Packing for a road trip: Road trip accessories, organization, and meals

by May 30, 2022Packing


During the pandemic, I discovered a passion for road trips – and found that packing for a road trip means adding accessories to my travels that keep me organized, fed, safe and very happy on the road.

I suppose I could say, “thank you, pandemic,” for forcing me to find a passion for long road trips. Until March 2020, so much of my travel had been by plane or train – suddenly, impossible. But necessity is indeed the mother of (re)invention: I discovered solo road trips. Plus, with the pandemic, I was forced to become an expert in packing road trip accessories, food and meal prep essentials so I could travel safely, comfortably, and stay self-contained.

Knowing what travel accessories to pack for a road trip during the pandemic couldn’t be haphazard since so many local stores, restaurants and facilities were closed or had very limited hours. Even after things opened up, I found my rather detailed planning and packing solutions with specific road trip accessories made road trips much more enjoyable. Without the need to stop constantly or to find and rely on restaurants for eating, I was much freer to explore.

Want to have a safe, flexible, and independent, yet adventurous and fun road trip yourself? Here are some of my key tips and recommendations for travel accessories.

Fox Fury Road Trip Accessories

Fox Fury has been my road trip companion — although sometimes he can be a bit bossy.

No. 1 – Road trip accessories packing and organization

Certainly, you can pack up your stuff in shopping bags or toss it all in the back of a car, but that’s not my style. I’m more of the “everything in its place, a place for everything” type. Plus, when you are carrying all your gear and food in and out of accommodations, keeping your stuff is consolidated means you make fewer trips to and from the car. I can’t tell you how many trips I have made up and down stairs at motels – all those less expensive lodgings without elevators – even when the accessories are packed up well. So, think organization.

With the need to carry it all in and out of the car, I picked one bag that carries non-perishables and accessories, and then an ice chest that keeps the food items cool.

Freeway Longhaul Duffel by Think Tank Photo – not just for photo gear! I love the pockets and dividers in this bag. I am fine with the 50L but a 75L exists if you need more space.

Longhaul Packing For Road Trip

Think Tank’s Freeway Longhaul Duffel does exactly what the name says – keeps you organized for the long haul. And Eagle Creek Protect-It Cubes are durable for extra org.

Ice Mule Traveler – This was a lifesaver since I could wear it like a backpack to go up and down those motel stairs and along corridors. Surprisingly light, it held its cool very well, although you still need to replenish ice every few days – just as you would with most any cooler. The 35L worked great for me, but there are smaller ones, too.

Ice Mule Road Trip Packing

Housekeeping staff was entertained when I asked them to take a photo of me schlepping the Ice Mule cooler on my back.

Another option if you prefer a hard shell is the Igloo BMX line. Lighter than many ice chests, it also is durable and travels very well.

CamelBak Carry Cap 64-ounce Insulated bottle – ALWAYS keep extra water in the car, not only to replenish your personal reusable water bottle and avoid lots of plastic waste, but also in case of emergency. Top it off each day as needed, adding ice if you’d like. Then skip the constant stops for water!

Camelbak Road Trip Accessory

CamelBak’s large insulated bottle at 64 ounces is a great size for carrying extra water in the car to eliminate plastic waste and stops.

No. 2 – Cooking and prep accessories for the road

I cooked and ate most of my own meals out of a motel room or along the road, occasionally stopping for take-out (with leftovers) for a change. Look to backpacking gear for compact, light portability.

GSI Ultralight Java Drip – Clips securely to the top of most mugs and cups so you can choose your own blend. The light fabric mesh means no paper waste, and you can dump out grounds easily. A must for folks like me who are picky about their java.

Hot Plate or Multi-Cooker/Rice Cooker– I have often turned to a hot plate (the Oster single burner) for my road trip gear but lately have also experimented with a multi-cooker/rice cooker when staying somewhere that doesn’t have a microwave for basics. (Please abide by rules at lodgings when it comes to cooking.)

Hotel Road Trip Cooking

A little breakfast prep in a road trip lodging: hot plate heats the water in a Sea to Summit X-gear kettle (it collapses flat!), a GSI coffee filter (that folds flat) is ready to put my fave brew into a Pirani insulated tumbler.

Sea to Summit X-pots cookware – This road trip accessory cookware – yes, another backpacking tip – is superb because of its packability. The X-Set 32 has a collapsible tea kettle, a small fry pan, and a pot. All you need for your road trip kitchen!

Foldable lightweight camp cutting board – From tomatoes to cheese slicing, it comes in handy.

Camp Cutting Board Accessory

A lightweight camping/backpacking cutting board folds in half to tuck into your bag.

No. 3 – Meal accessories for your road trip gear bag

Pirani Insulated 16-ounce Tumbler with no-spill lid – LOVE this stainless steel mug as a travel accessory! Keeps things hot or cold and is just the right size.

Sea to Summit bowls and plates – Whether you choose the Delta bowl (my choice, below) or one of the collapsible X-series items, you will get superlight gear as a perfect road trip accessory.

Light My Fire sporks – More road trip gear that comes from the backpacking world. Pick a personal size one to eat (I prefer the titanium, see below) or a larger one for serving.

Road Trip Meal Accessories

A little dinner of soup in Sea to Summit’s camping Delta bowl with a Light My Fire titanium Spork that is a travel must-have.

Sea to Summit X-Seal and Go – I hate to sound redundant, but if you need small storage, then go for these. Collapsible with a non-leak lid and comes in four sizes.

Collapsible plexiglass wine glass – Of course you can drink your beverage of choice from your Pirani mug or a plastic cup in a motel, but com’ on, have a little fun on your road trip! Collapsible versions (i.e. stem screws off and pops into the top part) keep plastic waste out of the landfill and pack great.

No. 4 – Utility road trip accessories for everything else

Multitool – One tool with small scissors, wine opener, little knife, etc, will always be a must in your road trip accessory kit. Trust me.

Capabunga bottle stoppers – Assuming you may not always have a screw-on lid on your beverage bottles, these soft rubber bottle stoppers are amazing. Really are leak-proof too for such a simple gadget.

Can opener and utility knife in a sheath – For opening a can of soup or tuna, or cutting up tomatoes or apples, these two items are indispensable accessories for the road.

Miscellaneous travel and packing musts: small garbage bags, paper towel roll (comes in real handy as a back rest in rental cars too!), rubber bands, safety pins, foil, plastic wrap, zipper baggies….

Paper Towel Packing For Road Trips

Yup, when you road-trip after getting a rental car, a paper towel roll can serve as a cheap back rest, too!

No. 5 – Emergency, safety, comfort and other helpers

  • Dashboard phone mount
  • Foil emergency blanket
  • Flashlight, headlamp, or camp lantern – Turn to camping and backpack suppliers such as Nite Ize to find small, light items
  • Map and travel apps
  • Car accessories advised for safety
  • Basic medical kit supplies
  • COVID safety precautions that include disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, a face mask – all still necessary
  • A towel or two for sitting on, wiping up, blocking the sun, etc.
  • Comfort items – Why not? That emergency foil blanket may come in handy on a window even, and I always have my inflatable camping pillow with me for those lodgings that have those “why bother” pillows
  • And of course, all your electronics, a power bank, and any cables or adapters you need for charging.

No. 6 – Packing for a road trip means food that lasts

Road Trip Travel Food Ideas

I call my travels “hotel camping” since I rely on a lot of camping and backpacking essentials. Although I did not turn to freeze-dried backpacking meals, there are a lot of good one these days to consider too. My list of non-perishable ideas to choose from includes:

>> Tuna in a can or pouch, Instant oatmeal, peanut butter (in a pouch for outings), dried fruit, tea and coffee, nuts, trail mix, jerky, snack or protein bars (I find the NuGo protein bars pretty yum), muesli cereal mix, crackers, instant meals like mac and cheese (go to the organic or health food section for healthier versions), cans of soup, condiment packets to add a little zip, and powdered drink mixes such as ice tea or lemonade to add to your water bottle.

Depending on how long your road trip is, you can make some perishable items in advance to pack along for the first week or two with a few perishable store items. My go-tos include:

>> Hard-boiled eggs, almond milk, banana bread, fresh fruit, cold cuts, cheese (or cheese sticks), bread (I like breads that don’t smoosh such as flat breads, pita, or naan).

Sounds like a lot but if you keep your basic gear contained and stashed in a closet, you’ll be ready to grab and go next time the road trip bug bites!

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1 Comment

  1. John Grusd

    Hi Therese and Michael! Great tips for road trips! I too use something like the Carryall Longhaul Duffel but mine are a little less like a duffel and more open. Same idea though. They stay in my garage, are always organized, already packed and ready to go. All I need to do is move them from the garage to the car and I’m set to go! (I have two. One is for tools and car emergency equipment and the other for people gear like blankets, beach towels, flashlights, binoculars, etc.
    One thing I might suggest is to generate a generic packing check list that you can use for every trip you take. Mine has variants for car or plane travel, camera gear and anything that needs charging or fresh batteries is highlighted in red. It really helps! It makes the packing go much faster and I never forget anything.
    Keep up the great work! I always look forward to your newsletters! – jg

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