Road trips can be tremendous fun – but they also involve driving for hours on end with little to do. Thankfully, you can pack some essentials that will help you get through these uneventful dry spells on the road. Whether you’re trying to get across country as fast as you can, or are planning a meandering backroad trip over a long weekend, these essentials will help you deal with the long car ride ahead. In fact, they might even make the journey downright fun!
An Extensive Music Library
If you don’t already have satellite radio, then you’re going to want to load up the smartphone or MP3 player with as many songs as you can. Don’t rely on local radio – the commercials, monotonous song selection, and need to find a new station every hour or two will drive you nuts, especially if you plan to be on the road for a long time. And don’t rely on a streaming service either, unless you have an unlimited data plan (more on that below). No, go with the old reliable: a dedicated MP3 player (we’re looking at you iPod Classic and Zune owners) or a smartphone loaded to the brim with music. Simply plug into your car’s USB port, and you can listen to music and charge your device at the same time.
A Tablet (or Two)
Whether you’re traveling with children or not, a tablet is a perfect companion for any road trip. Not only can it keep the kids entertained during the day, but it also lets you have some control over your entertainment options at night. If you’re camping or staying in a random roadside motel, you might find that entertainment options are limited. If you’re lucky, you might have access to some basic cable channels, and that’s it. With a tablet, you have a portable and usable multimedia player at your disposal. Regardless of which tablet is ultimately right for you – the 13” iPad Pro or the dirt cheap – you will find that once fully loaded with games and movies, a tablet is a great thing to have on quiet nights in the middle of nowhere.
Unlimited Data Plan
Generally speaking, we recommend that you load music onto your smartphone so that you can avoid roaming and data fees. Well, there is a caveat to that recommendation: if you have an unlimited data plan with free roaming, you can stream to your heart’s content (assuming you have a signal, of course). An unlimited data plan lets you stream from Spotify, Google Play Music, or another streaming service of your choice, from anywhere. The benefits are rather self-evident, not the least of which is on-demand music at a touch of a button – without having to load up your hard drive.
Inquire with your carrier about roaming fees and data limits if you have questions regarding your wireless plan. Carriers like T-Mobile now make it easy to get an unlimited data plan, so even if you have to switch carriers or play hardball with your current provider to get unlimited data, you definitely have a choice (and a say in the matter). Of course, it’s worth noting that even with unlimited data and free roaming, there are still many parts of the country with little to no signal. If you’re planning on driving to out-of-the-way places, keep this in mind. It pays to have some music on hand as a backup.
Yelp & Other Local Interest Apps
To get the most out of your road trip, avoid eating at chain restaurants at all cost. Instead, eat where the locals eat. Do so and you will inevitably have dining experiences that you remember for a lifetime. Not only will the food be better, but the company likely will be too. To find the best local haunts, use apps like Yelp and LocalEats. After all, why should you settle for a quarter-pounder when you can have a “cheeseburg” with fried onions (yes, that’s cheeseburg, not cheeseburger)? When on any road trip, eat local – it’s practically a law!
Waze, Google Maps, or a Dedicated GPS
The romantic in us can’t deny the appeal of a large, fold-out map. You can spread it out on the table during lunch, get a God’s eye view of the surrounding area, and let your mind run wild on the endless possibilities it presents. A digital map, though highly efficient and functional, doesn’t quite have the same lure, it must be said. And yet… there can be no denying that a GPS device is a modern road trip essential. If you plan to use your smartphone for navigating, you will likely find Waze and Google Maps to be among the best digital mapping tools available. Alternatively, you could buy a dedicated GPS device for ease of use and convenience.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
For a little peace and quiet on your road trip, consider getting a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Though you won’t be able to wear these while driving, your passengers might find them incredibly helpful when it comes time to grab a cat nap on the open road. It also allows your passengers to listen to their own music – and perhaps more importantly, prevents you from having to listen to it too! You can listen to Bob Seger while your teen listens to Lady Gaga. A wide range of noise cancelling headphones are available to meet nearly all price points. Popular makes include Sony and Bose.
The Road Beckons!
But don’t set off without doing a little bit of prep work in advance. These road trip essentials will make navigating easier and pit stops more memorable. In fact, you will likely find that your trip is more enjoyable on the whole. So load up on the gadgets and gizmos, and hit the road!