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The essential road trip checklist

  • 30, Jun 2021
  • Read time: 10 mins

If you’re going on a road trip and you’re not sure what to pack, help is at hand with our comprehensive checklist of everything you’ll need to carry.

Car packed with luggage

Currently, 80% of Brits staying in the UK for their hols are planning to drive to their destination. Nearly 24% of those are driving over 200 miles for their staycation.* If you’re one of these road-trippers, then you don’t want to pack too much and fill the car with unnecessary stuff you won’t need.

Equally, without planning, you may find yourself miles from home without that vital piece of equipment that you desperately need. This guide will help you focus on the important items. What’s more, we’ve created a downloadable checklist for you to keep in the glove box. Happy road-tripping!

How to pack your car for a road trip

The more space you save, the more gear you can carry comfortably, without squashing passengers against piled-up luggage.

  • Distribute weight throughout your car – so your car is balanced, and you can enjoy the drive
  • Put heavy stuff toward the middle of the boot – keeps the weight central to aid in cornering
  • Don’t pack gear above your headrests for safety, plus it also obscures your rearview
  • Use soft luggage instead of hard suitcases to save space
  • Roll your clothes – don’t fold your clothes, to save more space
  • Vacuum-pack clothes in your bags using airtight bags so they pack really tight
  • Pack every space available in your car – use under the seat, cubby holes, etc
  • Put the thing you use the most in an easy to get to place – so you don’t have to unpack the car to get your wallet.

Essential car checks

If you’re going on a road trip, the last thing you want to happen is a breakdown, especially if the source could have been identified with a quick preliminary check. Consider having the car serviced prior to your adventure. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • Spare car keys – give them to your passenger to keep safe
  • Tyres – check tread depth and that they’re adjusted to increased weight, no wears or tears
  • Oil – not having the right amount of oil can damage your vehicle
  • Lights – check all lights and indicators are working
  • Wipers – replace with new blades if necessary
  • Washer fluid filled to the max
  • Brakes – handbrake included, and check brake fluid levels
  • Duct tape – so handy, always keep a roll in your car
  • Fuel – fill up before you pack the car so you can see the extra weight before you set off.

Emergency car kit you should keep in the boot

Keep most of the items below stored in a bag for easy access. Plus, make sure you include instructions for any unfamiliar tasks such as changing a car tyre.

  • A head torch – better than a hand torch in emergencies
  • Spare tyre, plus instructions – know how to change a tyre before you set off
  • Tyre pressure gauge – knowing your tyres are correct will give you confidence
  • Spare headlight bulbs – so you’re not stranded at night
  • Jump leads – few people carry these, so you ought to
  • Silicon gloves – save your hands from getting filthy during vehicle maintenance
  • Warning triangle – especially handy for long motorway drives
  • Bungee cord – because it can lash almost everything securely
  • Empty fuel can – if you’re driving into the wild
  • Owner’s manual – helps to identify items such as your fuse box, and it will show you how to change a headlight bulb, etc
  • A high vis jacket - gives visibility to other people and drivers in an emergency situation.

Car documentation

Go into your files and check the status of your documentation. Make sure all these items are up to date:

  • Insurance (and any named drivers)
  • MOT certificate
  • Road tax
  • Breakdown cover
  • Driver’s licence/s.

Please note: Check whether passengers are legally allowed to drive your car. We have a handy guide to help with that.

Electronics to make the trip more enjoyable

In-car entertainment (or ICE for short) is one of the best ways to help you past the time on a long journey. This includes:

  • Sat nav or mobile phone app
  • Phone or tablet mount
  • Phone chargers and cables (these days, you can never have enough)
  • Power bank – and keep it charged and ready
  • Bluetooth/hand free kit (if not built-in)
  • Road trip playlist list – music soothes the soul, especially during traffic jams
  • Audiobooks and podcast downloads – these will help to pass hours of your time.

Personal stuff to make you comfortable

Make sure you have this list of things to hand to make your journey that much better, more enjoyable, and comfortable:

  • Coins and cash – for toll booths, etc. Remember, you will need to pay for some toll booths online, such as the Dartford Crossing
  • Notebook and pen – for noting thoughts and taking actions
  • A hoodie – keeps you warm and pulls over your eyes to help you sleep
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel blankets
  • Flip-flops or sliders – don't drive in them, but do carry comfortable footwear
  • Travel mug – save the planet
  • Hats (especially for soft tops) are a must  (be careful it doesn't fly off!)
  • Mints/chewing gum – will help relieve minor car sickness
  • Re-usable shopping bags or tote bag – because it’s better than buying plastic
  • Sleeping scarf – it will keep you warm, or shield you from the sun
  • Umbrella – just in case.

Five car games to pass the time

When all the electronic gizmos fail to keep you occupied, road trip games are an excellent way of passing the time and creating memories. Here’s a few of our favourites:

Five car games graphic
  1. The alphabet game – each person starts with ‘A’ spotting things that begin with the letter until they reach ‘Z’
  2. Treasure hunt – create a card with ten items that can be seen along the journey – first to tick off all items wins
  3. Would you rather – be a cat with no ears or a dog with no nose, and other questions to that effect
  4. Don’t say it – create five common words mentioned during road trips, the winner is the person who uses them least
  5. Yes – no, black white – forbidden words you try to get your fellow passengers to say by asking them rapid-fire questions.

Toiletries

Keep these packed separately, and in a place where you can reach them easily during your journey:

  • Tissues/wet wipes for instant cleanliness
  • Toilet paper
  • Soap, shampoo, and conditioner
  • Lip balm
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Hairbrush/ties
  • Towel
  • Zip-lock bags for storing liquids
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush and paste.

Medication

  • Any medication you take regularly or might need on the journey (e.g, migraine tablets)
  • Car sickness tablets
  • Pain killers
  • Cream for insect bites and stings
  • Insect repellent spray
  • Hay fever tablets
  • First aid kit.

Children on a road trip

Children have special requirements so make sure they’ve got everything they need to keep them warm, well-fed, and entertained:

  • Back seat rubbish bin/bag – save you having to clear up
  • Head torches – kids love these, it’s all part of the adventure
  • Audiobooks – are especially good for lulling children to sleep
  • Movies and music – good for passing the time (be sure watching movies doesn’t make them car sick though) 
  • Headphones – so you don’t always have to listen to their music choices
  • Travel bands – if your children have a tendency to get car sick
  • Sick bag – sounds gruesome but is necessary
  • Passenger window sunshade – for total comfort.

Food to pack for a road trip

Packing some basic items can save you a great deal of money, as petrol and service stations are expensive places to shop.

  • Coolbox and ice packs – for keeping drinks and snacks cool
  • Wooden cutlery
  • Plastic plates
  • Chewing gum, travel mints, travel sweets
  • Granola bars
  • Crisps, popcorn, etc
  • Water in reusable water bottles.

Cold climate road trips

Not all road trips have the benefit of warm weather and dry tarmac. If your trip takes place during winter, or there’s adverse weather ahead, consider carrying these items. We have a handy guide that tells you everything you need to know about winter driving.

  • Ice scraper and/or de-icer
  • Powerful torch or standing lamp – it gets dark early during winter
  • Food and a warm drink in a vacuum flask
  • Sunglasses to protect from snow-glare
  • Mobile phone charger/power bank
  • Shovel in case of deep snow
  • Spare warm clothes, coats, and blankets.

Dogs on road trips

Sometimes, you’ll want to take your pet dog with you. You’re not alone, with two-thirds of Brits intending to take their dogs with them on holiday.* So, they’ll need their own list of items to keep them comfortable:

  • Ball or toy
  • Travel rug
  • Water bowl
  • Food
  • Treats
  • Towel
  • Travel crate
  • Seat harness.

Here’s a handy guide that tells you everything you need to consider to travel safely with your dog.


*Based on June 2021 research: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Opinium Research. The total sample size was 2,000 UK adults nationally representative. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11 to 15 June 2021.

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