Essentials For Your Next Road Trip
Some hot tips to know before hitting the open road... that I learned the hard way
I-10, Chihuahuan Desert, West Texas - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
As a Native Nevadan, I have grown up taking countless road trips to visit family, go camping, or explore new places. With about 20 years of experience spent in a car while travelling long distances, I’d love to share my essentials to have on hand for any road trip - short or long!
First Aid Kit
While you’re on a road trip, there are times where you are in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes that can be scary. Preparation, and even over-preparation, can be a great way to alleviate those fears. Keeping a first aid kit in your car is smart to have on the open road, and can also easily slip into your backpack when you’re heading away from the car for a hike along the way.
Personally, I love to start out with a generic kit, and then I add all my individual first aid needs to it. For example, I learned to never forget antacids, non-drowsy allergy medication, and motion sickness relief. This is a great thing to keep in mind while shopping around for your own kit - I like to search for ones that have good bones and then build them up to be comprehensive for anything I could need.
First things first: toilet paper - this is self explanatory. With COVID-19 regulations still in place throughout the U.S., it’s hard to tell whether that lonesome gas station on the interstate will have an open restroom. Keeping a roll or two on hand with you in your vehicle can serve many purposes (besides the obvious) - if you find yourself needing a tissue for example, or something easy to toss your gum in.
Second, grab some index cards, scrap paper or a notebook. I find myself always writing things down when I am out and about, and I’d rather hide a few index cards for future use than try and remember what I did with a napkin that I quickly wrote an important note on. I’m the type of person who remembers things best by physically writing them down, but another option here would be simply jotting things down in a notes app on your phone. I also like to keep these little thoughts handy on paper in case my phone dies, or there is no reception to access the app.
My father always taught me to leave a paper or business card with contact information on my dashboard when I leave my car in an unknown place in case of emergency. That is entirely optional, but once saved me when I unintentionally parked in a tow zone while stopping into a small town gas station for a bathroom break. While I was waiting for all my friends to finish up, I got a call from the tow truck driver saying I had 5 minutes to move, or else my car would be theirs for the weekend. That was certainly not a part of our itinerary, so I put some pep in my step and luckily got back on the road just in time.
Servicing your vehicle prior to skipping out of town for the weekend is a great habit to get into. Knowing your vehicle is good to go will make your time on the road that much more worry-free and enjoyable.
I also recommend having all of your car’s important documents neatly together for easy access. I love using a compact file folder that neatly stores my registration, service/gas receipts, travel accommodation information, and my insurance paperwork. I find that having this on hand is convenient if you’re leaving your vehicle for a period of time. This folder is easy to slip into your bag and get on with your adventure without leaving these valuables behind if you’re going to be away from your vehicle for an extended period of time. I suggest bringing your important documents with you while you’re away from your vehicle in case of emergency. Imagine if your vehicle were to be broken into, or even stolen - that information will be very valuable to have on hand.
Bags have saved the interior of my car countless times - when a passenger got car sick on the winding roads of the Grand Canyon, or to store my soaking wet shoes after a trip through the Narrows. This is obviously also a great way to keep your trash together to be easily thrown out at your next stop, or to clean up after furry friends at a rest stop.
My go-to disposable bags are either recycling the plastic ones you can get from any grocery store, or specifically the paper bags from Trader Joe’s (they fit perfectly on the floorboards of my car and stand up straight - can it get better than that?!). If you’d prefer to utilize more environmentally friendly bags, there are compostable options that can still be thrown away in normal trash containers. (Here is a friendly reminder to pack it in and pack it out - check out the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you help keep our outdoors clean!)
While bringing along a cooler on a road trip is essential, it can be inconvenient to access on the road for snacks, water and everything else if it’s stored in the trunk. Think about how a compact cooler will avoid all this hassle. I’d suggest keeping this within arms reach (usually I opt for keeping this on the passenger floorboards). It’s much easier to reach over and grab an ice cold water from a small cooler next to you rather than having to stop and get the trunk open every time you’re thirsty.
No one wants to battle over chargers in the car, so having a portable charger on hand can save you in a handful of situations. As so often happens, after a long day of sightseeing on the road, your camera battery is dying but there is so much more to see, to capture, and to remember. A convenient and simple portable charger can replenish any of your electronic devices, as long as you have a proper USB compatible charger or adapter. The two I find most useful are a simple single USB port connection, or multiple USB inputs to offer everyone a recharge!
If you’re looking for something more versatile, this portable charger has an array of outlets for everything you’ll need. While this is much larger than the previous options, it also features the capability of jumping your car if your battery dies.
Portable Air Pump
Accidents happen. Even if you've just filled up your tires and think there is nothing to worry about, having an air pump with you would be crucial if you somehow end up with an unexpected flat tire.
My personal favorite air pump plugs into your accessory outlet, and can inflate your tire until you make it to a safe destination to replace or repair it. If you're camping with an air mattress, consider bringing along an air pump with air mattress compatibility. This will still accommodate any emergency car care needs, while also greatly reducing the time it takes to set up camp.
Fully Equipped Road Kit
Trying to source and organize a full emergency road kit may be a bit overwhelming, so thankfully there’s the option to purchase and pack this. This #1 ranked road kit has almost everything I have mentioned so far, all in a tidy zippered case. My family has used these as birthday/holiday kits every year, and there has never been a disappointment. AAA specializes in roadside assistance, so you can be confident the kit's components are high quality, and extremely useful in unfortunate circumstances.
I-19, Sonoran Desert, Southern Arizona - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
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