Planning a road trip is an exciting process. There’s nothing quite like the call of open highways, a trusty vehicle, a flexible schedule and a fun travelling partner to get you dreaming at your desk. Beaches, forests, mountains, small towns, big cities - a self-drive holiday is all about the possibilities.
Knowing what to bring, however, can be a little tricky - so we’ve put together a checklist of easily forgotten things you should pack before you begin your journey. We’re not talking big things, either - these are small items which you can easily fit in your luggage and make a big difference in keeping things organised, tidy and fun.
1 . Smartphone
It’s obvious, yes - and you’re not likely to forget your phone. However, it’s not about the phone itself, but what it can do for you. Before you go, download some handy road trip apps
, and it becomes navigational aid, radio, games generator, itinerary organiser and much more. Fill it with road trip music
, and it becomes the playlist to your adventure. Stock up on audio books, use it as a camera and video camera, and generally get the most of that amazing tiny computer that most of us carry around in our pockets.
It’s easy to assume that your phone will lose usefulness if you’re heading overseas, but that’s not the case at all. Many countries have plentiful WiFi hotspots where you can download maps for offline use, pick up some more songs, and check your travel apps for local hotspots nearby. Most road trip games apps work offline too, so don’t forget to download one of those before you depart - and make sure you remember to pack a car charger!
2 . Travel pillow
If you’re planning a camping-style road trip you’ll probably have a pillow with you, however if your accommodation choices are of the type to provide bedding it might slip your mind. It’s always a good idea to have something of a cushioning nature on hand, to avoid that comical but uncomfortable head-dipping falling-asleep situation you see so often on public transport.
A travel pillow will do, the kind often seen on airplanes. To save space, one can even be shared between two in a road trip duo - as presumably one of them will be driving at all times. It’s best to leave the pillow to passengers and avoid the temptation to nap while at the wheel.
3 . Cooler bag
Some days you just want a cold drink to enhance your road trip experience. With a bag of gas station ice, a decent watertight cooler bag can act as a temporary fridge. Soft-sided, these pack down small and are easily transportable, the perfect road trip accompaniment.
If you are cutting costs by cooking rather than eating out everywhere, a cooler bag can also help with keeping milk and meat cool between the supermarket and your accommodation, a very handy thing to have - especially if you get a little lost and the trip takes longer than expected!
Plug-in 12V car coolers are another option - these are powered by the cigarette lighter outlet and require no ice to keep your perishables or drinks cold. However, they certainly take up more space - and if you’re flying in to start you road trip, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit one in.
4 . Baby wipes
My mother was the type to have everything and the kitchen sink in her handbag. This often included a ziploc bag with pre-moistened flannel for wiping sticky hands, an innovation which has since been overtaken by something a little more modern and convenient: baby wipes.
These handy moist towelettes are essentials on the road trip packing list. Useful for cleaning hands, wiping up spills and even as a quick shower-on-the-go, they are far more than just baby bum wipers. Include a packet or two of these in your luggage and keep them somewhere easy to reach.
5 . Walkie talkies
These are only a road trip necessity if you’re travelling in convoy. It’s unfortunate, because there’s simply nothing that makes a journey cooler than communicating via walkie-talkie. In fact, even if you are a lone vehicle, you might want to bring some and just pretend to let someone know you’re stopping for a toilet break - it makes for a more authentic road trip experience. Be sure to come up with some awesome code names.
Walkie talkies can be useful even for a domestic road trip with cell phones, as it’s common to go out of coverage when travelling between main centres. You can usually pick up a pair for around $20-$50, making them an affordable way of keeping in touch for a travelling group.
6 . First Aid Kit
This one's a no-brainer; you should always have a first aid kit with you on any holiday. The trick here is making it small enough to fit in your luggage but extensive enough that you can fix up minor injuries and ills without pausing your trip for a visit to a pharmacy.
What to include? Sticking plasters/band aids of course, and over-the-counter pain relief of your preference to get rid of any pesky headaches or other aches. Crepe bandages and surgical tape, which can be used in a number of ways from strapping a twisted ankle to holding a gauze pad in place. Scissors, for which you’ll likely find uses beyond the medical. Antiseptic cream and hydrocortisone cream to head off infections, antihistamines for allergies (and an epipen for severe allergies), tweezers for splinters and saline solution for cleaning out wounds. If you’re flying to your road trip destination, be sure to pack the first aid kit in your checked luggage.
7 . Ziploc bags
When thinking about what to bring on a road trip, it’s the simple things we tend to forget. Ziploc bags take up almost no space, and when it comes to travelling, their worth-to-weight ratio is huge.
Keep them in a backpack or handbag, or stash them in the glovebox for easy access when you need one.
What, you may ask, can I do with a ziploc bag? They are useful for countless things: holding snacks, holding charger cords, keeping electronics dry in the rain, containing messes, corralling rubbish and much more.
8 . Toilet paper
It’s an unfortunate fact of life and road trips that there are times we are caught short. Public toilets are few and far between in some places, and there’s nothing to be done but to drop trou in a secluded spot and do what needs to be done. Regions like the Australian outback
, the deserts of the southern US
, the wilds of Canada
and other remote areas will almost certainly necessitate a back-to-nature toilet stop at some point.
You can cross your fingers you won’t require it, but if you do, it will be a need that will be felt to the depths of your soul. Do not omit toilet paper from your road trip essentials checklist! You can pick it up from a supermarket when you set off, but make sure it is there for those frantic occasions.
9 . Sunglasses
These are another of those items which are so simple, but so essential to a quality road trip. Sunscreen is also important - you won’t want to be sitting for hours in a hot car with crispy skin!
You aren’t as likely to forget your sunnies in summer, but they are just as important in winter - in fact they are possibly even more so, safety-wise. The shorter days mean it’s more likely you’ll be driving as the sun sets and getting that dreaded glare right in your eyes. Sun visors are insufficient to the task of keeping that kind of light out of your face, and you don’t want your vision compromised while you’re at the wheel.
10. Lots of bottled water
This isn’t only for drinking, although it’s certainly a good idea to keep hydrated while road tripping, especially in the summertime. Water has myriad uses while on the road. It can be used to rinse out food containers, dampen cleaning cloths, slosh over dusty feet before getting in the car, wash your hands and more. It is also important to have plenty of extra water to put in the radiator if it begins to overheat.
Of course, it’s not necessary to bring water with you before you start; you can easily stock up on big bottles at a supermarket when you set off. However, make sure you don’t run low while intending to pick up another bottle at the next gas station. You never know when you might need it - or how far it is to the next conveniences! If you have paid heed to our advice and brought a cooler bag, you can keep small bottles in there and refill them for thirst quenching purposes.