This post is part of the Ultimate List of Road Trip Essentials.
After driving hundreds of miles a day, we really learned to identify gear that improved our ability to travel well and have fun doing it. We wanted to share our insight to help those who are new to roadtripping or just looking for new tips and tricks.
These are our essential Personal Items.
For our first long voyage I assumed that the car seats would be comfortable enough for my neck but unfortunately after three hours of driving I started to experience neck fatigue. I borrowed Penny’s travel neck pillow which offered some support but I felt silly wearing a pillow designed for airline travel. The neck pillow also constricted my movement which didn’t feel safe on the road.
For our second voyage I did some research and found a neck pillow better suited to driving that also complimented our car’s black interior. When Penny tried my new pillow she noticed how soft and comfortable it was and asked for one as well. I actually keep it in my car even when we’re not pulling 600 mile drives.
In terms of bed pillows we recommend bringing your own bed pillow with you on long trips. It’s comforting to lay your head down on a familiar pillow after a long day. Another plus, you will likely avoid any neck aches from too-soft or too-hard hotel pillows.
Lower Back Support
Both Penny and I have lower back pain so we looked for a way to prevent flare-ups. My car’s adjustable lumbar support might be good enough for short trips but we needed something more for those long travel days. We settled on a posture corrector seat and despite it looking a little weird on a plush seat it works really well.
While you’re not driving it’s nice to curl up in a small blanket or large throw and catch some zzz’s. I use an old Army poncho liner from my military days because it’s magically light, easy to pack, and provides variable temperature warmth. It’s also helpful when you sleep in a sketchy motel room and want to cover the existing sheets with something familiar.
I always have lotion at the ready. Washing my hands with cheap rest-stop soap tends to dry my hands out and lotion keeps them nice, soft and healthy.
I’m addicted to lip balm, specifically Burt’s Bees Peppermint. I bring it with me everywhere I go – whether on a road trip or not. Penny is partial to the ultra conditioning lip balm with kokum butter but that one is a bit glossy for me, so if you don’t want to have shiny lips, you may just want to stick with the peppermint or a similarly delicious flavor. If you’re like us you’ll be sorry if you forget to pack lip balm!
Life on the road can be amazingly bright especially if you’re driving westbound during sunset. Bring a pair of sunglasses and make sure they’re polarized to reduce eye fatigue while maintaining optimum visibility.
Ever desperately need to blow your nose…while in traffic? Have some tissues handy to avoid using your sleeve. Ew.
Mints are a quick pick-me-up when you’re feeling tired and (bonus!) they make your breath fresh, which is nice for your companion. It may also keep that cop who pulled you over in a better mood.
In the same way that mints can provide a nice wake-up kick to the senses, having an essential oil or fresh herb handy can be just the boost you need to stay focused while driving a long monotonous stretch of road (looking at you I-10). My good friend put some dried mint in a tiny jar which I kept near me while driving. I would periodically open the jar and take a deep breath which kept me energetic . Perhaps more importantly, it kept me grateful for all the wonderful people in my life.
Weapon / Knife
Regardless of whether you view a utility knife as a weapon or not, it can be used as one. You should always have a knife around. It is a handy tool and serves double-duty as a means of self-protection. That being said, if you’re down to a small utility knife to save you, you’re probably in bad shape…that’s why I also have a tire iron, machete and baseball bat. I know, I’m paranoid but —- QUIT LOOKING AT ME FUNNY!
if you do choose to travel with something better suited for self-protection please check the laws in the states you’ll be passing through to make sure you’re in compliance.
I have at least a few carabiners with me while driving. Why? Because they’re incredibly versatile! I clip one or two to my main backpack and have a few more in my emergency tool kit. I’ve used a carabiner to secure my bag to my chair while at a cafe, clip my dog’s leashes to a fence, or attach the top of my water bottle to a luggage handle. I’m currently using one to hang a lantern from the top of our tent.
There exists a great scholarly discussion on whether or not you should keep duct tape, gorilla tape, gaffers tape or tenacious tape in your bag. Tenacious tape seems to be the king of repair tape but I’ve settled on gorilla tape because of its strength, the lack of sticky residue, and the ease of tearing it with your fingers instead of having to cut it with a knife or scissors. A small piece of gorilla tape has been serving as a temporary patch on our air mattress for the last four day days – not too shabby.
Stay hydrated. I prefer HydroFlask to keep my water cold which is especially helpful during summer driving. I also have a KleenKanteen but recently it’s been leaking and on the whole, has been less reliable than the HydroFlask therefore I can’t recommend it.
I like to keep my coffee or tea mug separate from my water bottle to avoid lingering tastes and having to wash it out so often. I also really enjoy having both coffee AND water available to drink. Some of you minimalists will be fine with just one container in which case definitely go with something stainless steel so that your water doesn’t taste like coffee later in the day.
For my coffee I use a 16oz Tervis tumbler with a travel lid that came in a welcome packet from the Wounded Warrior Project. I like it for coffee because it doesn’t keep beverages hot all day. I don’t like pouring piping hot coffee and having to wait at least four hours before I can sip it without burning myself. Ugh.
Baby Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
When my dog chased a llama through the fields of Indiana I ended up covered in mud and who-knows-what-else. I thanked myself for packing baby wipes and hand sanitizer.
How many times in your life have you heard, “Does anyone have a bottle opener?” ‘Nuff said.
I primarily keep these around to make sure my blouse doesn’t blow open and I inadvertently end up flashing strangers. I’m currently using one right now to keep a low-cut dress modestly placed. Sorry, strangers.
Good Luck Charm
C’mon, who doesn’t benefit from the comfort of traveling with a good luck charm (or two, or three)? It might not help, but it definitely won’t hurt. Unless it’s broken mirror or something. Don’t bring that.
At some point on the road you’re going to need to rely on a light source other than the sun. Whether it is a lantern, flashlight or even some fire-starters make sure you have a way to create light. Don’t rely on just one source of light either – I have a small Fenix flashlight in my car AND in my packed bag, a headlamp in my first aid kit, and a lighter on my person (I wish I had the foresight to make sure they all shared the same battery – I address this point in our upcoming post on travel tips.)
Penny and I travel with a small assortment of games that require no electric power or batteries. We like having easy access to entertainment no matter where we are and whether or not that place has reliable internet or power. Our favorite games to play during our downtime are Bananagrams or All Queens Chess.
Eye Mask and Earplugs
Penny loves to look at me and hangs on every word I say so she has no need of either of these items but you, dear reader, may find yourself in a situation where you’ve driven very late into the night and want to sleep in the next morning. Unfortunately you may also be crashing on a far-flung friend’s couch with light pouring into their living room and they have noisy neighbors. Be prepared and have an eye mask (this one is molded so it doesn’t rest on your eyelids) and earplugs.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below! And if you’re curious about other items we bring during our travels, sign up for our mailing list below to have updates delivered directly to your inbox – or just keep checking back here.
We were not paid in any way for these reviews and recommendations. All of these items were purchased with our own money. We strongly prefer to shop locally when and where possible. We’ve decided to forego affiliate commissions to avoid biased opinions. If you see an affiliate link, please let us know so we can remove it. If you want to support this agenda-free experiment, please consider becoming a patron.