Pack the Perfect Road Trip Survival Kit

From maps and sunblock to playlists and classic car games, these 10 items are guaranteed to prevent the dreaded “Are we there yet?”

Three Girls Laughing in Back of Car

by NEA Member Benefits


There’s perhaps no greater American pastime than the classic road trip. See our beautiful country, discover regional specialty food—and do it all for the fraction of a price of a plane ticket! What’s not to love?

The key to a successful road trip is preparation. Of course, you’ll need the basics: your smartphone, a pillow, a blanket and a first-aid kit.

But what about those items we often forget that would have made the drive so much more pleasant? We called in four travel experts to help us create the ultimate road trip survival kit. Here are their top 10 items for your packing list:

1. A GPS or smartphone map app. Michael Stern, co-author of Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 900 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More, recommends that you also pack an actual paper map. You can mark it up with notes and see the full picture of your trip.

2. Light, non-messy snacks. “You don’t want to kill your appetite by overindulging in Doritos, but neither do you want to get so hungry that you eat in some junk-food place out of desperation,” Stern says. Think carrot sticks, trail mix, granola bars and grapes.

3. Emergency car kit. Pack a flashlight, batteries, jumper cables, antifreeze, a tire inflator, an umbrella and a AAA roadside emergency card, if you have one, advises Julia Stamberger, president and CEO of GoPicnic Brands.

4. Non-emergency car kit. Stay comfortable and clean by packing trash bags, tissues and napkins, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, travel-size toiletries and a laundry bag, Stamberger advises.

5. Medications. In addition to pain relievers, be sure to pack allergy and prescription medications. “If any are exotic, it helps to also have a prescription in case you lose your stash and need more,” Stern says. “Likewise, if you wear glasses, bring a spare set.”

6. An itinerary. “Wandering is fun, but it’s also vital to have a plan to take maximum advantage of time and place,” Stern advises. Plan your stops so you’ll be near restaurants at lunchtime and dinnertime, and make sure you stay on track so you don’t arrive late to your destination.

7. A playlist. “Having good tunes to get you psyched for your excursion and create memories is key to any road-trip adventure,” says Darley Newman, host, writer and producer of the Emmy-award-winning PBS series Equitrekking. “Diverse but organized selections keep you from killing the mood by going from up-tempo and invigorating to sad and contemplative too quickly.”

8. Sun protection. Sunscreen, sunglasses and even a long-sleeve shirt will protect you from damaging sun streaming through the windows, Newman says.

9. Relevant books. “I always bring something to read or audiobooks that relate to the places I’m traveling through,” says Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways. He recommends Grapes of Wrath for Route 66, Robert Frost poems in New England, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio for the Midwest.

10. Portable chargers. “There’s nothing more frustrating than losing the charge on your phone, computer or other electronic device on your travels,” Newman says. Bring portable backup power, car chargers or wireless charging mats, especially if you’re relying on your smartphone as your GPS or if you’re driving through remote places. “If you feel the need to constantly be connected to the Internet, consider investing in tools like Personal MiFi or Autonet Mobile router,” Stamberger says.

Bonus tip: Stay entertained with fun car games

“Most car games don’t require any electronics, and they encourage some good old-fashioned discussion and laughter, strengthening your family’s bond through the memories shared,” Stamberger says.

To keep yourselves entertained on long drives, play one (or all!) of these fun games:

Play the classics. Stamberger recommends classic car games such as Twenty Questions, I Spy, Name That Tune and The Alphabet Game, or adult games such as Would You Rather or Never Have I Ever.

Play travel word games. “Since childhood, I’ve played what my mom called the ‘city, country, state’ game: one person starts by naming any city, state or country, like Wyoming. The next person has to take the last letter of that word and name a new city, state or country, like Georgia,” Newman says.

Count on fun. Counting games are also a good way to pass the time and keep you on your toes, Newman says: “Pick anything to count, but it must appear on your side of the car, like cows passed on their side in a rural area or yellow cars on the interstate.”

Debate great food. “We do ‘bests,’ debating where’s the best ice cream or fried chicken, or ‘last meal’ games—if you could have just one last great meal, what would it be?” Stern says.

Have fun at rest stops. “I like to bring along a ball or Frisbee to play catch at our rest stops, which helps stretch the legs and arms and maintain mobility after too many hours on the road,” Jensen says. When you finally reach your destination, you’ll be aching to stretch your muscles.

“Even if you don’t normally exercise at home, take walks, have a swim in the hotel pool, do some pushups, or find a yoga class. It compensates for all that sitting,” Stern says.

Take your next road trip in a rental and save