The Great American Road Trip had a resurgence in 2020. While avoiding airports, train stations, and cruise ships, people rediscovered the adventure of road tripping to a destination. I sincerely hope the travel situation will improve in 2021, but when and if it does, I believe the spirit of the road trip will be around for a while longer.
With the Christmas holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking of gifts for family and friends. What could you get for someone who has a passion for road trips? I put together a list of top items everyone should have on a road trip. Pick one – or more – and you’re certain to find a great gift for the road tripper!
Road Trip Books
Before starting a road trip, you have to know where you’re going. Online research is the easiest way to get inspired these days – and Google Maps is my favorite road trip planning tool – but nothing beats a good old-fashioned travel book.
One of my favorite go-to books for inspiration is the Rail-Trails Series, published by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The series includes over a dozen books dividing the country into regions – along with a Hall of Fame Edition – with each book covering dozens of rail-trails across the country.
I love exploring used bookstores as I travel, and that is where I found an old copy of The Most Scenic Drives in America by Readers Digest. The latest edition was published in 2012, but the content is still relevant and incredibly inspirational with 120 road trip ideas you’re certain to find something interesting in the book.
The National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways is one of my favorite books when planning a road trip. The book includes a wealth of information like state and national parks, museums, quirky off-the-beaten-path towns, and tips for making the most of your road trip route.
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First Aid Kit
There are lot of really great first aid kits out there, and finding the right one for you can be a bit tricky. In most situations, any generic first aid kit will probably work fine. However, you might want to consider special allergies, outdoor recreation activities, and seasonal travels when choosing a first aid kit.
Be Smart Get Prepared First Aid Kit is just about the best bang for the buck you can possibly find for a first aid kit. Priced under $10, the kit comes in a durable hard plastic case with the option for a padlock to keep kids away from medicines. 24/7 First Aid Kit is one of the most versatile kits. It’s basically one large compartment – with two small side pockets – stuffed full of every type of bandage, pad, and cream you might need in an emergency. The MFASCO First Aid Kit looks overkill at first, but really, it’s just a great kit. It’s loaded with all the essentials, and the bag has plenty of room for more.
My top recommendation for first aid kit is the Surviveware Large First Aid Kit. This fantastic kit has clearly labeled compartments to help you quickly find what you need during an emergency. The durable bag is perfect for getting lugged around on road trips – I would know since I’ve had this kit for the past 10k miles of road tripping!
Roadside Emergency Kit
The roadside emergency kit is one of those things people never think about until they need them. That’s exactly why it makes a wonderful Christmas gift! I’ve bought several kinds over the years – and now I buy individual pieces to build my own – but here are a few I would recommend for someone who drives a lot.
Roadside Emergency Assistance Kit is a good starter kit with 110 pieces in a rugged vinyl bag. The kit includes essential items like jumper cables, tow strap, window breaker, and a flashlight. Lifeline AAA Premium Road Kit has fewer pieces – just 42 – but it still includes essentials like jumper cables and a flashlight.
My top suggestion is Justin Case Premium Travel Safety Kit found only at Walmart. I bought these for everyone in the family many years ago; although the contents have changed, the bags have lasted and are rather nice. The premium travel kit includes jumper cables, a 12V air pump, a tow strap, and a limited first aid kit.
LED Road Safety Flare
I first saw these used on Ron Pratt’s YouTube Channel. Pratt runs a family towing service in the Midwest and is always facing tricky situations on busy interstate highways. As soon as I saw the LED Road Safety Flare in use, I knew I wanted them for myself – and that I would recommend them to others.
The electronic flares are pretty simple. Two AA batteries operate a bright strobe that spins around a circular plastic device. The device has a hook for hanging, a magnet for sticking to the vehicle’s side, and can be tossed onto the ground to provide a warning to approaching vehicles. They are more useful than a limited roadside flare, brighter, and easier to use.
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Rexing V1P Dash Cam
Chances are you will only be in one vehicle accident in your life that is contested by the other driver. A dash cam would be a great way to make sure your safe driving is on record – that is if you’re the safe driver. The Rexing V1P Dash Cam is one of the best on the market and includes all the features you would need to record the traffic around you.
The V1P features a 1080p front-facing camera that mounts flush to your windshield and a rear standard definition camera. Both cameras are recorded onto an SD card, and all footage is saved until space is needed on the memory card. Along with an optional GPS logger, the ability to quickly save a video file from deletion, and the app to download footage to your phone, this is a must-have for the road tripper who spends a lot of time driving!
Water, soda, coffee – whatever your choice, you are probably gonna want to drink something while road tripping across the country. But the type of drinkware you buy entirely depends on the situation, as I have discovered over the years.
The Yeti Rambler 20oz Tumbler is still the best-insulated cups out there. The new models – I upgraded earlier this year – now include a MagSlider Lid with a magnetic slider to seal the cup. The CamelBak Chute Mag Water Bottle is still my favorite water bottle – especially for hiking – with a watertight seal and an attached cap that magnetically catches when opened. The “chute” is the bottle’s wide mouth that allows you to guzzle faster than a traditional water bottle.
Throughout 2020, it was increasingly difficult to find my favorite travel coffee mug. The Thermos Stainless Steel Vacuum Mug holds 18oz and keeps hot beverages hot for around 4 hours. The most readily available travel mug I can find now is the Thermos Stainless King Travel Mug– it’s a bit smaller at just 16oz capacity but still keeps hot beverages hot for hours.
Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps
Use this step-by-step guide to create a custom map, add stops and a route, and upload to your mobile device.
Anker USB Car Charger
Cellphones, tablets, power banks, and headphones. Our lives are increasingly demanding on rechargeable lithium batteries. But if you’re anything like me, you only spend about 8-10 hours at a hotel each day, which can make it difficult to charge multiple devices.
The Anker 42W USB Car Charger is the perfect way to charge devices on the go. Plug the device into the 12V charger in the car – all cars have at least one – and you have access to a 30W USB-C port and 12W USB-A port. This will allow you to charge most mobile devices and accessories while road tripping!
Anker Powerhouse Power Station
Speaking of needing to keep things charged, my jaw hit the floor when I stumbled upon the Anker Powerhouse II Power Station. It’s basically just an enormous lithium battery – it has a capacity of 108,000mAh – and is capable of keeping pretty much any mobile device and accessory charged for hours.
The real power of the Power Station comes from the charging ports. The device has a single AC outlet with a built-in inverter, 60W USB-C port, 3 USB-A ports, and a single 12V car port. The Power Station can charge the latest model MacBook Pro to 50%, cellphones and tablets nearly a dozen times, and can be used to inflate air mattresses and keep portable speakers lasting for hours.
Thule Force XT L Roof Box
Even as a solo traveler, I will find the trunk of my Honda Civic getting full after spending a few weeks road tripping. Gifts are my biggest clutter, but also dirty laundry and general disorganization. While road tripping in a previous camper van, I purchased the Thule Force XT L Roof Box and loved every single minute of that extra storage.
The rooftop storage box adds 27,000 cubic inches of space to your vehicle and weighs just 40 pounds. It’s easy to mount on existing roof racks, or you can order a pair of Thule WingBar and Clamps for vehicles without racks. The thing I love most about this particular storage box from Thule is that it opens from both sides!
REI Big Haul Duffel Bag
I love traveling with duffel bags. They’re easier to pack, unload, and stow in the car during long road trips. But the age of the duffel bag must be coming to an end because I had a difficult time finding one at all – let alone one that I loved. When I came across the REI Big Haul Duffel Bag, I knew I had found a bag I would keep forever.
The REI Big Haul is available in a 90-liter, 60-liter, and 40-liter size. The carry handle straps are easily removable in favor of shoulder straps, turning the duffel into a backpack. The entire top of the duffel bag opens, providing easy access to the content. With a carry handle on all sides and additional loops, this is the best duffel bag I have ever traveled with.