Road trips can be long, uncomfortable and exhausting, but luckily there are some products, accessories and gadgets we’ve found that make things a little more tolerable.
We’ve road tripped to visit family, to take vacations and to visit friends. Over the months and years, we’ve developed an idea of some things that put convenience back into driving and being in the car for a long time.
In the list that follows, we’ve put together our favorite road trip essentials, along with some recommendations from my friend Matt, who road trips pretty often. Let’s begin!
Accessories for the driver
The driver’s comfort is paramount for a long car trip! See which products and accessories were made for the driver in mind during a day on the road.
Phone mounts for the car
Phone mounts are good to have for quick access to your phone for directions and hands-free calls. The time I spent in my car totally changed when I got one (before then, we had both been embarrassingly keeping our phones in the cup holders). Check out the best ones here.
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Coffee mug for the car
I’ve had my fair share of coffee mugs that are bad quality and spill or leak when the car goes over bumps or potholes. It’s worth having a good coffee mug for the road trip!
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Polarized sunglasses for driving
Even if your trip has a gloomy forecast, there’s a chance that driving straight into bright sunlight is possible. Protect your eyes and avoid glares with trusty polarized sunglasses to stay safe on the road.
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Electronics essentials for road trips
Of course, there’s no good road trip without your electronics being charged up for getting out of the car to do something like take photos at a scenic spot on the route! Here are a few of my top picks for keeping my batteries juiced.
Extra charging battery (power bank)
One of my travel essentials is a backup charging battery. This has saved me on trips big and small when my phone is about to die. It’s a must-have that I keep in my car gear so that I don’t have any fears of my phone dying. You can also charge headphones or anything else at the other end of your charging cable.
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Long phone charging cables
We got introduced to charging cables this long about a year ago! Even though 10 feet may seem excessive, having one of these can work with your car charger port up front and let a passenger in the back seat charge their phone.
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Car phone charger
When buying a phone charger for your car, make sure the input is the same type that your phone charging cable requires.
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Drinks and snacks for road trips
Road trip snacks are one of my favorite parts of a driving trip. We tend to go shopping before we leave, and hide all our road trip snacks so that we don’t dig into them until we get to the car! Here are a few staple items, plus some new ideas that Matt added.
Mostly for the driver, my friend Matt (who frequently drives from NYC all the way to Cape Cod, MA) recommends Berocca tablets. He swears by them because they’re the best for energy and flavor (and also a hangover cure). They are caffeine-free.
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Insulated water bottle
We recommend travel water bottles in our tips for traveling sustainably and for a car ride, you can always fill up on water at a rest area. There are tons of great brands out there for insulated water bottles, but for a road trip specifically, you’ll want one that sits in the cup holder and doesn’t jostle around.
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There’s a trick to road trip snacks: you’ll want to eat things that are hand-held (especially for the driver!). Stay away from crummy foods, foods with messy powders (Cheetos) and small snacks like peanuts or seeds that could make a mess in the car.
Because we try our best to eat healthy on travel days, I’ll recommend heading straight to our list of the best vegetarian snacks for road trips. We also like to store fruits and veggies in Ecolunchbox stainless steel snack containers.
If you’re someone who forgets to drink water and liquids while you’re sitting in the car or on a trip, check out these alternatives to traditional hydration supplements.
Shop hydration supplements for road trips
Matt recommends using a reusable water bottle with a “bowl top” like a Core water bottle. You can get a bunch of these on Amazon. Basically, the cap comes off and turns into a little cup, so it can be a dog-watering bowl on the go.
I once recommended my favorite song to DiveIn.com for a list of the ultimate songs for road trip playlists. My top song is “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals. Just putting that out there. What would a road trip be without great music? Here’s how to get some tunes for the car.
AirFly from Twelve South
AirFly is a great product that we recommend in the best accessories for long flights. Picture this: it is a wireless adapter that plugs into a traditional headphone jack, and lets you use and pair wireless Bluetooth headphones.
AirFly is only needed if you are driving in an older car that doesn’t have an AUX IN, or if you want to use Bluetooth with your phone. It really comes in handy if your road trip is in a rental car, like we had in Ireland and in the Canary Islands in Spain. AirFly will let you send your smartphone audio to the car speaker. It’s brilliant!
Check out AirFly
Sirius XM is better than the radio: it’s clearer, with tons of stations that have themes and genres all commercial-free. We like to listen to the news, sports, oldies and pop while road tripping on vacation.
Downloaded podcasts, playlists or audio books
Dan and I are big Spotify people, and I’m accustomed to downloading full playlists from Spotify on my phone, before we take a flight. Doing the same thing is useful if you are driving through areas with limited to no cell service — think driving to national parks, long stretches of highway in rural areas or through the mountains.
The following ideas are a few precautionary things to do, download or bring, in case of emergencies during road trips. If you’ll be driving at night, on deserted back roads or in areas where cell signal could be scarce, it pays to be prepared.
Download Google Maps areas
If you’re a cautious traveler, it’s a good idea to download Google Maps in a select area for where you are going on your road trip!
Useful for navigating when you don’t have great cell service. This happened to us when we were deep in the Catskill Mountains and thankfully had pre-loaded some navigation directions on small roads, but we could’ve been out of luck.
A case of water / spare water for emergencies
Having an entire case of water in the trunk is smart, in case you get stranded on the side of a deserted road (yikes) or are sitting in traffic for a while (oh!).
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While it may sound silly and excessive, an “emergency blanket” is helpful to have in your trunk during a road trip. You could use it ifyou get cold during your trip at the hotel or Airbnb (or camping), or if you have any car trouble at night and have to bundle up for a little bit while help arrives.
If you have space, bring a blanket the size of a queen bed in case you want to use it in a hotel room that’s not the greatest. You can also use it in an Airbnb to cover furniture that you want to stay intact if you brought your dog (Matt’s tip).
Cash is king, both at home and abroad. For road trips, it’s helpful to have cash on hand in case you need to pay a store along your road trip route and your credit card doesn’t work, or you lose your wallet (we hope not!).
Cash in the local currency (if you’re road tripping internationally) is also the #1 thing you need in cases where you need to pay a toll on the highway! When we did some road tripping in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we accidentally forgot to pull out Canadian Dollars upon arrival and had some bridge tolls to pay in cash only.
Useful in the US for domestic trips, AAA is a travel membership that keeps you and your vehicle covered by a set of benefits. These include roadside assistance, like battery jumping, towing and flat tire repair, and locked key retrieval (if you lock your keys inside your car). AAA has been helping drivers travel on their trips with peace of mind for years! You can learn more here.
For keeping clean
Messes, spills and accidents are bound to happen during road trips. My friend Matt pitched in some ideas here, and he would know about messes, because he road trips with his dog! See my ideas for ways to clean up messes on car trips.
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Useful things for passengers
Passengers are part of the people on the road trip, too! Whether you’re traveling with a romantic partner, family or friends, check out my ideas of how all the non-driver travelers can have fun.
These road trip-friendly apps are for the passenger in the front of the car! If you’re riding up front, chances are that you (like me, when we take road trips) are helping out the driver with navigation or places to stop. Among other apps that we consider the best apps for travel, here are a few for road trips:
- Foursquare: Foursquare is like Yelp, but mostly focused on eating, drinking and things to do. You can use it to see reviews and ratings (and “local tips!”) for somewhere along your route, before you go.
- Swarm: We are both long-time users of Swarm, and we use this “check-in” app to tag where we’ve been and traveled to, so we can look back on it later to remember. It’s helpful if you want to remember where you stopped, so that you can go there again in the future.
- Booking.com app: We’ve used Booking.com on our phones for last-minute hotel reservations while we’re already on the road. Sometimes you either don’t know where you’ll be staying or where you’ll be when night falls, if you’re without a plan! Booking.com has been helpful with that for us.
- Waze: This app helps you avoid traffic, police hazards and accidents that have been reported, while you’re on your route.
Road trip games
I grew up playing road trip games in the car with my family when we’d drive to places like Canada. There are only so many ways to pass the time reading and sleeping! When everyone gets bored, pick up some road trip games to make the mood fun.
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Preventative care for your car
Cars work hard, especially on road trips. And, a lot can happen on a road trip, from a part of the car breaking down, to an unexpected weather scenario! Dan and I have a few ideas for preventative car accessories, and one comes from a recent incident we had (when we closed our car trunk and our stroller broke the trunk’s torsion bar, just minutes into our trip).
Remember: ANYTHING can happen.
Helpful car accessories
Of course, there are lots and lots of car accessories that will aid you and your road trip crew during a driving vacation. Here are some starter ideas of what to keep in the car.
- Travel oil change kit
- Replacement windshield wiper blades
- Portable tire pressure gauge
Battery-powered tire inflator
A battery-powered tire inflator will come in handy if you have a tire that leaks air and you can’t find air for your tire at a rest stop or gas station. It might save you on the road!
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