Your summer road trip checklist

How to plan + what to bring

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

It’s summer, which means it’s time to take to the open road! If you’re planning a road trip for your vacation, you’re in good company. According to a recent survey, 81% of Americans are planning to travel this summer and, of those, 80% are planning a road trip. That amounts to more than 206 million Americans spending their time off in their cars.

If you’re one of them, there are a number of things you don’t want to forget in order to have the best possible trip. From making sure your car is road ready, to planning your route to deciding what to pack, here’s our guide to road trip essentials you can use as a checklist to make sure nothing gets forgotten.

Plan your route

Depending on your road trip style, you might want to plan everything about the route down to the gas stations and the rest stops. Or you might be more spontaneous and want to have a vague plan that ends somewhere in a national park. Either way, here are a few things you might want to take into account as you plan the ultimate road trip:

  • Figure out how many miles you plan to go. Even if you want to leave your route a little fluid, having a destination and approximate mileage in mind is important for calculating timing and gas costs.
  • Pre-book campgrounds or other places to stay along your routes, especially if you’re going to popular destinations. Don’t forget those 208 million other roadtrippers out there!
  • If you’re traveling to areas with spotty cell service, consider bringing paper maps or downloading any Google maps you’ll need.
  • Avoid too many long driving days. It can be easy to overpack a road trip and end up exhausted after your vacation.

Get your car road ready

Before you join all the other roadtrippers creating breathtaking Instagram reels across the USA, you need to make sure your car is up for the challenge. Here are some things you will want to check before setting out on a long road trip:

  • Confirm there are no indicator lights on in your car or routine maintenance that needs to be done.

  • Check your car manual to see if you are approaching the need for an oil change. Factor in the number of miles you plan to drive on your trip.

  • Check your tire pressure (it’s also a good idea to bring a tire pressure gauge with you) and make sure you have a spare tire.

  • Check your fluids, headlights, brakes and rotors to make sure everything is working the way it should.

  • Confirm you have a roadside emergency kit including things like jumper cables and flares.

  • Make sure you have up-to-date car insurance and keep the documentation handy.

  • If you have AAA or other roadside assistance, make sure to write down the contact information.

If you want to make sure you’re extra prepared, we also have an in depth look at summer car maintenance needs.

Road trip packing list

Depending on the length of your trip, it can be daunting trying to remember what all to bring, but here's our list of road trip necessities to ensure you have the best road trip ever.

Car stuff:

  • Car charger and/or portable charger for your cell phone and other electronics
  • Phone mount
  • Storage solutions like a trunk organizer or packing cubes to keep all these things easy to find
  • Trash bag
  • Travel pillow


  • Good list of podcasts, Spotify playlists and/or audiobooks
  • Noise cancelling headphones (especially when not all road trip participants agree on the above)

Food and drink:

  • Reusable water bottle (ideally that fits in your cup holder) and travel mug
  • Road trip snacks! Bring whatever you like but make sure to bring along some nonperishables like granola and trail mix. And don't leave food in the car if you're driving in bear country.
  • Cooler and ice (and some cold drinks)
  • Travel picnic set and picnic blanket

Health and sanitation:

  • First aid kit
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toiletries and toiletry bag. Tip: Get a nice tote or day pack to take your shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush and maybe even flip flops for shower shoes, so you can grab and go for showers at campsites.
  • Sun screen and bug spray
  • Toilet paper
  • Baby wipes
  • Lip balm

Camping gear:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Head lamp
  • Picnic blanket
  • Hiking boots
  • Rain jacket or poncho
  • Travel journal
  • Duct tape

We actually have a whole resource on car camping you might want to check out as well.

Planning your next road trip doesn’t have to be too complicated. All you need are some good friends and road trip games to make the long drive as fun as the destination. But a little preparation can give you peace of mind and make you ready for anything the road throws at you.