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The Essential Road Trip Packing List

By Amy Jurries

Nov 29, 2018

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Sunglasses? Check. GPS? Check. Consider packing these 16 must-haves before you head out on your next long drive.

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We’ve all been there on a bad road trip—eating meals that consist of only gas station food, getting lost on some bumpy back road, second guessing car rental insurance decisions, not knowing where to park in a new city, or digging through a hopelessly overstuffed and disorganized car in the dark. It doesn’t have to be that way. With the right road-trip essentials, you can stay well-fed, on track, and neatly organized, making your next trip the best one yet. These are the 16 essentials to pack for your next road trip:

  • Outdoor blanket
  • Maps
  • Cooler
  • GPS
  • Rooftop cargo box
  • Duffel bag
  • Reusable coffee cup
  • Camera
  • Packing cubes
  • Headlamp
  • Comfy driving shoes
  • Sneaker boots
  • Foldable backpack
  • Safety kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Merino wool t-shirts

1. Outdoor blanket

AFAR's Pick: Rumpl Stash Mat Ground Cover, $69, rumpl.com

The versatile Stash Mat Ground Cover from Rumpl is the ultimate outdoor blanket. Use the soft, insulated side to keep cozy while riding shotgun, then throw it waterproof-side down for an impromptu picnic, afternoon at the beach, outdoor concert, or a movie night at the park.

2. Maps

AFAR's Pick: Orvis Leather-Bound National Parks Atlas, $59, orvis.com

Whether you’re off to explore a new city or on a cross-country adventure, you’ll find inspiration in the Orvis National Parks Atlas. This beautiful, leather-bound book is packed with information about U.S. national parks, state parks, and national forests, as well as scenic hikes, drives, and historic sites across the country. A comprehensive index makes it easy to find adventures large and small, wherever the road takes you. The book also offers plenty of dedicated journaling space throughout; fill the empty pages with notes, drawings, and mementos as you travel along to turn this resourceful guide into a treasured keepsake. For a personal touch, you can even emboss the front cover with up to four initials. Small in size, the book is easy to pack for your next open road adventure.

3. Cooler

AFAR's Pick: Yeti Hopper Flip 18, $300, yeti.com

Any good road trip requires mountains of drinks and snacks to keep you going. The Yeti Hopper Flip 18 soft-sided cooler uses a closed-cell rubber foam insulation to keep your LaCroix cold for days—not hours. Waterproof and leakproof, the cooler’s 18-quart size holds up to 20 cans of your favorite beverage. The wide hinged opening lets you easily get at all the contents, and hitch points along the front enable you to attach just about anything, including a bottle opener or waterproof pocket. The cooler weighs just over five pounds so you can tote it almost anywhere.

4. GPS

AFAR's Pick: Garmin DriveAssist 51 LMT-S, $300, garmin.com

For shorter trips, phones with Google Maps work great for navigation, and paper maps are a fun throwback. But on long road trips—especially those that take you into no-service zones—a GPS for your car is the best bet. The voice-activated Garmin Drive Assist 51 LMT-S will not only plan the best route to your chosen destination, but also help you outsmart traffic along the way. A built-in dash cam keeps you driving safely with warning alerts when you get too close to the car in front of you or start drifting off the road. When it’s time to ditch your vehicle to grab a quick bite or head out for a little sightseeing, the device gives you real-time parking information, including pricing and availability. And full TripAdvisor integration means you can easily find points of interest, hotels, restaurants, and attractions along your route or near your destination. (But don’t forget, while access to TripAdvisor is great, nothing beats recommendations from locals.)

5. Rooftop cargo box

AFAR's Pick: Thule Force XT Sport, $530, llbean.com

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Open up space inside your vehicle to bring along Fido or another friend by storing some gear in the Force XT Sport rooftop cargo box from Thule. It gives you an additional 11 cubic feet of storage space (enough room for four duffels and a couple pairs of skis) and is quick and easy to attach to most vehicles. The cargo box opens from both sides and locks shut so that it remains secure while you are driving or away from your car.

6. Duffel bag

AFAR's Pick: Filson Tin Cloth Excursion Bag, $275, filson.com

Made from a heavyweight waxed canvas fabric that develops a nice patina over time, the stylish Tin Cloth Excursion Bag from Filson will hold up to 50 liters of clothes, shoes, and anything else you need for a few days on the road. A separate zippered side pocket is lined with a water-repellent bag for any wet items like a swimsuit or towel, while a mesh pocket at the back of the bag is a great place to stow an extra layer for easy access.

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7. Reusable coffee cup

AFAR's Pick: Hydro Flask Coffee Container, From $30, hydroflask.com

Skip the wasteful paper cups from roadside coffee stops and bring a reusable drinking vessel instead. With double-wall vacuum insulation, this wide-mouth bottle will keep your chai latte hot for up to 12 hours or your nitro coffee icy cold for up to 24 hours. The caffeine-friendly bottles come in a variety of fun colors to suit your mood, and the powder coating doubles as a scratch- and slip-resistant barrier. The coffee flasks are available in three sizes—12 ounce ($30), 16 ounce ($33), and 20 ounce ($35)—to match the drink sizes at most beloved coffee shops.

8. Camera

AFAR's Pick: Polaroid OneStep+, $120, us.polaroid.com

While Instagram selfies are great, an instant camera can add a comforting dose of analog nostalgia to your next adventure and create fun mementos of your trip. Polaroid’s new OneStep+ takes the classic, well, one step further and uses Bluetooth to connect to the Polaroid Original app, where you can unlock your creative genius with six tools, including remote trigger, self-timer, double exposure, light painting, noise trigger, and manual mode.

9. Packing Cubes

AFAR's Pick: Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter, $31 for a set of 3 medium-size cubes, eaglecreek.com

Once you start using packing cubes, you’ll never go back. The Pack-It Specter series from Eagle Creek—the self-proclaimed “organization nerds”—use a durable and water-repellent ultralight material that you can simply throw in the wash with the rest of your clothes. The cubes come in a variety of colors and sizes, allowing for uber organization of your stuff, and dedicated cubes for everything from clothes and shirts to shoes and toiletries enable you to quickly grab only what you need when you need it.

10. Headlamp

AFAR's Pick: BioLite HeadLamp, $60, bioliteenergy.com

Unsuccessfully digging around in the car after dark is a chore, so throw a headlamp in your bag or console for those late night organization sessions. The BioLite HeadLamp integrates all the electronic components directly into the fabric creating a super-thin front light that sits flush to your forehead and won’t bounce around. The USB-rechargeable power source rests on the back of your head, delivering a balanced, weightless feel and also negating the classic slippage problem found in other headlamps. With 330 lumens of light, the lightweight headlamp features four different modes—dimmable white spot, dimmable white flood, red night vision, and strobe—and will last about 3.5 hours on max power or up to 40 hours on minimum brightness.

11. Comfy driving shoes

AFAR's Pick: Glerups Shoes With Rubber Sole, $135, huckberry.com

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Treat your feet to some Glerups during those long days behind the wheel. These 100 percent felt wool uppers are as comfortable as your favorite house slippers and don’t require a shoe change when you stop for gas or food or arrive at your campsite or hotel. The unisex Glerups mold to your feet over time, creating the perfect fit, and the rubber outsoles ensure you keep a good grip on the pedals when driving.

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12. Sneaker Boots

AFAR's Pick: Forsake Range High, $120, forsake.com

The ultimate in versatile footwear, these rugged and reliable sneakers are not only stylish enough for the city streets but also burly enough for the occasional off-road session. The combination suede, leather, and ballistic nylon upper is treated to repel water and dirt, with a breathable waterproof membrane to help keep your feet dry in wet weather. An antimicrobial liner and footbed cut down on the stink factor from daily wear, and the versatile outsole provides grip on both loose terrain and city pavement. The Forsake Range High is available in sizes for both men and women.

13. Foldable backpack

AFAR's Pick: Matador Freerain24 2.0, $65, matadorup.com

For those impromptu hikes or spontaneous trips to the local farmers market, keep the Matador Freerain24 2.0 waterproof backpack tucked in the driver’s side door pocket. Made from a durable and waterproof Cordura ripstop nylon fabric, the 24-liter backpack squishes down to the size of a soda can and weighs only 6.6 ounces, or the equivalent of just a few Snickers bars.

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14. Safety kit

AFAR's Pick: AAA Traveler Road Kit, $30, amazon.com

One of those hopefully-you-never-need-it but just-in-case-items, the AAA Traveler Road Kit should be in the trunk of everyone’s car. The 64-item ready-to-go kit includes everything from first aid supplies and basic fix-it hardware (duct tape!) to heavy-duty jumper cables, a flashlight with batteries, screwdriver, and more. A newbie to the open road? Don’t worry. The kit also includes an a guide to walk you through the most common scenarios and roadside emergencies.

15. Sunglasses

AFAR's Pick: Vuarnet Cap 1813, $330, us.vuarnet.com

Long days of driving can put a strain on your eyes, so protect them while looking cool in the Vuarnet Cap 1813 sunglasses. A modern take on the classic aviator style, these sunglasses feature a unique, tiny metal visor that helps cut down on glare. While the Cap Pilot is available in five different lens/frame combinations, the Nightlynx lenses give you sharper vision as it gets dark, in the rain, or when driving through fog.

16. Merino wool t-shirts

AFAR's Pick: Icebreaker Tech Lite Crewe, $75, icebreaker.com

Lightweight and versatile, the Tech Lite Crewe from Icebreaker is not only soft against the skin but also quickly wicks away any sweat to eliminate that damp, clammy feel. Made from merino wool fibers spun around a nylon core for greater longevity and abrasion-resistance, the Tech Lite fabric stands up to the rigors of travel. And merino wool is highly odor-resistant, so you won’t offend your road trip buddy if you wear the same shirt for a few days. Available for both men and women, the crew is made from a 150-gram-weight fabric for a light shirt you can wear alone or layer depending on the weather. Grab a crew or two so you can wash less and pack less on your next road trip.

Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. We may earn a commission if you buy through our links.

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