Whether it’s a trip to visit far-flung family members, or a proper, All American vacation road trip, you’re going to want to be prepared. Even without children thrown into the mix, it’s long hours spent either alone, or in the company of just one or two others, in a tiny box, so tempers can rise. When there are kids involved, it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Only an amateur, or a madman, would set out on a road trip without a few essentials for comfort, safety, and sustenance. Here are my must haves for keeping us safe and sane.
1. The legals
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first - you’re going to want your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance information for any road trip. If you’re planning on crossing any international borders (hey Canada!), you’re probably going to want your passport as well. If you’re planning the trip as a vacation, you might have decided it is worthwhile taking out travel insurance too, so that documentation is also useful. The phone numbers of any local breakdown companies, or your breakdown coverage, are also good to have to hand, just in case.
2. The entertainment
Long hours on the road require entertainment. You might think you and your travel companion can chat for hours on end, but you’ll probably struggle to chat for days at a time. Don’t limit yourself to just one sort of entertainment, either. You’re going to want music, a laptop for watching movies or playing games - as long as you’re not driving - cards and board games to play during pitstops, and even more music. If you love reading as much as I do, audiobooks are a must. Many people get pretty queasy when they try to read on the move, but audiobooks are a great compromise, and before long you’ll be hooked.
Don’t underestimate how much entertainment you’ll need. You may also find that you want different entertainment at different times, depending on tiredness and how long you’ve been on the road for. This is why a variety of musical genres and audiobooks is perfect, and it can keep both the drivers and passengers engaged. If there are children thrown into the mix, bringing them their own MP3 players, so the rest of the car doesn’t have to suffer their taste in music and books is a godsend. If you bring other entertainment devices, such as laptops for movies, you might be lucky enough to keep them schtum for hours on end.
3. The safety features
While entertainment is a pretty crucial must-have for a road trip, your safety and that of your passengers have to come first. Make sure you get your car serviced before you head off - you don’t want to discover faulty electrics or worn-out brake pads in the middle of nowhere. It’s worth keeping a spare tire and winch, as well as a hi-vis jacket for emergencies. It’s far quicker to change your own tire than wait for the breakdown truck to arrive.
As for car safety features, while you’re on the road, you’re going to want to make sure your seatbelts and airbags are all in working order. If you’ve got children with you, ensuring they have the right baby seat or booster seat is crucial for their safety and comfort over long distances. Check out the website Baby Seats to find the perfect seat for your children, and ensure it’s installed correctly too. Any child under four foot nine inches is safest on a booster seat, but they’ll also be far more comfortable on one when you’re traveling for long hours.
4. The snacks
If you’re anything like us, traveling makes you peckish. Taking a picnic for lunch each day is a great idea to keep costs down - eating in a diner for three meals a day isn’t cheap (or particularly healthy) after all. Keeping your car stocked with nutritious snacks is also a great way to get you through the long journeys. Fruit and vegetables are the perfect snacks on the road, and they’ll stop you reaching for the chips and candy too. Beef jerky is especially good if you’re starting to get hungry - it’s packed full of protein, but fortunately low in calories.
If you’re traveling with children, you might choose to use candy as bribery for their silence. Rewarding their patience and perseverance through the boredom is a great idea, and it’s great for helping their ears to pop while you’re traveling through the higher ground. The best investment is a good quality cool box. It keeps your sandwiches safe (and un-squashed) throughout the day, and it means you can have treats like yogurt and juice, which might struggle a bit more in the warmer climates without.
5. The maps
So, you’re probably going to want to know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. You might have invested in the snazziest, state of the art satellite navigation system, but you’re probably still going to want some good old-fashioned maps to hand as well. Electronics have a habit of refusing to work at the most inconvenient times after all. It’s also great entertainment for bored kids to follow the route you’re traveling on a map. A sat nav might miss out crucial elements, like where the nearest restrooms are, and some good spots for lunch, so having a map as a backup is perfect.
6. The comfort
With the best will in the world, even the comfiest cars aren’t comfy for that many hours in a day. Regular stops for stretching your legs and getting some fresh air is essential, but still probably not enough. Towels and blankets are absolute essentials. They can be thrown over cold legs during nap time, be rolled up into a makeshift pillow, and even offer lumbar support on those ache-inducing car seats. You can even tuck it into the top of a car window to help to block out the sun, and then use them to mop up inevitable juice spills when you decide to have lunch on the move. Bonus!
Hand-held fans are also great - even with air conditioning, direct sunlight can make the car pretty toasty, so a fan can help to take the edge off. Eye masks and earplugs are also essential for some good distraction-free sleeping when the driver is still insisting on listening to music.
You might want to consider your attire too. Tight clothes are the enemy of comfort on a road trip, so keep the skinny jeans safely in their suitcase where they belong. Light, stretchy fabrics, and loose fitting clothes are the best buddies of comfort, and they’ll be your best buddies too.
7. So much patience
Fair enough, money can’t buy patience, but you’re going to have to find it somewhere regardless. Long hours in the car can be draining, tensions run high, and when you start taking wrong turns or getting lost then World War Three can be staring at you from the horizon. You might get queasy on the windy road, you might feel like your personal space is being invaded every, single, darn minute, and you might be bored, sleepy, or just really need a trip to the restroom. But you get through it by conjuring up every single ounce of patience you have. And you end up loving it, because it’s not easy. Road trips are adventures, challenges, and excitement. For kids, they’re a chance to see the world and experience new landscapes and new towns. For adults, they’re all that, plus the sense of freedom. There is nothing quite as liberating than being out on the open road.
What do you think are some essentials for a road trip? Get in touch and tell me what you wouldn’t travel without.