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What To Take On a Road Trip

Updated on March 18, 2013
Be prepared for tolls by having a toll coin and cash container in the cup holder near the driver's seat.  Tolls for some bridges cost as much as $12.  This is the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.  Current toll is $6 for a car.
Be prepared for tolls by having a toll coin and cash container in the cup holder near the driver's seat. Tolls for some bridges cost as much as $12. This is the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Current toll is $6 for a car. | Source

The Road Trip - An American Rite of Passage

On the last road trip I took, I logged in over 15,000 miles in the first four months. I have made several smaller road trips - some between 5,000-10,000 miles, but most were about 1,000 miles in length. What I can say about road traveling this much is to embrace the idea that there will be something that goes wrong but, by planning on every foreseeable event before leaving town, it will feel less stressful and far more fun to hit the road and just do it.

It's the American rite of passage and, I suspect, the rite of passage for many in other countries, as well. People in the United States feel the call of the open road for many reasons. Some travel to fulfill career obligations. Others embrace adventure. Because the country is so vast and Hollywood shows little of it, road travel gives us a connection to our fellow countryman. After spending time sharing pizza in Texas with complete strangers who invited us to a party to being shown the finer points of unfurling sails by sailors from Boston - Beantown! - to being "recruited" into the fake Regimental Army in Philadelphia, there develops a sense of how we citizens are more alike than different. I may have been born into a vegan-infused, white-collar world, in the Hollywood back lot of middle-America known as California. But I feel as though I understand the person raised in the smallest town in one of the smallest states - Maine - whose families work at the paper mill and not on fishing vessels the state is so famous for. These adventures have led me to develop a checklist for travel that is essential in any road trip... and there will more more road trips. Adventure awaits!

The best road trip begins with a little planning and a lot of flexibility.  This road was closed the day prior to the picture.  Instead of a detour, a layover was in order.  (Jefferson County, Washington, USA)
The best road trip begins with a little planning and a lot of flexibility. This road was closed the day prior to the picture. Instead of a detour, a layover was in order. (Jefferson County, Washington, USA) | Source

Things To Take On a Road Trip

When traveling by car, there are smart packing tips of things to take on a road trip that will make life easier while the journey is in-progress.

Here are 12 road trip essentials:

  1. Route planner options: Have paper maps, a gps device, or access to Mapquest/Google Maps. Remember, gps doesn't work in most National Parks in the USA.
  2. Electronic devices: Bring a phone (smart or dumb - for emergency calls), tablet, and/or laptop.
  3. Audio/video entertainment: Enjoy music CDs (radio isn't everywhere in the USA), audio books, and films for passengers to watch on laptops or a portable DVD player.
  4. Pack Snacks: Non-perishable food items such as snack-bars and fruit are good choices when driving. Picnic food optional: sandwich-making ingredients and juice, coffee, or soda drinks. When planning on picnic food, include disposable plates and forks/knives - if making non-finger foods from cans. Bottled water should always be in the vehicle for emergencies - when on a road trip or just driving about town.
  5. Toiletries: Keep a roll of toilet paper, some tissue packs, cleaning wipes (not just for babies!), anti-bacterial lotion (sometimes water isn't available to clean up) and liquid soap.
  6. First aid kit: a standard pre-packaged kit (with antiseptic, band-aids gauze and medical tape), pain relief (Tylenol, Midol, etc), antacids, sunblock.
  7. Clothes/shoes: Pack loose-fitting clothes for ease of movement and slip on shoes to keep your feet comfortable. An emergency jacket (preferably water proof for unexpected rain) can be helpful.
  8. Bedding/pillow: A sleeping bag or blanket will come in handy - from the roadside picnic to overnight at a campground when a hotel is not an option and a pillow may save you a morning neck ache when the hotel only supplies flat, no-fluff pillows.
  9. Power inverters: Whether for the hotel or in the car, charging gadgets with electrical adapters is easiest in transit and a must when traveling with electronics. When driving into another country, check to see if you will need an adapter for the outlets in the new country (not all countries have the same kind of electrical outlets). Find adapters for electrical outlets at travel shops or purchase them online before leaving town.
  10. A spare set of keys. Keep this spare somewhere other than the key ring. The extra set of keys can be put in a hiding spot on the outside of the vehicle, in a wallet or purse, or given to a companion on the trip. This is the back up key - in case the key ring is lost.
  11. Amateur mechanic's box: Keep essentials in the trunk that could turn a potential nightmare into a minor inconvenience: windshield cleaner, antifreeze, motor oil, tools, duct tape, fix a flat, spare cash (when places or tow truck drivers don't accept credit cards).
  12. Half a dozen plastic bags, big and small: They will come in handy. You just don't know why yet.

A quiet Pennsylvania road allows for reflection. This is route 414 north of Cammal, Lycoming County.  To the right, fenced off from the road, is the Pine Creek Rail-Trail.
A quiet Pennsylvania road allows for reflection. This is route 414 north of Cammal, Lycoming County. To the right, fenced off from the road, is the Pine Creek Rail-Trail. | Source

Road Trip Necessities - Where To Put Them

Prepare for the road trip by packing methodically. Have a set place emergency gear will always be - but not in the way of accessing everyday items.

  • Stow the least used items - flashlight, first aid kit, umbrella, emergency towel - under the front driver and passenger seats.
  • Stow regularly used items - snack food, camera, reservation information, and chargers - in a backpack or bag used for this purpose. If you have a large quantity of food, consider a separate bag or box just for food. Keep these items in the passenger area. If you go all out with a cooler, the cooler is best kept in the trunk so passengers will have ample space to move freely.
  • Emergency contact information: Write the emergency phone numbers to friends and/or family, to insurance company reps, to credit card/bank card companies for lost cards - with account numbers, medical insurance account information and primary medical doctors. Keep this information in the glove compartment. This is the first natural place emergency personnel will look in the event of a car accident. Tape this information to the inside of the glove compartment where it will be visible when the compartment is opened. If you have two road side service cards, tape one of them in here, too. Keep the other car in a wallet or purse. Let travel companions know of the emergency information and ask them for an emergency contact in case they become sick or are injured.

Once, I nearly ran into a cow as I came flying around a corner on a coastal road.  Another time, there was a Bull Elk Deer on the road.  Another time, there were Antelope lying down next to the road! - These are Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
Once, I nearly ran into a cow as I came flying around a corner on a coastal road. Another time, there was a Bull Elk Deer on the road. Another time, there were Antelope lying down next to the road! - These are Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. | Source

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After Packing for The Road Trip...

... Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the journey!

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." - Augustine of Hippo

Be Sure To Pack Your Sense of Humor!

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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      5 years ago from California

      As one Californian to another I loved your description of our state. Love road trips. Have traveled the country nearly the whole perimeter up and down some too. Your advice for bringing several plastic bags is obscure, yet perhaps the most important. Voted up useful and interesting.

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