Road trips are one of the most enjoyable forms of travel, and part of their fun is their spontaneity. But go on too spontaneous of a road trip and trouble, or more likely, discomfort could ensue. Taking a little time to organize your car (use the Travel Planning Checklist) so that everything you need is at hand as you traverse the highways and backroads will significantly improve your road trip experience.
Note: This article is not about the kind of road trip that includes tent camping or venturing too far off-road. Those require another level of equipment, and you shouldn’t undertake them with the same provisions you need to drive on mostly paved roads and sleep in relative civilization each night.
Even with your trusty GPS, Waze or Google maps on hand, don’t skip out on a road map. Stock up on atlases, state maps from AAA, print-outs of local maps and directions, or better, all of the above. You may love your smartphone as much as anyone, but if you’re going anywhere new or even remotely, well, remote, you should not rely on your phone. Batteries die, phones get broken or lost, and you don’t have to be out in the boonies to lose your cell signal. Some carriers coverage maps can go in and out even in densely populated places. In short, don’t just rely on your phone when you can also have a paper map or an atlas as a backup.
Some say road trips call for a steady diet of junk food, but if beef jerky and drive-through burgers won’t keep you alert for ten hours behind the wheel, pack healthy foods that will last a long time. Apples are nearly indestructible, and other fruits like plums and grapes can stay good for several days too.
Keep some dried fruits or nuts around in case you’re hungry, and no other food is in sight. Wrap them in plastic and will survive unrefrigerated for years. Chocolate is good for an energy boost, and not as bad for you as other types of candy. Small pretzels and crackers are easy to eat, but if you fall asleep at the mention of carbs, probably not what you want while driving.
And don’t forget the water. You’re in a car, so you might as well bring more than you think you’ll ever need.
Pack a small cooler with a few freezer packs. That should keep anything that needs to remain cold chill for at least 6-8 hours. Another option is using a Yeti or similar insulated mug. Fill it with ice and a little water, and it will stay cold for hours, even in a hot car.
Some basics include a spare tire and jumper cables, some blankets or sleeping bags in case you have to stay with your car overnight, and a snow shovel and scraper. (If it’s August, you probably won’t need them, but if you live in the Northeast or Midwest, them in the car anyway, because you never know.) It also never hurts to bring tools or a pre-assembled car safety kit.
Finally, make sure you have a first aid kit. Even some Neosporin and a pack of bandaids is better than being completely unprepared.
Info and Documents
Have the manual for the car you’re driving, in case any strange lights come on. Bring the addresses of any place you’re planning on staying (here's how to create an itinerary). If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, look up potential locations and write down their contact information before you leave, so when it’s dark, and you’re tired, and you enter an unfamiliar city, you’ll have options.
Again, these are the sorts of things many people now depend on smartphones for, but having hard copies can save you time. Also make sure you have insurance information for you and your vehicle, and any phone numbers for anyone at home or along your route that you might need.
You might prefer music, podcasts or audiobooks. If your road-tripping party includes kids or people who don’t know how to be happy staring at the scenery, you might also need games, portable movie-playing devices, and so on.
These are all the things you don’t think you’ll need until you need them, so really take some time to brainstorm before you go. Some examples include chargers for electronics, umbrellas, eye drops (nothing like hours of driving to make you bleary-eyed) lip gloss or chapstick, sunscreen (Yes. You can become tan or burn in a car), napkins or tissues, hand wipes or disinfectant, garbage bags, and note paper and pens.