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In it for the long haul? Check out our list of road trip essentials designed to make your cross-country adventures easy and stress-free.

Never Leave Home Without Them

They say the key to a great road trip is enjoying the journey as much as the destination. But the charms of even the most scenic drives can be lost when traveling becomes a chore. That’s why we’ve complied this list of road trip essentials. From entertainment options to organizers, these items will simplify and destress your trip and prove their worth over thousands of memorable miles.

Back Seat Organizer

Backseat Organizer - duluthtrading.com
Backseat Organizer - duluthtrading.com

If you’ve ever traveled with kids, you’ll know how quickly they can turn an orderly backseat into a disaster zone. A good ounce of prevention comes in the form of a back seat organizer. Not only will this provide a place for all your kids’ stuff, but it also keeps all that stuff right at hand, no frantic rummaging around for misplaced items.

Reusable Water Bottle

Reusable bottle and cups
Reusable bottle and cups

Reducing plastic consumption is always a plus, not spending unholy amounts of money on bottled water is also a major road trip win. That’s why we recommend taking a few reusable water bottles on your journey. Some of our favorite vehicles, like the Kia Soul and Subaru Forester have large door bins that easily accommodate reusable water bottles, and that’s not a coincidence.

USB-C Fast Charger

USB-C Fast Charger - keutek.com
USB-C Fast Charger - keutek.com

Not all new cars come with USB-C charging. Even fewer used cars do. So, to ensure that all your devices stay charged on your trip, make sure to bring along a USB-C fast charger.

Cooler

Cooler filled with snacks
Cooler filled with snacks

Snacks are a must on long road trips and gas station food is, well, gas station food. To keep things healthier and avoid indigestion, take a cooler full of snacks along. Plus, roadside picnics can often be a highlight of cross-country travel.

Neck Pillow / Pillow

Neck Pillow
Neck Pillow

There are few things better than the virtual time travel of taking a nap on a long car ride. A neck pillow, or your favorite pillow from home, can ensure your nap is as refreshing as possible. And if you’re going it alone from coast to coast, it’s always good to take naps to stay sharp along those lonely stretches of highway.

AC Power Inverter

AC Power Inverter - amazon.com
AC Power Inverter - amazon.com

An AC power inverter comes in handy for plugging in about any random thing, from a tea kettle to a laptop. They also often come with USB charging ports as well as the traditional three-prong 12-volt plugs.

Smartphone Mount

Smartphone mount - amazon.com
Smartphone mount - amazon.com

For navigation and communication, it’s hard to beat the computer in your pocket. To keep your smartphone conveniently at hand without becoming a hazardous distraction, there’s the smartphone mount.

Portable DVD Player

Portable DVD Player - amazon.com
Portable DVD Player - amazon.com

Sure, you could go with an iPad for all your kids’ streaming needs. But if you want to save on data and the overall device expense, there are lots of portable DVD players out there for a fraction of the cost, many with seat mounts.

Sunshade

Car Sunshade
Car Sunshade

The temperature inside a hot car can be up to 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. That’s why we recommend a sunshade to block all those rays from cooking the inside of your car, especially if you’re traveling in the sunbelt.

Ice Scraper / Snow Brush

Ice scraper with brush
Ice scraper with brush

For the opposite extreme, it’s also a good idea to carry an ice scraper when traveling in winter. For a complete list of winter gear for your car, click here.

Blanket / Pocket Blanket

Car blanket
Car blanket

A blanket is a smart thing to have on a trip for napping, picnicking, or just keeping warm in the winter. A compact pocket blanket can provide most the convenience while saving you a ton of space.

Proper Camera

Digital camera
Digital camera

As good as smartphone cameras have become, they’re still not capable of taking pictures like a dedicated digital camera. Give the memories and vistas their due and perverse them with a proper camera.

Baby Wipes / Personal Wipes

Wet wipes
Wet wipes

Even if you don’t have a kid in diapers, keeping a pack of baby wipes in the car can come in very handy. The humble baby wipe can be surprisingly versatile, from removing simple stains to providing some hygiene in a pinch.

Paper Map and GPS

Paper map
Paper map

For course, the GPS or the digital navigation system that comes with your vehicle are helpful in plotting your course. But a good old fashioned paper map or atlas can prove a valuable adjunct. An analogue map provides greater context (including other places to visit along your way), makes rerouting easier, and give you a better sense of your surroundings.

Sunglasses / Prescription Sunglasses

Driving with sunglasses
Driving with sunglasses

Sunglasses can be a major lifesaver. Whether it’s the glare of a western sunset or a bright winter day with the sun shining on fresh snow, you’ll be glad you packed a pair of shades.

Car Vacuum

Portable vacuum
Portable vacuum

Maybe you’re fastidious enough to never drop a solitary crumb in the car when scarfing down one of those pre-packaged blueberry muffins you knew you really shouldn’t be buying at the gas station. But your kids probably haven’t learned such discipline. To keep your vehicle from attracting racoons, bears, and other hungry wildlife, it’s helpful to take a portable car vacuum along on your trip.

First-Aid Kit

First aid kit
First aid kit

Hiking, fishing, or just exploring nature, it’s easy to accrue a few scrapes and scratches. Keeping a first-aid kit in the car is always a good idea, but on a road trip it’s, as the title implies, essential.

Steering Wheel Tray

Steering wheel tray - amazon.com
Steering wheel tray - amazon.com

Let’s face it. On any road trip you end up eating in the car a lot. To make that burger and fries a little more enjoyable and a lot less messy, there are steering wheel trays that mount right on your steering wheel. And they’re not just good for eating either. Writing, working on a laptop, or other roadside tasks are all made infinitely easier with a firmly secured work surface.

Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Portable speaker
Portable speaker

A portable Bluetooth speaker can add a little ambience to your roadside picnic or an evening camping beneath the stars. The combination of new vistas and new music are guaranteed to make for lasting memories.

Collapsible Garbage Can

Collapsible garbage can - lowes.com
Collapsible garbage can - lowes.com

Nothing can take a car interior from spotless to a disaster area faster than a road trip. A collapsible garbage can is a handy way to keep things clean and orderly.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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