The spontaneous and unpredictable nature of a proper road trip is destined for mishaps. And hey, it's half the adventure, right? There's a lot you can do to prevent or salvage those inevitable moments, whether they're annoying inconveniences or FML meltdowns. We've had lots of those while driving almost 20,000 miles around the USA and various countries, and I am listing out those sneaky little details so you can be better prepared. Some are critical, others are nice-to-have's, but you can decide what's necessary for your trip.
Check out our list of not-so-obvious road trip essentials, plus the things you're better off leaving behind. But first, some general rules to consider:
Rule 1: DON'T OVERPACK - Or use your car as a storage center. Know anything you bring is subject to theft or loss. Seriously. We've had things stolen and lost on the road, stuff we didn't need to bring but just did because we "had room for it". At best, it will just weigh you down and crowd your space, which subconsciously causes stress and anxiety. Minimalism has a solid place in the hearts of seasoned road trippers.
Rule 2: Stay organized - Before you leave the driveway, have a system down. Organize your goods in labeled plastic containers or bags (car repair, first aid, snacks, etc), and label them if possible. When you're in a rush or it's dark, it's extremely convenient to to quickly locate something specific. I've seen people use a plastic 3-drawer dresser in the trunk for the turbo organizers. I say well done.
Things to pack:
Bag of coins - for laundry, parking meters and tiny purchases. Some small bills helps, too.
Flashlight - for rummaging in the car at night, walking in the dark, etc (sometimes a cell light isn't enough).
Plastic bags - Gallon ziplock bag for snacks, organization, wet/dirty clothes, and grocery bags for collecting trash in the car or stowing dirty shoes.
Phone charging cables - obvious, but easy to forget if you're renting a car or plan to plug-in multiple phones at once.
Auxiliary jack / car adapter- if it's an older model car, you may need one to plug in your phone to stereo for music (especially if you're renting a car and unsure of the Bluetooth or USB situation).
Tire chains - if you're going anywhere there's a possibility of snow, and know how to put them on (bring gloves too).
Downloaded music - If you use streaming service like Spotify, be sure to download a variety of music, comedy, etc. in advance for when you lose service (you need wifi to do this).
Hand wipes - this sounds high-maintenance, but there's so many times you're eating in the car or spill something and you won't be able to wash your sticky hands for a while - trust me on this one. Disinfectant ones are ideal.
External battery for phone - this is more for when you're on the trails/streets, but we always have a battery pack/cable on us in case our phones get low - especially critical in cold weather when cells shut down after being exposed to freezing temps and require a plug-in to function (Mophie is the best battery pack case I've used).
Stainless steel beverage tumbler - great for keeping drinks hot/cold all day, fill up with water for free at hotels/gas stations/etc (Hydroflasks are a solid choice). I also pack tea bags in the car.
Bookmark important websites - in your cell's internet browser, bookmark things you'll want to reference on the road, like: local road conditions, the northern lights forecast (if you're going way north), national park conditions/alerts, tour companies, event calendars, or tips on a place you're visiting.
Running shoes - we love to distance run when on the road, it's a great way to sightsee new towns.
Packable tote - these take up almost no space and they come in really handy when hauling groceries or loose items. I use them constantly on the road.
Emergency roadside flare - at least one, just in case - if you have an entire emergency kit even better.
Rear cargo screen - if you have an SUV you may have a black screen attachment to shield objects from view, be sure to install it. You should not get used to leaving items in the car, but this is nice in times you have no choice.
Emergency medical kit - at least just have a few bandaids, disinfectant wipes, Neosporin, a small supply of meds for headache, upset stomach, etc, and a couple Moleskins if you're prone to foot blisters. A fav I use is Aquafor as a cure-all for dry skin, chapped lips and healing ointment.
Wireless bluetooth speaker - we usually bring a UE Boom on the road so we have music in the hotel or outdoors if need be. Totally not critical but super rad when you need some atmosphere.
Snacks - obviously! Keep it simple and easy, and something that can sustain a several-day car ride in warm or freezing temps. Especially pack specialties hard to come by like health food. We basically live off of PBJ's.
Extra water - Keep a gallon of water in the back just in case.
Emergency Phone Numbers - Do you know who to call if your car breaks down? Do you have AAA or does your insurance cover roadside assistance? What if you're driving a rental? Have that number available.
Light blanket - I tend to use one to cuddle up in the car or lay it over luggage or gear in the backseat if we step out of the car for a bit. Just never plan to leave anything unattended and in view, or else you're tempting a break-in. Turkish towels are great because they're ultra light, dry easily and can double as a towel for cleaning.
Small cooler bag - a slightly insulated, packable cooler bag may be nice if you want to keep some drinks or snacks on ice, which you can fill up at a hotel or fast food place. It's a lot easier to plan and pack foods that don't require refrigeration (dried fruits, nuts, PBJ's, apples).
Things to leave at home:
Pillows, sleeping bag - it sounds good, but unless you're sleeping in your car overnight, these just take up space. One small pillow is manageable, but I find I never sleep because I'm watching the sights out the window.
Hairdryer - odds are every place you will stay will supply (a shitty) one. Try hairstyles, products or techniques that don't require one if possible.
Extra clothes - it's tempting to pack a bag of backup clothes and shoes but these become a liability sitting in your car unattended. And its burdensome to haul extra bags of nice-to-have's into your room each night.
Valuables - would you be upset if it got lost/stolen, and do you need it? Being on security watch sucks, it's stressful, and it's just unnecessary.
You can usually buy anything you need while on the road, if that helps rationalize simplifying your list. Road trips are truly a fine art, and get easier over time. The main objective is to be comfortable and have the basics, so you can cruise as clutter/stress-free as possible.