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Top Ten Things to Bring on a Road Trip

Updated on November 8, 2018
kiwi91 profile image

Road trip connoisseur, I've been on five big US road trips in my lifetime that I'm sharing my knowledge with you here.

The Ten Most Important Things You'll Need for a Road Trip

What's better than hitting the open road for a fun vacation? The freedom of unexplored territory and a bunch of destinations along with a few essentials is more mentally invigorating than any tropical beach. If you have a sense of adventure, a love for nature, a curiosity about the unknown (to you) and a great car or rental, the road is yours.

I've been on 5 big road trips in my lifetime, one that was six weeks, one that was 3 1/2 weeks, a two week cross country trip, and a couple of ten day trips. From those trips, I've compiled my favorite things to bring on a road trip which I'll share with you here. Not all of these items are necessities, but they'll improve the quality of your trip.

The Wide Open Road is Yours

The wide open road in the desert north of the Joshua Tree National Park, heading towards Death Valley. Photo by me under Creative Commons 2.0
The wide open road in the desert north of the Joshua Tree National Park, heading towards Death Valley. Photo by me under Creative Commons 2.0


A cooler will provide you with the freedom to avoid fast food and convenience stores along your trip, and will get you through some of the rural areas of the country. I've been on six week trips without a cooler, and believe me, the cost of going out to eat surpasses every other expense if you aren't careful! Yes, more than the hotels and gas. Plan out your stops in the bigger cities and make a break for the grocery store to pick up some essentials. You'll need a few good ice packs, and a fridge in the room your staying in to refreeze the ice packs (and keep your food from spoiling). It's especially useful when your traveling across the midwest and southwestern states where there is absolutely nothing for hours and hours of driving.


It's easy to forget about taking care of your skin while your on a road trip, and burns can happen without you even noticing. Some of the cheaper sunscreens can make your skin very irritable, so I'd avoid those, speaking from personal experience. Neutrogena makes a pretty good one that doesn't go on greasy and seems to hydrate as well as deflect ultraviolet rays. This is especially helpful if you're going to be taking the southern route, where the sun will be out most of the time.

Don't forget, even when you're in the car, you'll be cooking in the sun. Those rays will burn you easily. Over many days, you can get a pretty bad burn, from wherever the sun is casting its rays on your bare skin. To counter this, a good sunscreen is a must, but also, long sleeve clothing, if possible, sunglasses, tinted windows, and use of your windshield sun visor can help.

Digital Camera

When I traveled across the country the first two times, I didn't have a digital camera. I came home to regret it when I realized how much the price of developing the film would be! It cost us nearly $500 to develop around 25 rolls of film from our favorite developer, and most of those photos are now sitting collecting dust. Now, if I ever want to make use of those photos, I'll probably have to buy a scanner and take the time to scan each photo one by one. Nearly everyone has a digital camera nowadays, but what you should really consider getting for a road trip are few things:

  1. An extra battery and charger.
  2. A case for your camera.
  3. A memory card (or two) for your camera.

I had some near catastrophic events for my camera involving yup, you guessed it, luggage almost crushing the camera lens, or at least scratching it. A case is really a must. I recently had the displeasure of forgetting my camera battery for my digital camera on a weekend trip. The main reason I was headed to this area was to take photos during the fall foliage peak. I went to the store to buy a battery and charger, but no place carried the charger or battery for the model camera. I wound up buying a brand new camera for my wife, lucky her, and using that for the trip. The moral of this story is to buy a backup, and take it with you! You may have to order it online if the model isn't a hugely popular one, which is what I did.

Should you just rely on your cellphone or tablet to take photos?

No, and here's why. The quality is never the same. If you're going on a trip across country, don't make the mistake of just relying on a phone to take photos. The resolution can come out poor, it doesn't focus as well, it doesn't have the options of a typical digital camera, and you could run out of room on your phone for your photos. Digital cameras are cheap enough, so splurge a little it on this.

A Must: A Decent Digital Camera

Canon PowerShot ELPH 180 20 MP Digital Camera (Red) + 32GB Card + Battery and Charger + Accessory Bundle
Canon PowerShot ELPH 180 20 MP Digital Camera (Red) + 32GB Card + Battery and Charger + Accessory Bundle
This model is very reasonably priced, and has a solid 4 star rating. Why use a digital camera versus a cellphone on your trip? One, the quality of the photo is not always equal. I know with my phone, it doesn't really compare to the photos you can take with an actual camera with a real, quality lens. Second, it will free up the space on your phone, so you won't have to clear out storage space on your phone. Of course, you can take both, which I've often done, but for those stellar, once in a lifetime shots, your iPhone or Samsung won't always cut it.


When you're on a long road trip, you need tunes. Great music can make your trip much better, and without it, it can make it miserable. I can't imagine not having any music besides the radio for my road trips, I wouldn't have even gone if that were the case. On my first road trip, we had a huge pile of CD's to take with us, switching between the local radio stations and this big collection of discs. The last big road trip we went on we discovered satellite radio and we were hooked. Not only did we never lose a signal in the U.S. that I can remember, but the signal was uninterrupted. I could listen to the same talk show or station across 8 states in one day and not have to search around for the program. We also received crystal clear reception in the middle of the desert of Monument Valley, an area that's more remote than any other destination that I can immediately think of. If we had switched to the regular radio dial, we would have heard 1 or 2 stations, kind of fuzzy. We also brought our iPod transmitter, but now they have iPods that I believe can be docked directly into your car without any extra equipment. Between those two technologies, we didn't rely on any CD's or on public radio whatsoever.

Now, in 2018 and beyond, your music can be as easy as turning on your phone. That's what most of us are doing, though you can always invest in a cheap MP3/MP4 player that will cost only around $10-15. Or, you can rely on your phone to connect to Pandora, Spotify, etc., and just plug that into your car. However, you will still hit dead areas with no cell signal that you'll want a backup like hard copy CDs or an MP3 player.

iPhone, Android Internet Cellphone Service on the Road

Iphones, Androids, and other internet cellphone services are great for vacations. For email communication, you can quickly respond while on the road (pulled over, of course!) without taking a heavy laptop. While on the road, there are places that do not receive a signal, but nowadays, many areas have coverage that's increasing over time. When you're stuck in the middle of the desert or on top of a mountain with a flat tire, these are must-have tools to call for roadside aid.

Alternatively, you can use an iPad with 3G to connect wherever there's cellphone coverage. You will definitely want some sort of internet connected device, but that goes without saying nowadays, but you may want to bring TWO devices as a backup to the first one if/when the battery runs down while on the road.

Another photo from a road trip through Washington DC of the Lincoln Memorial. Plan your trip around destinations and major cities that are close to each other to see the most!
Another photo from a road trip through Washington DC of the Lincoln Memorial. Plan your trip around destinations and major cities that are close to each other to see the most!

Traveler's Checks, Cash or Credit

Cash or credit? When on a road trip, you may want to consider using cash over credit for a number of reasons. First off, you're on vacation.. do you really want to worry about identity theft while you're on vacation? On the other hand, it's not a good idea to be carrying around a big wad of cash. And, there's traveler's checks, too. Traveler's checks (or cheques) can be purchased at travel agencies like AAA and through American Express. What I've found also works well is to carry just a few major credit cards, one of each major company. Leave the rest at home, you shouldn't need them. Contain your purchases to as few cards as possible, so you can monitor any suspicious activity, but use at least two to spread the balance out. Nowadays, your credit line can be shut down for overusing your card outside of where you normally travel. Calling your credit card company to fix the situation is a big inconvenience to go through on vacation, but understandable in the modern days of credit card fraud.

Spiral Bound Atlas

2019 Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas
2019 Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas
Yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous to bring this dinosaur of a thing on a road trip, but a spiral bound atlas (or any kind of hard copy paper printed atlas) is a MUST to have in your car. If you have no internet connection, you have no map on your phone, no directions, hard copy alternative. And when you really need to know where you are going, such as in the middle of nowhere in the backroads of a California mountain, you'll need a backup option to rely on that will get you to where you need to go.

Why Get One

Okay, why would you need both a GPS and spiral bound road map? Because, technology does fail, number one, and number two, you'll need it in your hotel room. There will come a point when you'll want to read the map in your hotel to plan out your next day's events, and a GPS isn't going to do that for you. To gauge the distance between two areas, have a good time estimate, and to see what else is around in that area, get a spiral bound road atlas. I say spiral bound because from personal experience, if they aren't spiral bound, they'll become tattered and ruined by the end of the trip. The spiral bound map books are also smaller and easier to store away during your trip.


Even if you don't wear sunglasses normally, they're a good investment to protect your eyes. Traveling in the high noon summertime sun can put heavy strain on the eyes and can provide big distractions while on the road. Road glare can also put damage on your eyes and easily cause an accident, so just be smart and carry a pair of polarized sunglasses. Also, when I'm traveling, I like to have a hard case for them, too. That way if I accidentally throw a suitcase on my sunglasses in the backseat, they'll still be fine.

Admit it, You Got Lost Once or Twice...

Have you ever got lost on a road trip before? How badly?

See results

Hiking Shoes

There are too many things to pass up that are off the main road, and there are many hiking opportunities that we passed on because we were in sneakers. You may not think that there's a big difference between the two, but a hike a few miles down a rocky path in sneakers can be brutal on your feet, whereas with hiking boots you would barely be fazed. I invested in some great hiking boots on eBay for the next trip and I was shocked at how cheap I could get them. They were a Land Rover brand, and I have no idea if they're related to the car, but these boots are awesome for hiking, and it made me want to hike more! They also give you more protection further up your leg, so brush won't be scratching your legs, and you have plenty of ankle support to prevent injury. You'll use them more than you think.

The Top Ten National Parks in North America

Five More Road Trip Essentials:

  • Suitcase or large travel bag - you'll need it to organize your clothes, securely store away electronics, IDs, passports, and souvenirs and keys.
  • Credit cards - traveling around the country (or other countries), you'll want a multitude of ways to pay. It's easy to lose a card, for theft to occur, or for a credit card company to shut you off for what may look like a stolen card. You'll want a backup, so bring more than one. Also, if you can help it, don't use a debit card. Credit cards will offer more insurance than a debit, so why put yourself through the headache?
  • Cash - Some cash is a good idea to carry, but not too much. Some places only accept cash, or maybe that gas station seems a little too sketchy to pay with your credit card.
  • Snacks - Have a variety of dry snacks stowed away in your vehicle in case you need them. Think high protein!
  • Cellphone charger - Don't forget this one! Your entire trip will be consumed by finding a charger if you don't bring this along.

© 2009 kiwi91

Comments- What Do You Recommend Others Bring on Their Trip?

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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      dude, me and my peeps are going on a all year road trip at the end of our sinor year!!!! :D we are saving all of our money til then and right now we are in 8th grade almost in 9th!!!i cant wait!!!!

    • mandymoreno81 profile image


      9 years ago

      I can't do without music on the car, the silence is just too much. Have a bunch of drinks in the cooler and some snacks too. A GPS is great if you get lost or need to find a place easily. I'd say carry cash and credit, I don't know how many people use checks anymore.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      We are taking a trip to pensacola florida we are driving should be fun

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is great, we're going on our first road trip from Ohio to Florida, thanks a ton!!!

    • kiwi91 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from USA

      From Florida to Santa Fe is mostly highway driving, but there are some areas that might interest kids. The stretches of I-10 in Texas can be REALLY boring, so bring a portable DVD player if you can. San Antonio has Sea World. Houston has the Children's Museum and NASA center. New Orleans is always interesting for its bars and the French Quarter, thought it's not too kid friendly. Gulfport and Biloxi might be more their style. Mobile, AL, is a fun town too.. then it's clear sailing right into the Florida Panhandle. You can read more on this article I wrote:

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Good information, we are heading out from Florida to Santa Fe soon. Any suggestions for keeping a 1 year old and a 5 year old happy on the trip. Know of any good rest areas or towns that would be good site seeing places to get out and stretch the legs and help the little ones get the wiggles out?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks so much for the information other sites I looked at didn't have what I was looking for but you did. Leaving soon so this helps a lot.

    • kiwi91 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from USA


      I used a satellite radio for my last trip and I really enjoyed it. I didn't have to worry about fiddling with a playlist on an ipod/mp3, and the music came in 99% of the time (good signals). A bunch of CD's as a backup is always a good idea, too.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow, I totally forgot I should bring sunscreen

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for your info. We are planning a two week trip and your information was use to us!

    • Gift Experts profile image

      Gift Experts 

      10 years ago

      A cooler is a great idea. You think you can pick up drinks along the way, but wow - -even bottled water can set you back once you total up the costs. Bring your own!

    • Entourage_007 profile image


      10 years ago from Santa Barbara, CA

      You have a lot of awesome hubs Bill. Truly inspiring!! Glad to be following you!!

    • Jersey Jess profile image

      Jersey Jess 

      11 years ago from USA

      I'm going on a road trip soon so this helps a lot! Thanks!

    • profile image

      Happy feet 

      11 years ago

      thanks im going to disneyland and i almost forgot sunscreen!!! lol

    • PurpleOne profile image


      11 years ago from Canada

      Road trips are my favourite thing in the whole world. One thing that's nice to have is good coffee cup holders built into your car - some cars have better ones than others. Lots of coffee on a road trip is essential!

    • TheMountainMan profile image


      11 years ago from USA

      I Love road trips as well. Great article.

    • profile image


      11 years ago from earth

      nice hub

    • travelerhubs profile image

      Travel Lover 

      11 years ago from USA

      Very useful information presented in a clear manner. Thanks

    • positivediva profile image


      11 years ago

      Great information!! I am planning a road trip now and didn't think about the benefits of having both a map and a GPS unit!!

    • Lgali profile image


      11 years ago

      very useful hub good info

    • Gin Delloway profile image

      Gin Delloway 

      11 years ago

      nice hub! I'll remember your advice! Thanks!!

    • AshleyVictoria profile image


      11 years ago from Los Angeles

      Ahhhh roadtrips - MY FAVORITE! I did a hub recently about planning a route 66 road trip. Check it out!

    • kiwi91 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from USA

      Jeff - I've never tried the audio book route, but we definitely load up on books and magazines.

      BristolBoy- Wow, all the more reason to bring along the map. Electronics are bound to fail you at some point!

    • jeffwend profile image


      11 years ago from Michigan

      My wife and I are getting ready for a road trip. We are bringing most of what you said. We are also bringing an audio book too.

    • BristolBoy profile image


      11 years ago from Bristol

      This is a really good hub, although some of the things aren't as relevent for the majority of UK journeys. I like your idea of the map, it an be a useful backup to the GPS. Very recently in the UK a man was charged by the police after following his sat-nav all the way to the edge of a cliff.


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