The Only Road Trip Checklist You Need For Packing for a Road Trip

April 27, 2016

I once met a girl who drove from Richmond to Miami just for one day, because she was tired of the Virginia chill and wanted to feel the sand between her toes. When a road trip calls you, you gotta go — but it helps to be prepared. Here are four surprising essentials to pack, plus a full road trip checklist.

Four Road Trip Essentials You Might Not Think to Bring

1. A wire coat hanger.

If your muffler comes loose and starts dragging on the asphalt, your road trip might be over before it begins. You can’t use duct tape or a bungee cord, because the heat will melt them, but a metal hanger is a solid short-term fix. Wait until the car cools down before you touch the muffler! Once you reach your destination, take your car to a mechanic for an exhaust system checkup and a more permanent repair.

2. Two rubber balls.

It might sound like a strange addition to your road trip checklist, but Travel Channel host Samantha Brown says she never leaves home without a pair of pink rubber balls — the same kind you played with as a kid. When her muscles ache from a long journey, Brown uses them to massage her arches and her back (here’s how). “You feel like you’ve had a $150 massage,” she says.

A recent atlas.

You pull up the map on your phone and see nothing but a red dot in a blank field of gray. “Signal not found,” it says — and you have no idea where you’re going. This is when you pull out one of the true old-school road-trip essentials: the atlas.

4. A phone card.

First an atlas, then a phone card; is this 1998? Hear us out: There are still vast areas of the United States and Canada with spotty phone service or none at all. Check your planned route on OpenSignal to see if there are any dead areas. It’s good to have a phone card (really, a prepaid plan with a number you can dial from anywhere) as a backup.

Road Trip Checklist: Everything You Need to Be Safe and Comfortable

We’re not going to tell you what to wear for your road trip (just remember that short-shorts tend to bunch up after driving 50 miles or so), but here’s a road trip checklist that covers all the other essentials.

  • Phone and charger
  • Apps to help you navigate, find sights and avoid traffic
  • Audiobooks and music
  • Binoculars
  • Healthy snacks (to keep you feeling good)
  • Unhealthy snacks (a great reward for going the last 50 miles)
  • A cooler (a powered cooler is even cooler)
  • More water than you think you’ll need
  • Sunglasses
  • Prescription glasses/extra contacts and solution
  • Blanket and pillow
  • Flashlight
  • Knife or pocket tool
  • Duct tape
  • First aid kit
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic bags
  • Wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Laundry detergent
  • Prescription medications with a copy of your prescription
  • Over-the-counter meds for headaches, colds, insect bites, upset stomach, etc.
  • Lip balm
  • Cash (for when you stop to get gas and realize you left your wallet at the Starbucks 40 miles back)
  • Registration
  • Insurance card
  • Passport (if you’re traveling to Canada or Mexico)
  • Printed confirmation documents for hotels and other travel bookings
  • Books, toys and games to keep kids busy
  • Raincoat
  • Cold-weather gear (if traveling in winter)
  • Jumper cables
  • Extra engine oil
  • Empty gas container (do not travel with a full one! It’s dangerous.)
  • Flares or emergency beacons

How to Pack Your Road Trip Essentials

what to pack for roadtripWhen you’re piling all your stuff into the car, be careful not to overload the vehicle. Look up your car’s load capacity first and subtract the passengers’ weight. If the capacity is 800 pounds, and your family weighs a combined 425 pounds, don’t stuff more than 375 pounds of stuff in the car. Also:

  • Place heavier things on the bottom, and push them toward the front of the car to maintain the vehicle’s center of gravity.
  • Use cargo straps to secure the load.
  • Make sure you have a clear line of sight out the rear windshield.

Before you head out, check out these road trip tips for a successful ride. If you’re planning a road trip in another country, review these six steps to renting a car abroad.

If you think a road trip sounds like a great idea, but want to go it alone, these are the best road trips with lonely, straight highways.

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