The ultimate packing list for a road trip in 2021

The ideal packing list for a road trip? Holiday makers and tourists have the largest suitcases. A true traveler travels light.

packing list for a road trip

What is the ideal packing list for a road trip?

Ground rule: less is more.

You can spot a real traveler by the size of his suitcase.

The longer the trip, the smaller the suitcase.

You do not need a lot of stuff on your packing list for a road trip. A change of clothes for a week is enough.

One of the solutions to reduce your packing list for a road trip is to spend a little money per month on a local laundry service. In Thailand for example you can find laundry shacks in practically every street for less than a dollar a kilo. Buy cheap t-shirts on the spot and leave them behind when you return. Same goes for toiletries.

In most countries where you travel, all this can cost less than at home.

And moreover, it forces you to get in touch with local people, which is also one of the goals of a trip.

Our suitcase never weighs more than 12 kilos each. And it contains enough for a few months.

No extra charges at the airport and easy to transport.

packing list for a road trip

How to make your packing list for a road trip?

Here are my recommendations after ten years on the road!

How to make your packing list for a road trip becomes simple if you limit yourself to this small list:

  • Take clothes for a week with you. Make sure that they are suitable for the country’s habits and climate. We have invested in high quality technical clothes (Columbia, North Face, Jack Wolfskin) because they are light, do not get creased, are easy to (hand) wash and dry fast in just a few hours.
  • Included, one set of smarter clothes in case you need something a little more elegant. The brands above also have a smart casual line of clothing, in the same fast drying fabrics.
  • We carry paper copies of all our important papers and documentation (identity card, international passport, credit card, driver’s license, travel insurance, medical insurance etc.) in a waterproof pouch.
    If someone other than your hotel, your airline or the police needs to see them, give them a paper copy and not your original. If you hand over your passport in some countries, people might ask money to give it back. It happens, we personally experienced it before.
    Scan your documents and save it somewhere safe and accessible. We keep our scans in our Evernote account (it is free). Another bit of peace of mind! Even when we do not travel, we use Evernote every day. We have absolutely no confidence in computer hard drives, that we learned the hard way, losing all our documents a couple of years ago. Fortunately all our files were on Evernote! If you don’t have an Evernote account yet, we recommend you do. It is an absolutely indispensable digital filing system. And it is free.
    Evernote even offers you the premium version for free, if you are installing the program NOW on your computer. All you have to do to receive this exceptional gift is to enjoy our sponsorship and register by clicking here.
  • Use two or three credit cards that you keep in different pockets instead of in just one wallet. Forget traveler checks. They are not practical, less and less accepted and too expensive. Inform your bank that you are going to travel so that they do not flag your expenses abroad as suspicious when you need it. Also check if you can use your cards in the countries you want to visit before you leave.
  • A paper travel guide can be useful on your packing list for a road trip. We have tried to travel with guides on iPad and iPhone and it is not practical to use on the street. We like the Lonely Planet guides!
  • An iPhone Max (not the small iPhones, the large ones are a lot more convenient on a trip) for your downloaded ebooks, music, online newspaper, emails, internet access, social media, keeping in touch with home, to track your location and take excellent travel photos. Make sure your phone accepts foreign SIM cards. This will allow you to use prepaid SIM cards from any operator around the world.
  • If you are digital nomad like us, choose the smallest lightweight Apple MacBook to work on. These are the best laptops for traveling. Larger models take up too much space in your luggage, are too heavy and are just not practical to travel around with. MacBook Air is the lightest in its kind. It is the best tool for the digital nomad.
packing list for a road trip
  • Find a good provider for VoIP calls. June and I prefer WhatsApp.
  • Install a VPN on your computer and your phone. This will not only help you to protect yourself from hackers, but will also allow you to use perfectly fine websites that are often blocked abroad for no reason. ExpressVPN is highly trustworthy and user friendly. We use every day. Note: a VPN can negatively impact internet speeds, which can create a problem if you don’t have a strong connection.
  • Download a speed test app on your phone and save it to your browser. This will help you test the internet speeds in advance to avoid unsaved work or a terrible video call. We use Speedtest.
  • When you arrive in a country, get a local SIM card. It is the cheapest and most efficient way to stay connected. Make sure to buy enough data, because you will probably use a lot of VoIP calls and will not always be able to count on good Wi-Fi where you are.
  • Make sure your phone is configured to allow it to be a personal access point. If you can not access Wi-Fi, you can use your phone to connect to the internet.
    Note: Your laptop will use much more data than your phone. Be careful when downloading photos or running backups in the background. This will quickly use up your data package.
  • If you decide to keep your mobile phone service from your original operator, check the roaming conditions and costs. It can be incredibly expensive. Do not use it if you do not need it, unless you are in an emergency situation of course.
  • Get noise canceling quality headphones. Buying Bose QC35 headphones changed our nomadic life, even if you are not listening to music. You will be more relaxed after a flight or in a bus ride. You can easily catch some sleep in noisy places or hotels. We recommend using the micro-headsets you sometimes get with your smartphone because the larger headphones take more space in your luggage.
  • Carry an external battery that can fully charge your phone at least 2 times. Don’t forget to recharge your battery when you used it.
  • Put a universal adapter on your packing list for a road trip.
  • Download the XE Currency app for your phone to know the exchange rates of the country in which you travel.
  • Always have some emergency cash in US dollars and local currency. $100 to $200 should be enough.
  • Sign up for a PayPal account in case you need to pay and easily transfer money online. This can save you if your credit card is lost or if it does not work with some places.
  • You can always receive cash everywhere via Western Union. They often have an office or cash point in the most remote villages.
  • Check the local custom to tip, and the standard airport taxi rates before your arrival.
  • Put vacuum storage bags on your packing list for a road trip. Roll your clothes and compress them without air pockets. This allows you to save a lot of luggage space, to better organise your suitcase and protect your clothes from odors and water damage.
  • Find someone who keeps an eye on your mailbox at home. This person can warn you when something seems important.
  • Get an international driver’s license. It becomes less and less necessary, but still it is a plus to have when you travel.
  • Check if you need certain vaccines to travel to a country. Bring your vaccination booklet or online certificates. Some countries require it at the point of entry. Your covid vaccination is not only indispensable for you, but also for the people you meet or travel with. It is an act of solidarity. It will most probably become mandatory from now on to be able to travel.
  • Download an offline map to make sure you know where you go without using data. The HERE app is an excellent option.
  • Write down all times of flight / train, ticket numbers, hotel names, etc. in case your phone dies. Or take a printed copy.
  • Before you go to a new country, check if you need to buy a travel visa in advance.
  • Bring additional passport photos. If you cross a border and need a new visa, always have some additional identity photos. They take up no place and weigh nothing.

These tips for a packing list for a road trip are of course also applicable to a cruise, a city trip or even for a beach vacation!

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