Our family has taken a lot of road trips both with and without kids. We have driven an hour and a half away from home to go kayaking, we have driven 10 hours to Atlanta, and we have done a couple days of epic 14-hour drives on longer road trips. Over the miles, we’ve found gear that makes our time on the road more doable, efficient, and convenient. If you want to take a peek inside our adventure van, here’s a list of our favorite road trip travel gear. These are items we actually use and recommend.
Road trip travel gear: Navigation
I admit I have a love/hate relationship with our van’s GPS. I think of it as my husband’s other woman and give her names like Fannie, Hortense, and Brunhilda. (Even though the name is different every time, my husband still knows who I’m talking about, as in, “Esmeralda is giving you a longer route than the one I have! Who are you going to listen to, her or me?”) However, my husband enjoys having a visual to refer to while he drives. So I guess she is going to stay. We bought a newer model last year on our cross-country road trip because I broke the old one. It was an accident, I swear.
Old-school paper maps are more my jam, as we’ve found even our GPS doesn’t know every road and takes us the wrong way sometimes. We have a few Atlas and Gazetteer map books for a few states, which have been extremely helpful in planning routes or finding alternate directions when the GPS gets confused. When I’m the front seat passenger/navigator, I like to look at the area we’re driving through to get a detailed view of our location such as learning the names of bodies of water and spotting small towns. That’s not something the GPS gives you. If you don’t get one of these books, a foldable gas station road map can be handy, too.
Road trip travel gear: Electronics
If your vehicle has built-in DVD or Blu-Ray players, we salute you! If you’re like us and don’t have a ride that came equipped for entertainment, though, a portable DVD player is great to have. Our family enjoys watching new movies or our favorite movies while traveling. We have two Phillips portable DVD players that we share. Both of our sons can watch their own movie with headphones, so there’s no volume war in the backseat. It’s a great way to pass a couple hours on the road.
We don’t have satellite radio like many people do, but with so much invested in wifi (see below), we do stream music. My husband got tired of going in and out of radio station signals or hoarding CDs, and now he uses this Galaxy tablet exclusively for music. He has it plugged into the van’s sound system, and he streams songs from the Amazon Music and Spotify apps. You can use tablets for lots of things, obviously, but this one is just for his music. (Our rules: If you’re the driver, you get to pick the music. And he’s usually the driver.)
Now that so many useful travel apps require wifi, it made sense for us to have wifi in our van. We tried it out before our cross-country road trip last year, and now we use it all the time. Find the wifi hotspot for your own phone service by asking your provider.
Having wifi in the van is great, but my husband thought it could be even better. He found out about wifi boosters and decided to get one. We have the weBoost cell phone signal booster. It’s an omnidirectional antennae, so we can use it while we’re going down the road. It sits on top of our van and makes it look cool.
Batteries and chargers
Taking our phones and tablets on a trip is a must. I use mine to check email, post pictures, and read news. Our kids, of course, like playing games. When you’re on the road for several hours, you might need to charge your devices. So my husband installed a couple of these extra USB ports in the van. Now I never have to worry my phone is going to run out of power.
Got devices that require wall outlet-style plugs to recharge? My camera does. This power inverter saved my bacon more than once while on the road.
We also have a couple of these portable Honeycomb batteries for charging our devices on the go.
We don’t have this NOCO Genius Boost battery, but it’s on my husband’s wish list. It will charge just about anything, including your vehicle battery. (Maybe that was a hint for me to give him one as a holiday gift?)
Road trip travel gear: Food and drink
We have two coolers and use both, even for day trips.
Our smaller Yeti Roadie cooler keeps cold drinks and snacks within reach of the four of us. It’s really tough and durable, and our stuff stays cold for hours. (Yeti is pricey, but you’ll have it forever. We bought ours at a local going-out-of-business sale.)
Then we put our large Igloo Sportsman cooler in the back of the van. This is where we keep larger containers of water and food that needs to stay cold — say, refills for our drinks up front, picnic meals, or restaurant leftovers. There are different sizes of this cooler, so look for the largest one that will fit in your vehicle. This cooler basically lives in our van all the time, because it’s great for taking meals when we attend family dinners too.
For both coolers, we use hard-sided ice packs, including some Igloo Ice Blocks. These are better than buying bags of ice because they don’t melt and are reusable. When we stay in hotels or vacation homes, we stash the ice packs in the freezer to keep them cold again for the next day or drive. We take ice packs even when we’re camping, because these together with the Igloo Sportsman and the Yeti Roadie keep food and drinks cold for a long time. We still might need to buy ice, but not as much as without the ice packs.
Plastic water bottles have become such an environmental hazard. We don’t want to add to the problem. So we have reusable drink containers. Yeti and Artic tumblers keep our drinks cold in our Florida-hot van while we are out kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, or exploring a city. We can leave these tumblers in the van, take a more-portable drink with us, come back to the van, and our tumblers are still cold even when not in the coolers. Have you ever experienced the rage of an overheated, parched tween? It’s not pretty.
When we are out and about, we like the more-portable Polar insulated bottles. My kids take these to school every day, too.
Instead of buying bottled water, we filter water using a compact Brita pitcher. Its smaller size makes it good for traveling. After filtering the water, I pour it into larger reusable bottles (like an empty juice container or large Nalgene bottle) that stay chilled in the cooler. That’s what we use to refill our tumblers or insulated bottles. Sometimes we mix the water with a little juice or True Lime drink mix.
Road trip gear: Comfort
The seats in our van are roomy. Maybe too roomy! My husband and sons love them, but I need more support for my back. I use a lumbar pillow behind my lower back, and that really makes a difference in how I feel after sitting for hours. My pillow is wearing out, though, with the seams coming undone. This pillow combo looks great because it’s adjustable and also offers neck support.
We have this sun shade to put across the windshield when we’re not driving. Along with tinted windows on the rest of the van, it really helps keep the heat down inside. This is especially important because we live in Florida.
My kids and I also like to keep throw blankets near our seats because their dad likes to keep the van A/C cold. It’s great to cozy up with a blanket on a long drive.
We also always keep hand sanitizer, eye drops, a roll of paper towels, and a couple fabric hand towels up front in the van. The hand towels are perfect for placing across your lap when you have to eat on the road. And have at least one umbrella in your vehicle.
Road trip travel gear: Automotive
On top of the van, we have Yakima roof racks that use the tower rain gutter mount.
On top of those racks, we have a Yakima Space Booster and a Thule Summit cargo box. (Sometimes one or both of those boxes come down to make room for paddleboards.) It appears both of these boxes have been discontinued. However, a cargo box/car-top carrier has been extremely useful for our longer trips, when we cram the most stuff into the back of the van. When the van gets full, these carriers take our extra gear, like our kayak paddles and PFDs.
If you are taking long road trips, do yourself a favor and take a little extra fuel with you. You may end up driving through a remote area at the same time you need fuel. Any extra can of gas is helpful, but we recommend Wavian fuel cans. They are pricier than other cans, but durable. They can end up on their side, and they won’t leak.
Speaking of fuel, my husband really likes his Ironton nitrile-coated gloves for pumping gas and dealing with vehicle issues on the side of the road. Their coating means they won’t soak up gas or other fluids. My husband keeps them in the pocket of the driver-side door.
It’s a good idea to keep a can of Slime in your vehicle to inflate and seal your tire if it gets a hole.
If the Slime isn’t enough, you might need a better inflator. My husband uses the VIAIR portable compressor. This might get your tire fixed on the side of the road, or at least buy you some time until you get to a repair shop.
Last, this tire repair kit is something we keep in the van as well.
Definitely keep a flashlight in your car. You never know when it will come in handy.
Road trip travel gear: Bonus
This one isn’t for the road — although it could be. But when you get where you’re going, the Anker PowerPort is something we use to charge all our devices overnight. You can use this at your hotel, or at your campsite if your site has an electrical outlet. It’s handy to have all the devices charging at the same time in one spot. This means you’re not taking turns to charge the whole family’s devices, and you’re less likely to leave one at that forgettable wonky outlet behind the bed.
So that’s it! These are the items we recommend for family road trips. While you don’t need all this stuff in order to take a trip, we find these are things that either just make sense, or make our trips more enjoyable. And isn’t that a big part of why we travel?
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