This weekend I had a great time celebrating my former college housemate’s wedding and catching up with college friends. The food, drinks, and camaraderie were refreshing.
You see I had no complaints at all once we arrived in Missouri. I loved it!
But I didn’t love the long road trip there and back. So during the 9-hour drive from Ohio to Missouri on Friday and then the 9 hours back on Sunday, I thought about everything I wish I had brought in the car.
And since you will likely take a few road trips this summer, I decided to turn my reflection into an article about things to bring on a road trip.
Because the problem is no one thinks about what to bring until it’s too late, including you and me. Let’s change that by learning from my mistakes this weekend so you’re prepared for your next road trip.
Below are the 33 things you must bring to do a lengthy car ride the right way.
1. Relaxed clothing
Being cramped up in a car with no room to stretch is bad enough on its own, so don’t make it worse by wearing stiff clothes. Instead, let your body breathe in some relaxed clothing that gives you room to move and adjust as you do. Think exercise apparel from Lululemon, Nike, or Under Armour. And if you plan on napping, a helpful sleep tip is to wear a hoodie that can cover your eyes.
2. Comfy shoes
Even if you’re taking a road trip straight to the wedding, do yourself a favor and don’t wear dress shoes in the car. Once you arrive at the wedding or formal event, then you can change into your formal shoes in a minute or less. Give your feet a break in some sandals (Rainbow Sandals are my favorite) or slip-ons that don’t squeeze your feet—gym shoes are often a culprit of this although they’re comfier than dress shoes. Or take your shoes completely off in the car (as long as your feet or socks don’t stink).
3. Glasses and or contacts (plus contact solution)
Bringing glasses or contacts applies to the driver, co-pilot, and backseat passengers. The driver clearly needs to see where he or she is going, and this need is magnified on road trips that consist of winding roads in the mountains or driving at night. When the driver asks the co-pilot for insight, they need to have vision to decide if this is the right exit to get off of. And the backseat passengers will want their vision if they’re reading or need to relieve the driver. Be safe and bring eyewear.
Remembering sunglasses so the driver’s vision isn’t impaired on a sunny day is critical. Depending on where you are and are traveling to, the sun can be blinding for long stretches on the highway. If you’re wondering, I have a pair of Ray-Ban Sunglasses and love them for their quality plus appearance.
Excluding the driver, having a pillow to put against the window or your headrest can be the single difference between a solid nap or the frustration that comes with struggling to nap. Cars aren’t designed for people to sleep, but bring a pillow and you can at least get your head comfortable—it’s the most important part. This travel pillow is brilliant for sleeping in the car.
Like peanut butter and jelly, a warm blanket is the perfect match with a pillow when you’re trying to nap or get comfortable in the car. Besides being a sleep aid, the blanket protects you from the nutjob in the car who blasts the air conditioning. And it’s nice to have a blanket in the chance of an emergency where you’re stuck outside over the night.
7. USB phone charger
All that time spent on GPS, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is going to take a toll on your phone battery. That’s why it’s a no-brainer to bring a car charger on any trip that’s more than an hour out. Maxboost’s car charger is a #1 best seller and pretty cheap for two USB outlets.
8. Music playlist
You can make do with the radio for about an hour, but then the stations get fuzzy and start to change. And then you’re stuck listening to country music all afternoon if you’re driving through the midwest or south. Old-school CDS also get old because they only carry 15 to 18 songs on them. Instead, listen to the music you want to by updating your iTunes, downloading Pandora, or buying Spotify. The time you spend making a road trip playlist will be well worth it when you’re cruising with the music up and the windows down.
I love books! If you’re not a regular reader of Take Your Success, I consistently write about the benefits of reading: 15 Best Books For College Students, Book Reading Challenge, and Are You Reading Enough Books To Be Successful? On this past car ride to Missouri, I read How To Make Millions With Your Ideas and The Girl On The Train. Shop on Amazon or stop by the local library to grab at least two books for your next road trip. I can’t think of a better way to get out of the trapped in a car feeling than to escape in a book.
So you’re not a big reader or you’re one of those people who immediately get a headache when trying to read in the car? Don’t worry, there’s another solution: audiobooks. If you’ve never listened to an audiobook in the car, then you’re missing out. Music gets boring as the same songs play over and over. But listening to a narrator go chapter by chapter in an audiobook can be a thrill! In case you wondered, my two books The Golden Resume and Freedom Money are available to download as an audiobook.
I forgot many things on this list, but I did bring my laptop to write a blog post this weekend. If you have a blog and aren’t driving, utilize the road trip to write a blog post. Get this out of the way and you’ll feel great once you arrive at your destination. (If you’re trying to write in the car, use Google Docs offline mode or Microsoft Word and save it until you regain wifi connection.) A laptop is also great for playing games, making Sticky note reminders, and watching movies.
12. Playing cards
Best used by backseat riders, a deck of playing cards is perfect to get the competitive juices flowing with blackjack, poker, spades, or war. These cards will also come in handy when you reach the hotel for continued card games or drinking games. Sometimes the most classic games make for the most fun!
13. Air freshener
Spending long hours in the car with people who haven’t showered in a while, smelly food, or the occasional roadside skunk makes having an air freshener critical. An air freshener is also versatile because you can take it out of the car to improve the smell of your funky hotel room or cabin. Get the classic air freshener that hangs on the rearview mirror or try a Moso Natural Air Purifying Bag.
14. Muscle roller stick
It’s not good and doesn’t feel good for your body to sit still for extensive hours on the road. Your muscles and joints will ache and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is unless you get a muscle roller stick. I’ve used this baby before and felt less stiff after it. Order one to see what you’re missing when traveling.
15. Phone/GPS mount
It’s hard enough for the driver to navigate new highways and roads they’ve never driven before. But the task is more difficult when they’re holding their phone in their hands looking back and forth between the road and the directions. A simple fix is to order a car mount for your phone. This mount attaches to the windshield for the iPhone 6 and Samsung 6S. And this one attaches to the dashboard for the iPhone 6s/6 and Galaxy S7/S6.
16. Screenshots of your directions
To protect yourself from the nightmare of losing wifi connection and your turn-by-turn directions during the trip, take screenshots of the directions while you have wifi. It’s not common, but you don’t want to risk losing connection in a tunnel, country road, or in the mountains and not know where you’re going until it’s too late. A successful road trip means avoiding problems; and screenshots of directions go a long way in that regard.
17. Water and healthy drinks
Stay hydrated by bringing water bottles and other healthy drinks not named soda. First, soda is going to make you more thirsty so you have to drink more and thus go to the bathroom constantly during the trip. Avoid it all together by drinking water and keeping your bathroom visits to a minimum. Second, this will help you save money instead of splurging at the gas station on drinks.
18. Healthy snacks
Trust me, you don’t want to put the wrong food (Chinese or Mexican) in your system during a car ride. By consuming healthy snacks, you’ll feel lighter and better about yourself. Specifically look for foods like yogurt, fruits, dark chocolate, and almonds. And avoid the messy snacks that could spill when going over a bump. Eating for energy applies in the car, too.
19. Travel size cooler
To keep your drinks and snacks cold, bring a travel size cooler. This cooler allows you to cut travel time and save money by not having to stop for fast food. And you don’t have to eat the refrigerated food right away when you bring a cooler, like you would if you didn’t have one.
20. Big garbage bag
It’s a pain to clean out the car during the trip and after when you finally arrive at your destination if you don’t have a garbage bag. Wrappers are on the floor, tucked in door handle, and in between the seats. Keep your area clean with a cheap garbage bag that everyone in the car can use to dispose their drink and snacks. The car owner will be grateful.
21. Dollar bills and quarters
Small bills and change are essential for bribing your way out of speeding sticks, just kidding. In reality, bring one dollar bills and quarters to avoid any issues at tolls or city parking meters. It’s always good to keep cash and change with you in the car, and this fact is more true on a road trip.
Tissues are another simple yet underrated travel item. With them, you’ll be able to blow your nose so you can stop sniffling just like that. Without them, you’ll be the most annoying person in the car if you sniffle all day. Being trapped in a car with someone who sniffles constantly is never ideal.
To liberate yourself from listening to another passenger’s below-average playlist, take a pair of headphones with you. These headphones come in handy as earplugs when you’re trying to nap, too. And they send the message that you don’t want to be talked to, which could be an amazing relief depending on the people around you.
24. Ibuprofen/motion sickness medicine
A bumpy road, a hilly valley, or a bad driver could give you a relentless headache that feels like it will never go away. Have an outlet to relieve the pain by bringing Ibuprofen or motion sickness medicine like Dramamine. When you’re prepared, you can handle a lot of things in your way.
25. Dry shampoo
I’m sure the girl readers know about or already use dry shampoo. For the guys or those who don’t know about it, dry shampoo absorbs the dirt and oil in your hair to make it look fresh and clean—like you got out of the shower, not out of bed. When you don’t have time to shower because of any early wake-up call or a demanding travel schedule, use dry shampoo to get rid of bed head. This Dove Dry Shampoo does the job well without leaving any white residue in your hair, which is the goal.
26. Gum or Listerine strips
Just because you can’t brush your teeth in the car doesn’t give you an excuse to have stinky breath for the other passengers to get a whiff of. Stay cool and buy a pack of gum or Listerine strips so you’re not “that guy/girl.” Then pick up friend points by passing your gum or strips along.
27. Car emergency kit
You won’t have to use it 99% of the time, maybe never, but a car emergency kit can potentially save your life if it comes down to it. The one I linked to contains one 8 gauge heavy-duty booster cable, an emergency poncho, a safety vest, duct tape, a screw driver, a flashlight with batteries, 4 cable ties, first aid supplies, and more. God forbid you ever need it though.
28. Spare keys
How does it sound to be 12 hours from home and lose your only car key? It sounds like an awful nightmare, for sure. But it happens. A smart travel hack to ensure this disaster never spoils your trip is to pack a spare set of keys. That’s another thing to bring on your expedition that will save the day if things go wrong.
29. Flashlight with fresh batteries
There are countless scenarios where a flashlight would be helpful and you’d be far worse off without one. For example, maybe you need to change a tire at night or you get in a car wreck on an off road and need to find a main road. Just stick a flashlight with fresh batteries in your glove box or trunk, because you never know when you’ll need it—hopefully you don’t.
30. Baseball hat
I always bring a baseball hat for the road. You can use it to cover your bed head, as a replacement for dry shampoo. And if you want to nap, put the cap over your eyes to block out the light and sleep in the dark. Not to mention you can wear it when you arrive to your location, so it has use inside and outside the car.
31. Deodorant and perfume/cologne
In the chaos of last-minute packing, some people will ridiculously pack a fifth pair of swim trunks and forget to bring deodorant! Please don’t force the other people in the car to have to smell your body odor the whole ride because you forgot it. Perfume or cologne is also something to bring to smell good.
32. Toilet paper
You might laugh at this item being included on the list, but weird things can happen on a road trip that require toilet paper. And in an emergency, it might be a lifesaver compared to a leaf, or the poison ivy leaf. Plus, it takes up little to no space, so that’s not a concern.
33. Gas card
Maximize the most out of all the gas you’re going to buy on the trip with a gas card. These offer cashback, reduced gas prices, and other options if you do your homework in advance to get one. You can sign up to get the rewards through your credit card (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, etc.) or a specific gas station company (BP, Sunoco, Speedway, etc.).
How you feel during a road trip largely depends on what you bring and fail to bring. So the key to a successful road trip is thinking ahead to pack what you need, and might need.
I hope this list helps you remember to bring the essentials when you hit the road. If you prepare in advance, you can be comfortable, be productive, have a good time, and make the trip go faster than you realize.