Road Trip Necessities: Things to Pack When You Hit the Road

road trip necessities - packing tips

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!

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Portable outlet
portable 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!

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.

GPS ocean

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.

Portable vehicle stove
mini stove

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.

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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

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.

Travel Pillow
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?



About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. All of these are really must-have while in a road trip especially the GPS for directions since paper maps are not that available. Thank you for sharing this one.

    1. The outlet is a fantastic purchase! Comluv has been acting up lately on a lot of sites… hopefully they’ll get it ironed out!

  2. wow, i’ve never even thought of a portable stove! that’s awesome. i want one just to say i ate chef boyardee in my car ahaha. i went on a mini road trip with my friends a few years ago, and have a mini converter with plug holes in it. we brought a mini tv and a ps2 ( a long time ago) and played games in the back on the way to our destination. you gotta love technology.

  3. The mini-stove is brilliant although I do love stopping in and checking out local diners and restaurants. My 3 essentials are my iPhone (handy for music, navigation and the web to figure out what to see in each town we visit), a power converter and a camera.

  4. I don’t know how we lived before the invention of the GPS. We named ours “Nuvi,” after her brand name. She’s become part of the family! We tried the other voices but always go back to the one we started with. We always pack a cooler and a case of bottled water, too, so we can keep the cold and not have to pay a small fortune to purchase it at convenience stores.

    1. I called mine Wanda, because that’s what her voice sounded like to me 🙂 Good call about the water. I usually keep a couple of gallons of water in the vehicle. It’s easy to buy gallons for 69 cents at Walmart. Definitely saves a lot of money!

  5. Thx for a thoughtful post. I totally expected the GPS but the plug and oven are new to me. I’m planning several road trips so I’d better go find the post about sleeping in your car…

    1. Thanks for reading. The plug was super-handy, especially since I had a laptop that needed frequent charging.

  6. not exactly a must-have gadget – but I always buy Combos when we are traveling. Wonderful cheese filled pretzels. That is the ONLY time I buy them and can’t travel without. go figure….. Used to be Chewy Gobstoppers – but about 5 years ago it changed to the Combos. Does everyone have a traveling food?? or is it just me?

    1. Combos are a favorite of mine too! My absolute favorite is a bag of Tootsie rolls… they’re a nice snack, cheap, and not too fattening.

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