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Don't Road Trip Without These Items

Make sure you’ve got these 13 essential items on your road trip checklist.

Don't Road Trip Without These Items | CarMax

Are you ready to hit the road? Check this packing list against your own road trip checklist, and use it to prepare and pack for your next family road trip. Some of these items are things you’ll want to keep in your trunk year-round, because they just make good sense. When you’re prepared, safe, and entertained with these road trip essentials, you can focus on what’s important: having fun and making memories!

  1. First aid kit. Stay prepared for the unexpected with a basic set of essentials: bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, antacids, pain management (aspirin, ibuprofen), antihistamines for allergic reactions and burn cream. Bonus extra: tweezers for splinters (and for ticks if you’re spending lots of time outdoors)
  2. Jumper cables. Don’t skimp on cheap cables. Invest instead in a set that’s made with heavy-gauge, insulated wires (the lower the gauge number, the heavier-duty the jumper cables). All sets take up roughly the same amount of space in your trunk.
  3. Tunes! Build a digital playlist everyone can contribute to — it’s a great way to learn what everyone’s into. Hit on a song everyone likes, and you can plan another road trip to catch a concert together.
  4. Road trip games. When the drive gets longer and the passengers are getting restless, break out some road trip games in order to make getting there fun for the whole family!
  5. Snacks and drinks. Bad snacks are whack! Stock a tote of your favorite crackers, nutbars, and jerky, or even toss together a homemade bag of kettle corn the night before you get on the road. A mini-cooler of your favorite bottled water or iced coffee will provide a little extra refreshment. Double-baggie some ice for emergency drink coolers or first aid relief.
  6. Movies and podcasts. Download plenty of digital media, including these great podcasts, so you’ll all have something to watch or listen to, when you’re tired of watching and listening to each other.
  7. Masking tape. For creating backseat borders to give your kids designated, no-touching real estate on those really long excursions (see Les Nessman’s groundbreaking imaginary borders concept for the WKRP office).
  8. Mobile device charging cables. Dead devices tell no tales. They play no videos. They display no emails.
  9. Power inverter. Look for a DC-to-AC inverter that you can plug into your accessory port; this setup lets you plug in your home devices and run them as long as you’re on the road. To run several laptops at once, look for an inverter in the 400- to 500-watt range.
  10. Electric blanket. You can find plug-in blankets online that plug into your car’s 12-volt accessory port for toasty heat when your car’s own heat isn’t enough. This article’s author packs one in his trunk. It’s a cozy red, plaid flannel number that’s come in handy more than once.
  11. Battery booster. These small jumpstarters plug into your accessory port and work like an extra car battery to give your car battery extra juice for starting. Look for a jumpstarter in the 600-amp range; if you live in chillier climates, pack a jumpstarter that provides 1000 amps of starting power. These units often have USB ports so you can juice up your mobile devices too.
  12. Extra plastic bags and a roll of paper towels. It’s smart to keep these items in your trunk for cleaning up unanticipated messes. Don’t ask us how we know.
  13. Trip log. This is a 99-cent, black-and-white composition notebook, stowed at arm’s reach in the family car to document notable stops, silly situations, and quote-worthy utterances. These will serve as a great permanent record of your travels.

Before you leave

All ready to roll? Before you head out on your road trip, make sure you do the following:

  • Check your engine oil level
  • Inflate your tires to the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) pressures (this will help you get the best possible MPG on your trip)
  • Download trip maps to your phone (don’t get lost in the event you lose cell coverage!)

Looking for good road trip cars?

For ideas on the qualities of the best road trip cars for comfort and modern technology, check out this list:

Car Comfort 

The comfort of your car plays a big role in keeping your road trips pleasant and enjoyable. Here are a few qualities to consider when you’re looking for a great road trip car:

Power seats. You should be able to adjust your seat’s height and distance not just from the steering wheel, but from the foot pedals too. Power controls can fine-tune exactly where you want your seat to be, and height-adjustable lumbar support, if available, can provide extra support for your lower back. A well-tweaked seat position maximizes your comfort and your field of vision, too. 

Adjust your reach. Seat comfort is just the beginning. Consider a vehicle with a telescoping steering wheel and adjustable pedals to make driving less arduous. Your arms should bend slightly at the elbow so you can make turns without straining to reach or hunching over the wheel. Adjustable pedals are a boon for people who struggle with being a little shorter than average.

Heated and cooled seats. Cush your tush with built-in heated and cooled seats to improve your commute during frigid winters and sweltering summers. Heated seats are also great for drivers and passengers who struggle with back pain. In addition, consider a heated steering wheel, which offers soothing relief after you finish scraping the morning frost from your windshield.

Automatic climate control. Automatic climate control, also known as dual-zone climate control, lets the driver and passengers adjust their own heat and air-conditioning without interrupting another person’s comfort. The systems use sensors to automatically adjust different parts of the cabin to keep everybody comfortable. Newer car models even let you specify the exact temperature for your side of the cabin. If you road-trip often with your family, then this is a must-have feature.

A smooth, quiet ride. How a car drives is a crucial comfort factor. You’ll want a car that mutes external noise, dulls vibrations, and has good handling. These factors help absorb wind noise and make bumpy roads more bearable. A softly-sprung suspension offers the most comfortable ride, but at the cost of handling. A firm, sporty suspension provides plenty of sharp handling, but the ride isn’t as comfortable. Most cars fall somewhere in between.  


If you want to save yourself from spending too much time and money at the gas pump, invest in a road trip vehicle that gets at least 22 miles to the gallon.


Modern technology can help with everything from recognizing gridlock traffic to preventing accidents. Here are the top five technological features that can improve your road trip.

Forward-collision warning. Forward-collision warning systems significantly reduce the chances of you rear-ending another vehicle. When you’re trying to change lanes in bumper-to-bumper traffic and the person in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes, a system that uses cameras, lasers, or radar calculates the potential of an accident, provides warnings for you to prevent a collision, and then uses automatic emergency braking to stop your car before a crash can happen — just in case you don’t react in time to prevent the accident. Some forward-collision warning systems are more autonomous and also alert you when a pedestrian or cyclist might move in front of your car.  

Blind-spot monitoring. Blind-spot monitoring uses lasers, cameras, or radar to monitor where nearby vehicles are in relation to your “blind spots,” or the places your mirrors don’t show. If there’s a car in a blind spot, the system turns on a warning light in the side mirrors. If you ignore the warning signal and still try to merge into the path of another car, the system emits an alert or chime to tell you a car is in the way.

Voice controls. Voice controls are a must-have option for hands-free, or if you want to control your car’s entertainment system while keeping your attention on the road. It’s also possible to have your phone read incoming text messages out loud and accept dictated responses.

Steering wheel-mounted stereo controls. Right alongside voice controls are steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, which let you adjust your music or calls on the fly and without taking your eyes off the road.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The days of cassette tapes and CD players are long gone. Instead there’s Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay™, which synch your car’s infotainment system with your phone’s interface. It also incorporates your phone’s usability and features, so your phone instantly becomes car-friendly and voice-activated.  

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