Road Trip Checklist: What Essentials to Pack for the Best Adventure Travel

At Top Rope Media, we live to travel, and there’s nothing quite like packing up, pulling out of the driveway and hitting the road with your favorite tunes and best adventure buddies. We love any opportunity to get outside and explore more, and just packing for the adventure gets us excited!

So if you plan on hitting the road this Spring, nothing is worse than forgetting that essential travel item that can’t be bought, or missing that connecting flight that throws a wrench in the rest of your plans. This series is focused on road trips, but if you haven’t read our Cuba Travel Tips blog yet, that was one adventure we wish we would have been more prepared for.

Here’s some of our favorite destinations in the West that we’ll be covering this Spring:

  • Joshua Tree National Park

  • Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California

  • Canyonlands and Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

  • Yosemite National Park and Tuolumne Meadows

There’s no running water or services in Joshua Tree National Park, so bring extra water, especially if traveling with a pet!

There’s no running water or services in Joshua Tree National Park, so bring extra water, especially if traveling with a pet!


Before we dive in to specific places to visit, here’s a checklist of essentials to keep you safe, entertained and somewhat comfortable, even on those bumpy roads.

To make it even easier, we’ve included links to purchase all of our recommended travel essentials via Amazon.com.

What Travel Essentials to Pack to Keep You Safe

The most important part of any trip is making sure you get there. Again, read our Cuba blog if you want to see how we almost didn’t make it. Here’s a list of travel essentials that will keep you and your tribe safe, whether in the remote wilderness or car camping in your favorite national park:


  • Get your car in order: This should be a no-brainer, but without a functioning vehicle, it’s hard to have a successful road trip. Start by checking your tire pressure (this saves gas money) and making sure your fluid levels are adequate (windshield wiper fluid is crucial when traveling down dusty roads). Ensure you have your license, registration, insurance card, emergency kit and if heading to Mexico you’ve purchased insurance for Mexico travel.


  • AAA membership: AAA (aka ‘triple A’) has saved me more than once on road trips. AAA will save you in an emergency, whether it’s locking your keys in the car or a flat tire repair, and then there’s always the 10-15% discount at hotels just for being a member.


  • Paper maps and guide books: We rely on phone apps like Google Maps and Waze, or our car navigation system to get us around. While this is fine on your normal day to day driving, if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination or on off-road terrain, having a paper map or guide book will make you a rockstar when you get stuck without cell service. For guides to areas we’ll be hiking or rock climbing in, we use Falcon Guide Books.


  • Headlamps and Flashlight: Even if your road trip does not involve camping, a headlamp is one piece of gear we take everywhere, even if flying to our destination. We recommend the Petzl Tikka Headlamp. Yes you can find cheaper ones, or even more expensive rechargeable headlamps, but simple is sometimes best. Just remember to pack extra AA and AAA batteries!


  • First aid kit: We have 2! A mini one to carry with us, even while climbing, and a larger one for the pack. Adventure Medical Kits makes all types and sizes depending on where you’re headed, how many people are in your group and how many days you’ll be traveling. We also have added in the SAM splint as an extra piece of gear in those situations where you have to stabilize a limb! I know…not something you want to think about, but good to be prepared if it happens.


  • Water: If you’re planning to head into the desert, even the high desert like Joshua Tree, there is no general store in the park, and no running water. We pick up a 5 gallon container of water with an easy pour spout to get us through a 2 or 3 day trip. Make sure to punch a small hole in the top so it flows out easily. Remember, 1 gallon of water per person, per day. If you are bringing a pet, bring extra.


  • Dog water bowl and pack: We love our hounddog Lucy, but she’d be a pretty sad pup with no water or snacks for the trip. We love all the Ruffwear products- bowls, day packs and warm jackets as they’re compact, lightweight and durable.


  • Multi-tool: From screwdriver to rope cutter to fingernail clipper, a multi-tool will come in handy. Outdoor Gear Lab reviewed the best in the category- from the standard Victorinox Swiss army knife to the Leatherman.

With just a little planning, you can enjoy the journey more!

With just a little planning, you can enjoy the journey more!

What to Pack to Keep You Entertained

When traveling north from San Diego, those long stretches of the I-15 or Highway 395 can be monotonous and the joy of the drive is non-existent. Here’s a few travel essentials to pack to keep you entertained through the rough parts!

  • Snacks and beverages: Having some tasty snacks on hand keeps you stimulated, and keeps those gas station stops to a minimum. We often stock up on fruit and easily-resealable packaged snacks, and we always have the Yeti filled with water and fizzy drinks! Don’t have a Yeti yet? Invest in one! For snacks we like Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars, Happy Belly Nuts and pomegranate San Pellegrino.


  • Download your music, books and podcasts: Be sure to download those eBooks, playlists and podcasts before hitting the road. There’s so many places where you lose cell service, especially throughout California’s Eastern Sierras and the National Parks of Southern Utah, so sitting there quietly watching the world go by only lasts for so long.


  • Travel mugs: Travel mugs are essential as they not only hold your coffee, they double as wine glasses- just make sure to wash the mug first! We like the Yeti Rambler mugs, but check the size vs. the size of cup holders in your car. Nothing’s worse than having a badass mug to keep beverages warm, or cold, and no place to safely store it!


  • Car chargers: Yes, multiple ones. Having a car filled with your best travel buddies and only 1 iPhone charger can get ugly. Everyone’s going to want to be DJ at some point, as well as putting in their turn at the wheel, so also make sure everyone’s phone is already synced with your car’s media system and then you can toggle between phones. We are iPhone users, but there’s always an Android, or a GoPro that needs charging, so either bring all the cords, or invest in a universal multi-charger cable.


  • Day pack: Having a small travel bag or day pack nearby that’s not filled with all of your crap can make it easier to get out of the car for that unexpected adventure or quick stop at the store before heading into the park. We love Osprey gear and have both the Osprey Hikelight and Talon packs. These double as mountain biking packs when we ride. Thinking of heading into the backcountry before winter is over? Well then read about what to pack and how to prepare to stay safe and keep your stoke high on backcountry adventures.

Day trips in the Utah backcountry require more prep, but so worth it for fresh pow!

Day trips in the Utah backcountry require more prep, but so worth it for fresh pow!


What travel essentials to Pack to Keep You Comfortable

Throughout our years of road trips to Utah, Arizona and Nevada, along with several laps up and down the California coast, we’ve learned a few things about what you need to be comfortable:

  • Sunglasses: We always have an extra pair or two of sunglasses in the car, just in case you lose your favorites, or crush them in your pack. And you will. We like Smith Optics because they have a lifetime warranty and Backcountry.com often has hard to find styles on sale.

  • Spare change and $1 bills: Often there’s toll roads where you can’t use a credit card, or coin-operated showers, so having a few dollars and some quarters is essential. When traveling in Mexico, you will pay tolls on the route down to Ensenada or Valle de Guadalupe, so keeping a few hundred pesos on hand is a good idea. Check the Mexican exchange rate before you leave, but currently it’s 19:1.

  • Blanket & pillows: Pillows make sleeping in the car or on the ground more comfortable, even if you have a good sleeping bag. We often pack up our puffy jackets inside our Osprey stuff sack when we forget a pillow from home. We also just purchased a Rumpl lightweight down blanket and it saved us when we arrived at an AirBnB in Mexico, in the cold rain, to find out there was no heat.


  • Toothbrush and mouthwash: Your teeth feeling like they are wearing a sweater isn’t fun, and smelling your friend’s stinky breath on the 12 hour trip to Moab… much less fun. Bring a travel size mouthwash, an extra toothbrush and toothpaste and pack it in your daypack for easy access. Since we travel a ton, and can fly with 2 free bags (thank you Southwest Airlines!) we buy the larger sizes of travel toiletries so they last more than a few days. Side note: Did you know Southwest is one of the only airlines that does not charge you for bags, and allows your 1st 2 bags to fly for free. Yeah…winning.


  • Toilet paper and hand wipes: Toss a roll in the car. We also love Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes and keep a pack in both the car and in our packs.

  • Towels: Whether taking a dip at the local hot spring, and there are a few good hot springs off the 395 on the way to Bishop or Mammoth, or showering at the coin-op showers in Idyllwild’s campgrounds, we bring our Pack Towls.

  • Hairbrush, headband & hair ties: Pack a small hair brush, headband and plenty of hair ties. We often loop a few around our zipper pulls so we know exactly where to find them.

  • Trash bags or reusable bags: Bring a few plastic or reusable bags to keep your car tidy and also for those general store trips!

Of course these aren’t all the travel essentials that we pack.  Want more travel or packing tips? Read our blog on backpacking in the Wind River Range or what to pack for backcountry adventures.

Be prepared before you roll out as the general store outside the National Park you’re heading to may not have anything close to what you really need to survive.

Be prepared before you roll out as the general store outside the National Park you’re heading to may not have anything close to what you really need to survive.

Our next blog is about traveling along Route 395 with stops in Bishop, Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite National Park! Never miss out on our latest adventures! Subscribe with your email below, or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


Until next time, happy adventuring!

- Meredith McConvill