My Road Trip Essentials

Road trips are always awesome in theory. That is, until you are partway through a long drive and realize that being a little more prepared would have made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.

So, before you jump in the car, read the following and think about what items make up your road-trip-essentials checklist.

Some of my road trip essentials

The Necessities

A trusty method of transportation

This is incredibly obvious, but not so much when you don’t have easy access to a car.

My usual solution is to rent a vehicle. It’s a lot cheaper to rent a car for the weekend than to own and maintain your own vehicle full time. But, it can be a little nerve-wracking. Some rental companies love to charge you a bundle for the tiniest scratch or slightest damage.

Before you pay extra for insurance through the rental company, don’t. A lot of credit cards include collision for free–as long as you deny coverage from the rental company. Check your card details. If your card doesn’t cover it, you can likely get a no-fee Visa that does. Figure this out beforehand.

Another option I’ve come across recently is RelayRides, a peer-to-peer sharing car rental service. You can rent someone else’s car, or rent out your own to make a few bucks. Unfortunately, it’s just in the US for now, but I’ll be keeping it in mind for my next trip across the border. They also have rental cars available at airports across the country, which you can check out here.

A charger

Beyond the fact that most people today are attached to their phones, you might actually need it in case of a real emergency. I remember my first cellphone was given to me shortly after I got my driver’s license. I know it was really so my parents could keep tabs on me, but it’s a good idea to have a means to communicate your distress, should the unfortunate situation arise.

Also, driving for hours with nothing good to listen to almost constitutes an emergency in itself.

An auxiliary cord

You’re going to be prepared with lots of music and podcasts on your smartphone, so don’t forget to bring the cord. Highly important, yet easily forgotten. Luckily, if you do forget, you can buy these at plenty of convenience stores these days for a few bucks.

A water bottle and/or mug

You’re going to need water, and you might also need coffee or tea, so you might as well bring your own beverage container. It’s easier than dealing with disposable bottles and cups in the car and (more importantly) the sustainable option. Also, fill up your bottle for free–who buys bottled water these days (unless you’re in a country where the tap water is unsafe for drinking)?

A camera

You’ve already got this with you, I’m sure. Just remember to keep it within reach. You never know when you’re going to come across an idyllic creek or incredibly photogenic deer.



If you’ve got an interest or hobby, there’s a podcast about it. If you are just looking to expand your general knowledge, there’s a podcast for that. If you want to listen to the news really slowly in another language, there’s a podcast for that.

I am obsessed with podcasts. They make me feel super productive when I’m walking to work, riding the train, or cleaning my apartment (OK, the last one is a rarity–thanks Tim!). Here are a couple of my favourites:

This is a new one for me. It’s an interesting listen for those looking to grow their brand, or to think about their blog or website as a business. Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney teaches you through interviews with designers and solo podcasts. A couple of episode suggestions: Ep 20: Becoming Your Brand, Ep 91: How to Create Content for the New Online World

I think I’ve talked about Stuff you Should Know at least once before on this blog. That’s because it’s the one podcast I always go back to. I feel like I’ve gained so much general knowledge from listening to it. And, Josh and Chuck are the kinds of hosts that can make any topic interesting and entertaining. Try these out: Why Do Lefties Exist?, How Terraforming Will Work, What is Collective Hysteria?

Photo by Sascha Kohlmann

Guidebooks and magazines

I’ll admit, I take lots of guidebooks out from the library and hardly touch them. There’s just so much, starting out seems daunting if you don’t know where you are going. This is not an issue on a road trip. Why? Obviously, because you are already on your way. It’s no longer a chore of planning, but an immediate impact on how you will spend the following days. It’s much more exciting to read about a place while you are en route, when it’s not some seemingly far-off future.

These things can be expensive to buy new, so head to Goodwill or Value Village and pick up the most recent guides you can find. Usually, they are at least three or four years old, but you might get lucky. The advantage is that you can mark these up and make notes all you like–something you can’t do with library books! Of course, you’ll need some internet access to ensure that some of the suggestions are still relevant.

I go through phases of being a magazine hoarder. I like to buy two or three travel magazines at a time, and then don’t buy any for months. That means I’ve got a bit of an archive that I can go back to and start tearing out any relevant features. Of course, a ten-dollar investment for a new magazine that is very destination-specific can be very worthwhile.


I normally like to find curated playlists on Spotify or 8tracks, but that is obviously not the best road-trip plan when it comes to using up your data for streaming. So, this is a decent time to dig up old CD’s or download an album that you’ve been meaning to listen to. Lately for me, that’s been Dream Your Life Away by Vance Joy, Very Good Bad Thing by Mother Mother, and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust by Sigur Rós


Snacks, water, coffee

These things go without saying, but it’s important to pick them up early. Making frequent stops can easily turn a 7-hour drive into a 9-hour drive. And by that time, you really just want to stop and grab a beer somewhere.

The trick with snacks is to pack comfort foods without being too unhealthy. Stick to fruits that don’t need to be washed, like bananas and oranges, and pack some chocolate if you like. Sitting in a car inevitably leads to lots of snacking, so try to pack things that you won’t feel guilty about later.

Not the best option for a sedentary day, but eating at food trucks is a road trip requirement, right?


I like “roughing it” as much as the next person, but I’m not afraid to admit that there are a few products that I use to feel a little more human along the way. Here are a few things to keep within arm’s reach:

  • Cleansing wipes (maybe wasteful, but an amazing comfort after a few hours in one spot)
  • Dental floss and mouth wash
  • Moisturizer
  • Moisturizing lip balm
  • Eye drops
  • Deodorant

Good company

What comes to mind when you think of a road trip? Maybe it’s cruising along a coastal highway with the windows down and some good music blaring, maybe it’s a heated game of 20 questions amidst mountainous parkland. Whatever it is, chances are that you are not alone (especially not in the 20 questions scenario…though no judgement). Good company is anyone with a positive attitude that will play along with your games, nod along to the music, and analyze a podcast topic with you along the way. If not, they should at least be someone that you can stand to be stuck in a car with for hours on end.

What are your road trip essentials? Do you travel alone or with friends or family?

Originally published at on May 12, 2015.

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