18 Road Trip Essentials to Pack for Your Next Adventure

published Apr 14, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
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Credit: Courtesy of REI and Amazon

Ah, road trips. They’re the quintessential free-spirited summer adventure — at least in theory. In reality, though, an idyllic-yet-affordable vacation can easily derail into a far less pleasant experience without proper planning. Luckily, planning the road trip of your dreams isn’t too hard; especially if you start the process early (aka now). With the vaccine rollout forging ahead at a promising rate, maybe you’re itching to finally safely visit out-of-state friends or family members you haven’t seen all year. Or, now that the weather’s getting warmer and remote working means you can set up an office anywhere, perhaps you’re dreaming of an extended solo trip. 

Whatever type of road trip you’re imagining, it’s never too early to begin the planning process. Checking out the road trip essentials in this round-up is a great place to start. While buying these items won’t guarantee your trip goes seamlessly — after all, a few hiccups along the way are all part of the fun — they’ll certainly help ensure an enjoyable, comfortable experience for all parties involved. Good luck! 

1 / 18

Made of ultra-durable, waterproof, tear-resistant nylon, this duffel bag is not only practically guaranteed to last forever, but at 1.2 pounds, it also weighs a mere fraction of what most suitcases do. Best of all, it folds into a tiny square when it’s not in use, so it won’t take up precious storage space in your closet when your trip is over. Can’t stand basic black? It also comes in a dozen other colors, including a fun camo print.

2 / 18

There’s nothing better than a good audiobook to help long days on the road feel productive and fun, rather than boring. An Audible Plus subscription gives a near-endless library of titles to choose from — you’ll get one credit to choose a new audiobook each month, which you can exchange for a different one for free if you end up having second thoughts. You’ll also get unlimited access to a vast selection of free audiobooks, radio dramas, and podcasts, which includes everything from classic literature to self-help and true crime. The free trial covers your entire first month, so you can always cancel your subscription after your trip if you decide it’s not your thing.

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Hedley & Bennett

These days, wearing a face mask is a must for just about every imaginable activity, so it’s a good idea to pack a few extras for your trip so you’ll always have a backup if you misplace the first one or two. The design for these beauties from Hadley & Bennett has been tweaked multiple times to ensure maximum functionality and comfort — and the resulting masks have all the smart features you’ve come to look for, including adjustable ear loops, a flexible wire at the bridge of the nose, and an inner pocket to add an extra filter, if you’d like.

4 / 18

Polarized sunnies are a must to protect your eyes from glare in the car, especially if you’re the one driving. These ones are every bit as stylish as they are practical, and like all Sunski sunglasses, they’re thoughtfully designed in a small San Francisco studio, sustainably crafted with recycled resin frames, and even come with a lifetime warranty.

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If ever there was a time to be conscious of where you're setting down your stuff, it's now. These magnetic purse hangers come in handy whenever you need a place to safely put your bag, whether that's at a highly trafficked rest stop, muddy campgrounds, or restaurant patio.

6 / 18

You’ll be so glad you packed Clorox wipes. Even if you haven’t become completely reliant on them for disinfecting anything and everything during the pandemic (we can’t relate), the bleach-free wipes are great for wiping down sticky fingers, cleaning up spills, and generally keeping things clean and hygienic when access to soap and water is limited.

7 / 18

Scientifically proven to be more supportive than the standard U-shaped travel pillow, the best-selling trtl pillow wraps around your neck like a soft fleece scarf with a hidden internal neck support to firmly support it as you snooze. The patented design makes nodding off and waking up with painful cramps a thing of the past, and the fact that it packs flat means it won’t take up too much space when it’s not in use.

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was $89.99

Who better than good ‘ole AAA to put together a kit of essentials for common roadside micro-emergencies like a flat tire or dead car battery? The comprehensive 76-piece kit includes all sorts of things you’ll hope you won’t need — a first aid kit, jumper cables, guidelines to follow in the event of a car accident, a flashlight, basic tools, a rain poncho — but will definitely feel better to have on hand, just in case.

9 / 18
was $44.99

A good travel mug is a must for every road trip. Who wants to drive that long without plenty of hot coffee? If you don’t already have an insulated mug you love, you really can’t go wrong by ordering this one, which we love just as much as we did when we featured it a couple years back. At 20 ounces, it holds enough that you won’t have to stop for refills at every gas station, and its vacuum-insulated stainless steel walls do an impressive job at keeping your drink hot for hours.

10 / 18

People really love the HydroFlask — arguably the holy grail of insulated water bottles, it’s earned nearly 28,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, resulting in an impressive 4.8-star average. What’s all the fuss about? Well, it reliably keeps beverages hot for up to 12 hours, or cold for up to 24 hours. A proprietary slip-resistant powder coating on its vacuum-insulated, double stainless steel walls prevents sweating and makes for a nice grip. Plus, the screw-on lid is truly leak-proof, and just look at all the fun colors it comes in.

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Hand sanitizer is another essential that’s become more essential than ever in the past year, and that’ll become exponentially more true when you’re on the road and can’t wash your hands as much as you’d like. Sold in a pack of eight, these portable bottles from Purell clip on to your purse, backpack, or even belt buckle, so you’ll always have your sanitizer on hand after you finish pumping gas or running into a convenience store for snacks.

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was $10.00

This best-selling waterproof sunscreen has earned the enthusiastic approval of Amazon reviewers. In well over 2,000 glowing five-star reviews, fans praise practically everything about it: the lightweight, non-greasy, quick-absorbing formula; the sheer, matte finish; the fact that it doesn’t irritate sensitive skin or cause breakouts. Plus, with SPF 100+ protection, it’s great for traveling to locales that are far sunnier than your skin is used to.

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JBL has a reputation for making high-quality, dependable headphones at reasonable prices, and this popular pair is certainly no exception. Aside from the stellar sound quality and excellent battery life, they have plenty of features sure to come in handy during a round trip, including optional noise cancellation and ultra-efficient charging time. Plus, unlike many wireless headphones, these come with a wire so you can plug them in instead of relying on the bluetooth, which can be a real lifesaver when you need to conserve battery power.

14 / 18
was $29.95

It’s kind of hard to believe until you see it for yourself, but this giant 63 x 44" camping blanket folds into a tiny square that’s roughly the size of a pack of cards. Made of a slick, tent-like material that’s water-repellent and resistant to punctures and tears, it’ll be a lifesaver when you want to sit in the grass to watch a sunset or have a picnic on the beach. It also has built-in metal stakes at the corners to prevent it from blowing away, along with nifty pockets that can be filled with sand to weigh it down.

15 / 18

Compared to traditional hard coolers, soft-sided coolers are generally more space efficient. This popular pick from YETI is thoughtfully designed so that you can comfortably carry it like a backpack — it has ergonomic shoulder straps, a removable chest strap and hip belt, and a taller, wider shape that helps distribute weight. Even if you’re not one to hike for miles with a full cooler of food on your back, you’ll find this design really comes in handy when you’re constantly toting the cooler from the motel to the car to the campsite and back again.

16 / 18
was $45.89

Binoculars are really a joy to have on a road trip, whether you’re checking out the views from the backseat or looking at wildlife during one of your stops. Earning the seal of approval from thousands of Amazon shoppers, this reasonably-priced pair is durable, lightweight, and water-resistant (as in, they won’t break if it starts raining, but don’t push your luck and bring them in the lake, because they’re not fully waterproof).

17 / 18
was $9.49

The reasons for bringing a car charger on a road trip are self-explanatory. If you don’t already have one you can count on, this lil’ gem from Anker is an excellent, reliable option. Amazon shoppers, for their part, are certainly impressed — of the 36,000 people who gave feedback after buying it, a solid 93 percent left a positive rating, resulting in an impressive 4.7-star average. Plus, it has two USB ports instead of one, which means you’ll deal with half the number of fights over who gets to charge their phone.

18 / 18
was $21.99

An oldie but goodie, Taboo is all about getting your teammates to guess a specific word, without using any of the related “taboo” words to describe it. It’s a hilariously fast-paced, high-pressure game that takes seconds to learn and is really, really fun. This electronic version is basically the ideal portable game for a road trip, whether you play it in the car (no need to worry about losing cards or small pieces!) or run through a few rounds to decompress during a pit stop.