There’s no more romanticized mode of travel than a road trip. You’re in full exploration mode, able to choose your own adventure, and have a perspective building experience. Every year it seems more people are venturing out on road trips in their country and abroad.

We at Departful love a good road trip and have our fair share of experiences: Ireland, Iceland, Spain, California, South Africa, and Canada, to name a few. Like you, we love the sense of adventure that road trips offer and the ability to truly get off the beaten path. But it can be less than a perfect trip if you’re not prepared. To ensure you have the absolute best road trip ever, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of road trip essentials that you need for your next driving trip.

Top Road Trip Essentials

Obvious Contenders:

A reliable vehicle

Duh – the most obvious road trip essential. If you’re driving your own car, get it checked before you head off. If you’re renting make sure you have the right vehicle – one that has sufficient space, is appropriate for the terrain, and is good on gas. I’ve used Europcar for many road trips without issue, and they’re available around the world (not just Europe).

For our month long South Africa road trip, we rented a Ford Fiesta. It was compact and easy to drive, but there were times when we felt the small car wasn’t going to make it up a super steep hill or across unpaved roads. Sure, we saved money by going with a smaller vehicle, but it was a stressful experience at times. And it also could’ve derailed our trip if it broke down as a result of the terrain. Looking back, I would’ve sprung for a sturdier car.

Car insurance

Other than a car, insurance is the next important of the road trip essentials! In many countries, insurance is mandatory when renting a car and you either need to purchase from the rental company or have proof of your own (which can take some advance work on your end).

Many of us have travel credit cards that offer car rental insurance, but we don’t actually know what it covers and how it applies. I admit that I wasn’t really aware of my insurance policy, which could’ve been a nightmare on our Iceland road trip. To avoid a head-on collision with an out of control Land Rover, we backed into a small post that we couldn’t see in the rearview mirror, which dented the bumper. The repair was over $3,000 (everything is more expensive in Iceland) and luckily our insurance covered it but it could’ve been a different story as on other road trips we’ve gone over the number of travel days allowed and accepted the insurance that comes with the car (both potential no-nos). Before you head off, take a read of your credit card manual so that you know 100% that you’re inline with their requirements in case anything goes wrong.

Travel insurance

And other than car rental insurance, it’s critical to have sufficient travel insurance. Credit cards have so many exclusions making it extremely costly if something goes wrong and you find out afterward that it’s not covered. I’ve been using World Nomads travel insurance for the past few years, and have nothing but good things to say about it. As it’s created specifically for travelers, it reflects what you actually need – like it was developed by humans and not some underwriting software looking for ways to avoid paying out. I’ve found the customer service at World Nomads to be excellent – night and day from my experience with the large insurers.

Valid drivers license

Okay, this one is pretty obvious too. But – several countries require an international driving permit, which needs to be obtained in your home country. If you’re heading off on an international road trip, do your research in advance to ensure you’re good to go when you get there. Because that would really suck if you weren’t.

Online & offline maps

Google Maps is an awesome road trip tool, but what if your phone dies, you don’t have signal, or the electronic route doesn’t line up with reality? We always bring a hardcopy map along with us that has come in handy every single road trip we’ve been on – it’s vital on any list of road trip essentials. And when driving through cities, nothing beats Waze.

Extra cash

Cash is king on the road. You’ll probably find that a lot of spots accept cards, but local establishments on rural roads may be cash-only. It’s always good to have a backup of emergency cash on a road trip just in case your credit cards fail, which has happened to me in the past. There may be toll roads where you’re driving, which may require change to pass through. Do some research in advance so you know what you need to bring.

Road Trip Essentials to Keep You Going:


While admiring the scenery and watching the world go by is fun, having things to listen to breaks up the monotony of long drives. And it also adds to the entire experience, in my opinion. Before heading off, I’ll download dozens of albums and playlists from Apple Music (we listened to a lot of Sigur Ros, 90s pop hits, and Drake on our Iceland road trip). Ensure you’ve fully downloaded them (and not just added them to your library) so that you can listen if on airplane mode or outside of signal area.

Podcasts have been a game changer for our long drives. Listening to music all day can get boring so I typically download a bunch of podcasts from different genres to keep us entertained on the road. Past road trip favourites include Reply All, Homecoming, Casefile, and You Must Remember This.

And after signing up for Audible recently, audio books have also became a favourite as well. I’m all about physical books (or so I thought) but I can’t get enough of listening to books on the go – especially on road trips. I’ve laughed through Northern Ontario with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and been enthralled by I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle MacNamara. Audible has a one month free membership with two free audio books so try it risk free.


I get super snacky when on a long drive. Having a good supply of food on hand can be a godsend when you’re driving through rural areas or when you’re trying to conserve a little cash, making it one of the most important of our road trip essentials. Stock up beforehand or right when you set off, focusing on things that aren’t perishable like granola bars, apples, bananas, bread, nuts, chips, and crackers.

If you’re camping or want to be able to eat meals at rest stops, bring a cooler so that you can expand your food options. This one by CleverMade keeps ice for 36 hours! I use the cooler to keep yoghurt, drinks, cheese and all sorts of other things cold while on the road.

Water bottle

I go through a lot of water in a day (much to the annoyance of my road trip buddies). To keep hydrated while on long drives (and avoid plastic water bottles), invest in a good reusable water bottle. I’m partial to S’well bottles as they keep water super cold but I can also use them for hot drinks like coffee and tea. And they’re just so god damn pretty.

Tech + Gear Road Trip Essentials

USB cord

To actually play all of your music, podcasts and audio books, you’re going to need a USB cable to connect your phone to the car. Newer cars, for the most part, have a USB port with car/phone integration so that your audio plays on your car speakers – but that’s not always the case! You may need an auxiliary cable to actually play direct from your phone. And as an added bonus, most cars charge your device when it’s plugged in to the USB port. If yours doesn’t, here’s a good one that connects to your lighter plug so that you can charge as you drive.


You’re going to need a good camera to document your road trip. I love my Nikon 1 – it’s a mirrorless camera that’s the size of a point and shoot, but the picture quality is excellent. Instead of lugging around a hefty DSLR, my Nikon 1 and zoom lens don’t take up much space. And it’s super quick and easy to point out the window of a moving car, which is how most of my pictures get taken on road trips.

Portable battery pack

You’ll probably be able to charge your phone by plugging into your car’s USB port, but I recommend taking along an external battery pack as well. Inevitably one phone will be connected via USB to play music while your phone with the detailed directions to your next destination will be at 1%. And a full charge from the car takes forever. A portable battery, like this one that I always rely on, will ensure all of your electronic devices stay charged throughout your road trip.


The beauty of a road trip is pulling the car over and heading off to explore. A solid backpack is ideal for bringing along water, some snacks, and a rain jacket in case of an unexpected downpour. I’m a big fan of Herschel bags (I have three!) and
this one
is ideal for wandering and exploring – it’s lightweight, compact, and water-resistant.


Having a blanket in the car is just good common sense. You never know when (and where) your vehicle might break down or whether those hostel sheets have been washed recently. I always throw a simple fleece blanket in the backseat just in case.

When other people are warm, I’m cold. I’ve learned that instead of complaining incessantly, it’s better just to be prepared so I bring a thick scarf that I can use as a blanket. I’m obsessed with Cuyana, a clothing and accessories line that makes minimal, high quality pieces – including this alpaca scarf that’s sooo soft. I bring it with me even on road trips in the summer.

Travel towel

A good travel towel is a must-have for any successful road trip. First, it’s great for getting dry if you’re caught in the rain, as sitting in your wet clothes in the car is the worst. Also, it can be used as a beach towel or laid out on the grass for a picnic. And finally, it’s a backup if you don’t trust the towels where you’re staying. Here are some good microfibre ones that come in a variety of colours!


I really enjoy a beer or glass of wine after a long day of driving – especially if I’ve just arrived in a beautiful destination. But what always happens? It’s not a twist off and I don’t have anything on me to get it open. So I try to pry it open with whatever I can find: lighter, knife, or pen. And while I’ve avoided injury this long, I don’t know how much longer until my luck inevitably runs out. I now have a small bottle opener on my keychain and bring a corkscrew with me when I remember. However, if you’re flying internationally, make sure your corkscrew is compliant.

Emergency Road Trip Essentials:


A flashlight is recommended on any long drive. In an emergency, it can be critical to provide light at night to flag down cars or to actually see what you’re doing when changing a tire. In everyday situations, it can be helpful lighting your way to your accommodation when you arrive after dusk. We have avoided many broken ankles by having a flashlight to guide our way. MagLites are the best. They give off so much light and the batteries last a long time.

First aid kit

This is a good idea for any drive, but is especially essential for road trips in rural areas. Heading out of our car to explore on road trips in Iceland and South Africa, I’ve tripped and scrapped my knee and cut my finger on a particularly prickly bush. I’m a klutz. Here’s a good option that’s compact enough to travel with but has everything you’ll need. Or stop off at a pharmacy before heading out to make your own.

Spare tire

Always ensure you have a backup tire in case you hit a snag on the road. Most car rentals include one, even if just temporary to get you off the road and into a mechanic’s garage.

Miscellaneous Must-Haves

Plastic bags

Perfect for storing half eaten food, using as a designated car garbage, or keeping your wet bathing suit after a swim.


The best way to jot down your thoughts from place to place. Travel journal your way through your road trip so you can look back later on.

Car air freshener

Trust me, you’ll want to mask the smell of you and your fellow passengers (and their pungent food).


Baby wipes for when you can’t grab a shower, Lysol wipes for when you inevitably spill something sticky in the car.


Have you ever gotten a sunburn on one side of your body because the window was down and sun was strong? I have! It’s not a good look.


It might be awhile before you track down a pharmacy so make sure you have the essentials with you: Advil, anti-nausea pills for the dreaded car sickness, allergy pills (ugh nature), and whatever else you might need.


Because you never know if that gas station bathroom actually has toilet paper…

Hand sanitizer

…or if there’s soap in the dispenser.

Intangible Road Trip Essentials:

A sense of wonder

The best part of a road trip is stumbling upon amazing spots that you never knew existed. It’s not just about getting from point A to point B, it’s the experience that you have along the way. Heading on spontaneous detours, jumping out of the car to explore, and watching the world pass by are the things that you’ll truly remember from your road trip. Being open to new experiences on your drive is definitely high on our list of road trip essentials.

A good plan that can be altered on the go

Madeline put it best in her California road trip guide: have a plan but be prepared to ditch it. A road trip is definitely not something you want to just wing, and an initial plan will give you the direction you need to ensure you hit all the best spots and don’t waste time on a less direct route. However, give yourself freedom to change it up on the go. Having a base of knowledge of what to see and do along the way will help you make decisions on what to alter and adjust as you drive.

A ride or die companion

You’re going to spend hours in a vehicle together and it’s soon going to feel like tight quarters. Stressful experiences like taking the wrong turn, differing opinions on what to listen to, and overall grumpiness from not getting enough sleep will all take their toll. Make sure you’re traveling with someone you’re super comfortable with and has seen you at your worst, even if that’s just yourself!


Road trips are unparalleled travel experiences, but they do have their downsides. Driving for hours passing nothing and having nowhere to stop can be unbelievably boring while realizing you’ve been heading on the wrong route can be frustrating. Try to keep things in perspective and not get annoyed by the little things that go wrong, as those are often the stories we remember fondly later on.

That’s it for our roundup of road trip essentials. Have any must-haves for a successful road trip?

Road Trip Essentials photos by Adrian, Alex Wise, Austin Neill, Dino Reichmuth, Marjorie Teo, and Patrick Baum.

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