A Road Trip Checklist for Your Vehicle: Being Prepared Inside and Out

Denedriane (Dee) Dean Avatar

A close-up of a weathered sign displaying the words Road Trip with a desert highway racing into the mountain filled distance
Planning a great road trip? Here’s what you need on your road trip checklist before you go! Photo Credit: ESB Professional via Shutterstock

What is the one thing that can make road tripping easier? A road trip checklist! With all that goes into piling everyone into the car for a vacation, having a list to go by is invaluable. Here are some of our best travel tips for vehicle prep, what to have in the car, and more to make your next road trip a breeze!

I enjoy a good road trip. I always have. There is nothing quite like being together with my family and heading toward a destination we are excited to visit. The ultimate road trip is half about the final destination, and half about the fun of getting there!

Now, it takes some logistical skill to roll with my crew of five. (Truthfully, it takes a bit of trip planning even if it’s just hubby and me or one child and me hitting the open road.) We need to make sure that everyone has what he or she needs to be comfortable in the van. On more than one occasion, we have packed the van, pulled out of the garage, and waved goodbye to the house, only to discover that a family member has forgotten a much needed item.

Most importantly, we need to make sure that the vehicle is road-ready inside and out. There is not much worse than having travel interrupted by a problem with the car, truck or van. Here are a few insightful road trip tips to make sure that all that is ahead is a good time on the road!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Plan entertainment before you go! Check out our list of audiobooks that are perfect for road trips.

Vehicle Prep

Happy vehicle, happy family…or something like that. A great place to start in getting it road ready is to use the advantage of time. Whenever we travel – be it in the summer, or during Thanksgiving and Christmas – I am happiest when we can get the car checked out a few weeks before we actually make the trip.

Read More: Car maintenance checklist to prepare the inside of your car for the road trip.

Tires

Here’s an important place to start: fill the tires with air. Use a pressure gauge to check tire pressure. You can find the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle in the owner’s manual. You’ll all benefit from the safer smoother ride. As an added bonus: properly inflated tires help improve gas mileage so it can save you money, too!

road trip checklist be sure to have your car inspected
Heading out on that epic trip? A major item to have on your road trip checklist is a car checkup before you go!
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean

Under the Hood

Under the hood is next on the checklist. Make sure the windshield wiper fluid is topped off. There’s nothing worse than having to drive with your hand out the window, to assist with snow and ice removal after the well’s run dry. If you’re traveling during the winter be sure to have a scraper in your car as well!

This is a good time to buy a new set of wiper blades. Our family learned this the hard way. We had to find an auto supply store in the middle of a long stretch of road in South Carolina during a torrential downpour because the wiper blades couldn’t handle the rain. Needless to say, we learned that it’s best to start off with a fresh pair, especially if foul weather (rain or snow) is a possibility!

And right along with that, an oil check/change is a great move. This really helps to keep a lot of things under the hood to running well. You can go to most mechanics and let them know you’re heading out on a road trip. They’ll give all of your systems a once over, giving you peace of mind.

road trip checklist essentials for your trunk
A few travel essentials to have in the trunk include jumper cables, a blanket, travel pillow, flares and a first aid kit.
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean

Be Prepared for Emergencies

One road trip essential for all roadtrippers? An emergency plan. In case of emergency, your road trip checklist should include these basics:

  • Spare Tire: You can also keep a tire patching spray in the car but it won’t help in the case of a total blowout.
  • First Aid Kit: Assemble your own or buy one ready to go on Amazon.
  • Roadside Assistance: For some it comes with your car (like Onstar), others are AAA members. When the going gets rough, it’s nice to know who you’ll call for help!
  • Water bottle or, even better, a gallon jug: If you ever get stuck on the side of the road in a remote area make sure you have this in your car.
  • Snacks: We’re not talking road trip snacks here (which you should obviously bring). Think a few long term emergency granola bars, jerky or granola that you only reach for if you’re really stuck. If you snack on them early, be sure to replace them! (Check out these lists of travel snacks for toddlers, gluten-free and dairy-free road trip snacks and this recipe for healthy trail mix.)
  • A rolled sleeping bag or blanket: We don’t want to fill your trunk with too much stuff but if you get caught in the cold you’ll be happy to have this. Simple cheap fleece blankets can be easily stuffed into wheel wells.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Here are 100 items that you should consider for your car’s emergency kit! We also like this one on Amazon. It includes many necessities like jumper cables, a first aid kit, and even an air compressor for out-of-the-way flat tires!

A sport utility vehicle/car is expertly loaded at a wooded campground. The suitcases, bags, and coolers are ready to be unloaded.
Make your road trip stress free with these tips. Photo credit: Youproduction via Shutterstock

Inside the Vehicle Necessities

Yes, the interior of the vehicle is where things can get sticky, in every literal sense of the word. More than likely, the road trip will take several hours. Those hours will be happy hours if everyone is as comfortable and as mess-free as possible.

Road Trip Packing List

These road trip essentials will make your ride more pleasant. Even if you’re just heading out for a leisurely drive having a day pack or tote bag packed with these items is a smart move.

  • Hand Sanitizer: Not all rest stops have filled soap dispenser. Keep everything clean and sanitary by storing some sanitizer in your car.
  • Toilet Paper: Same thing. If you’ve ever needed to use a sketchy gas station bathroom because someone NEEDS to go NOW you’ll be happy you packed it.
  • Sunscreen and a Towel: Keeping these in your car means you’re always ready for a quick adventure no matter what happens.
  • Travel Mug and/or Reusable Water Bottle: Not only are these items environmentally friendly but they’ll cut down on trash in your car that you’ll need to discard later.

Keeping it Clean

Fellow SheBuysTravel Sarah Gilliland and I think alike, especially with this recommendation for the inside: Trash can/bags for all the junk we have! Also baby wipes for spills and sticky fingers.

In an interview, TravelingDad Paul Eisenburg spoke with TV star Kevin James about traveling with his family. Kevin hilariously told what it is like to travel with 4 kids who ALL get carsick. Yikes! Here’s the simple solution: Dramamine. Keeps the car puke free. And for those moments that Dramamine doesn’t work, pack extra plastic gallon-sized Ziploc bags and a roll of paper towels.

What can you do when there is not a rest stop in sight for miles? SheBuysTravel Nasreen Stump gives this gem of an option to have onboard:

Not sure I want credit for this one but I picked up a potty training mini potty that came with these little plastic bags w absorbent pads to pee into. It has come in useful in remote areas when you get lost and have had a liter of water. You can also stick a sanitary pad into a plastic grocery bag for the same effect.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Keep the kids occupied with this list of road trip games to play with no supplies needed! Or check out these travel-friendly card games.

How to Preserve the Peace

Travel with extra phone chargers, especially if you’re road tripping with tweens and teens. They literally may die if they don’t have power. (From what I’ve experienced, that applies to both the devices AND the teens. There is more than a little teen angst tied to devices running out of power!) Headphones will also keep everyone happy and minimize arguing.

SheBuysTravel Tip: A great road trip needs a great playlist! Check out our recommendations or put your own playlist together on Spotify.

road trip hacks, screenshot directions
Taking a screenshot of directions on long drives can save battery life. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Directions

My husband and I still joke to this day about an “almost” disaster when it came to directions. We were on our way to a lovely romantic getaway about two hours from our home. We were fairly certain about how to get there, and so we decided to just use our smartphone GPS. Yeah…no. We got just far enough out in the country that our cell signal dropped and Google Maps froze! I was never more thankful for my hubby’s great sense of direction than I was in that moment, and we arrived at the resort without a major hitch.

The solution? Have a backup. Either print the directions at home before you leave or take a screenshot WHILE YOU STILL HAVE SERVICE! A good old-fashioned paper map works too, especially for road trips on a budget.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re taking a long road trip and covering a lot of ground you may want to consider a Skyroam Solis. This device is a Wifi hotspot. It can cover up to 10 devices so it’s perfect for families. You pay a daily fee to use but it is significantly cheaper than hotel wifi charges or out of country charges if you have multiple devices. Get 18 more long road trip survival tips.

Other Valuable Considerations

What about the times that we are traveling with a multigenerational group? The travel needs of both the very young and the young at heart call for a couple of additional – and vital – considerations, according to two SheBuysTravels:

  • Hannah Rinaldi: We always pack to the max and rent a pack n play at the hotel (sometimes they are free). It allows us more room in the car for other stuff like a cooler of food.
  • Christine Tibbetts: Such a different perspective when elder care road tripping is the agenda: backup oxygen, nebulizer with meds, lymphedema wraps if flare up occurs. Just as do-able as child details!

Road trips are a blast and are a great way to make amazing memories. Having a road trip checklist will help to make them memorable for the right reasons!

What do you always include on your road trip checklist? Share with us in the comment section below.

4 responses


  1. I’m glad you talked about road trips and how to prepare a vehicle for one! Recently, my sister’s husband purchased an RV, and he invited us to a road trip next summer. My wife and I are really excited about the trip, but we believe we must put our safety first, so I’ll be sure to share this guide with my sister. Thanks for the advice on road trips and how to set a vehicle for one.

  2. While dad gets his oil changed and tires checked regularly, we need to get some travel essentials for the trunk, too! Thanks.

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