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Road Trip Essentials to Have for a Smooth Journey


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Road trips are fabled vacations for any American, an idea as old as the United States. Getting on the road and riding the wind is exciting and draws on the same feeling that early Americans felt during the Westward Expansion. Road trips are unique because the only way to actually experience this feeling is to just hit the road. But let's be real- you probably shouldn't start your adventure without the ultimate road trip checklist.

While blogs with travel tips can ignite the fire and give ideas, road trippers must have an intrinsic need to ride and a tangible goal regarding their destination. This road trip checklist is here to get you packed up and ready for the open road, so that you can make your journey the best road trip it can be.

The Ultimate Road Trip Checklist

1. A Good Driving Buddy

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The number one road trip necessity is a great driving partner. This is preferably someone who doesn't annoy you and who also has a driver's license. This person will also help you navigate travel and map apps while you're driving, so someone who's also trustworthy. And if you don't have a phone mount to hold your phone up while you're trying to check your Google Maps, it's probably best you delegate that task to your companion.

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Your partner should be someone you can easily communicate with (i.e., make/change plans) without getting heated-- it's hot enough on the road. It's always a plus if this is a person you can have easy conversations with, but can also comfortably sit in silence with too. If you need some conversation starters, check out this list of travel jokes to tell on the way!

Road trips can be even more fun when you have multiple driving partners too. If you can help it, we suggest picking two to three more people. Once you have more than that, other problems may come into play (you know what we mean if you've ever traveled with a large group).

2. Chapstick (& Other Toiletries)

Maybe chapstick isn't your first thought, but you'll thank us when you need it. This seemingly insignificant item is also a sign that you might need some toiletries on the road.

Things like toilet paper, deodorant, sunscreen, shampoo (forget the conditioner), hand sanitizer, a toothbrush with toothpaste, and a hairbrush should be considered when packing a daypack or road trip toiletry bag.

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3. Cash

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We're stoked your Bitcoin and Dogecoin investments are doing so well, but on any road trip, you will definitely need cold, hard cash. No matter where you stop in the USA, you'll rest easy that your money is green, especially when it's physically in your hand.

Why guess if the taco stand takes American Express? Having cash on hand is necessary. When it's time to use your plastic, make sure you've called your bank to let them know you'll be spending frivolously across America.

4. Toys

Let's face it: we're all just big kids who can drive. If you're going on a road trip, you'll need some toys along the way or for the destination. For example, surfers exploring the Californian coast will need surfboards. Anglers heading to an obscure lake will need their boat and rods. Or if you're actually bringing young kids, we suggest portable gaming systems and/or trinkets for rest stops such as frisbees and footballs.

5. Peanut Butter & Jelly Supplies

Granola bars and similar road trip snacks will only take you so far. If you don't bring peanut butter, jelly, and a loaf of bread, make sure you grab the supplies at the first gas station or rest stop. Wash your PB&J down with plenty of water from a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at gas stations too. No need to buy new water bottles each time you're thirsty since that's not exactly the most eco-friendly practice and you might acquire quite the collection of empty bottles in the car.

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Having some food on your trip will make your trip feel faster and help you save money on unnecessary, spur-of-the-moment food purchases. Furthermore, you might want to pack some napkins, disposable cutlery, and plastic bags to hold these items and clean up after you're done snacking.

6. Flexible Itinerary

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Creating a loose itinerary will actually help your trip run more smoothly, and having fewer expectations will definitely improve a road trip. A flexible schedule means that maybe you can stop by certain fun landmarks or destinations during rush hour on the highways you're cruising on.

This will also leave you time to stop at legendary, Guy Fieri-approved restaurants as you near them. A loose schedule will allow you to enjoy the things you want to see on your road trip and get up and go when it starts raining on your tent. But if you want schedule suggestions, check out all the road trip itineraries we created for you to explore all over the country!

7. Clothes for All Weather

The key isn't to pack a lot. The key is to pack a little bit of everything--from rain jackets to your favorite bathing suit. Especially when road tripping across the country, climates vary drastically in some areas or at some elevations. Bring clothing items that you can layer with ease so that you won't overpack, but have all the essentials. And don't get caught without boots and a warm sweater for the summit when you want to see the top of a local mountain.

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8. Tents, Sleeping Bags, & Travel Pillows

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Especially in warm weather during summer road trips, you'll want to sleep under the stars for at least a night or two. There are so many state and national parks that offer great camping destinations across the US, and everyone should experience this at some point. So make plans to camp in a scenic area, cook food over the open fire, and tell stories with your best buds. Don't forget to bring blankets too, especially if you plan to camp. It might get chilly outside.

9. Playlists, Podcasts, & Audiobooks

Whether you have Bluetooth or the classic aux cord hooked to a cassette, it's going to be a long road trip. You'll need some entertainment, especially when your driving buddy finally falls asleep. The ideal situation would be a stereo setup that also acts as a phone charger. Add a portable charger to your road trip packing list and car essentials if this is not the case.

Music is a great way to keep you going without taking your focus completely off the road. We all know that car jam sessions are unmatched and are a fun way to pass the time. We've put together a few playlists based off the best music from the decades for your road trip, so there's a little something for everyone tagging along.

Podcasts and audiobooks are also a great way to pass the time. And while you can find and download any genre from whatever streaming service provider you might have, a great place to look to curate the best lineup is our list of the best podcasts to listen to during a road trip.

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10. Jumper Cables

A roadside emergency kit is great to have and an essential item on any road trip checklist. It's one of those things you don't want to bring, but when you need it, you're so glad you have it. When your data runs out, make sure to get things like a tire pressure monitor, spare tire, first aid kit, windshield wiper fluid, and a paper map.

If you plan on being a road dog for more than a few days, it's not a bad idea to invest in AAA for roadside assistance. There is no price for a peace of mind!

We wish you the best of luck and hope this list helped you pack your road trip essentials. Enjoy traversing the good old USA!

Have any road trip must-have essentials to suggest? Share your tips and advice with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

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READ MORE: How to Survive a Road Trip During Winter Months

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