Today’s post will cover the second of three topics to consider when you’re considering a long-distance road trip:
- Essential Roadside Emergency Knowledge and Equipment
- Road Trip Car Accessories to Help Make Long-Distance Driving More Comfortable and
- General Advice for Road Trip Safety
Necessity opens the doors to accessories
Remember the saying “necessity is the mother of invention“? Well, my personal take on that (at least when it comes to road trip driving) is: “necessity opens the doors to accessories“.
In this post, I’ve grouped the list of road trip car accessories into four main categories to help you determine what accessories would best work for your needs:
- The Bare Essential Accessories
- The Regular Road Tripper’s Essential Accessories
- The Aged Car Road Tripper’s Accessories
- The Accessories for Added Comfort and Convenience
Now, I’ve been on quite a few road trips – from driving Toronto to Chicago, to completing almost the entire perimeter of Iceland overnight. With each trip, I’ve gained more driving experience, and I’ve also noticed that my list of car accessories that I ‘need to have’ has grown as well.
Yes, necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes it leads us to creative solutions. We’ve all had that moment where we force ourselves to finish that last bit of takeout coffee so that it can be converted into a mini wastebasket for your candy/granola snack wrappers. But sometimes we can’t always creatively convert something to fulfill a missing need.
The Bare Essential Accessories
For people who don’t own cars (hi – that’s me!) but want to go on a road trip – remember to have these bare essential accessories with you! Now for all my car-owning readers, these items probably call your car their permanent home:
- Car Insurance
- Sunglasses and Glasses
- CAA/AAA/Car Towing Contact
- Facial Tissue
- Seasonal Accessories
- Navigation Accessories
While car insurance isn’t considered an accessory, it is an essential item that needs to be in the car with you before starting your road trip journey. Do what I and most of my friends would do, toss those papers into the glove box compartment. Also, double-check the compartment before leaving to make sure the documents are there before starting your trip.
Sunglasses and Glasses
You might be thinking, why do we even need to bring up sunglasses or glasses? Honestly, some people (including myself) didn’t think they were really all that essential! For example, some people might justify that sunglasses aren’t needed if you’re going somewhere that is always overcast. Please just bring them anyway!
Even if the place you’re going is expected to have minimal sunny days (like Iceland, or Scotland), it is still good to bring with you in the car to avoid the low sun during sunrise or sunsets.
In addition to sunglasses, for everyone who does not have perfect vision (looking at everyone who classifies themselves as ‘I have pretty good eyesight and an optional prescription’!) – bring your glasses with you. Clear vision is so important to road safety and practicing defensive driving.
There was one time I drove on a rainy night without glasses. My goodness! My astigmatism was scattering light every which way! Not only were halos of light forming around every car and street light, but with the slick roads and water droplets, it further compounded the light diffraction to the point where seeing the lanes of the road was next to impossible. Thankfully it was only a 10-minute drive, but I don’t want to ever put myself through a 4-hour long drive in those conditions!. After this experience, I went ahead bought a pair of prescription glasses to avoid future scenarios like this again. My prescription glasses and my sunglasses are now always in the car with me – even if I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat!
CAA/AAA/Car Towing Contacts
Even if you’ve already learned how to change a tire, and learned how to boost a dead car battery, sometimes unforeseen things can happen to your car and you’ll still need to call up a towing service. Please note that in Canada, our AAA equivalent is CAA.
I have an annual membership with CAA even though I am not a regular driver. For me, having an annual membership with CAA gives me the flexibility to always have towing/roadside assistance whenever I need it. If you think that annual membership is a bit of an overkill, you should at least be aware of what car towing services are available nearby at each leg of your road trip. One of the key benefits of having CAA membership though is having the peace of mind knowing that you will always be connected to a car towing service wherever you are – including the US (depending on the type of membership you opt-in for).
Kleenex, facial tissue, toilet paper, napkins, handkerchiefs, whatever you use to wipe your hands or blow your nose into, there should be a plentiful supply of it in your car. There’s nothing quite so uncomfortable as to eat sun-melted sticky candies and have to put those sticky fingers back on the driver’s wheel.
Items like umbrellas, snow brushes, or windshield sunshades should be brought into the car according to the season that you’re planning your road trip in.
Unless you’ve memorized your road trip route and all the other minor roads/detours from the main road, chances are you’re going to need a map. Whether you’re kicking it old school and using a paper map, or you’re using your car’s navigation system, GPS, or even your phone, make sure that you bring all other navigation accessories with you as well.
Using your phone to navigate?
- Make sure to check your network coverage on the roads you plan on taking (and the surrounding roads) so that you’re always connected. If you’re going somewhere with spotty connection, it is probably better to use a standalone GPS or go with an old school map
- Get a phone mount
- And also a cigarette car charger – even if your car comes with a USB port – these car chargers offer more power to your devices than what most cars usually come with
Using a standalone GPS?
- Remember to bring the GPS mount
- Also the cable – I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to bring the cable because it wasn’t packed in the same spot as my GPS 🙁
Old school map?
- Make sure you have some pens and some extra paper or post-it notes to bookmark the pages you’re going to need to flip back and forth to.
The Regular Road Tripper’s Essential Accessories
So you’ve got your car, and you’ve already outfitted everything that should already be in a basic car, it is time to stock up on the actual road tripper’s essentials! From mid-drive hungries to unexpected tolls, to mini emergencies, this essential list has you covered:
- Hand Sanitizer
- First Aid Kit
- Snack Bag
- Small Trash Can / Designated Trash Bag
- Travel Mug / Travel Water Bottle
- Car Power Adapter
- Loose Change
I cannot stress how essential it is to have extra water in the car. Those rest stations in between long highway drives shouldn’t be your main source of hydration – plus its really expensive to buy water or drinks! It doesn’t matter if you’re making a road trip in hot or cold water – dehydration can happen. It is better to take more frequent bathroom breaks than it is to feel thirsty for many hours.
Go to that grocery store before heading out, and buy a couple of those extra large and heavy water jugs. You know, the ones that are 4+L? If you’re not a big fan of water, at least stock up on tea or have some kind of hydrating fluid in the car with you!
If you’re going hiking or you just sneezed into your hands and want to reach into that bag of chips in the car… stop for a second and squirt that hand sanitizer and rub that well into your hands. A car, like any other enclosed space, can very quickly become a space for spreading germs and viruses that piggybacked onto you from the outdoors. Having hand sanitizer readily available will help reduce the spread and reduce the chances of getting sick. Also, having it in the car is really handy when you stop for a hike and find out that the nearest outhouse is out of hand sanitizer!
First Aid Kit
This doesn’t need to be anything crazy – but having a few alcohol wipes and bandages really help. For some reason, cuts seem to appear more often when I travel – so having a few of these in the car is handy for those minor slips and trips.
Ahhh… the snack bag. Probably my most favourite aspect of a road trip compared to any other type of trip. I love those mini moments where you start unpacking the snacks in the car and call it out to the rest of the group. There’s just something so satisfying and exciting about it – almost like an unboxing session. The raised excitement in the car as we discuss which bag of snacks to open first.
In terms of practicality, the best kind of snacks to bring with you are:
- able to withstand varying temperatures (e.g. chocolate probably isn’t a good choice if you’re going to be under the sun)
- in a resealable bag
- has minimal sticky residues (this is mostly for the driver to minimize the amount of sticky transfer that may happen on the car wheel)
- minimal packaging (to reduce waste in the car)
Some of my favourite car snacks include:
- trail mix
- pears (they leave minimal cores compared to apples)
- packaged tea/coffee (for variety from water)
- bread and spreads (yes this is sticky, but it can be enveloped in bread so the stickiness factor is pretty minimal!)
Small Trash Can / Designated Trash Bag
I don’t know if an in-car trash can is necessary on a day-to-day basis, but after packing a snack bag… having a designated trash bag for your road trips and carrying extra trash bags come in handy. There are actually quite a few in-car trash can accessories that look rather appealing, like this one, but if you’re looking to save some money, a couple of bags and a designated corner of the car works!
Travel Mug / Travel Water Bottle
I know I mentioned this already, but hydration really is important no matter where you go. I keep a travel mug and a travel water bottle with me because I love drinking warm water. That’s right. Warm water. I don’t like hot beverages, and I don’t like icy cold drinks. As such, I actually carry two insulated travel mugs/bottles with me so that I can regulate my drinks to my favourite temperature as needed. Yes, that means carrying two Hydro Flasks around with me, but hey it works and if that’s what it takes to stay hydrated, then so be it!
Now, if you like your drinks piping hot, or icy cold, an insulated travel mug or water bottle will serve your purposes just fine! Just throw in that perfect temperature drink in there and it’ll keep for another 6-8 hours just the way you like it!
One other plus for bringing your own bottle is that if you followed the tip above for the kind of water to keep in your car (e.g. a large container of water), chances are you’re going to need to share that with the rest of your group and having your own bottle just makes things that much easier.
Car Power Adapter
I have a confession to make – I have way too many gadgets that I bring with me on a road trip! I have my smartphone, my camera(‘s!) battery, my laptop, and e-reader! Depending on the length of the trip, I might bring everything with me and use them on the road. As such, a car power adapter is incredibly useful in ensuring that all my gadgets have the ability to charge up and stay functional while on the road. For example, when I travelled around Iceland for 2 weeks in a van, access to electrical plugs was scarce. Our group relied heavily on our car power adapter to keep our camera batteries from dying.
Note: for car power adapters, you should only have them plugged into the car while the car is running to ensure you don’t drain your car’s battery. As such, this item is really useful while you’re driving for long periods and charging is best saved for 1h+ long drives.
Loose change might be a strange thing to check for on a road trip, but there are actually a number of situations where having loose change is helpful:
- spontaneous grocery run and you need a cart that requires a $1 deposit to use
- unexpected tolls
- farmer’s markets
- roadside pop-up stores (this happened to me in Arizona and it was unfortunately cash-only and I couldn’t buy any more snacks 🙁 )
The Aged Car Road Tripper’s Accessories
Ahh so maybe you’re driving your parent’s-old-car-that-became-your-sister’s-car-but-she-bought-a-new-car-so-now-the-car-is-yours kind of car (aka the 15+-year-old car). You’re probably lacking in the technology department. I’m going to keep this section short and sweet because nowadays, even the older cars might have all your needs covered already – but just in case you’re still using a cassette-playing car, here are some handy accessories that can help make your road trip a bit easier:
This is best suited for non-Bluetooth-enabled cars & people who use multiple devices for listening to audio. The aux cable will let you listen to any music or podcast from any external devices. If you most of your audio is from your smartphone, its probably better to consider a:
An FM transmitter creates a Bluetooth channel via the FM channels for your device to connect to within your car. It does require external power though, so you’ll likely have to use your cigarette car charger for this (something to consider if you need to use a car power adapter as well).
The Accessories for Added Comfort and Convenience
The items below are not really essential road trip car accessories, but these items can really add to the comfort factor. It will elevate your sitting-in-the-car-for-six-hours experience from blah to ahhh (yes I gave myself a pat on the back for that terrible pun!):
- Car Pants / Comfortable Pants
- Lumbar Support
- Neck Pillow
- Car-Seat Gap Filler
Having a blanket in the car can help passengers regulate temperature. Not all friends have the same temperature preference. As with hotels and thermostats, I’ve had a couple of thermostat wars with quite a few of my friends. In the cooler days, my friends love to crank up the heat, leaving the car as dry as the Sahara desert. When I drive, I like to stay bundled up in my jacket and keep the temperature on the cooler save to keep some moisture in the air. So to me, having a blanket in the car helps my friends and I reach a happy middle-ground so that we all have our preferred warmth.
In warmer days, a blanket can help shade snacks and water and keep them cool – so don’t discount it during the summertime either!
Car Pants / Comfortable Pants
It never crossed my mind to pack this with me, until my friend casually mentioned these in passing when we were talking about things to bring. Genius. Everyone’s looking to be comfortable on a trip, and you bet I’m wearing leggings everywhere if I can. But designated car pants? Yes sign me up. Clean, dry, warm, comfortable car pants. I’ve had my fair share of hiking in the rain let me tell you when you’re faced with a six-hour drive, nothing sounds more welcoming than a pair of dry sweatpants.
This one is really for the drivers of the trip! If you’re prone to back pains from sitting in the same spot for a long period of time, it might be worth it to buy a lumbar support to install on the driver’s seat. Personally I’ve driven with and without one for 4 hours each, and there isn’t too much difference. But my boyfriend swears that it makes a huge difference for his back when he drives and since he’s the primary driver, this is definitely in our to-pack list.
In contrast to the lumbar support accessory, a neck pillow is great for passengers. Long drives can often mean long naps, and sometimes in the quest to be comfortable, we can really crick our necks in strange ways! A neck pillow will help you stay comfortable as you fall asleep and reduce those strange neck strains.
Car Seat Gap Filler
I’ve saved the best and most unusual road trip car accessory for last! As I was researching various road-trip accessories and hunting down pictures, I stumbled upon this gem. A car seat gap filler. As soon as I saw the description and the pictures, I was instantly transported to all those moments in my life where I dropped coins, candy, my cell phone, a pack of cards, etc. in between that car seat gap. All those hours lost to shoving my hand in that abyss only to bring it back up in dismay as I realized my hand was too large to fish out the missing item. I had so many hours pass by me, sitting on top of my fallen treasure, waiting for the next pit stop to push and pull my front seat back to retrieve my lost item. But no more. This car seat gap filler literally fills that gap in for and creates a cushioned blockade. I LOVE IT ALREADY. This might even be something I’ll keep in cars on a day-to-day basis (if I owned my own car!).
Well, that’s it! We’ve made it through the entire list! We’ve gone through all the various road trip car accessories from the bare-bones essential all the way up to accessories for added comfort!
By no means is this a comprehensive list for car accessories – but it is certainly a great start for people who are looking to make their road trips more pleasant.
Let me know if there are any essential road trip car accessories you think we’ve missed! Or even just tell us a story about your own road trips! We’d love to hear all about it! Personally, I’d love to hear everyone else’s story about wrestling items out of the car-seat gap filler!