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Are you itching to travel but don’t feel like dealing with the stress of an airport and connecting flight? Or maybe you want to explore your own country a bit more? Either way, road trips are a great option for you.
Think about the ocean views you’ll see while you’re driving through Big Sur State Park along the Northern California coastline. Or the vast wilderness you’ll see while exploring the hiking trails of the Olympic National Park along Highway 101.
Just you and your travel mates in the car, no need to mingle with other people unless you really have to.
If you’re a first-time road tripper, here is our Road Trip 101 prep guide to ensure that you have a great trip.
Airplanes go through a rigorous check before they take off for their first flight. The same practice should also be applied before you embark on a big road trip.
If you’re regularly keeping up with your car’s maintenance schedule as inscribed in its manual, then you’re already on the right track. You should already know if it’s due for an oil change, or tire rotation.
It’s worth getting a professional to check your car if you’re planning on a major overland self-drive trip. You might also want to consider getting them to teach you what to look out for, some quick fixes that you can do, and basic troubleshooting.
Nothing worse than getting into some car trouble in the middle of nowhere and having no cell signal to make a call!
Pack the basic tools you’ll need in case you need to do some minor repairs while on the road. The last thing you want while traveling along the Oregon coast is to get stuck with a flat tire and no tools to change it. Items in an emergency car kit usually include:
- Flat-blade and Phillips-head screwdrivers
- Adjustable wrench
- Wire cutters
- Pocket knife
- Ball-peen hammer
- Fire extinguisher
- Jack and axle stands
- Tire pressure gauge
- Jumper cables
- Tow straps
- Safety triangles
- Road flares
In this day and age, I think we’re all pretty much used to using Google Maps on our smartphones.
It allows us to search for nearby attractions, restaurants, and gas stations and gives us the different routes we can take to get there.
You need wifi or mobile data to access Google Maps, but you can download portions of the map so you can access them even when you are offline. This is especially helpful if you are driving through an area with few stops and little reception like along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
To do this, search for the city or area that you are planning to travel to. When the map loads, tap on the name of the place and then tap on Download. Make sure that you are connected to the Internet when you do this.
Do you prefer to use a GPS device instead? There are loads to choose from on Amazon.
Plan your route so that there are plenty of facilities along the way in case you need to load up on gas or use the toilet (taking advantage of available facilities is one of our top toilet tips for traveling women!).
Make sure to also check where the rest stops are in case you need some shut-eye before continuing on your way.
Food is essential, not just to live, but also to keep everyone in a happy state of mind. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in an enclosed space with someone who’s hangry.
Whether you are camping and cooking your own food or settling into a hotel or Airbnb for the night, it’s always a good idea to pack food that you can easily snack on with minimal fuss and preparation.
While it’s easy to load up your snack bag with junk food, opt for snacks that can give you energy, satiate your hunger pangs, and more importantly, nourish your body.
Fruits are a great choice for snacks as they are packed with vitamins and can also help keep you hydrated. If you are buying fruits, make sure they are on top of your snack bag as they can easily get spoiled or worse, crushed.
For snacks with a longer shelf-life, consider energy bars, good quality beef-jerky (not the gas station kind), string cheese, seeds and nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate.
It’s always better to cook using fresh ingredients, but there are days when you are just plain exhausted and can’t bear the thought of getting creative with your cooking. Prepare for days like these with pre-made meals that are ready within minutes and require very minimal preparation.
There are a number of freeze-dried meals available on Amazon that only require hot water to be ready to eat in 10 minutes. Some take it even one step further with fully ready-to-eat meals like this Indian Mushroom Masala.
Need some veggies in your diet? This bag of Frontier Co-Op Soup Vegetables is a great addition to your cooking repertoire. Though the pack is marketed mainly for making soup, dehydrated vegetables can also be used for stews or casseroles. Just be sure to rehydrate the vegetables before cooking and season them well.
Cooking + Eating Packing List Additions
Some other food items for your road trip packing list:
- Camping cooking equipment (pans, burner)
- Matches or kitchen lighter
- Small chopping board
- Spoons, knives, and forks (or a spork)
- Paper towels or cloth towels
Where do you plan to sleep at night? Are you pulling into a campground and staying at a cabin or staying at a guesthouse? Are you staying at a campsite and setting up camp?
- Be sure to check out our campervan and car camping packing list.
These factors determine what you would need to bring for your road trip.
If you are staying at a cabin or a guesthouse and made prior reservations, make sure to bring printed copies of your confirmation in case there is a mix-up and they cannot find your booking.
Always double-check what they are providing with your accommodation: Are they providing linens and pillows? Do you need to bring your own travel towels and toiletries?
Provided there is still space in your car for it, bringing your own pillow and blanket is not a bad idea. Regardless of whether your accommodation is providing these, it’s good to have a familiar feeling of home to help you have a good night’s sleep.
You could also opt for a travel pillow instead which takes up less space and is perfect for getting comfortable in the car.
If you are planning on sleeping under the stars like at the Redwood National Park off of Route 101, here are some camping essentials you need to bring:
Sometimes you need to take a break from all the activities and just sit back and enjoy being in a new place.
It’s important to also bring items that make you happy. Bring that book that you’ve always been meaning to read but never found the time. Bring a notebook and pencil and let the beauty of nature inspire you to start sketching or writing. There’s nothing like a bit of whale watching in Monterey after traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway to inspire you
- Check out this packing list for traveling with watercolors.
Traveling is also a great time to bond with friends and family. Bring games and activities that you can do together while traveling in the car or during your downtime like card games.
Keep the little ones occupied with books and toys that they can interact with while in the car. Play games like “I Spy” while driving to keep the boredom at bay. No doubt there will be lots of unique features to “spy” on while completing your road trip itinerary.
Other personal necessities that you really need to bring with you:
- Clothes and underwear
- Toilet paper and wet wipes
- Disinfecting wipes
- Hand sanitizer
Medicine and First aid
While you can buy first aid kits from Amazon, you must also customize it to suit your personal needs. Aside from the kit, you should also bring:
- Your allergy medication
- Maintenance medicine
- Prescription medication
- Prescription for all of your medication (in case you need to buy extra)
- Multi-vitamins and supplements
- Extra pair of glasses or contact lenses
Take it for a test drive
Are you all set to go on a one-week or more road trip? If you are planning on going on a major trip that spans a great distance and many days, it would be prudent to take a shorter and smaller-scale trip for you to test drive your packed items and gear.
By doing this, you can see what you really need when you’re out on the road and what you can leave behind.
Popular Road Trips in the USA
If you are feeling inspired to take a road trip now (us too!) there are many popular routes in the US that you can explore.
Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica
We can’t not mention the iconic Route 66 road trip. Start in Chicago and travel all the way across the country to the Santa Monica Pier. This road trip covers eight states and approximately 2,500 miles!
If this seems like a bit much for your first road trip don’t worry we’ve got you covered.
Highway 1 from San Francisco to Big Sur
Road-tripping along Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to Big Sur will only take you 4 hours if you go directly (although it’s recommended to take your time and stay overnight in Monterey). Much more manageable for your first road trip.
Make sure to snap a pic of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. Also keep an eye out for Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the West Coast’s tallest lighthouses. If you wanted to extend this trip you could drive all the way to Los Angeles in Southern California.
Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to North Carolina
A great road trip for fall is to take the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to North Carolina because the stunning colors of the fall foliage will be on display. You’ll drive through the Appalachian Mountains and end at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a great place for exploring.
Olympic Highway around the Olympic Peninsula
A road trip around the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle is perfect if you want to get out of the city. Travel along the Olympic Highway past Discovery Bay and the west side of Sequim Bay and spend the night at the charming coastal town of Port Angeles on your way to the Olympic National Park.
Great River Road from Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico
If you’re in the mood for some serious exploring, then the Great River Road Road Trip is for you. Follow the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway from Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll pass through ten states and hundreds of river towns. The drive is 36 hours straight but most people take four to ten days to complete it.
Highway 101 from Portland to Florence
This list wouldn’t be complete without a West Coast road trip along the Oregon coast. Start your trip in Portland and journey north. Make sure to stop in Cannon Beach where you’ll find the iconic sea stack, Haystack Rock. Then travel south to Florence and check out the historic downtown area before journeying back to Portland.
Got any tips and hacks for road trips? Any particular product that you find useful in your travels? Share them in the comments below!