Three must-have gadgets for the budget road tripper

road trip tips

The first installment of my Road Trip Tips series offered tips for sleeping in your vehicle. Now, it’s time to talk about the electronic gadgets you’re gonna need on the road.

No, not cell phones or laptops. I mean other gadgets that can make your life easier and save money at the same time.

Here are my three favorites; what are yours?


GPS ocean

Buy a used or generic one if you must, just get your hands on one. You can find a decent GPS for under $100 these days, and it’s worth every penny. Not just to help you get where you’re going, but also to help you save money.

If you’re on a budget, the GPS gives you the ability to find the nearest Wendy’s or Subway, rather than having to eat at the first restaurant you run across. Or if you need supplies, you can use it to find the nearest Dollar Tree instead of having to pay more somewhere else.

The only perk I insist that my GPS have is the ability to read street names. The cheapest GPS devices don’t say the street names, which can be confusing when you’re traveling in big cities with six-way intersections and lots of freeway merging.

It’s way more convenient to hear your GPS say “Turn right on Maplewood Avenue” than just “Turn right.” You don’t have to keep looking at the GPS when you have one that talks.

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 $40 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.


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.

For just $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 lots of cans of ravioli, stew and chili and cook everything in the van. 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’!

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. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. 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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