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Road trips have had a major revival since the onset of Covid-19. The classic summer vacation takes a little work to execute, but once you have a plan you can literally travel most anywhere in the United States from the comfort of your car. While basic things like clothes and lots of snacks are always top of mind for road trips, there might be some things on this list you haven’t thought of.
The Shop TODAY team reached out to two travel experts to talk about road trip packing must-haves, along with tips for executing a memorable road trip whether you’re traveling with friends, family or going solo.
What are your top tips for doing a road trip as a family this year?
Lori Blalock, travel blogger at Southerner Says, mentioned that the number one thing you should bring on a family road trip is a plan. “I’m usually all for winging it on road trips, but things are a little different now so I would want to have a plan and make sure my family and I have a place to sleep.”
She also suggested making a podcast queue or a playlist of your family's favorite songs to help pass time while in the car for longer stretches.
What are your tips for doing a solo road trip?
Patricia Serrano, travel host and blogger at Fresh Traveler, said, “Commune with nature as much as you can. Take the scenic paths and even the slow route instead of the highway. You might discover cool things along the way. Stop at beautiful parks or nature reserves and also restaurants along the way. Bring a camera [and] a journal, [and] stop to take photos or write things that inspire you.”
When it comes to safety on a solo trip, Blalock mentioned to always let someone know where you are and when you plan to return home. “Have a trained automotive tech inspect your vehicle before you go," she continued. "Consider joining a roadside assistance program like AAA or Good Sam [in case something happens during your trip]."
What are your tips for planning a road trip with friends?
Driving around the country with friends who love exploring and trying new things can be a great way to reconnect after a year with little face-to-face interaction. “Do not rush your trip. Maybe do five hours on the road before you hunker down somewhere so the whole day is not spent in the car,” said Serrano. “I’d also map out a couple things to do along the way in advance, but also leave room for some detours that you might find along the way,” she continued.
Sometimes having alone time, even with friends, will help some groups connect even better. “Don’t be offended if someone wants to put in earbuds and listen to something on their own or read,” said Blalock.
What are the top locations worth visiting this year?
National parks are always a big hit with families, even more so this year since they are outside and you don’t have to be close to people you don’t know. Blalock suggests that if you’re planning on visiting a few national parks, the America the Beautiful Park Pass is only $80 per person, with some exceptions for students and veterans.
For solo travelers, consider the drive from Miami to Key West, Florida. “It’s like you’re driving over the ocean,” said Serrano. Along the way you can stop at other popular destinations like Key Largo and Islamorada, visit the beaches and snorkel.
Friends who love to explore wineries and breweries will love Loudon County in Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C. Explore the quaint small towns, eat at local restaurants, and visit historic wineries, breweries and distilleries. P.S. Don't forget to have a designated driver with you!
Things to bring for a family road trip
One road trip essential you’re going to need while traveling with your family is a cooler to keep drinks and snacks cold while on the open highways. This YETI cooler fits easily behind a car seat, comes in six different colors and keeps ice frozen for up to five days. Think of this as a time saver, too, since you won’t have to fill up your cooler with ice at a gas station or at your hotel.
Let’s just be honest, kids love to touch everything. Sanibeads are an easy and portable way to always have hand sanitizer at the ready. The wearable bracelets are made with silicone and each bead can be filled with your choice of disinfectant. When you’re out exploring local attractions, pop the bracelets on you or your kids to have easy access to sanitizer instead of digging through your backpack for some.
Ziploc bags are an underrated item on road trips. You think everything can just be stuffed in a cooler or backpack until the moment your kids spill a whole juice box on themselves. Gallon-sized Ziploc bags are perfect for storing wet swimsuits or clothes, half-eaten snacks and even small toys. Once you take these on a road trip, you won’t go on any vacation without them.
Kids can get restless on long road trips, especially after a few hours of riding in the car. These back seat car organizers can hold so many of their favorite items like small toys, coloring books and crayons, snacks, drinks and even a tablet for watching movies.
Things to bring for a solo road trip
The WeatherTech CupFone is perfect for solo travelers who are looking to go hands-free while driving, but still want to be able to pay attention to their GPS, see who’s calling before answering or skipping a song on a curated road trip playlist. The black plastic holder snugly fits into your car's cup holders, so your phone won't wobble around while driving.
Travel journals come in all shapes, sizes and designs. One that is small enough to fit into any backpack is this Moleskine travel journal. Included are pages designed to write done memories and ideas for future vacations. Bonus: Each journal includes a year-long subscription to National Geographic!
While traveling the open road, you might pop into places that don’t have a secure Wi-Fi network or don’t have one at all. One thing you’re going to want to bring is a portable router that can establish a hotspot so you're not using up all of your phone’s data. This one is super small, is password protected and can even connect to a Google Chrome device so you can stream your favorite shows or movies.
Shampoo and conditioner bars have become a travel must-have over the past few years. These bars are easy to store and have a lesser chance of making a mess unlike traditional shampoo and conditioner bottles. This sampler from Ethique comes with three shampoos and two conditioners, and, according to Amazon reviews, last anywhere from five to 10 washes per sample.
Things to bring on a road trip with friends
Having a pair of comfortable and stylish sneaker will go a long way in stretching your wardrobe possibilities on a friend getaway. Keds makes classic kicks that are durable and comfortable for all-day wear and walking around new places.
Instant cameras seem to be popping up everywhere these days, including on road trips. This Fujifilm Instamax camera comes with three rolls of film, batteries and a carrying case. The camera has a one-touch selfie mode for the perfect picture with you and your friends at a roadside attraction and has automatic exposure so your pictures always turn out right.
Safety should always be top of mind when traveling to places you don’t know, and that includes in your car. This roadside emergency kit has everything you need to fix a flat tire, a dead car battery and more. It also includes a first-aid kit in case of minor bumps and bruises.
For more stories like this, check out:
- 16 travel backpacks for every kind of summer vacation
- These are the only 13 pieces you need to pack for your next vacation
- 40 great places to take your kids before they're grown