One last summer vacation, anyone? A road trip is the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some last-minute warm-weather activities before the fall months arrive. It's also a great way to make lasting memories with your friends and family.

If you've decided to take a road trip as a "last hurrah" for the season, it's easy to forget a few things amid all the excitement. Seeing as you'll likely have limited space in the car, remember to pack these road trip car essentials in your backpack or trunk. These must-haves will help you embark on a successful and stress-free trip to remember.

Road Trip Car Essentials

Packing for a trip is part of the fun. It's a way to get excited about your upcoming journey while preparing ahead of time to make sure everything goes smoothly. Here's your friendly reminder to grab these road trip car essentials before pulling out of the driveway.

1. Stock Up On Snacks

While the first few minutes of a long drive are full of excitement, the novelty of the drive alone can wear off. One way to keep your spirits lifted and avoid that "hangry" feeling is by keeping your body fueled and nourished.

Be sure to pack some car-friendly snacks that are shelf-stable and full of nutrients, like these:

  • Popcorn
  • Mixed nuts and seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Dark chocolate
  • Granola and protein bars
  • Chips and crackers

Here's a pro tip: bring along a cooler to stash any refrigerated goods. This will allow you to snack on fresh fruit like apple slices, grapes, watermelon, and berries. You can also bring chopped veggies and dips, like carrot sticks and hummus. Make nutrient-dense snacks your go-to so you feel your best while traveling.

2. Stay Hydrated

If you've ever had a long day out and about, you know the feeling of being tired, thirsty, and worn out. Whether you're driving across the state or cross country, you'll be in the car for quite some time. This will mean a lot of exposure to the elements—heat, sunshine, air pollution, etc.—as well as the air conditioner in your car. This is a recipe for possible dehydration, which can make you feel achy and fatigued. Do you want to sleep the whole trip and miss out on the fun? Probably not.

Packing ample drinking water is just as important as snacks. Though staying hydrated is sure to mean extra pit stops, curbing dehydration is worth it. Drinking enough water can make you feel more energized. Eating fresh fruit, which is naturally high in water content, will quench your thirst and satisfy your appetite all at once.

3. Make It Fun

Road trips have been romanticized in books and movies, but they're not always as picturesque as they're depicted in pop culture. When your troop is in between destinations, keep yourselves occupied with games or activities.

Many road trip games are verbal, so there's nothing to pack. This may require some research ahead of time to keep lulls to a minimum. Classics include I Spy, 20 Questions, and Would You Rather?

Some quiet activities can also help pass the time. Together, you can listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts.

One of the best ways to find entertainment during a long road trip is pulling over for spontaneous activities. Are there any roadside attractions? Can you camp anywhere new overnight? Often, the weird, kitschy stops and sights can make for the best unexpected memories.

4. Prep for Safety and Emergencies

One of the most important road trip essentials (though not nearly as fun) is a thorough emergency kit. There are a lot of elements to consider—vehicle reliability, health concerns, and general safety.

Here are some emergency-related road trip car essentials that you hopefully won't need but should pack just in case:

  • Power adapter and phone charger
  • Paper map, for those dead zones with no cell signal
  • Flashlights and batteries for any nighttime needs
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Spare tire
  • Your car's user manual

Making sure your car is in good shape can help you prepare for the worst. You're a lot less likely to break down mid-trip if you've checked your car's overall condition beforehand. Top off your oil and coolant as well as your brake, transmission, and wiper fluids. Check your tire pressure, too. This is also a good time to make sure your license, registration, and insurance are all up to date.

It's also smart to pack some health-related items. Grab any and all medications, including pain relievers, antihistamines, and vitamins. Keep your immune system up during travel with hand sanitizer, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and plenty of vitamin C.

5. Pass the Sunscreen

Seeing as car windows don't always filter out ultraviolet rays, which increase the likelihood of a sunburn, you should think of road trips like a day out in the sun. So, is the solution to keep a bottle of sunscreen in the car? Yes and no.

Normally, it is not advisable to leave sunscreen in the car. This is because heat and sun can break down the active ingredients in sunscreen, so it's better to store your sunscreen in a cool, dark place.

On a road trip, though, you should bring multiple bottles of sunscreen in the car. Just be sure to avoid leaving them in direct sunlight to preserve the formulation. A cooler is the perfect place to keep your extra sunscreen in the car, whereas a backpack, towel, or T-shirt will also suffice.

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen all over, and don't forget to reapply every two hours. This way, the only question you'll be asking on your road trip is "are we there yet?" and not "how do I heal a sunburn?"


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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