Photo: Jason Barnette

I'm a Professional Road Tripper. Here's What I Never Leave Home Without.

Technology + Gear Road Trips
by Jason Barnette Apr 9, 2024

Rather than taking the fast lane to a destination, road trips are about taking the scenic route — and spending hours upon hours in the car. That means that your typical vacation packing list will need a few tweaks to incorporate all the road trip essentials — beyond your driver’s license and car owner’s manual, that is.

I spend between eight and nine months of the year on the road, touring the United States. I consider myself a professional road tripper, and as such, I know a thing or two about what you need to pack for a long ride. The following list of over 30 road trip essentials is the product of years of trial and error. I never travel without any of these road trip essentials, and if I ever happen to hit the road without one, I find that I miss it, need it, and buy it somewhere along the way.

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  • Road trip essentials: Things that should always be in your car
  • Road trip essentials: What to always keep in your trunk
  • Road trip essentials: Maps and navigation tools
  • Road trip essentials: For staying comfortable on the road
  • Road trip essentials: For safety and security
  • Road trip essentials: For packing food and drinks
  • Road trip essentials: How to stay entertained

  • Road trip essentials: Things that should always be in your car

    Anker PowerDrive Car Charger

    Keeping electronics like smartphones, tablets, and Bluetooth headphones charged can be challenging on a road trip. The Anker PowerDrive Car Charger plugs into a 12V power outlet and provides power to a USB-A and USB-C port for charging multiple devices simultaneously.

    iOttie Wireless Car Charger

    Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving. But if you’re using a smartphone for navigation, music, or hands-free phone calls, you need to keep it within view and accessible. The iOttie Phone Mount features a spring-loaded clamp to securely hold a smartphone and mounts to the windshield or dashboard. Plug the cable into a 12V power outlet, and the iOttie Phone Mount also provides power to Qi-enabled smartphones.

    EPAuto Car Trash Can

    Plastic grocery bags and paper fast food bags work as a trash can in a crunch, but the EPAuto Car Trash Can is the best option. Using an adjustable Velcro strap, you can securely hang the soft-sided trash can from the car’s headrest, handlebar, or center console. A small opening in the top makes it easy to chuck the garbage, and the top panel opens to dump the trash at a gas station quickly.

    PURGGO Natural Car Air Freshener

    The PURGGO Natural Car Air Freshener is an all-natural alternative to air fresheners. The soft-sided bag uses activated bamboo charcoal for a fragrance-free odor eliminator in the car. The eco-friendly air purifier lasts up to a year with a single use, and with the straps, you can hang it just about anywhere inside the car.

    EcoNour Car Sunshade

    EcoNour Car Sunshade is one of many road trip essentials you need this summer

    EcoNour SunShade covers the entire windshield. Photo: Jason Barnette.

    Did you know that the ambient heat combined with the sun’s light can raise the temperature of a dashboard to 192 degrees? That’s hot enough to cook a hamburger. Sunshades can reduce the air temperature inside a parked car by up to 40 degrees. Unlike the accordion-style sunshades, the EcoNour Car Sunshade uses two collapsible circular discs connected with loose-fitting material covering 100 percent of any car’s windshield.

    Rexing V1P Dash Cam

    The Rexing V1P Dash Cam in action

    Photo: Jason Barnette.

    The most stressful part about driving is watching out for the other drivers on the road. When the worst happens, and someone wants to blame you for a car accident, the Rexing V1P Dash Cam can be helpful. The camera plugs into a 12V power outlet and automatically records video to an SD card whenever the car’s engine is running. The front-facing camera records 2160p high-resolution video, while the rear-facing camera records in 1080p. With a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone app, users can quickly download video footage whenever needed.

    Road trip essentials: What to always keep in your trunk

    Surviveware First Aid Kit

    When bumps, scraps, and cuts leave you searching for antiseptic and gauze, the Surviveware First Aid Kit will come in handy. The premium first aid kit has labeled compartments to easily find bandages, cleaning wipes, and gloves. The 600D polyester bag is water-resistant, and buckle straps make it easy to hang the bag anywhere inside the car.

    Kolo Sports Roadside Emergency Kit

    AAA is always just a phone call away, but sometimes all you need is a jump start or a loose cable tied down. The 156-piece Kolo Sports Roadside Emergency Kit has everything you need for minor roadside repairs on a road trip. The durable bag is stuffed with hand tools, jumper cables, and accessories that will get you back on the road pronto.

    THISWORX Car Vacuum

    The difference between a spill in the car being a minor ordeal and a nightmare hassle is how long it takes to clean it up. Rather than wait for the next gas station with a well-worn vacuum, it would be easier to get the THISWORX Car Vacuum out of the trunk. The 12V car vac includes a long power cord to reach any part of the car and several attachments for getting into all the nooks and crannies. The bagless design is easy to clean later, and the travel bag keeps everything organized in your car.

    BESTEK 12V Power Inverter

    Not everything that requires power can be plugged into a USB port or 12V power outlet. For those instances, the BESTEK 12V Power Inverter can solve the problem. The inverter plugs into a 12V power outlet and provides two 110V power outlets, just like those at home. With 300W of power output, the inverter can charge portable electronics and power small appliances.

    Road trip essentials: Maps and navigation tools

    Garmin DriveSmart 86 GPS Navigation

    Have you ever tried using Google Maps or Waze for navigation when you have no cellular signal? A serious road trip requires serious navigation. The base model Garmin Drive 52 features pre-installed maps of North America with millions of points of interest, so you never have to worry about losing data signal. But without voice activation, you’ll have to enter your destination on the 5” touchscreen manually.

    The Garmin DriveSmart 65 is a nice upgrade that includes voice activation and a 6.95” high-resolution touchscreen. The DriveSmart connects with smartphones via Bluetooth to provide live traffic updates and helps you avoid accidents and closures with automatic rerouting.

    Rand McNally Road Atlas

    Nifty automotive GPS devices and smartphone apps are nice for navigation, but nothing beats the good old-fashioned road atlas. The Rand McNally Road Atlas is more than just a collection of maps – the 132-page book is packed with maps, information and tips, and full-color photos. The National Park Guide includes details like hiking trails, lodges, and scenic drives in the most popular national parks.

    Road trip essentials: For staying comfortable on the road

    Sea to Summit Aeros Neck Pillow

    Long hours spent in the car will inevitably lead to a nap — for everyone but the driver. When your eyelids feel heavy, that might be the best time to inflate the Sea to Summit Aeros Neck Pillow. The ergonomic design hugs your neck and supports your head, while the polyester knit material is soft and cozy, leading to hours of comfortable sleeping in the car.

    Klymit Versa Blanket

    Someone is always too hot or cold when piled into the car on a road trip. If you’re too hot, open a window. But if you’re too cold, pull out the Klymit Versa Blanket. The polyester blanket feels soft, and the synthetic insulation will keep you warm. Use the built-in foot pocket to keep your feet toasty on the road.

    Road trip essentials: For safety and security

    SPOT Gen 4 Satellite Messenger

    Accidents happen while on the trail and driving down the road, and help is not a phone call away if you have no cellular service. The SPOT Gen 4 Satellite Messenger is a pocket-sized device that communicates via satellites covering all of North America. Simply press the S.O.S. button, and SPOT automatically alerts the nearest authorities and dispatches rescue.

    Apple AirTags

    AirTag keyring attached to a set of keys. AirTags should be an essential part of any frequent traveler's kit

    Photo: Jason Barnette

    Apple AirTags are Bluetooth-enabled trackers helpful in keeping your possessions safe while traveling. The trackers silently connect to Apple’s Find My Network, allowing users to track their devices using the app built into iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. Drop an AirTag into your purse or wallet, attach one to your luggage, or hide one inside your car for peace of mind while road tripping.

    Road trip essentials: For packing food and drinks

    Front Runner Wolf Pack Pro

    This Clevermade Collapsible Storage Bin is a favorite among overlanders – people who road trip with no roads. The durable plastic totes are water and dustproof, stackable, and feature straight sides for maximum storage space. The storage boxes are perfect for taking food on the road with an easily removable lid.

    YETI Rambler 30oz Tumbler

    the YETI Rambler 30oz Tumbler is one of many road trip essentials you need for a summer road trip

    YETI Rambler 30oz Tumbler. Photo: Jason Barnette.

    Did you know fountain drinks are significantly cheaper per ounce than bottled sodas? Filling up the YETI Rambler 30oz Tumbler saves you money on a road trip and reduces plastic waste. With the additional YETI Replacement Lid and Straw, you’ll be set to enjoy ice-cold sodas on your road trip.

    CamelBak Chute Mag

    The biggest challenge with most reusable water bottles on a road trip is keeping the straw clean. Fortunately, the CamelBak Chute Mag doesn’t use a straw. Instead, the cap unscrews and magnetically catches to the side of the lid, allowing you to guzzle the contents as quickly as you want.

    DEVICO Travel Utensils

    Have you ever taken leftovers back to your hotel, snuggled into your comfortable room, only to realize you don’t have a fork or spoon? The DEVICO Travel Utensils are an excellent way to ditch single-use plastic utensils. The set of stainless-steel flatware includes a fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks, straight straw, bent straw, and a straw cleaner in a convenient zippered case.

    Reusable Shopping Bag

    Whether shopping for groceries or just heading into a gas station for road trip snacks, reusable shopping bags can help reduce waste. This is a six-pack of sealife designs that look as good as they function, and they’re among Amazon’s top-selling reusable bags for road trip essentials, so you can trust in their good reviews.

    YETI Hopper Flip 12 Cooler

    YETI made splashes in 2006 with their Tundra series insulated coolers capable of keeping ice frozen for up to a week. The Hopper series debuted later, featuring a leak-proof zipper, puncture resistant DryHide Shell, and carrying strap. The YETI Hopper 12 can hold up to twelve cans with moderate ice, and the Hopper 18 can hold up to eighteen cans, each capable of keeping the contents cold for days.

    Alpicool 23-quart Portable Car Refrigerator

    The downside to road tripping with a cooler – even the super insulated YETI Hopper – is the constant need for ice. Bypass the need for bags of ice altogether with the Alpicool 23-quart portable car refrigerator. The portable fridge plugs into your car’s power and can be set for a temperature ranging from -4 degrees to 68 degrees. Available in 19-quart, 23-quart, or 26-quart sizes, even their smallest fridge can hold a full case of cans – or nine bottles of wine!

    Road trip essentials: How to stay entertained

    Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Headphones

    Not everyone enjoys hours in the car listening to the same playlist. If you’re not the driver and want to listen to something else, the Sony Noise Canceling Headphones will help keep your music to yourself. The over-the-ear design will block out the noise around you, enveloping you in a world of your own playlist, or silence, for up to 30 hours on a single charge.

    Moment Lenses for Smartphones

    Smartphones are the most popular type of camera in the world today. Although the major brands have started adding two, three, or more lenses into the phones, you’ll get the best results with a set of Moment Lenses. The Seattle-based company produces a lineup of high-quality lenses that screw into cases custom-fit for almost every type of smartphone. Choose a wide-angle, telephoto, macro, and fisheye lens to up your photography game on your next road trip. Just don’t try to take photos while driving, that’s very unsafe and likely illegal.

    Field Notes Memo Books

    Chicago-based Field Notes produces notebooks inspired by old-fashioned memo books distributed to farmers in the 1950s and 60s. The pocket-sized memo books are perfect for jotting down travel tips from your waiter or the name of an attraction on a billboard. The brand started with the Original Kraft Memo Books — a 48-page book with ruled paper. You can also pick up a three-pack of their National Park Series featuring unique artwork of eighteen parks. And with this leather journal cover, you’ll be able to keep the memo book safe and sound while traveling.

    GoPro Hero10

    Since debuting in 2002, GoPro has set the standard for pocket-sized action cameras. Their latest model, the GoPro Hero10, is the most feature-packed camera yet. Record 5.3K high-resolution video up to 60 frames per second and capture still images at 23MP. The built-in HyperSmooth 4.0 eliminates distracting camera shake, producing a smooth video of your travel adventures. Rugged and waterproof up to 33 feet, the action camera is ready to use right out of the box.

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