Six Road-trip Essentials

Image: kelly.

Road-trips can quickly become long, tedious endeavors and cause even the calmest of personalities to become cranky, on edge and an intense desire to be entirely alone. In order to keep your sanity, here's my unconventional list of road-trip essentials that I deciphered after my recent TBEX Road-trip.


Think back to your childhood and that long drive to grandma's house, the beach, or the amusement park. What do you remember? Being crammed in the back of the car? Drawing imaginary lines in the seat? Convincing your sister to sleep on the floorboard? (Yes, I actually did this. I told her sleeping on the floor was cooler. Mom and Dad totally failed as parents for letting this occur, perhaps it was because we were quiet for more than two minutes.)

Ok, so space was key then and now as a grown up I can say that space is the MOST important thing needed for a good road-trip. For us, VW kindly provided us with a 2009 Routan minivan and solved all of our problems. All-in-all, I think the Routan not only provided us with a comfortable way to get across the US, but it allowed us to keep our sanity. No fights broke out, no one got frustrated with having to dig through piles of gear to find their bag or having to sit so close together. Thank you VW, we kept our sanity and our friendships and now I understand why every mom wants a minivan.


I don't normally travel with coolers, so ice was not something I thought about while on the TBEX road-trip. Pam, however, was an expert at keeping the cooler filled and, in turn, our food fresh. The best apart about ice, is that you can make an icy cold beverage (of the non-alcoholic variety) for when you're stuck at the drivers wheel, which for some reason made the chore a lot less nerve wracking.


I'm notoriously bad at organizing my iPod and I also have a notoriously random assortment of music. I don't bother with playlists when I'm alone, because I'm ok with listening to Jay-Z followed by Vasco Rossi. I'm also ok with hitting the next button a hundred times in a row. I also realize that this is annoying, so on a road-trip, however, I'd suggest you spend a few hours organizing your favorite songs in a suitable playlist. Pop your iPod in, hop in the drivers seat, and leave your hands free for controlling the cruise control.


A place for everything and everything in its place. I didn't start off our TBEX road-trip like this, at all. I dug around in my bag a thousand times, I opened every door on the Routan to find my chapstick. After awhile, we let order find us. The Routan became a swiss army knife of gear. Open this door to get to the cooler and drinks, the other for camera gear. Pop open the back to get to your stuff and the camping gear. It saved our sanity many times. By the end of it all, I had created my own camping caddy in the cupholders in the back. Easy access to my nightly bug spray application, dental hygiene and strange animal noise blocker, my iPod.


My caffeine addiction becomes that much more apparent when I'm on the road. Long days and less than perfect sleep make it a morning necessity. For coffee aficionados, I wholeheartedly recommend REI's Double Shot Press Mug. A french press and mug in one, it's perfect for the special brew you brought from home to tide you over. Admittedly, you have to clean it out after each use. And, like all things in life, I got a little lazy, so I also recommend that you've got a stash of instant coffee (like Starbucks Via or Nescafe) on hand for times like this. And, I can't take the credit for this, but Pam of Nerds Eye View invented the most brilliant use for instant coffee. Take it with you to breakfast, and if the diner coffee is really a poor imitation of the real thing, just add your own. I highly doubt Starbucks thought of this use when they invented their special brew, but I challenge you to find a better one.

Cruise Control

I learned to drive and drove for many years on a 1989 Honda Civic. I didn't have the cruise control. In the past, whenever I tried to use cruise control on another car I just got all anxious and felt out of control. What the heck do I do with my foot? On the 5,000 miles we covered on this trip, at some point I learned to let go of my cruise anxiety and embrace the footless driving experience. With acceleration and deceleration buttons that actually made sense, I had a moment of clarity "oh, this is why people use this." It's like driving...but with your hands.

For more road-trip essentials, check out our guest post on Joydrive. And if you need some inspiration for tunes, check out my post on Music for the Road.


Another great thing about keeping the cooler stocked with cold drinks, a few snacks and some sandwich stuff for a long trip? Huge money saver. 12-pack of sodas is $2.50 at the grocery store. 50 cents each on the road if you can find cans. We always keep our water bottles full and chilled too.
And having sandwich stuff always at least gives us the option to each cheap or skip the one scary/expensive/lame looking restaurant in town if we want to. We're big believers in skipping fast food whenever possible so being able to make a sandwich saves us from countless meals at McDonald's all over the country.
One important thing we've learned though - keep the condiments in a plastic bag so they don't get water in them (or your cooler is not full of mustard-y water)or start stocking up on little packets of things at home to throw in on the next trip.

Those are all great cooler tips and ones I will keep in mind when I hit the road next.

Hey Kelly,

Great list... the only thing I would add to this list is patience. Sounds cheesy but nothing ruins a road trip like getting lost and then everyone in the car getting cranky about it.

Hmmm, after saying this, maybe the one other thing I would add is a good map to prevent getting lost ;)

I agree, patience is the most important of all. And the ability to get over it if someone loses their cool, we can only be patient for so long. :)

Personally I'd throw out the cooler and get a portable fridge. I'm not sure why I didn't bring mine on this trip but it's a fine, fine luxury.

I also agree wholeheartedly about cruise control!!

I SO agree with the iPod playlist point. I have endangered myself and others too many times by trying to select individual songs or albums while driving (if someone is with me, I ask them to do it, but they quickly get tired of playing DJ). When I remember to, I create playlists for long road trips, and it definitely helps my (and my passengers') sanity. It's definitely more safe, and one less thing to worry about! There's already enough to worry about when crammed in a car with others for long periods of time.