There's something about summer, the lure of the open road and the promise of a change of scenery that makes us want to load up the car and just go someplace. The possibilities are endless: the beach, the mountains, the big city, Disney World or grandmother's house -- or anywhere else you'd want to visit.
Whether you're starting with a full tank of gas and letting the road be your guide, or embarking on a carefully routed cross-country trip you've been planning for weeks, it's smart to take a few essentials along to make the trip safer and more enjoyable.
Read on to discover 10 things you must bring on your next road trip.
You'll probably start your trip with a planned route, but be sure to take maps of the areas you'll be driving through, just in case you need to take a detour to avoid traffic or simply go exploring. An atlas or a traditional map will do, or you can print custom maps for your journey at Web sites like GoogleMaps or Mapquest Route Planner.
A Global Positioning System (GPS) unit is a handy gadget to take along, as well -- some travelers say they wouldn't leave home without one! Many cars have navigation systems built-in, but if your car isn't factory-equipped, you can pick up one for around $100.
If you have an iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android or other type of smartphone, you'll find a smorgasbord of travel applications at your fingertips. You'll have efficient GPS access, as well as apps that help you find everything from great places to eat and clean hotels to parks and other points of interests.
Weather applications keep you up-to-date on where the sun is shining and when storms could hit, so you can make the right decisions about whether to keep the top up or down -- if you're lucky enough to be traveling in a convertible, that is. Plus, you'll find plenty of games, quizzes and puzzles to keep any back seat drivers occupied.
Don't forget to take your favorite tunes along for the ride. An iPod playlist or CD collection works wonders in making the trip more enjoyable, especially if you're traveling through an area where radio signals might be sketchy. Be sure to carry along a mix of tunes that cover every mood, from upbeat to introspective, to make the most of your trip.
Some tried-and-true songs for the road: "Graceland," by Paul Simon, "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," by U2, , "Take it Easy," by the Eagles, "Pocket Full of Sunshine," by Natasha Bedingfield, "Interstate Love Song," by Stone Temple Pilots, and an all-time classic, "On the Road Again," by Willie Nelson.
Pack plenty of healthy snacks for the trip, such as fruit, pretzels, granola bars, crackers and nuts, along with a few fun treats. Take sandwiches if you know you'll be driving for a long stretch in an area with limited dining options -- or simply to avoid the temptation of fast food. You could also pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at a roadside park. A trip to the grocery store can help you save money, too, because the costs of dining out can really add up.
A soft-sided cooler packed with water bottles and a few soft drinks will come in handy throughout your trip, and it won't take up too much space in your car. Simply refill with ice and drinks at your hotel or destination, and you're good for the return trip.
Make sure your car is stocked with some easy-to-reach toiletries, such as tissues, paper towels, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper, in case the rest stop isn't well-stocked. Take any prescription medicines you need, as well as basics like pain relievers, antacids and remedies for motion sickness.
It's also a good idea to include a basic first aid kit with a few essentials, such as antiseptic and band-aids for minor cuts, cortisone cream for insect bites, and bandages for unexpected cuts and scrapes.
Whether you'll be driving for several hours or even into the night, be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Experienced travelers will tell you that a road trip is not the time to wear your tightest jeans, or anything that restricts or binds.
You'll also find that shoes that are easy to take on and off are a practical choice. That way, you can wiggle your feet in the car and then slip your footwear back on at moment's notice when you stop for a break. Add a sweater or jacket over a T-shirt for instant respectability in public areas.
If you're traveling with a companion, a small blanket works wonders to help keep you comfortable if the two of you disagree on the temperature setting. And a pillow from home can provide just the comfort you need in an unfamiliar hotel bed.
Whether you're headed to the beach or to the mountains, you'll make lots of memories on the road and see things you may not come across every day. Keep a camera handy to capture those moments, whether it's the beauty of a sunset over a small lake, farm animals resting by an old barn, a humorous sign posted near a country store, or your traveling companion biting into his first boiled peanut.
Be sure to charge up your digital camera and take along a spare battery if you have one, or take plenty of film if you prefer more traditional equipment.
If you're game for seeing some unusual sites and snapping some great shots to show your friends, be sure to check out Roadside America for information on interesting attractions like Foamhenge in Natural Bridge, Va., or the green McDonald's arches in Sedona, Ariz.
If you're traveling with children or teenagers, don't forget to take along a laptop or a portable DVD player to help them pass the time. Make sure you don't run out of battery power on the road by investing in an electricity power inverter. These handy devices turn the charge from your car's battery into electricity to power most small electronic devices, from laptops to electric razors. Simply plug the device into your cigarette lighter, and it converts in the direct current (DC) from the battery to alternating current (AC).
Don't let the thrill of the trip keep you from making sure your car is in tip-top condition. Have your oil checked, your tires inspected and filled with air, and test the air conditioning and wiper blades to make sure they're working correctly. Have your driver's license, insurance card and contact numbers for roadside assistance readily accessible.
If you don't know how to change a flat tire, learn how to do so before you take to the highways. Ensure that your spare tire is in good shape, and that the jack and other essential tools are easy to access. Your emergency toolkit should also include an orange flag or pylon that you can use to signal for help if needed.
Another word to the wise: Take along a spare set of keys in case they get locked inside the car or dropped from your pocket at a county fair. Give a set to your travel buddy or pack a set in your luggage for safekeeping -- even if you have to call locksmith to open the car, you'll be able to drive when it's unlocked.
Everything is more fun with a companion, and a road trip is no exception. Think of all the great road trip movies, from "National Lampoon's Vacation" to "Thelma and Louise" and "Little Miss Sunshine." The time spent with family, a spouse or significant other, or a favorite friend can turn an ordinary trip into an adventure.
Take turns driving while the other person takes a nap or flips through magazines, or simply spend the time talking and catching up with each other. If you're traveling with small children, be prepared with a few fun road games, sing-a-longs or books-on-tape to help the miles speed by.
Who knows? Your highway escapades just might give you the inspiration to write a road trip story of your own!
How does Swindon's Magic Roundabout traffic circle work? Learn more in this HowStuffWorks Now article.
- Our Top 10 Stops for a Tech Road Trip
- Our Top 10 Stops on A Fossil Road Trip
- Top 10 Stress-free Road Trip Ideas
- 10 Best Snacks for a Road Trip
- 10 Gadgets for Your Next Road Trip
- 10 Foods to Buy by the Side of the Road
- Top 10 Most Beautiful Drives in the United States
- The Ultimate GPS Quiz
- What's so special about Route 66?
- What was the first road trip?
- What was the first cross-country U.S. road trip?
- Can you transfer road trip plans to your GPS?
- What is the actual cost of roadside assistance?
More Great Reading
- Cohen, Arianne. "Road Trip Tips." Real Simple. (Accessed July 1, 2011) http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/travel/destinations/road-trip-tips-10000001739679/index.html.
- Cohen, Arianne. "Take the Best Road Trip Ever." Real Simple. (Accessed July 1, 2011) http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/travel/destinations/take-best-road-trip-ever-10000001737395/index.html
- Fodor's Travel. "What to Pack on Your Next Road Trip."May 6, 2008. (Accessed July 1, 2011) http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3001.html
- Guralnick, Margot. "How to Survive A Road Trip." Travel & Leisure. July 2002. (Accessed July 1, 2011) http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/how-to-survive-a-road-trip
- The Oprah Winfrey Show. "Road Trip Essentials."July 15, 2006. (Accessed July 1, 2011) http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Road-Trip-Essentials.