Road trips can take many forms: a soul-deepening solo journey, an outdoors adventure with active-minded buddies, a leisurely, open-ended sojourn. And while each experience on the open road is unique, there are a few must-have items that help ensure things go as smoothly and stress-free as possible. After all, the allure of the unknown is an inherent appeal of a road trip, so knowing you’ve packed everything you need to stay comfortable, happy, and safe provides critical peace of mind.

While your list of creature comforts might vary, here are several road trip essentials guaranteed to make your next adventure unforgettable.

1. Microfiber Towel

Be ready for impromptu beach trips, backcountry showers, and roadside swimming holes with a quick-drying microfiber towel. Made from soft, micro-suede fabric, this type of towel is perfect for removing post-adventure sweat and grime. A towel that includes an antimicrobial treatment will help keep odors at bay. Also, if your towel has sewn grommets, you can use it for everything from a sun-blocking shade to a picnic-worthy groundcover.

2. Dual Wall and Car Charger

A dual USB wall and car charger guarantees you are never without riveting podcasts, a fully-charged camera, or that epic road trip playlist. If you have a charge with AC wall plugs and DC car plugs, the device will work whether you’re on the road or crashing in your best friend’s guestroom. For even more convenience, choose a high-speed charger to ensure you can recharge devices quickly.

3. Travel Mug

On long hauls, a trusty travel mug is a critical piece of gear. Whether you’re toting steaming coffee or icy lemonade, an insulated tumbler with a lid will keep beverages at the perfect temperature for hours on end. To prevent spills, choose a mug with a slip-proof lid. Also, if your mug is made of stainless steel, it will keep the beverage flavor pure and prevent a metallic aftertaste. In a pinch, your tumbler can even double as a cocktail shaker. The perfect accessory if you prefer your drinks shaken, not stirred.

4. Playing Cards

playing cards
Pack a deck of cards to pass the time, break the ice, and entertain fellow travelers. Miroslav Jonas

Whether you’re trapped in a tent on a rainy day, stuck in stagnant bridge traffic, or killing time at the auto repair shop, playing cards can be a life-saver. A trusty deck of cards can also be an ice breaker, whether you’re sharing a backcountry campground or passing the time at a roadside diner. Of course, it never hurts to memorize a few magic tricks or crowd-pleasing card games.

5. Camp Line Kit

Featuring nylon paracord, two Camp Carabiners, and two Line Tensioners, the Camp Line Kit lets travelers accomplish a whole host of campground chores. Use it to string a clothesline in a hotel bathroom or safely stash food while camping out in bear country. You can deploy a line to hang a protective tarp, dry soggy swimsuits, or string lights and speakers to glam up your campsite. And use the Line Tensioners to ensure the paracord never sags.

6. Rechargeable Light

Use a rechargeable light to illuminate woodsy campsites and outdoor gatherings. Be sure that the light has a recharging station with enough amps to charge devices like smartphones, tablets, and speakers. It also helps to have a light with several brightness settings, a hanging hook, and a diffuser so you can transform it into a hanging lantern.

7. A Sturdy Sleeping Bag

a sturdy sleeping bag
Choose a high-quality sleeping bag to ensure that you sleep well during your road trip. Felix M. Dorn

Whether you’re ready to cozy up at a backcountry campsite, or you’re just snoozing between shifts at the wheel, a sturdy sleeping bag is an essential piece of gear. In a pinch, your bag can also fill in as a sunshade, dog bed, or a ground cover for spontaneous roadside picnics.

8. First Aid Kit

Carry a fully-stocked first-aid kit so you’ll be ready for everything from irksome bug bites to sprained ankles to stomachs overloading with truck-stop cuisine. If you’re headed someplace with an extreme climate—like the American Southwest or the high peaks of the Rockies—pack your medical kit accordingly. The same thing goes if you’re planning an array of auxiliary adventures while out on the open road. Whether you’re a climber, surfer, cyclist, or all of the above, tailor your first-aid kit to suit your chosen pursuit.

9. Repair Tape

Whether it’s a tear in your tent, shredded sandal, or ripped raincoat, a trusty roll of repair tape will help you tackle all sorts of predicaments on the road. Choose tough, weatherproof tape that adheres to materials intended for outdoor adventures, like nylon, plastic, rubber, and vinyl. It’s also good to have tape with a waterproof coating so it won’t come off in the wash or during a torrential downpour.

10. A Durable Cooler

Whether you need to tote sandwiches for the road, icy beers for a late-night campfire, or that epic trout you just hooked, a durable cooler is an essential piece of gear on any road trip. Once you get to camp, that trusty cooler can also serve as the perfect card table.

11. Classic Road Atlas

An old-school paper atlas will keep you pointed in the right direction when electronics fail. REVOLT

At some point, once you are far enough off the beaten track, your smartphone GPS will fail. Sometimes, getting lost leads to amazing and unexpected discoveries, like a far-flung trailhead, secluded fishing spot, or scenic campsite. Other times, getting lost is frustrating or dangerous. Fortunately, there’s a time-tested solution: the classic road atlas, one type of map that never requires cellular service or a charged battery. You just have to dust-off those old-fashioned map reading skills.

12. Pocket-sized Multi-tool

Functioning as everything from a bottle opener to a screwdriver, a multi-tool can become an invaluable resource in a roadside bind, even if the spring-loaded scissors are tiny.

During just about every road trip, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter the unexpected. Maybe you take a spontaneous detour, or get temporarily displaced (we won’t say “lost”). That’s a big part of the allure of hitting the open road—the chance to encounter the unknown. But, a road trip can turn sideways if you’re not prepared. By packing a few essentials, you can push your sense of adventure to the edge but remain comfortable, happy, and safe. After all, the most important part of any journey is making it home.

A road trip can quickly go from exciting getaway to let’s-just-go-home fail if you’re not prepared. By packing a few essentials, you can push your sense of adventure to the edge—while minimizing stress and focusing on the fun.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with GEAR AID.

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