Road Trips have become the great American past time. It took us a while to embrace this way of travel. Our visions of jet setting to exotic places may have been put on hold, but with some planning and preparation, we have learned to embrace road trips. By making sure our list of “essentials to bring on a road trip” are always packed and ready to go, we can look forward to each road trip with excitement.
If road trips were not on the top of your list when it comes to vacationing, let me reassure you it can be as much fun as heading off to faraway places. Maybe that’s a little exaggerating, depending on where you live, you may not find crystal blue water, but you may discover hidden gems you would not have if it were not for a road trip.
When you choose to plan your next road trip, be creative in your planning but leave wiggle room for unexpected pleasures along the way. Do plan and be prepared, having a list of essentials to bring on a road trip helps with the unexpected. A few things on our list we have never needed, but we travel easier knowing they are there if we need them.
Our list is just a starting point. Gary and I usually travel just the two of us, but at times, I go on one-day road trips with my daughters, and at times our grandkids come with us. On all of those trips, our main list of essentials to bring on a road trip is the same but we may need to add items depending on who is traveling with us. With the proper planning, you will soon be saying you love road trips also!
Often, no one thinks about what to bring until it’s too late. Let’s change that and learn from “our” mistakes. After a few road trips with several mishaps, this is our revised list of the 21 must-have essentials to bring on a road trip. We wouldn’t think about taking a road trip without them again.
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1 | Good Attitude
A good attitude is the first thing you need to make sure you “pack”. Be involved in the planning, have a say in where you are going and what you will be doing on your road trip. This trip belongs to each of you and sometimes that means there are things on the list that you want to do but your travel partner does not. It goes both ways. It’s give and take. Who knows you might find something new that you enjoy. Gary wasn’t to keen on waterfalls at first, but he enjoyed it and put together the details for our second waterfall adventure.
There might have been a road trip or two that, when starting out, Gary or I didn’t have the right attitude. At those times, we stopped until we reassessed, talked, and adjusted the attitude. Your attitude will make or break your road trip or any trip for that matter. We love being together all of our romantic travels!
2 | Snacks
Snacks are an important part of keeping everyone happy and keeping the “hangry” at bay. Gary likes to go go go, and I would rather stop at all of the cute little diners. The cost and time of all those stops can really add up. We compromise and don’t stop at all the little diners but do stop at the ones that we just can’t pass up. There are plenty of snacks in the car. That allows us to munch as we travel, get where we’re going, and even take detours at times because no one is famished.
In addition to the munchie snacks, cookies, crackers, and chips, I also bring along delicious, fresh strawberries, carrots, or grapes, whatever we have at home. That way we are not loading up on just junk. It’s just a quick pick me up in between stops, or a burst of energy while on a short day hike.
3 | Water and Healthy Drinks
It’s important to stay hydrated! Water, Gatorade, energy drinks, or other healthy drinks are important. I’m not sure I agree with the energy drinks, but Gary insists it’s necessary, so we compromised, its on the list.
Avoid soda, it makes you thirstier, so you drink more and that results in having to stop and use the restroom more often. Try to stick with water. You can easily fill a gallon jug at home and refill your insulated mugs along the way. Saves money and time. Aim for 6 oz per hour, depending on your activity, this will prevent dehydration.
4 | Insulated Mug
This insulated mug will keep your drinks hot or cold for a longer period of time. Coffee will stay warmer than in those paper cups from coffee shops. You also don’t have to worry about your coffee leaking through the bottom of the cups.
Have you ever tried to soak up all the coffee from one of those cup holders in your car? I have and to this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten it all. As soon as Gary gets his coffee it goes right into his travel mug. I’m not cleaning that up again. The insulated mugs also work great at keeping your water colder longer. We always travel with these insulated mugs.
5 | Insulated Bag/Small Cooler
Having a small cooler in the car is a must. We start our road trips with cold bottled water, sometimes even partially frozen. The cooler keeps your beverages cool and the cold water bottles keep our fruits and vegetables cool. It’s a win-win! I fill a gallon water jug the night before our trip and freeze it overnight, it ends up being just a bit frozen. We pack that and a couple of cold water bottles, by the time we need the water from the jug it is partially thawed.
The added bonus of having an insulated bag/cooler always in the car is that when we stumble upon those unexpected finds like Nueskes, cherry-picking, or farmers’ markets, Gary doesn’t have an excuse to say we can’t stop. I can do a little shopping and get things home at a safe temperature.
6 | Wipes
Eating and driving can be messy! These need to be in everyone’s car all the time. I’m sure if you have kids you know what I mean. Whether it’s wiping your hands before you snack or after, these types of wipes come in handy. They are great for having in the car after you fill your car with gas. Or a lifesavor when you stop to use the restroom and there is no soap. YUCK!
7 | Garbage Bags
If we don’t have a garbage bag in the car, Gary thinks he can just throw it on the back seat or floor until we stop. He thinks it’s funny, I don’t. We always have a garbage bag with us. They also work great for other emergencies, such as an emergency poncho or to lay it on the ground if needing to change a tire. Maybe you just get the urge to clean up the roadside. We’ll let Gary do that.
8 | Paper Road Map
I learned the hard way how important it is to have a paper copy of the roads you are traveling on. Gary and I recently got lost on the roads in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest ~ say that three times. After our second stop of searching for waterfalls, I realized we had lost cell phone service and no longer had access to maps.
I had just purchased an atlas off Amazon and thankfully had put it in the car. I have never really used an atlas. It was fun and quite the sight to see me trying to figure it out. Gary was very patient. The area we were in had gravel roads not shown in the atlas. Thankfully with Garys’ great compass skills and the general overview from the atlas, he was able to navigate us to our next planned stop and then finally out of the National Forest. But not without taking us down some questionable roads.
FYI ~ The Chequamegon -Nicolet National Forest covers more than 1.5 million acres of Wisconsin’s North-woods, Just one more reason to have snacks and water with you in addition to the atlas. You don’t want to get lost without those for any extrended time.
9 |Emergency Road Kit
An Emergency Road Kit is something we should all have in the car even if we are not road tripping. Having the jumper cables, and other emergency gear, in the car keeps us prepared for an emergency and has allowed us to help others on more than one occasion.
You more than likely will never have to use 95% of what’s in the car emergency kit, but if the need arises, it could save a life, we are prepared. This kit was the one thing that when my daughter bought a car I gave her. Plus then if she has issues she does not have to call us. She has the needed equipment with her and someone there can help her.
10 | First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is another one of those things that you should always have in your car for emergencies. I can’t even count the times this kit has been needed, scraped knuckles, banged knees, bug bites, or the time Gary slipped off the edge of wet rocks and scraped his ankle. He did a super job at saving the camera. Great save Honey!
Note ~ If you have an older first aid kit, you may want to check the items and see if they need replacing.
FYI ~ I do take jabs at Gary a lot, but he’s fun to pick on and always finds a way to jab back at me. We smile through it! Secretly I think he enjoys it. Plus I’m writing this and by the time he sees it, it’s too late.
11 | Portable Phone Charger
With all the portable electronics, GPS, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter be sure to have a car phone cord and extra portable chargers for your phones and any other electronics.
12 | Downloaded Playlist
Bring some of your favorite music to keep you company. You can make do with the radio for about an hour before the station gets fuzzy and you can’t find another station worth listening to. Instead, listen to the music you want to by updating your iTunes or downloading Pandora.
This is also great for when you both want to listen to something different.
13 | Camera
We don’t souvenir shop, we bring back our memories by taking lots of pictures! We LOVE digital pics! Bring lots of SD cards. Yes, we use our iPhone and our Canon SL2 camera. We find we need both of them on a trip. Each one takes pictures differently.
On one occasion our phone deleted our pictures and we were so happy to have the pictures from the camera.
Road trips are a great way to see all of the amazing places out in the world.
14 | Pillow / Neck Pillow
Having a pillow to put between you and the window is the difference between getting a little rest or hitting your head with every little bump. Cars are not designed for napping, and sorry drivers, the pillows are not for you. Unless you are pulling into a wayside for a couple of minutes of shut-eye. Gary is great at needing just that 15-minute power nap and then he’s ready to drive again.
I am not guaranteeing you will get any real rest having the pillow but you should at least be able to get your head comfortable while you close your eyes. To help keep you comfortable, a nice comfortable pillow in the car is a must. It also helps keep you from getting neck cramps if you are riding for long periods of time.
15 | Blanket
There are so many good reasons to have one or two blankets in the car. Plus the blanket is the perfect match with the pillow, it helps you get comfortable. It never fails, one wants the air on full blast while the other is freezing.
The blankets also come in handy for those picnic stops and are great in an emergency where you get stuck out overnight. Romantic snuggling with blankets in the car watching fireflies is perfect.
16 | Flip Flops / Sandals
Do your feet get hot in the car? When we are in the car for hours, I have to slip off my shoes. One of these days I may have my slippers in the car just waiting for me. I like to be comfortable when traveling. As soon as I can figure out how to fly in my slippers, I’ll have it made.
Having something extra that’s easy to slip on and off, like sandals or flip flops, when getting out of the car for just those short breaks is a must. It’s easier than having to put my shoes on and off all the time. Gary would never wait, he would be in and out of the store before I can even get my shoes on.
17 | Sunglasses
Help keep yourself and your eyes safe and healthy while driving. Good sunglasses will help prevent driver fatigue too. Whether you like grey, brown, yellow or blue, polarized is the best choice for you. Plus a good pair of sunglasses just look cute.
18 | Raincoat/Umbrella
Don’t let the rain dampen your adventure. Be prepared, have raincoats and an umbrella in the trunk, and save your trip.
We started out just having those emergency raincoats in the trunk, but because we pulled them out on a couple of occasions, we decided to get something a little more substantial. When we visited the Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida it was raining. It was also the last day of our vacation. Disney tickets are not cheap. We grabbed the umbrellas and put on the raincoats and didn’t let the rain ruin our fun.
There are now two umbrellas and two raincoats in our trunk.
19 | Flashlight
Always be prepared! There are countless times where a flashlight would come in handy. Where you would be worse off without it. Such is having to change a tire at night, needing to look under the hood or even just searching through your bag in the trunk.
You never know when you might need a little extra light. Fresh batteries will help your light shine bright.
20 | Extra Car Keys
Things happen, and you never know when you might need an extra set of keys. Picture this you are hours from home, you stop, and while you are stopped, you need to get something out of the trunk. After popping the trunk open you set the keys down to go through your bag searching for what you need. After finding what you are looking for, you close the trunk only to remember that instead of putting the keys in your pocket you set them in the trunk.
Yes, this happened to me. While the car doors were locked. Thankfully Gary had the extra key on his key ring, or we would have been stuck. We always have two spare sets with us.
21 | Duct Tape
Ok, isn’t this a man’s best friend? I truly believe that it is duck tape that makes any man look good. It can be used for so many things. And the guy who know what to do with duck tape is the most appealing. Ok, just a little humor here but seriously I can think of so many things that duck tape can help with it needs to be on my list. And I have used it on a couple of occasions.
So, because you never know when this will be needed, and it fixes nearly everything, it should be on your essentials to bring on a road trip list.
How much you enjoy your road trip largely depends on what you bring and don’t bring with you. The key to a successful road trip is thinking ahead, be prepared and bring what you need or even might need.
With these 21 things we have found we are more than prepared for almost every road trip. Yes, there are a few of the items on the list that, as of today we have not had to use. Yet, we know they are there if we do need them. Like a well-trained scout, we are prepared.
There are so many other things that could be added. Every situation is different for adults, children or pets. The point of this is to help you think, plan, and pack for possible emergencies within your power to fix.
Maybe we missed some things and you can help us. What is on your list of things you need to bring on a road trip? We welcome your input.
Head over to Essential Road Trip Tips blog post for a more complete article on how to prepare yourself and your car for that ultimate road trip. As a bonus, please sign up for the printable checklist.
For additional ideas and inspiration, be sure to check out some of our more recent road trips.
Gary & Michelle
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