The Ultimate Road Trip Gear Guide | 27 Essential Items For Your Drive
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Road trips are a staple of the summer months, and despite the current gas prices around the world, we hope that families can continue to find ways to hit the open road and explore. For a short trip, you’ll probably pack pretty light, but for those of us who enjoy those long, sometimes multi-day drives, this list should help you immensely. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for every scenario, and this list of some of our favorite road trip gear should help you do just that. This will be a general road trip guide, but if your needs are more specific, we can likely give you some ideas there as well:
Not that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into it. We’ve separated our picks into 5 categories: Safety, Comfort, Organization, Entertainment, and Food/Drink. Be sure to scroll to the section that will help you the most and let us know in the comments below if you have any essential road trip gear that we’ve missed.
Road trips are about fun and adventure, but it’s essential to be prepared for anything on your journey. The phrase “better safe than sorry” is never more applicable than when you’re hours or days away from your home, so make sure you’re traveling with everything you might need in case of emergency.
Naturally, if you’re going to be traveling any distance at all, you should have a first aid kit with you. This one is a great bang-for-your-buck option at 273 pieces for just under 25 bucks. It includes a ton of bandages, alcohol pads, an ice pack, a tourniquet, an emergency blanket, a flashlight, and much, much more.
If your first aid kit doesn’t include emergency blankets, you’ll want to make sure you pick some up separately. It’s much easier to freeze in a broken down car than many people think, so you’ll want to have a strong mode of defense against the cold in case you end up stranded for a night waiting on a pick up.
A radar detector is a great gadget to bring along with you on long drives. Of course, we never condone driving over the speed limit, but we do recognize that when we’re cruising down the highway excited about our destination, sometimes mistakes happen. It’s much less stressful to get your reminder to slow down from a radar detector than it is from a police officer with a ticket in hand.
It’s always a good idea to keep your tires topped off even when just driving around town, but when planning a longer road trip, making sure your tires are properly inflated is essential. It will get you better gas mileage and decrease the risk of any mishaps. This won’t help you if you totally blow a tire, (if you do that, you’ll need a spare on hand, a lug wrench and a jack) but it’s a great way to keep your tires fully inflated if they start losing pressure on your trip.
Pro-tip: You should already be checking your tire pressure at least once a month, but if you’re going on a long trip make sure to check it just before you leave for your destination and again before you leave on your way back. A lot can happen over a few hundred miles.
A dead car battery can ruin your whole trip in a snap. Luckily, portable car jump starters are so affordable and compact these days that there’s very little excuse not to keep one in your trunk in case of emergencies. This NOCO Boost Plus is a solid option that often goes on sale and it even comes with its own jumper cables.
In addition to having a backup power source for your car battery, in 2022, you’ll probably want some backup power for any other devices as well. That’s where a good portable power station comes into play. This one has a 110V AC outlet, 3 12V DC ports and 3 USB ports. It includes its own built-in cooling fan and comes with a cigarette lighter adapter, a wall outlet charging power adapter and a car charging adapter.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that gas prices are higher than ever. For a road trip, that’s even more annoying than usual. If you’re looking to save a few bucks by hunting for the cheapest gas near you, check out Autoblog’s Cheap Gas Prices tool right here.
What good is a road trip if you’re miserable for the whole ride? Staying comfy is an important part of any travel, but it’s maybe more important than ever when you’re stuck in a car for several hours on end. If you’re driving, some of these may not be applicable to you, but happy passengers = a happy journey.
If you’re in for a long ride and you think you might need a nap, consider picking up a neck pillow for the trip. These BCOZZY neck pillows are great because they provide support not only to the sides and back of your head, but also underneath your chin. They even come in 4 different sizes and a whopping 14 different color options.
A seat cushion like this is a great idea for anyone to consider on a long ride, but if you have back pain it can become essential. This one is made of gel memory foam and it’s meant to relieve pressure on the tailbone and provide some sciatica and lower back pain relief.
While a wool blanket will probably do better when camping, this plush one is certainly more comfortable. Throw this blanket, a couple pillows and some snacks in the third row and whichever kid is sitting back there will be happy. We can say that from experience.
Pro-tip: At this price, get one for each of the kids. It’s worth it so you don’t have to hear them argue over who gets the blanket.
These dog car seats are a great way to make your smaller pups feel a little more secure in the car. You can even throw a small blanket in the bottom for a bit more cushion.
If your dog is a bit too large to fit in a car seat, you might consider something like this dog hammock. It not only keeps your seats clean from fur and scratches, but it also prevents your dog from roaming around the car causing distractions. This one is made of durable material that’s waterproof, wearproof and nonslip.
If you’re traveling with a large group, you can start to run out of space pretty quickly. Often, you won’t necessarily need more space, just better ways to organize all of the stuff. If you do end up needing more space, though, we’ve got options for that, too.
These 30.6 qt weathertight storage boxes from Iris are a good size (19.7 x 15.75 x 7.75 inches), stack easily when full or empty to conserve space, and don’t break the bank, though you do have to purchase a six-pack of them. They also come in different sizes to perfectly fit whatever your car’s cargo dimensions demand.
Pro-tip: These SidioCrate Plastic Storage Crates with Dividers are a bit more expensive than the ones recommended above, but we dig the customizability.
A trunk organizer is probably the easiest solution to keeping your odds and ends organized on long (or short) drives. This one is durable, includes a waterproof lining and is totally collapsible for easy storage when you’re not using it.
Not everyone has the luxury of driving a vehicle that can hold all the gear you need for a weeklong camping trip and still fit four people comfortably. That’s where a cargo basket like this one from Thule comes in handy. Sure, the added wind noise isn’t great, but the fact that you don’t need to store your luggage on your lap for a 4-hour drive is definitely preferable.
Pro-tip: Instead of buying the $55 bungee cargo net that Thule sells, find a generic one on Amazon. It saves you money without losing any of the function.
The problem with a roof top basket? If it rains everything better be in a waterproof bag, otherwise it’s getting wet. Plus, it’s tough to lock these if you stop for a while and leave your belongings unattended. That’s where this roof top storage from Yakima comes in handy.
Pro-tip: Roof boxes are expensive. Check out Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or your local REI Garage Sale. Most of the time you can find barely used ones for a fraction of the price.
If your passengers are on the younger side, you probably want to avoid hearing the age old question “are we there yet?” as best you can. Luckily, there are tons of ways to keep kids (and adults) occupied on long car rides nowadays. Check out some of our favorites below.
There’s probably no greater portable entertainment device in 2022 than a tablet, especially for kids. If your kids are old enough to be able to handle screens, it’s probably worth considering an older Apple iPad to load up with games and videos. You get all the benefits of an iPad, at a slightly lower price than a brand new one.
Pro-tip: If you’re traveling with younger kids, consider getting a kid-proof case with a screen protector like this one for the tablet.
If you’re not an Apple fan, this Fire HD 10 Kids tablet could also serve as entertainment for the little ones. Naturally, you’ll be giving up some of the hardware and software upgrades present in an Apple device, but you’ll be gaining a free 1 year subscription to Amazon Kids+, a built-in kid-proof case, and you’ll be saving a few hundred bucks.
Back when most of us at Autoblog were young teenagers embarking on a family trips, one of the primary ways to keep busy on the drive was to listen to burned CDs on a Discman for hours or days on end during the journey. The biggest problem back then was that the Discman couldn’t play at a high enough volume level to drown out everyone else in the car. Today, that problem is easily solved with an inexpensive pair of noise-cancelling headphones like these.
Pro-tip: Keep a USB cable for these handy so you can charge it up in the car in case they run out of battery.
iPads and headphones are great, but if you prefer to stick to the classics, a great form of on-the-road-entertainment has always been and will always be “backseat bingo.” This awesome driving game is great for players of all ages, and at 10 bucks for 4 reusable cards, it definitely won’t break the bank.
Perhaps the best part about road-tripping is the snacks. After all, calories don’t count on the road, right? The items below should help you satiate nearly any craving you might be having on a long drive or camping trip.
A stove for a road trip that doesn’t involve camping? Yeah, why not? They’re relatively inexpensive and if the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have coffee you can make some in the parking lot in a few minutes. This stove is an ultralight option that folds up into the size of a small multitool. Weighing in at only 3.2 ounces (yes, you read that correctly), the pocket rocket screws into the top of any isopro fuel canister and will boil a liter of water in under 4 minutes.
Pro-tip: Wondering how much fuel is left in your canister? Stick it in water. If the canister floats all the way at the top, you’re low on fuel.
If you’re not used to using insulated mugs it can be all too easy to fill it up with some tea or coffee, forget about it, then burn your tongue drinking it over an hour later. If you want your cup of coffee, hot chocolate or tea to stay hot (or cold), insulated is the way to go. There are plenty of companies that make insulated mugs these days, but our go-to recommendations are Miir and Yeti.
Pro-tip: Insulated mugs work almost too well. Think about leaving the lid off so you can enjoy your coffee sooner. It still stays pretty hot but has less of a chance of burning your tongue.
It’s all too easy to grab a can of soda, totally forget about it for two hours, and come back to a warm drink. With a can koozie, though, chances are you’ll be coming back to your drink still cold. Sure they don’t fit every size can or bottle (we’re looking at you, kombucha bottles), but they keep your drink as cold as when you pulled it out of the fridge, at least for a few hours.
Pro-tip: If you prefer slim cans (think Red Bull), order one with a slim gasket.
Yeti coolers are so good they were once one of the most stolen items in America. You can fly with them, camp with them and they keep food and drinks cold for what seems like an impossible amount of time. Pre-cool the cooler a day before using it by filling it with ice and then refilling it the next day. And while this cooler is pretty incredible at its job, remember, it’s a cooler, not a freezer. Things like ice cream left too long will likely turn into a sticky, liquid mess.
Pro-tip: Yetis are expensive and, as mentioned before, a target for thieves. If you’re traveling with this in the bed of a truck, like we did on our Tacoma road trip from Seattle to Banff, Alberta, make sure to lock it to the truck with some bike cables.
This is many of the Autoblog staff’s go-to water bottle. It can even be handy to keep two with you, one filled with something like iced tea, and one with water. It’s cheap and nearly indestructible.
Pro-tip: There are multiple different types of Nalgenes. The narrow mouth version is great while driving to prevent spillage. The 48 oz version is great for those of us who drink a ton of water. And if you’re planning on hiking in the winter and don’t want your water to freeze up, the wide-mouth OG is the one for you.
Nalgenes, Yetis and can koozies all have a similar problem: they don’t fit very well in car cup holders. This extender is the solution.
Pro-tip: While it fits a lot of vehicles, this isn’t a perfect solution for every make and model, so make sure it’ll fit your specific vehicle before ordering.
The portable stove above is great for general use, but if you espresso drinkers need something a little more specialized to get you through the trip, check out this miniature espresso machine. This little gadget works with the original NS capsules, so you should get a perfect espresso every time.
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