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A List of Road Trip Essentials You Should Never Journey Without

Interior view of man driving car.
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Since it has been over a year since we were forced to stay inside our homes due to the pandemic, it’s pretty understandable if you’re yearning to explore the great outdoors or pay a nostalgic visit to some of your favorite destinations. Worry not, because we’ve got you covered if you’re planning a road trip — whether it’s a family trip or a solo adventure to somewhere exhilarating.  

Road trips can be a form of escapism from the monotony of daily life. At times, all we need is a new environment, along with our favorite road trip snacks, to recharge our mental batteries. While it’s tempting to view road trips through rose-tinted glasses, take into consideration that planning for a road trip can be a taxing experience. For instance, you need to update your emergency kit and figure out how to cook food and stay clean on the road.

Yes, it can be out of your comfort zone, but the stark realities of going on a cross-country journey should not intimidate you. Think of road trips as a spring to push you out of the familiar. So, are you ready to brave the unknown and forge new memories this year? Here are the road trip essentials that you should not leave behind.

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Jumper Cables: Cartman Booster Cable 4 Gauge

Cartman bag and cables on a white background.
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It happens to the best of us: You wake up early to get a head start on the day’s mileage, only to find that your vehicle won’t start. Whether you left the headlights on or a door ajar, a dead battery is like clipped wings for the freedom-loving road tripper. A set of jumper cables will save you the expense and hassle of calling a tow truck. It also offers an occasion to depend on the kindness of strangers, an essential skill for any highway nomad.

Windshield Sunshade: EcoNour Car Windshield Sun Shade

EcoNour Car Windshield Sun Shade on top of a red car.
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Unless your road trip only takes you through the foggy Pacific Northwest, you need a windshield shade to protect your vehicle from the wear and tear of the sun. Ever seen a rearview mirror melt right off a windshield? Or been unable to turn on your phone after it’s spent a couple of hours on a hot dashboard? Or scalded your skin on sun-baked leather upholstery? If you haven’t, keep it that way, and invest in a windshield protector. Even one of those cheap folding cardboard numbers is better than turning your vehicle into a sauna.

Camping Stove and Coffee Percolator: Jetboil Flash Java Kit Cooking System

Jetboil Flash Java Kit Cooking System on a white background.
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If you’re a coffee drinker, road trips present a conundrum: Overspend your travel budget (and, in many cases, venture far out of your way) on quality coffee from high-tone local cafes, or subsist on the stale, scorched brew provided by the motel lobby. Alternatively, you can discover the joy of self-reliance by concocting your own coffee, preferably at a scenic overlook or highway monument. Bonus points if you offer a cup to a fellow road tripper. We recommend Jetboil.

Air Freshener: Yankee Candle Car Jar Hanging Air Freshener

Yankee Candle Car Jar Hanging Air Freshener on a white background.
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It’s easy to believe you don’t smell until the morning after couch-crashing at your friend’s well-appointed apartment when you swing your butt back into the sweat-stained front seat of your ride and inhale the scent you’ve left behind. But even more important than clearing your car of human odor is the mental lift provided by a good spritz of citrus- or eucalyptus-scented air freshener. Better yet, get one of those essential oil diffusers that plug into the air vent of your car. Take it from us: That fresh, clean smell could be what saves you from highway fever.

Orthopedic Cushion: Everlasting Comfort Memory Foam Seat Cushion

Black Everlasting Comfort Memory Foam Seat Cushion on a white background.
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No matter how much you stretch before and after your day on the road, there will be times where your neck, back, butt, and legs are crying out for mercy. Fortunately, we’ve written two guides about how to live comfortably out of your car for a few weeks to help you get a good night’s sleep. A folded-up blanket or towel placed behind the small of your back can work miracles, but if you really want to get fancy, you can get one of those doughnut-shaped cushions people use for, well, back and butt problems. Making your position more ergonomic and posture-friendly will even ease tension in your neck, shoulders, sciatic nerve, and lumbar region.

Eye Mask: Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask

Black Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask on a white background.
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Whether you’re spending the night in your car or just taking a 20-minute rest stop, we know you’re too smart to pull over in a dark, unpopulated area. That’s a rookie move that can end really, really badly for a road tripper. Since you’ll definitely be taking your rest breaks in a well-lit area with plenty of adjacent foot traffic, an eye mask is key in helping you get the shut-eye you need.

Cutting Board: MSR Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board

MSR Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board and a bunch of kitchen accessories on the ground.
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If you’ve had one too many drive-through sandwiches fall out of their wrapper and into your lap, you know the perils of eating behind the wheel. The solution: A small wooden or bamboo cutting board that you can easily stash under or behind your seat. When you’re ready to eat, whip it out and place it over your lap — voila! A tray to keep you tidy as you snack and drive. Better still, you’re no longer limited to finger food. The flat surface balances plates, bowls, and beverage containers when you’re keeping both hands at ten and two.

Emergency Kit

Figure opening a car emergency kit.
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There comes a point where the hours of driving, the miles of highway, and the litany of big rigs slowing you down start to get to you. To help you prepare for the unexpected, we recommend including the following essentials in your emergency kit:

  • Blanket
  • Headlamp and flashlight
  • Solar-powered phone charger
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand warmers
  • Flares
  • Gas can
  • Extra oil
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra snacks
  • Extra pair of shoes

When the road starts to make you crazy, your thoughts begin to spiral to a dark place full of “what ifs.” It always helps in those moments to keep your car emergency kit stashed in the trunk, right next to the wheel jack.

Admittedly, it’s rare that you’ll have the type of emergency that requires this kit. For the less rare type of emergency — i.e., getting pulled over for speeding, a broken taillight, or just being not from these parts — it’s a good idea to have all your registration and insurance information paper-clipped together and easily accessible. We all know by now that when a cop is glaring into your driver’s side window, the worst thing you can do is fumble around.

Along with the vehicle’s street-legal information, we recommend keeping a list of information about your vehicle’s “health requirements.” Write down the size and model of tires you use, the type of motor oil your engine takes, and any maintenance your car routinely needs–for example, the rear differential on my ’93 Jeep Cherokee that springs a leak every 100 miles or so. If you should need an emergency repair, having this information handy will help you guard against the wiles of unfamiliar mechanics who would love nothing better than to “fix” your car in all sorts of creative (read: unnecessary) ways.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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