Going on a Road Trip? Travel Experts Say These Are the Essentials to Have on Hand

Don't hit the open road without tucking these must-haves into the trunk.

family in car on roadtrip
Photo: Marko Geber / Getty Image

The beauty of a road trip is the journey—it isn't just about reaching your chosen destination. With that being said, it's important to remember that the journey is often long, and proper preparation is key. First things first: "Don't be too ambitious. Think in terms of hours driven, not miles," notes John Spence, the president of Scott Dunn. "Allow two to three nights in each area of interest, so you can explore and get out the car. Less is more." And don't forget to consider seasonality and busy periods. "If you're traveling during a busy season or holiday, it's a good idea to plan out your route and book things, like accommodations and activities, in advance," says Sanna Boman, the editor-in-chief at Roadpass Digital, which comprises Roadtrippers, Campendium, and Togo RV. "If you're visiting a national park, research pandemic-related restrictions, timed entry tickets, and lotteries for specific hikes. If you're planning to camp, you may need to book campgrounds several months ahead of time in popular areas."

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Beyond knowing where you're headed and coordinating the trip ahead of time (a planning package, like Roadtrippers' service, can help with that), it's important to curate a few safety-minded essentials, from extra water to headlamps, for the ride. Here, our experts share their road trip recommendations, which will help you plan a fun, secure trip ahead.

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Poland Spring Brand 100% Natural Spring Water
Courtesy of Target

Even the most well-thought-out trips comes with unpredictable circumstances, so bringing emergency essentials is a must. Spence suggests keeping a gallon of water in the back of your car if you're driving through scarce or desert-like conditions in the Southwest or elsewhere.

Shop Now: Poland Spring Brand 100% Natural Spring Water, $1.29, target.com.

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Car Charger

Popular Mechanics Trip USB 4 Port Car Charger For Front and Back Seat With Quick Charge Technology
Courtesy of The Home Depot

Pack a backup phone charger (as well as extra power banks and charging cables) for the ride. "Especially when road tripping solo, it's also good to share your device location with someone for safety purposes," says Ashley Hall, a travel specialist at Scott Dunn.

Shop Now: Popular Mechanics Road Trip USB Four Port Car Charger, $34.99, homedepot.com.

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L.L.Bean Trailblazer Scout 200 Headlamp
Courtesy of L.L. Bean

As for some other essentials to have handy? "A headlamp can be more convenient than a regular flashlight in case of an emergency, when something gets lost in the car, or when you're camping for the night," Boman says.

Shop Now: L.L.Bean Trailblazer Scout 200 Headlamp, $24.95, llbean.com.

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Road Map

Lonely Planet Travel guide map
Courtesy of Walmart

Boman always suggests having travel routes downloaded ahead of time in the event that there is limited cell phone service. Keep a physical map as a backup.

Shop Now: Lonely Planet USA Planning Map, $7.88, walmart.com.

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Car Tool Kit

Bed Bath & Beyond Deluxe Roadside 132-Piece Emergency Kit
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

In case of any car trouble, keep a tool kit tucked away in an accessible area.

Shop Now: Deluxe Roadside 132-Piece Emergency Kit, $49.99, bedbathbeyond.com.

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Courtesy of Yeti

"I always recommend bringing a cooler with snacks and drinks," Boman shares. With this sturdy iteration, you can keep stops to a minimum when you have a long drive planned for the day, save money, and keep everyone cool, calm, happy, and hydrated.

Shop Now: Yeti Tunder 35 Hard Cooler, $249.99, yeti.com.

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apple ipad mini
Courtesy of Apple

Your devices will be put to good use on road trips. Make sure to download any podcasts, songs, and even shows or movies for the little passengers (who will appreciate this iPad!) to your device ahead of time, Hall advises, if you end up in an area with low internet reception.

Shop Now: Apple iPad 10.2-inch Wi-Fi, $329.99, apple.com.

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Play Set

Toysmith Get Outside Go Pro-Ball Set
Courtesy of Macy's

Dress in comfortable, layered clothing that you can quickly adjust based on changing temperatures—especially when taking car breaks with the little ones. "If you're traveling with kids, it's a good idea to bring a small duffle bag with a nerf football, kickball, or jump rope to let them get some energy out at rest stops," Boman adds; this activity set, for example, will help.

Shop Now: Toysmith Get Outside Go Pro-Ball Set, $13.99, macys.com.

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