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How to Pack for the Ultimate Road Trip

Afro girl laughing with friends on a road trip vacation

Photo Credit: iStock

Windows rolled down, music playing, an open road and endless possibilities ahead of you—the draws road trip are undeniable. When such an adventure is still just an idea, however, it is easy to forget the less glamorous aspects: the emergency rest stops between Nowhereville and Nothingtown; the pile of empty coffee cups and fast food bags growing beneath your passenger’s seat; the dreaded wrong turn or flat tire.

Road trips are an exciting and intimate way to see the country, but a smooth trip requires meticulous planning. Efficiency is key, and this starts with packing up your car. Rather than throwing everything you think you might need in the back of your adventure-mobile, here are some road trip packing tips to consider and essentials to include:

Sleeping Bag and Camping Gear

Whether you plan to camp or stay in roadside hotels, it’s a good idea to have the option to sleep wherever you are. At the minimum, bring a sleeping bag and a pillow so you can take a roadside nap in the front seat. If you plan to car camp the whole way, bring a small, easily packable tent, sleeping pad (optional but comfortable), and flashlight or headlamp to help you set up camp in the dark.

Luggage

Your luggage doesn’t need to fit in an overhead compartment—but it does need to fit in the back of your car. Soft, malleable duffle bags will take up less space in your trunk, and can be easily tossed around and stored beneath the heavier gear. Pack light, and pack for comfort.

Road Snacks

It will occasionally be necessary to try the “world’s BEST beef jerky” or stop at 66 Diner for a classic American diner experience and a chance to stretch your legs. Leaving all of your meals to such opportunities, however, is neither timely nor affordable. Pack a cooler or crate of quick and easily-accessible snack food: your favourite jerky (maybe not the world’s best, but it’ll do), fruit, peanut butter, bread, chips—whatever you need to keep you going on those long, late stretches.

Music!

Perhaps the most important element to any road trip is a road trip soundtrack. If you’re travelling with friends, collaborate on a playlist or have everyone bring their favourite album and take turn DJ’ing. Solo travellers need little more than a stereo system and a singing voice (doesn’t have to be a good one) for a good time.

(Pro tip: Podcasts are also a great way to pass the time when you’re sick of your throwback tunes or just crave a soothing voice talking into your ear).

Maps

Technology has made the traditional map near obsolete, but it’s still not quite perfect. On the tragic occasion that your phone or navigation system runs out of battery (or worse, service), keep road maps handy and accessible.

Accessories

This may seem trivial, but a good pair of sunglasses should not be underestimated.

Sense of Adventure and An Open Mind

You can plan every minute and mile of your trip before your departure, but you’re inevitably going to run into speed bumps. Prepare to be flexible—some of the best stories start with a wrong turn.

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