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 is a work in progress and will soon contain several sections discussing some of the most important road trip necessities in terms of electronics, food, creature comforts, and more. For now, here are three 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.
AAA Emergency Car Repair Kit
A good roadside emergency kit should have jumper cables, a flashlight with batteries, duct tape, screwdriver, bandages, poncho, and more. This one has all the necessities. There are tons of emergency repair kits on Amazon, but this one is the official kit of AAA, so you know it’s quality.
What to Pack For a Road Trip: Electronics
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 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!
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!
Garmin Drive Smart 55 GPS
Whoa, is it 2005 again? Do people still use GPS devices? Yes, sometimes 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 areas) where you won’t be able to get cell or satellite service.
Plus, 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. And beyond that, I hate 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.
Just as cooking meals at home is cheaper than eating out, the same is true when you travel. The 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
A 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.
Have some reading material for your free time. A Kindle or tablet is fine, although 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.
More road trip necessities coming soon! Stay tuned.
What are your must-have gadgets while traveling?