Our original trip, in 2016, included 60 hours of researching and testing gear to take on the open road. We packed all of our top contenders into a Honda Fit EX and headed out on a four-day jaunt to determine what’s nice to have, what’s great, and what’s absolutely essential for your next road trip. In 2020 we changed our perspective slightly to include things to help you adhere to safe-travel guidelines, regardless of the state you’re in. We’ve also added several selections to take on hardier winter car trips.
After traveling for 1,500 miles, through four states and six national parks, we think we have a good grasp on what makes an excellent road trip. In addition to our own research and testing, we consulted with half a dozen engineers, mechanics, and other experts to bring you these picks. Our hope is that the recommendations in this guide will help you see more and explore farther down the road than you thought possible.
Below, you’ll find recommendations for: cargo boxes, binoculars, coolers, emergency beacons, a first-aid kit, an ice scraper, inverters for your electronics, a multi-tool, phone mounts, a picnic blanket, a portable jump starter, ratchets and tie-down straps, a road atlas, stain remover, a stowable daypack, sun shades, sunglasses, tire-pressure gauges, a travel game, a travel pillow, water jugs, windshield water repellent, wipes, and so much more. Here are 55 items that will help you have a successful road trip, regardless of region or weather.
Even if you do have the best gear in the world, however, it’s always best to address small problems before they become emergencies. That’s why we asked Christopher Smith, a veteran automotive journalist with a penchant for restoring fixer-uppers, to help us put together some advice on how to prepare your car for a trip. (And he lives in South Dakota, where things are spread out, so he’s always prepared.) We cover everything from checking your tires and dipsticks to knowing what you should do if your car starts smelling like rotten eggs for seemingly no reason.
This guide isn’t specifically geared toward families, though almost all of the picks would be of use to a family traveling by car. We do have guides on infant car seats, the best travel car seats, booster car seats, cloth masks for kids, and water bottles for kids—all things that should come in handy on the road.