road trip essentials person holding map

5 Road Trip Essentials For The Bare-Minimum Traveler

There can be 101 things on your road trip checklist, but the bare-minimum traveler just needs a valid driver's license, a reliable vehicle, and an open road.

So, you're going on a road trip. Congrats!

Do you mind my asking what sort of road trip this is going to be? I'm asking because, if you won't be camping, you might not need a tent, a sleeping bag, or a small propane tank that smells of rotten eggs (eek!).

Are you hitting the road in the wintertime? If so, you might want to add tire chains and an ice scraper to your list of road trip essentials. "And don't forget the roadside emergency kit!" someone told me before I went road-tripping from coast to coast a few years back.

Road Trip Essentials for the Bare-Minimum Traveler

Look, you can add 101 things to your road trip checklist, but the bare-minimum traveler just needs a valid driver's license, a reliable vehicle, and an open road.

And while this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should cover everything you need to get you from point A to B, C, and D in one piece.

So whether you're staying at deluxe BNBs or quaint motor inns, check out our guide on packing for a road trip that's sure to get you and your vehicle from here to there!

Road Trip Checklist

This is a list of road trip essentials — just the bare minimum, really. But if you're going to be on the open road for a few months, you can always check out our ultimate packing list for more ideas.

1) Bring your driving documents

The items on this list are must-have road trip essentials. They include:

  • A valid driver's license
  • Vehicle registration
  • Car insurance information
  • Car manual (if available)

You might also consider saving copies to your Google Drive, Dropbox, or Cloud as a backup.

2) Tune up before you go

One road trip essential that never hurts is to ensure that your vehicle is in peak condition before you head out.

For example, performing a battery test may help you avoid being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no power.

You can also do some basic car maintenance tasks on your own, like checking your tires for air pressure, changing the oil, and adding wiper fluid.

Otherwise, have your vehicle serviced or undergo a multi-point inspection at the auto shop to ensure that it's road-trip-ready.

3) Pack a first-aid kit

Don't be that person who asks random strangers for a bandage because you forgot to pack a first-aid kit in your road trip essentials!

Even bare-minimum travelers need to be prepared for the worst, like blisters, bug bites, or headaches.

The following are five essential items that any first-aid kit should have:

  • Gauze and a variety of bandages (for cuts of all shapes and sizes)
  • Needle-nose tweezers (if you plan on touching a prickly pear cactus!)
  • Antiseptic solution (to prevent infection from a wound)
  • Scissors (to cut off clothing, rope, seat belts, etc.)
  • Gloves (to protect yourself from any number of contaminants)

4) Invest in car essentials

A trunk organizer sounds great! So does a portable gas container. But unless your car guzzles down gas like gremlins on a sugar high, it may not be worth the hassle.

To figure out what you'll need, consider the kind of road trip you're planning. Road flares obviously won't hurt, but maybe there's a chance you won't need them (see road trip checklist item #2).

On the other hand, road trip essentials may include an umbrella if you're ending your road trip in Seattle or a scraper if you'll be driving through snow-covered areas.

For a general road trip checklist, here are some no-frills items that should always be included (you can worry about how to use them later!):

5) Pack the bare minimum of personal items

Your road trip checklist wouldn't be complete without the bare-minimum essentials you'll want for yourself and fellow travelers.

While packing for a road trip, don't forget to include:

  • Your wallet (check for ID, debit/credit cards, cash)
  • Your cellphone and charger
  • Comfy, season-appropriate clothing
  • Sunglasses
  • Reading glasses or contacts
  • Any medication you take regularly
  • Pain killers like ibuprofen or Tylenol (for headaches and hangovers)
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, a hairbrush for those windblown selfies, etc.)
  • Travel-size toiletries (shampoo, soap, sunscreen lotion, etc.)
  • A toiletry organizer
  • A reusable water bottle (or two)
  • A reusable bag (for dirty laundry and items you want to keep separate)
  • A travel blanket to keep you warm
  • Towels (both cotton and microfiber) of different sizes
  • Snacks (granola bars, trail mix, fruit, etc.)

Packing for a Road Trip — One Last Check

A road trip is all about exploring new places, but the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy your time on the road.

And if you know what kind of trip you're going for, whether it's a National Parks Extravaganza or a Wine Country Adventure, the above road trip essentials should get you headed in the right direction.

For more traveling tips, including our ultimate guide to travel toiletries and how to pack a suitcase, check out the rest of the Gravel Travels blog!

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