The Road Tripper's Guide
The Ultimate Road Trip Packing Guide
There’s no secret to successfully packing for a roadtrip. Like most things in life, it simply comes down to good planning and organization. While much of that comes with experience, there’s a few things we recommend never leaving home without. Here’s THE STELLA’s 10-point guide to packing for a road trip!
1. First-Aid Kit
In the event of an emergency, your chances of being near a hospital while on the road are pretty slim. That’s why always keeping a first-aid kit in your car helps you stay prepared for a variety of situations — at least until you can seek proper medical attention.
If you do already have a first aid kit in your car, verify that nothing is expired and that all the supplies you’ve used have been replaced.
Your basic first-aid kit should include:
- Gravol (or Ginger Gravol),
- anti-diarrheal medication,
- First-Aid pocket guide,
- Peroxide or alcohol swabs,
- antibacterial ointment,
- nitrile or latex gloves,
- band-aids of different sizes,
- and surgical tape.
Although slightly more expensive, you can opt to buy a first-aid kit online instead of making your own.
You should also save a list of emergency contacts in your smartphone. Make sure that the contact information is correct for any region or country you might be visiting. This includes emergency services, poison control, animal control, and roadside assistance. Keep a handwritten duplicate copy of that same list taped to the inside of your glove compartment.
2. Roadside Emergency Kit
There’s nothing worse than happily cruising down a scenic stretch of open road one moment, only to be sitting dumbfounded in a broken-down car the next. The good news is that you don’t have to be a triple-A mechanic to know basic car maintenance or how to change a tire. There are some great DIY videos online to help get you going. If you’re renting a car, don’t worry too much about being able to change your own oil.
Once you know the basics, it’s time to prepare a roadside emergency kit with:
- jumper cables,
- windshield wiper fluid,
- a litre of engine oil,
- a litre of coolant,
- rags or paper towels,
- tire pressure gauge,
- extra wiper blades,
- tool kit including screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches,
- duct tape,
- pocket knife,
- mini fire-extinguisher,
- and a can of tire inflator and sealant, OR a spare-tire kit (jack, jack stands, lug wrench, spare tire).
If you anticipate driving for long stretches in the absence of gas stations, keep a jerrycan that you can load up with extra fuel as needed. Depending on the season or terrain you’ll be traveling through, you might also consider bringing,
- a shovel,
- some blocks of wood,
- tire chains,
- blankets (wool or emergency),
- road flares,
- high-powered flashlight,
- extra batteries,
- and a safety vest.
It’s important to let your car rest every so often. Stopping every few hours gives your engine a chance to cool down and gives you a chance to resupply your stash of delicious junk food. Remember also to pay attention to any unusual symbols that may illuminate on your dash.
3. Camping Equipment
Whether or not you plan on pitching a tent and catching some zees in nature’s sweet embrace, it certainly doesn’t hurt to bring some camping gear. You can load a separate backpack with:
- sleeping bag,
- sleeping mat,
- camp stove,
- cooking fuel,
- camping dishes/cutlery
- mosquito net,
- rain jacket,
- insulated jacket,
- pack towel,
- and some rope and stuff sacks (in case you need to hang a bear bag).
Depending on how many people you’ll be travelling with, each person can bring their own backpack or you can fill a Rubbermaid container with everyone’s gear and a multi-person tent. You should also consider bringing a pair of comfortable trail runners in the event you need to hike-in to your campsite. If you’re traveling on a budget, camping is definitely cheaper than 5-star hotels and roadside motels. Plus, you get to tell each other ghost stories.
4. Food. Water. Coffee.
Most of the food you’ll have access to road-side is likely to be fast, fatty, and lathered in grease. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good McDonald’s breakfast; but keeping a cooler filled with healthy options like vegetables, fruits, and protein bars is a good way to diversify your diet. And, in the event your car breaks down or you decide to camp, you’ll always have something to eat.
It’s also a good idea to keep at least a gallon of water in your vehicle. Besides drinking it, you can use it to wash your hands, dishes, or laundry. You can also use it to flush out a wound, extinguish small fires, or use it to soak a bandanna to cool your body temperature.
Then there’s the trusty Thermos. Do we really need to make a case for a Thermos? It simply is the best way to cut down on waste, all while keeping your tea or coffee piping hot. Win-win.
5. Glove Compartment Essentials
Before hitting the road, take stock of your glove compartment — that largely underrated storage compartment that nobody actually uses for gloves. Double-check that you have your Owner’s Manual, insurance, registration, and rental agreement. You might also want to keep photocopies of your driver’s license and/or passport here, in addition to the list of emergency numbers mentioned above.
It’s a good idea to keep a spare car key, as well. Though whether you should keep a spare key in the car you’re locked out of is up for debate. Instead, spare keys can conveniently be kept in a strong magnetic key box placed on the car’s undercarriage. Or, simply let someone else keep it securely on them at all times.
6. Emergency Poop Kit
There I said it. An emergency poop kit. While this entry may seem sort of obvious, many road-trippers forget to bring the most essential of all essentials — toilet paper. Maybe it’s an aversion to thinking about the specific instances when you’d really need it, or maybe because it’s just too obvious to be obvious at all. In any case, when nature calls and there’s no evidence of civilization for miles, you’ll be glad you brought along a “precautionary” bathroom kit. Include:
- toilet paper,
- trowel or long tent stake (to dig a cat-hole),
- Ziplock bags (to pack out used TP),
- and hand sanitizer.
Digging a 4” – 6” hole in the ground, aiming true, and burying your business is the best way to lessen your environmental footprint and respect the planet. If you’re grossed out by the idea of packing-out used TP, then just be sure to bury it with the rest of your business. That way, animals don’t eat it or start building nasty little homes with it.
On the topic of personal hygiene, you should also bring along a toothbrush, toothpaste, and all-purpose soap.
While having a great playlist is a no-brainer for most of us, many people forget all about the joys of reading. Fortunately, audiobooks make it easy to enjoy great fiction or learn a new subject without taking your eyes off the road — it also doesn’t hurt that they provide hours of entertainment. Check out Audible for a great selection of reasonably priced books, and your first month free.
And let’s not forget about podcasts, a modern version of talk-radio that has unexpectedly swept the world by storm. While most podcasts can be downloaded for free, consider donating in support of your favorites, so they can continue to produce quality content you love. There are many great interview-format podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience and Making Sense with Sam Harris, as well as story-format ones such as, Mysterious Universe and Hardcore History.
8. Maps and Compass
By maps, we don’t mean a shorthand for Google Maps — we mean those large, folded paper things that pioneers and pirates once relied on for navigation. While you could argue that carrying paper maps in the Digital Age sounds like a recipe for dust collecting, keep in mind that when technology fails, maps could save your life.
Suppose your car breaks down and you can no longer charge your phone. Or your GPS goes awry. Or maybe you were so smitten by a lovely landscape that you drove right into the middle of nowhere — without cell service or memory of how to get back. Bottom line: Bring a map and compass and learn how to use ’em. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like a pirate?
Wrapping up this list is something that may seem trivial when compared to first-aid kits, spare tires, and snacks. But the science behind wearing sunglasses while driving makes this entry a road-tripper essential. Not only do sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but wearing them while driving prevents you from squinting, which can tire you over many hours — and there’s nothing more dangerous than driving tired. Also, if you enjoy driving with your windows down, wearing sunglasses can prevent dust from getting trapped in your eyes, a common occurrence that is both dangerous and annoying.
The key thing to remember when buying sunglasses is that the lenses should be mirrored or polarized. This means spending a little extra on a pair than what you might find in a gas station. But it’s a worthy investment, as non-polarized lenses can trick your eyes into relaxing and cause even more damage than not wearing sunglasses at all.
10. Keep It Clean
When you’re living moment to moment on the road, ever excited to see what’s around the next bend, it’s easy to lose track of the mundane. But, like living at home, living in a car requires a certain amount of housekeeping. While this last entry isn’t a thing, it’s an act that ties our list together.
Clutter not only feels bad, it makes finding things difficult and leads to foul smells when you lose track of last night’s dinner. The solution is to build a simple routine starting from day one. Choose a time (before hitting the road in the morning, or when you stop for the night) and stick to it like rubber to road. All it takes is ten minutes of tidying every day:
- put things back where they belong,
- collect any trash (bring garbage bags),
- and wipe down dusty and sticky surfaces (bring car wipes).
Not only will it look and feel better, but you’ll waste less time searching for things when you need them — and that means more time to enjoy the views. If the car still feels cluttered after you’ve finished playing 3D-Tetris, consider renting a vehicle equipped with a roof rack, or purchasing a set-up for your own car.
There’s nothing like the freedom of the open road; but making the most of your road trip requires careful planning and organization. If you have any questions or comments about our 10-Point Packing Checklist, let us know in the comments below! If you’d like to read more about road trips, be sure to check out THE STELLA’s, Road Tripper’s Guide to Travel.