If you're someone who loves singing in the car, driving with the windows down and pulling over every time you see something interesting, a road trip just might be for you. It may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when planning to travel, but it's something to consider if you're looking for a fun way to explore. Like all forms of travel, it comes with its own challenges, but if you pack the right road trip essentials, you'll be prepared for almost anything you come across along the way.
How to plan a road trip
The first step in road trip planning is to decide how long you'll want to be gone. Your route options will vary greatly from a three-day weekend trip to a 10-day adventure. Once you have figured that out, start choosing some areas and attractions that you'd like to see. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to a road trip, so pick something that interests you and plan around it. For instance, maybe you want to travel to antique stores, hit up some National Parks or explore the small towns peppered along the famed Route 66.
Your route can be as flexible or scheduled as you like, but one piece of advice is to plan your overnight destinations ahead of time — the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere without a place to sleep. If you'll be driving through more remote or rural areas, it may also be a good idea to know where gas stations will be so you don't find yourself in an emergency.
As you plan a road trip, allow for some spontaneity along the way. If your route forces you to follow a tight schedule, you may lose the opportunity to stop at a roadside restaurant that looks interesting or jump out to grab photos of a particularly beautiful sunset.
Benefits of road trips
Planning a road trip with stops along the way offers so many benefits. For starters, you're on your own schedule. There's no rushing to make a flight or running to catch a train — you're in control of your journey and your destination.
Road trips are also great for finding hidden gems you wouldn't have seen otherwise. Every quirky art sculpture, strange building and homey diner you encounter are things you may have missed if you were flying overhead or skirting by town in a train. This is especially true of the varied landscapes you'll likely drive through. For instance, a southwest road trip could bring you past the mesas in New Mexico, through fields of cacti in Arizona and around the mountains of California.
There's also a certain amount of bonding that goes on with your road trip buddies. Whether you decide to travel with friends or family, you'll be spending a lot of time together. It's the perfect opportunity to show each other your favorite songs, listen to podcasts together or pass the time playing road trip games, such as trying to find a license plate from each state along the way.
What to pack for a road trip
A road trip packing list will likely include some things specific to your mode of transportation. Being on the road comes with its own specific set of demands to make sure you're prepared for anything.
When you're packing your car, don't forget to add a flashlight and some extra batteries. If you have car trouble at night, you'll want to be able to see clearly and find anything else you might need. You may also want to purchase a couple reflective vests, so passing cars can see you more easily if you're pulled over at night.
When it comes to car trouble, there are a few things you can pack to take care of common problems on your own. These include jumper cables, a portable tire inflator, a jump starter, a multi-tool, pressure gauge, safety gloves, tow rope and tire repair tools. Of course, make sure your car has a spare tire before you head on your trip.
You may also want to pack portable power banks for your electronic devices. If you're relying on your phone or standalone GPS, you'll need to make sure they always have battery. If all else fails, you may want to pack a physical map (yes, those still exist!) to keep in the glove compartment. Should anything happen to your tech or if you're in a dead zone, you'll be able to use this as a backup.
Personal care and comfort
Traveling by car can be comfortable with the right items. To keep yourself feeling fresh, you may want to pack body wipes and hand sanitizer. You may also want to bring disinfectant wipes and toilet seat covers for those less-than-sparkling gas station bathrooms.
You may also know that you can catch some serious sun rays on the road. Be sure to keep sunscreen handy to protect your exposed skin — you'll likely be more comfortable without a sunburn. You may also want to pack a first-aid kit in case anyone sustains an injury, and consider putting anti-nausea medicine in it in case someone gets carsick.
Your road trip packing list should also include a bag of toiletries that includes your personal care items, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and more.
For comfort items, you may want to pack a blanket, travel pillow, sunglasses, a window shade, headphones and a mini fan to keep you cool.
There are a lot of options for entertainment in the car. While some people may get nauseous from reading in the car, an e-reader or books are a great way to pass the time if you can stomach it. If you can't, choose an audio book to listen to — this way you can include the driver, too.
An easy way to keep up your energy during long stretches on the road is a perfectly curated playlist. Get your pals' favorite tunes to sing along to and enjoy a front row seat to your friends' personal jam sessions.
Road trip planning might seem a bit more intimidating if you have children. However, there are plenty of ways to keep the kids safe and occupied in the backseat. If your children meet the requirements set by the CDC and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, make sure you have a sturdy car seat properly installed. Most police stations have officers who are qualified to help you with your installation or make sure it's correct.
You may also want to purchase a backseat travel tray. This can make eating in the car a bit less messy for kids and prevent (another) ketchup stain on your seats.
To keep the kids entertained, consider packing activity books with an array of activities appropriate for their age range. This might include coloring pages, word searches or “I spy”-type photos.
Keep in mind you may also need to stop more frequently with children, so that will be something to consider when planning your road trip.
Road trips offer a fun, adventurous way to enjoy some time off. With the right road trip essentials, you'll find it'll be a breeze to see the countryside, visit new places and enjoy some bonding time along the way.