- 1. Sunglasses
- 2. Navigation Apps
- 3. Games
- 4. Wireless Charger
- 5. Phone Charging Cords
- 6. Unlimited Data Plan
- 7. Podcasts
- 8. AirPods
- 9. Convenience Gift Cards
- 10. Gas Rewards Apps
- 11. Hand Sanitizer And Hand Cream
- 12. Cup Holders And Trays
- 13. Travel Mugs
- 14. Cooler And Ice Packs
- 15. Trash Can
- 16. Roadside Emergency Kit And First Aid Kit
- 17. Neck Pillows, Regular Pillows, And Blankets
- 18. Headache Meds, Pill Container, And Contact Solution/Eye Drops
- 19. Lipbalm
- 20. Back Scratchers
- 21. Manta Sleep Mask
- 22. Pure-Sky By Persik Car Cleaning Products
- 23. A High-End Car Air Freshener…
- 24. …Or An Unscented Air Freshener
- 25. Good Beef Jerky
- 26. Energy Bites
There are two types of people in this world when it comes to travel: those who love the speed of flight and those who love the good old-fashioned all-American road trip. While I do appreciate flying to certain destinations, I have to admit that when given the chance I really do prefer to hit the open road.
As someone who has taken my fair share of journeys on the road, I’ve realized that there are some things I just can’t live without. Whether you’re traveling as a couple, with kids, with grandkids, with a friend, or solo, there are some items that you’ve got to have packed before you hit the road. Some of these things I learned early on to take, thanks to lots of road trips with my parents and sister as a kid. Others I have decided I need as an adult — usually after taking a trip without them! So don’t be me — just take my advice before your next road trip. Don’t leave home without any of these road trip necessities.
Also, don’t miss picks 21 through 26 from our travel editors!
Don’t even think about backing out of your driveway without at least one pair of sunglasses. Road trips can send you in every direction, so you need to be prepared. After spending almost 40 years of my life maintaining it’s crazy to spend more than $8 on a pair of sunglasses, I invested in my first pair of Oakleys 10 years ago and haven’t had to buy another pair since. The key words there being “had to,” because I’ve picked up a few more Oakleys along the way. They’re all great in their own way, and I’m glad I made the investment.
Now that you’ve got your shades on, you’re ready to roll. Right? Maybe not. Stop the car and download a navigation app. It doesn’t seem like I should have to tell you this, but some people still don’t use them. If you insist on keeping a map with you, knock yourself out. Or, if you want to go old school, get yourself a Triptik! I used to love following along with these as a kid, and now they have a mobile version with all the same information and features you remember.
No matter which you prefer, though, have some kind of navigation guidance at your disposal. Apple, Waze, or Google Maps — they all work. And while using an app like this helps with traffic and routes, you still have to pay attention. We all remember what happened to Michael Scott.
Traveling with kids, or alone with your spouse who might not love long road trips as much as you? Make sure you have some entertainment that involves actually talking to each other. If you’re a Gen X’er like me, there is very little doubt that you grew up playing Mad Libs, most likely on a road trip. Great news — they still exist!
Start things off with this blast from the past and grab the mobile version of Mad Libs. Available for different devices, you’re going to remember quickly why this cheeseburger was the ugliest tree at the symphony, at least according to my fourth-grade teacher. If ya know, ya know.
Another classic road trip game for folks our age was trying to locate a license plate from every state in the Union. While I can say with certainty I never accumulated more than 20 or so on any given trip (just driving from Missouri to Florida quite often as a kid covered Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida), I sure had fun trying!
Like lots of games these days, this can be done on an app, but it seems like this is best done on good old-fashioned paper. You or your kids may even learn a little geography along the way.
You’ll get a lot of use out of that portable charger, but while you’re on a long car ride you may as well take advantage of the car USB ports at your disposal. While using the cord that comes with your phone is always a good idea, sometimes there’s a need in the back seat for a longer option. If you have an iPhone like I do, these cords from CyvenSmart do a good job and are pretty sturdy. I have purchased these for myself and family a few times. If you’re using something else, Onlytang makes a versatile car charger that works on lots of devices.
Something that seems to be a popular suggestion for travelers is to bring a mobile hotspot with you, but I’m coming in with a hot take — you don’t need one. Sure, not too many years ago you might have found these to be helpful, but my personal experience with these is that they are well-meaning, but don’t really help much if you are in a spot with no cell service.
So while in the past these were very useful as a Wi-Fi provider on a trip, I’m going to suggest that instead, you just upgrade your phone plan to unlimited data, especially on a family road trip. If you have a signal, your phone or tablet will work just fine, and can even provide data to mobile devices that need Wi-Fi to work, like your Kindle. So whether you’re using AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile / Sprint, or Spectrum, do yourself a favor and just make sure you’ve got unlimited data.
By now, I’m fairly confident that we all know how to get music in our cars or phones. Do what you wish with that. But there are still some of you out there who have not yet jumped into the world of podcasts. Or, if you have, you may not be thrilled with your podcast app. Speaking from personal experience, make sure you have a good one to find and listen to your favorites if you’re planning a long drive.
For me, I love Overcast — I even voluntarily pay for it (you don’t have to). I have tried several apps, and this is the one that has stuck for several years. It only works for Apple, but fear not, Google Podcasts and Spotify Podcasts are well rated and available on other operating systems.
For reasons I cannot explain, not everyone wants to listen to the same playlists, podcasts, or audiobooks that I listen to. To each their own, I suppose. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you’re going to want to travel with some type of headphones.
After going through just about every kind of headphone you can imagine over the years — including a couple of types of wireless options — I picked up some Apple AirPods a few years ago and have never looked back. If I ever have to buy a new pair of earbuds, I’ll go straight back to these. Fortunately, I’ve still got the first pair I ever bought — even after running over one of them with a riding mower once. True story.
By now, you’ve played a few games and listened to some podcasts, but you’re all getting hangry. It’s OK, it happens to the best of us. While you’re probably just going to stop at the next spot you can for snacks, consider picking up some gift cards for some of the bigger chains before you depart on your trip. Think of it as a way of putting money aside in the months before you leave — you’ll be so glad you did so when you don’t have all those snacks to pay for on the road!
Try picking up some gift cards for the kids and let them know their budget before you leave. Whether your favorite spot is Quik-Trip, Exxon/Mobil, or you need help from Amazon to find the right place, having some plastic money that’s prepaid can offer some budget relief on the road, and may even teach the kids a thing or two about budgeting.
In the spirit of saving money on the road, I think I might be about 20 years behind here — but have you all signed up for the various rewards programs offered at gas stations? This one is pretty simple — sign up, get gas discounts, and maybe even some free stuff.
All of the big boys have these programs, including Exxon/Mobil, Shell, BP Amoco, Hucks, and more. It’s simple to sign up, the instructions at the pump are easy, and there’s no catch — they want you to sign up and go to their stations. In exchange, they give you discounts every time you visit. Easy, worth it, and saves you money.
If you’re anything like literally every person who’s ever accompanied me on a road trip, you just walked out of that gas station with way more stuff than you have space for. Fear not, the guy who wrote that thing on that travel website told you to buy this cup holder tray thing made by Seven Sparta, and now everyone is happy. The ability to add space and a tray to what you already have can’t hurt, so you’ll want to pick up something to help you manage all of those drinks and candy bars. Problem solved.
Another option is to plan ahead and bring yourself a beverage before you leave the house. If that’s more your speed, you’ll want a reliable travel mug or reusable water bottle. Another recommendation that comes from personal experience — and I’m not exactly going out on a limb here — is a Tervis. These come in all shapes and sizes and can even be customized. They’ve always kept my hot drinks hot and my cold drinks cold and I have nothing to complain about, and I always have at least one with me on the road. Plus, if water is your drink of choice, you can refill them for free at any rest stop.
Another must-have for the well-prepared road tripper is a car cooler. Useful from the moment you leave the house to the moment you stop to restock all the way to an overnight stay on the way to wherever, Titan makes a good-looking and well-rated cooler that comes in lots of sizes. If that doesn’t work for you or is a little too expensive, there are over-the-seat options available too, like this one made by High Road. Don’t forget to grab some ice packs! I can personally attest that these packs from Coleman work quite well, but there are a lot of options out there.
Another lifesaver on any road trip is some type of portable trash can. No, a plastic grocery bag is not good enough. Why? Because this portable trash can also holds tissues. No, used tissues from the bottom of someone’s purse are not good enough. The fine folks at Farasla have created a nice little option for your road trip, and you’re going to want to make sure you have this in your car before you go anyplace. It’s leakproof, it has straps, and it comes with multiple liners, making it far superior to that grocery bag you’ve been using.
Now that you’ve played some games, listened to some podcasts, picked up some coffee and snacks, saved money on gas, and charged your devices, someone is bound to have an injury. Well, not necessarily (is this not a shared experience?), but just in case… It’s always good to have an emergency road kit and first aid kit on your road trip.
For your car, this safety kit from First Secure has just about everything you’ll need. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, Veetos has a nice kit as well. When it comes to first aid, leave it to the Red Cross to have lots of options for you. At a minimum, make sure you have an inflated spare tire, flashlight, flares, and jumper cables. Sure, you may never use any of this, but you’ll be glad you have these items if the need arises.
The bleeding has stopped, order has been restored, and it’s time for a nap. If you are someone who likes to grab some zzzs in the car, you are probably also familiar with the crick in your neck that’s almost certainly to follow. If this describes you, you might want to consider grabbing one of these travel pillows from BCOZZY.
At first, I thought they were a little silly looking. But then upon further review, I get it – these things work. And who are you trying to impress on this road trip, anyway? If you need neck support, give these a try. If a more standard pillow is more your speed, Wise Owl Outfitters offers a nice variety to choose from.
To complete your ideal car nap, you’ll want a blanket, too. Eversnug offers a good option that comes in lots of colors, and they even include a matching pillow.
Now that you’ve enjoyed a nap, your contacts are probably dried out. And now that your contacts are acting up, you probably have a headache. While I’m not going to bother to tell you what to take for a headache, I can tell you that I’m always glad that I remembered to bring my Biotrue portable contact solution, which fits in a much smaller space than the large bottle you’ve hopefully packed in your suitcase. You may not need to take them out — try some eye drops, first. From personal experience, I use Systane Ultra. They work pretty well, so if you wake up with dry eyes try them before you take your contacts out entirely.
I also learned many years ago that a baggie full of pills and toiletries is not the best way to travel (live and learn), so I started using this simple but useful pill organizer made by Ezy Dose. I even use it at home, but it’s certainly a must-have on a road trip. If you’re looking to have a few different kinds of motion sickness/headache/allergy/cold meds but don’t want to carry all of those bottles in your pocket, this nifty little container made by Dtouayz fits right in your pocket.
This is another suggestion that seems like it should go without saying, but I’ve forgotten it enough that I’m going to go ahead and say it. Grab some lip balm. And no, don’t just say you’ll grab some on the road if you need it. It’s a bit more expensive at a roadside gas station than going to the store or buying it online. Give me Vanilla Bean or Mango Burt’s Bees any day. Or, if you’re more old school, Chapstick is tried and true.
I’ve been openly mocked for this, probably because I buy them in bulk and keep one on my nightstand, on the end table, in my car, and in my office at work. But you’re going to thank me later for this last, but certainly not least, suggestion — grab some Ohuhu back scratchers. The price is right, they’re pretty durable, they’re expandable, and the person next to you is absolutely going to get tired of scratching your back every time you ask.
I think that should just about do it — now hit the road and have fun! You should be all set.
If you get car sick while riding as a passenger and/or want to really zone out and get some epic sleep while someone else takes the wheel, a Manta sleep mask is a must. Linsey has been using Manta masks since 2020. With Zero Eye Pressure Adjustable Eye Cups and a completely customizable fit, they take sleep masks to the next level.
Manta’s lineup has grown to include masks that incorporate Bluetooth, silk, and beyond. These are every sensitive road tripper’s new go-to for a calmer, more relaxed trip, plus better sleep when you get wherever you’re going.
Messes are inevitable when you’re spending long hours in the car, especially when snacks, meals, pets, and/or children are involved. Evan uses Pure-Sky by Persik’s car cleaning lineup on his frequent jaunts from Kansas City to Saint Louis and says they’re especially great for getting dog hair off the upholstery. The cleaning cloths also remove bacteria (all you have to do is add water and wipe) and are super absorbent.
Once your vehicle’s hair-free, take it up a notch with a luxe air freshener. Linsey’s sister loves Bend, Oregon-based Broken Top Candle Company’s Saguaro Cactus Car Freshener. It’s a completely unique scent that brings the Southwest vibes into your vehicle with notes of agave, aloe, and moss. Broken Top also offers car fresheners in their Sea Salt Surf, Coconut Sandalwood, Black Coral Tide, and Tobacco Teak scents.
Pro Tip: If you’re not a car freshener fan (Linsey isn’t) read on for a scent-free option and consider Broken Top’s soy candles for home. The Honey Horchata (not too sweet) is Linsey’s favorite, and in addition to the unique car air fresheners, the candles make great gifts, especially considering Broken Top is a 1% for the Planet brand.
If air freshener scents make you queasy, you’re not alone. Skip the scents and purify the air in your car with an alternative option: the charcoal-based PURGGO Car Air Eco-Purifier & Freshener. Instead of covering scents with more scent, bamboo charcoal absorbs whatever odors are lingering in your vehicle. It’s easy to hang from any seatback. Linsey reports that it’s been working well in her Eurovan (a 2002 that’s known to get musty) and loves that it comes in eco-friendly packaging and is compostable or can be used as fertilizer later.
Bonus: Unlike scented air fresheners, the PURGGO is made to last for a year, meaning it costs less than $2.50/month.
Linsey doesn’t typically eat pork or beef, but for her husband, it just isn’t a road trip without beef jerky. His go-to is typically Old Trapper, but they took a variety of jerkys from San Luis Obispo-based Cattaneo Bros. on a recent trip and were pleasantly surprised.
Cattaneo Bros’ beef jerkys are made with top-round, U.S. sourced beef and include specialty flavors and a variety of cuts: extra thin, classic (thicker), and premium handcut (extra thick), plus a 100 percent grassfed beef option called Range. Their offerings also include turkey jerky (Sweet & Spicy and Honey Pineapple — yum!), dried fruits, nuts, and brittles, and handmade pork and beef sausages that could be just the thing to throw on the grill when you get wherever you’re going.
Sometimes you just can’t drink another cup of gas station coffee (and you’re feeling set against going out of the way for Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts). In those moments, Linsey’s a fan of reaching for Seattle Gummy Company’s energy bites. Their Mocca Shots contain a “performance blend of caffeine and herbal nootropics” that “boost energy without jittery side-effects” that she attests to as someone who’s had bad reactions to energy drinks and liquid energy shots in the past.
Seattle Gummy Company (SGC) also offers tasty gummies that don’t contain caffeine. Linsey likes the Apple Cider Vinegar shots and the Golden Glow Turmeric with Ginger and says all SGC’s options are perfect for mess-free behind-the-wheel snacking.
Now that you’ve gathered the essentials, check out these road trips: