Holiday Road Trip Essentials: What to Pack & How to Plan

Thursday, October 29th, 2020

Travel is sure to look different this holiday season as those of us who live far from family and friends look for the safest way possible to get home for the holidays during Covid. For many of us, this means forgoing potentially crowded airports and airplanes for the comfort of our car and the open road. 

If you’re hitting the pavement this holiday, we have a list of road trip essentials to add to your prep list. While everyone’s must-haves will vary depending on the amount of space available and travel preferences, these items will ensure you have the basics needed for a memorable (and comfortable) excursion — rain or shine, hot or cold, one person or five. 

Reusable Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is key when setting out on a long road trip. For the sake of timing, budget and social distancing, you’ll want to limit the number of gas station stops. By having a reusable water bottle full of cool, filtered water from home, you can prevent having to replenish your water supply as often. 

The standard 25-oz. S’well Original bottle is an optimal choice. But if you are looking at multiple days on the road or a couple of scenic stops along the way, consider bringing along the 40-oz. or 64-oz. Roamer option instead. In addition to keeping water cold for 48 and 72 hours, respectively, they’ll also keep your coffee or hot chocolate hot for 16 and 24 hours. Plus, Roamers are designed with a handle, which makes it easy to carry and pour while on the move.

Commuter Bottle for Coffee

Next to water, many agree coffee is an essential part of those early morning starts or late night, just-one-more-hour-to-go moments. To get your caffeine fix while driving, the 16-oz. Commuter with its pop-top lid makes for easy sipping and holding. Your coffee will stay hot for six hours and is a perfect single-serve option.  

Rather than stopping for expensive lattes or lackluster rest stop coffee, fill up with your own home brew before you hit the road. If your trip ends with a stay at a family member’s house or hotel, you can fill up with complimentary coffee before you head back, too. Plus, some places charge less for refills if you have your own refillable container.

Food Storage Containers

In addition to beverages, no road trip is complete without plenty of snacks, such as cut fruit, veggies with dip and our favorite trail mix with some chocolate treats. Skip packing a cumbersome cooler to keep foods fresh and pack a few food storage containers instead. S’well Eats food bowls keep hot foods hot for seven hours and cold foods cold for 11 or 12 hours, depending on the size you choose. 

These reusable, stainless steel containers are ideal for soups, pasta salads, sandwiches and even leftover fried chicken or spaghetti. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to what works for long road trip meals, but consider packing foods that are easy to pick up and eat on the go. 


Whether you go for a 2-in-1 system like S’well Eats or prefer a container with a handle like S’nack by S’well, they are a cinch to clean and keep foods fresh without needing ice packs to keep cool or microwaves to heat up. They’ll help you meal prep for your road trip so you don’t have to resort to fast food or gas station provisions to satisfy your appetite…and don’t forget your reusable utensils while you’re at it!


In addition to the right drink and food accessories, another item to add to your road trip packing list is a USB charger. It’s likely you’ll go miles and miles before finding a place where you can plug in your phone, which is why having a USB cord or car charger is important. You can limit your anxiety by having enough juice to help with your navigation, trip tunes, and pictures moments readily available.  

Keep it charged and ready to call for roadside assistance should you need it — we’re hoping you won’t! But it’ll also be a savior if you have kids in tow. When the books, colors and “I spy” games are no longer doing the trick, those charged electronic devices can keep the entire car sane for a couple more hours. We recommend packing at least one car charger, if not two. Or throw in a portable charger for each kid to keep their electronics and yours charged all day long!

Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper

Anyone who’s familiar with taking road trips knows not all rest stops are created equally. Some are well-equipped with toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, and running water, while others are not. Keep germs at bay by packing plenty of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wet wipes. This works in a pinch until you get to a place where you can thoroughly wash your hands and/or take a shower. The antibacterial wet wipes also come in handy to wipe down surfaces if you stop at a picnic area for lunch and in the car to keep things from being sticky and stained. All of which are  super critical as we try to stay germ-free during a Covid road trip. 

You may want to add a couple rolls of toilet paper, too, just in case those rest stops are running low on the TP (or your kiddo just can’t hold it between stops).

Emergency Car Kit

Speaking of roadside assistance, it’s best to be prepared for any type of emergency with a roadside emergency kit that you keep in your car and contains jumper cables, flares, a tire jack, and any other essential items you may need after spending hours on the road like blankets or extra non-perishable snacks. While the hope is that you won’t have to use it at any point during the trip, it’ll give you peace of mind that you have the basics if you get a flat tire or have a dead battery. 

Prior to your road trip, take your vehicle in for service to check the fluids, tire pressure, and windshield wipers to make sure everything is ready to go. Make sure your temperature controls are working well. No heat during a winter road trip when it’s snowing outside or air conditioning when the temps are soaring during the summer can change the fun of a road trip pretty quickly. 

First-Aid Kit

In addition to the items you’ll need to take care of your car, a first-aid kit to take care of yourself should be part of your road trip checklist as well. Include band-aids, pain reliever, tweezers, bug repellent, itch-relief cream, and antibacterial ointment. If anyone riding along gets motion sickness, include medication for this and a trash bag or two as well. 

If part of your road trip plans include hiking or other types of physical activity, you may want to include bandages and medical tape for unexpected aches and pains. Keep both an emergency car kit and first aid kit in your vehicle at all times and replenish items as needed so you’re always prepared.

Trash and Recycling Bags

Help keep the roads litter-free by packing trash and recycling bags. Most roadside stations have containers where you can dispose of your garbage and recycle any aluminum cans or other materials so you can do your part for the planet. Plus, it keeps your car clean to make it feel less cluttered and messy for the drive. 

If you have stops along the way to your final destination, make sure you don’t leave anything behind. 

Layers of Clothes and Travel-Size Toiletries

Wear comfortable clothes during your road trip and think in layers so you can peel them off or put them on depending on your needs. Whether it’s a two hour trip or you’re headed across the country, only pack what you need. Consider toiletries like dry shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush and wipes to keep you (and your car companions) feeling fresh from Point A all the way to Point B. 

Music and Podcasts

What’s a road trip without your favorite holiday music playing on repeat (hello, Mariah!) or podcast — Call Your Girlfriend. Nothing is worse than singing along to your favorite song of the moment on the radio and all of a sudden the static takes over…and each station you switch to gives you more static and less music. No one enjoys the dead zones that lead to driving in silence or picking up that conversation on the best (or worst) holiday moments.  

Get Road Trip Ready

The beauty of a road trip is that both the journey and the destination are equally valuable. As you determine where you’re going and the stops you’ll make along the way, this will help you decide how much you need to pack. Planning out your trip days ahead of time will ensure you will have a gas station or hotel room available when you need it or a place to stretch after a particularly long haul. 

In addition to your planning, leave room for spontaneous stops along the way. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a hidden treasure or an unexpected day adventure that you simply can’t pass up. As long as you have your road trip essentials and your sense of adventure intact, you’ll be perfectly prepared for wherever you’re headed.