug it in in a motel or stick some ice in it if you’re camping. It works like a charm!
Snacks: Probably the most crucial aspect of a road trip is the snacks. There’s an unwritten rule that the role of the passenger is to guide the driver and select the tunes, but it’s the role of the person in the backseat to be in charge of snacks! While unhealthy snacks like chocolate and chips are more alluring, healthier ones like homemade muffins, sliced veggies and hummus, rice crackers and more are better options, mainly because the driver won’t “crash” after eating the unhealthy foods.
Large reusable water bottles: Not only do you have to keep hydrated for obvious reasons, but water bottles are also useful if you need water to wash something off your hands or off the car. Keep ‘em filled and keep ‘em cool.
Road trips mean you’ll be sitting for long periods. The car becomes like this little home on wheels where you can’t move out of your “chair” and everything from the “kitchen” to the “living room” to the “bedroom” all have to be within arm’s reach.
That means when you’re coming up with your road trip packing list, you need to think about the items that will make your trip the most comfortable.
Sunglasses: You can’t (and shouldn’t) drive without wearing sunglasses. Look for polarized ones to protect your eyes from the sun!
Blanket and pillow: Whether you want to curl up in your seat or wrap yourself if you’re cold, a blanket and pillow for every passenger is just smart thinking.
Travel mug: I’m a huge tea fan. I’ll drink a cup at any time of the day. But I hate using single serve cups at the drive-thru. That’s why I use a Yeti. These things are seriously the BEST. They keep your drink hot for hours.
Hand sanitizer: Again, not all rest stops have all the amenities, so you’ll want back up. Plus you can prevent your hands from getting clammy after gripping the steering wheel for hours.
Reusable shopping bag: These can be used for so many things. Bring a couple and stick them under the seat.
Towel: Not only are PacTowel super functional and versatile, but they also fold small, so bringing along a towel is no biggie. You might need it to sop up a spilt drink!
Road trip games: Even if you’re listening to Carley Rae Jepsen on repeat or you’ve breezed through an audiobook or stellar podcasts (recommendations below), sometimes you need something to occupy your mind. That’s why road trip games are essential. Why not try HYPERtheicals or one of these silly road trip games to get your brain working.
Day pack: You’ve got your wallet, your phone, your keys, maps, and other important stuff. So when you jump out of the car, you don’t want to go rummaging through the mess to find all your things. Keep it all in a day pack. I love the ones that are packable too, so they don’t take up a lot of room.
Outdoor blanket: When it’s time to pull over to stretch your legs or take a break from driving, an outdoor blanket is exactly what you need. You can lay it down and have a picnic or just lay down and snooze in the sunshine.
You’ve got your comfort taken care of and all your car care essentials, now it’s time to think about the things you’re going to need that you might not have thought about. Definitely add these items to your road trip packing list!
Sunscreen: Yes, you can absolutely get sunburned from a car window and the sunroof. So slather it on and protect your skin from those harmful rays. I like Aveeno because it feels like I’ve put on moisturizer, not sticky sunscreen.
Body wipes: For wiping your face, hands, you name it. Spills happen, sweat happens, might as well be prepared.
Lip balm: nothing drives me more insane than dry lips. I keep my lip balm in my driver side door, so it’s easily accessible when I need it.
Hairbrush, hair ties and a hat: It might feel good now when the wind is blowing through your hair, but not so much when you try to comb it. So don’t forget to bring a hairbrush and some hair ties to limit the tears from trying to detangle. Better yet, wear a hat!
Toothbrush and toothpaste: I’m in LOVE with my Toob toothbrush, which is a brush and paste all in one. It’s super easy to pack, and you can leave it in your day pack for quick access.
Mints/gum: tasty food sometimes leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so be prepared with mints and gum.
Tissues: Bringing a Kleenex box is always a good idea!
Slippers: Slippers are the best part of being a passenger. You can kick off your shoes and get comfy! I like these ones because they have a hard bottom, so I don’t mind getting out of the car with them.
Dryer sheets: keep your car smelling fresh without the strong smell of car scents, use dryer sheets! Plus they double as keeping things static free.
Gap filler: I hate finding bits of fries and crumbs under my seat when I do my semi-annual car clean. That’s why the gap filler is such a great invention; it stops things from falling into THE VOID. It’s super helpful on car trips, where you’re more likely to eat on the go.
Planning on sleeping in your car?
When I hit the road to explore Canada’s Maritimes, I slept in my car at provincial parks. It was the perfect set up. I had excellent facilities in the campground, I could set up a fire and cook over the flames, and I could get cozy in the back of my hatchback.
It was GREAT.
To make it successful, I had a couple of items that made sleeping in the car so much easier.
Inflatable air bed: Yes, they totally make these. I considered these for my first option of sleeping in my car for a road trip, but I wanted to be able to stretch out. But for shorter people, this bed would work perfectly.
Trifold mattress: Okay, I hit the jackpot with this thing. Not only does it fold up into a square, but it also is super comfortable. I slept the entire 10 days on this thing, super soundly and now use it for guests because it is easily storable and the lining can be removed and washed. I absolutely recommend getting one of these for your next road trip.
Blankets, pillows, etc.: You’ll want to bring your sleeping gear, whether that’s a sleeping bag or blankets, but it might get chilly at night, so might as well keep warm.
Window screens: these window screens made sleeping in my car perfection. Not only did they add a sense of privacy, but I could keep my windows down entirely to let in a breeze without letting in bugs. Since I was staying at provincial parks, I wasn’t worried about my safety. I don’t suggest rolling your windows down completely if you’re not in a park.
Best road trip apps
These are just some of the best apps to make your next road trip a breeze, because throwing caution to the wind and going with the flow are not good enough excuses not to show up to work the next Monday. Don’t get lost!
Road trip songs to jam to
First off, if you want amazing songs by amazing women, then you need to download all songs by Carley Rae Jepsen (She is a Queen) and all songs by Maggie Rogers. Perfect driving music!
Here are some great throwback tunes that everyone loves:
Here are some 90s and early 2000s hits that are just ready for jamming!
And you can’t forget about those wonderful songs about travelling. Hit it!
Best podcasts for road trips
Lore: One of the best podcasts out there. Host Aaron Mahnke tells rich and well-paced stories about the frightening history behind common folklore.
Criminal: Host, Phoebe Judge, takes you through all aspect of crime in short stories and interviews. It is incredibly well done and it really makes you think about the criminal world differently. The tag line is “Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.”
My Favourite Murder: This is a true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstarkare, two hilarious comedians. The subject matter is gruesome, but true crime is definitely trendy and will keep you thinking.
The Secret Life of Canada: I love listening to hosts Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson in their banter about the history of Canada that you won’t find in mainstream history books.
2050: Degrees of change: This podcast only has seven episodes and is no longer running, but the storytelling and research gone into it is something to experience. Johanna Wagstaffe guides the journey to our future to explore how our world and lives will adapt to climate change by 2050.
Best audio books for road trips
I LOVE audiobooks, they really help you stay alert while driving and it can be a great adventure to have on your road trip. Both fiction and non-fiction books are great for this. Audible or Google Play Store are the perfect place to start.
Here are my recommendations for great listens for an extended road trip:
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Come on, a book list without the mention of Harry Potter? Please! They are my favourite books after all. The ones narrated by Steven Fry are my go to. Plus, since the whole series is 128 hours, you won’t run out of material!
Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan: these books are wild from start to finish. They are upbeat and fast-paced, so it’s perfect for those long stretches in the car.
Any book by Neil Gaiman: Honestly some of the best fantasy books are written by Neil Gaiman. I recommend Neverwhere, Stardust and American Gods.
American Fires by Monica Hesse: This creative non-fiction book on an arsonist in rural Virginia is an incredible listen – Highly recommended.
Road trips can create some of the best summer memories, so you don’t want to ruin that by forgetting something important. With this road trip packing list, you’ll know exactly what to bring so you won’t have to worry and you can just have a great time.