Cross-Country Road Trip Packing List

Road Trip USA is built around eleven cross-country road trips covering thousands of miles of two-lane road. If you want to travel coast to coast on the Pacific Coast Highway or tour the Grand Circle in the southwest, after planning your route and the stops along the way, you’ve still got one big challenge left: packing the car! Not to worry—we’ve got the scoop on what to pack to prepare you for camping, cold weather, car trouble, and more, plus tips for avoiding pitfalls and passing the time.

There are a few essential items you’ll want to get organized ahead of time (not the night before you leave). This cross-country road trip packing list includes everything you need to stay on track, like:

  • a countrywide and state-specific atlas
  • relevant paper road maps
  • guidebooks for destinations that you plan to explore in-depth
  • dashboard mount for your phone or a satellite GPS
  • portable chargers (with an adapter, if needed)
  • AAA membership for discounted hotel and attraction rates, complimentary maps and tour books, and, if necessary, emergency roadside assistance

You’ll also want to make sure you have the following required items on hand:

  • automotive manuals
  • proper vehicle registration
  • car insurance
  • personal identification (including driver’s licenses and, for international travelers, official passports)
  • varied currency (cash, travelers checks, and credit cards)

And prep the following automotive essentials in a plastic bin:

  • automotive fluids (motor oil, transmission fluid, radiator coolant, antifreeze, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, etc.)
  • cleaning rags and supplies
  • crowbar
  • duct and electrical tape
  • gallon of water
  • gas can
  • jacks (appropriate for your vehicle)
  • jumper cables (or a portable jump-starter)
  • flat tire fixes (spare tire, flat-tire sealer, tire gauge, and tire-inflating compressor)
  • toolkit
  • wind-up flashlight

Plan for the weather! When you’re road-tripping in winter or passing through someplace where it can unexpectedly snow in spring (like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of New England, for example), you’ll want to have the following packed:

  • ice scraper
  • tire chains
  • sand or kitty litter (if your car gets stuck in a slippery spot, pouring this in the path of your wheels will offer traction)
  • cold-weather clothing (jackets, sweaters, thermals, wool socks, and a beanie)
  • hiking boots

Similarly, a summer road trip through steamy spots like the southeast involves its own set of essentials, like:

  • sunglasses
  • water shoes
  • flip-flops
  • rain gear (such as ponchos, umbrellas, and hooded raincoats)
  • insect repellent and sunscreen
  • swimsuits
  • hat or visor

You’re bound to get hungry (and thirsty!) on the road, and convenience stores can be few and far between. Here are some refreshments that don’t require refrigeration:

  • snacks
    • nuts
    • raisins
    • apples and peanut butter
    • jerky
    • fruit strips
    • protein bars
  • drinking water
  • vitamin C or electrolyte packets
  • gum (which can improve concentration while driving)

Even good conversation can stall after a few hours on the road. Banish boredom with the following diversions:

  • audiobooks
  • podcasts
  • downloaded music
  • auto games and Mad Libs—they’re not just for kids!

Pro tip: When you’re losing focus, turn on a podcast rather than familiar music that you might be inclined to tune out. (If you’re getting really sleepy, don’t risk it—pull over!)

Camping along the way? Make sure to pack:

  • tent
  • sleeping bags
  • sleeping pads or a light air mattress (self-inflating or with a battery-powered pump)
  • folding chairs

You may also want to check out these gourmet camping recipes for a delicious break from the road trip food.

If your road trip includes kids, pull over at rest stops for plenty of playtime, plan a sing-along to pass the time, and avoid bringing the noisiest toys (you’ll thank yourself later!). Consider packing:

  • motion sickness bags
  • coloring books and crayons (skip the mess of markers)
  • outdoor activities like a frisbee, bubbles, jump rope, etc.
  • extra baby food and diapers, if needed

Traveling with your pup or other pets? Just like on a road trip with kids, be sure to plot pitstops and pull over at rest stops. Pack:

  • extra towels for muddy paws
  • up-to-date vaccination records
  • pet seatbelt or harness restraint, for safety
  • ice chips (especially in the summer)
  • collapsible water bowls

Finally, these basic supplies will come in handy on any road trip:

  • batteries of all types
  • battery-powered radio
  • blankets and pillows
  • bottle/can opener
  • compass
  • first-aid kit (for cuts, burns, abrasions, insect stings, etc.)
  • food-storage bags and garbage bags
  • small cooler
  • lantern
  • multitool device or pocketknife
  • scissors
  • moist towelettes, tissues, and paper towels
  • thermos (to opt out of using disposable cups)
  • ibuprofen
  • hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap
  • spare change for possible tolls
  • towels and washcloths

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