From digital cameras to neck pillows to healthy snacks to phone chargers, these days you can’t hit the road without a huge list of road trip necessities.
I’ve done lots of road trips, and after some trial and error I finally learned what to pack for a road trip so that I can stay sane and comfortable.
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This article contains several sections discussing some of the most important road trip necessities in terms of electronics, food, creature comforts, and more. Here are some of my favorite road trip gadgets; what are yours?
Basic Car Safety Items
Let’s start off with the basics, just to cover all our bases. Driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, spare tire. For longer road trips, it’s always wise to imagine the worst-case scenario: being stranded for several hours overnight. I always bring plenty of water and a blanket in the trunk just in case.
Roadside Emergency Car Kit
A good Roadside Emergency Kit should have jumper cables, a flashlight, hand warmers, first aid kit, poncho, and more. This one has all the necessities. I suggest buying the “large” size, which includes extra items like a screwdriver, tire pressure gauge, adhesive tape, and emergency blanket. Don’t hit the open road without these potentially lifesaving items!
Be sure to have a sufficient supply of motor oil, windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, and the other important car fluids.
Keep a spare blanket in the trunk just in case you’re stranded overnight or on the side of the road for a few hours. Blankets can serve a bunch of other purposes, too. You never know when you may want to take an unexpected picnic at a rest stop or a city park.
What to Pack For a Road Trip: Electronics
HD Dash Cam 1080P
Dash cams serve two important purposes. They allow you to record your journey to capture some of the coolest sights as you traverse the open road. And they serve as accident protection, giving you a visual record of what happened in the event of a collision. Stay safe and give yourself a fun document of the trip at the same time!
The HD Dash Cam 1080P is one of the higher-rated dash cams available right now. It’s much cheaper than many dash cams on the market, yet still offers super-clear video. The dashcam has more than 2,000 positive reviews, so it’s got a proven track record.
Stick it on the dash, and you’re all set! The best thing about the dashcam is that it uses voice recognition, so you can give it voice commands while keeping both hands on the wheel! Note that you may need to buy a memory card separately.
Soundbot Bluetooth Hands-Free Phone Charger
Growing numbers of municipalities have made it illegal to touch your phone while driving, so a hands-free attachment is the way to go. Especially when you’re likely to be distracted because you’re driving in strange places that you’ve never visited before!
This Soundbot Bluetooth Phone Charger Kit is super-affordable and allows you to take phone calls and stream music without having to swipe on your phone. Best of all, it includes a 3-port USB charger that plugs in to your cigarette lighter, so you can power up your phone, cameras, tablets, and other electronics easily!
Portable Power Outlet
These days, you can’t live without plugs for your chargers. Phone chargers, laptop chargers, camera chargers, electric shaver chargers… thank goodness I had a portable outlet.
This was an Amazon purchase in the range of $30 and I couldn’t live without it on road trips. It plugs right in to the cigarette lighter and provides current for two outlets. Make sure you buy one with all three prongs, to ensure compatibility with laptops and other devices that use all three.
The portable outlet I bought was an older one, but if I was buying one now, I’d go with this Foval portable outlet. It has two regular plug outlets, plus four USB ports. That’s all the power you could possibly need!
External USB Charger
Sure, you’ve got the car charger, but it never hurts to have a portable charger as well, for those times when you leave your vehicle to go hiking or visit the beach. Keep your phones and cameras powered up with a small external charger such as this Anker PowerCore Portable Charger.
For barely 20 bucks, you’ve got a charger with two USB ports for your devices. It provides at least 2-3 hours’ worth of charge time, depending on your device. External chargers are so affordable these days, it doesn’t make sense to leave home without one!
Panasonic Lumix FZ80
Cell phone cameras are well and good, but if you’re driving across the country, do yourself a favor and get a real camera. One like the Panasonic Lumix FZ80, which has 60x zoom for securing pics of those scenic landscapes.
It’s a point-and-shoot camera, so anyone can use it. It’s a great travel camera because it’s small and lightweight. And it will get better shots in low-light and sunset situations than your phone.
Garmin Drive Smart 55 GPS
Whoa, is it 2005 again? Do people still use GPS devices on road trips? Yes, actually they do. Navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze will help you in 90% of the U.S., but there are still lots of places (forests, mountains, remote rural and desert areas) where you won’t be able to get cell or satellite service.
Even if you do have cell coverage, having to rely on Google Maps every minute of every day over the course of a long road trip could end up using up all of the mobile data in your phone plan. Beyond that, it’s annoying when the sick beats of the music I’m playing on my phone are constantly being interrupted by “turn left in 2 miles.” Aarghh!
So consider going old-school with a GPS. You can find a decent GPS for under $100 these days. But for a really nice experience, with a large screen and sharp resolution, try the Garmin Drive Smart 55. It includes traffic alerts, just like Google Maps. It’s also voice-activated, and it has a special feature for road trippers: It includes the HISTORY network of historic sites and points of interest, so you’ll be alerted whenever something fun and quirky is nearby.
Portable Vehicle Stove
Just as cooking meals at home is cheaper than eating out, the same is true when you travel. The Portable Mini-Stove is a device that’s often overlooked, but it can help you eat cheaply and conveniently in your vehicle. I had countless lunches for less than $1 using this method. The stove is a huge money-saver, and it keeps you from eating fast food all the time.
For barely $30, I found a stove on Amazon that looks like a lunchbox and plugs into the cigarette lighter. This saves tons of money because I’m able to buy cans of ravioli, stew and chili and cook everything in the van instead of pulling over for $10 lunches everywhere. Just fold in a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, dump the food on top, and wait 20 minutes (yes, patience is required) for a hot meal. That’s some good eatin’!
Road Trip Necessities: Comfort Stuff
Food & Snacks
You can’t head off on a road trip without food! Sure, you can stop for meals, but it always helps to have snacks with you. Especially high-protein snacks like jerky and nuts, which will keep you full and alert at the wheel. We have an entire article with our suggested road trip food list, including fruit, granola bars, and much more.
Insulated Travel Water Bottle
You could go through the hassle of bringing several jugs and gallons of water for your trip. Or, just get a quality water bottle and refill it whenever you get the chance. This Takeya Originals Bottle is excellent because it holds up to 40 ounces (more than the standard 24-32). It’s made from insulated stainless steel, so it will keep your liquids cool a lot longer than a cheap plastic bottle.
This Trespass Travel Pillow is a good idea for long road trips. At some point, you may want to pull over and catch a short nap. Or just stop at a public park and lie down to relax for a bit. Either way, a travel pillow like this one by Trespass is small, soft, and affordable. It folds into a small carrying case so it won’t take up much room in the trunk.
UNO or Other Card Games
I’m old-school in that I like playing games with a regular deck of cards, or games like Mad Libs or UNO. This UNO Game Set comes in a tin with enough cards for the whole family. You can find travel versions of Monopoly, Battleship, Scattergories, and other classic games as well.
Have some reading material for your free time. A Kindle or tablet is fine, but I recommend having actual, physical books in your hand so that you’re not staring at a screen all the time. My favorite travel books happen to be Into the Wild and anything by Bill Bryson.
Personal Items to Pack
Don’t forget the basics! Here’s a quick checklist of personal items to include among your road trip necessities:
Rain poncho / umbrella
Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair supplies)
Toilet paper (especially if traveling by RV!)
At least 2 pairs of shoes
Underwear & socks
Pants (jeans / casual pants / pajamas)
Shirts (tshirts / Button-down shirts to layer)
More road trip necessities coming soon! Stay tuned.
What are your must-have gadgets while traveling?