Every summer since I can remember, I’ve taken at least one road trip. This is especially significant because now, living in New York City, I don’t own a car. But that wasn’t always the case. When I lived in Phoenix, I thought nothing of driving to Las Vegas for the weekend or to Los Angeles to visit friends.
Through experience and learning the hard way, through accidents and car trouble, I have come up with a list of 10 absolute essentials you should keep with you at all times when on a road trip: especially if you’re driving long distances where there are no pit stops, no gas stations, and no one around. These could very well save your life!
1. AAA Membership
A “Triple A” membership costs merely $52 per year while providing a host of benefits if you get into trouble on the road. Flat tire? They’ll show up to help. Dead battery? Call AAA. Ran out of gas? They will bring you more. Membership includes up to 4 service calls per year. The membership more than pays for itself if you have one single mishap.
2. Quality Car Phone Charger
A good, reliable charger that can juice up your phone through the cigarette lighter or USB port in your vehicle is crucial. If you do get stuck on the road with no facilities nearby and you do need to call for help, you won’t be able to with a dead phone.
3. Gallon Jug of Drinking Water
If you get stranded and can’t get help right away, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. You can go weeks without food, but not water. This is especially important when you’re driving along the hot, desert roads in California and the Southwest in the summers.
4. Bottle of Engine Coolant
Cars overheat. Coolant goes bad. Keep a bottle of engine coolant, also referred to as antifreeze, in your vehicle at all times in the event that your engine’s temperature gets dangerously high. You’ll be able to keep the problem at bay until you can get to an auto repair shop. Just keep in mind: wait until the engine cools down before adding fluid to avoid burns and cracking your engine block.
5. Driver’s License / Registration / Car Insurance
If you don’t have a driver’s license, you can’t drive. If you don’t have car insurance, you can’t drive. If you don’t have your car registered…you guessed it…you can’t drive! Keep these pieces of information with you and your vehicle at all times in the event that you get pulled over by the highway patrol. You can get an extra whammy of a fine if you fail to provide these credentials.
6. At Least 2 Credit Cards / Several Days’ Supply of Cash
It never fails: you’re in a bind and need gas, food, or shelter but the magnetic strip on your card wore off. Or the bank freezes it, suspecting fraud. What do you do? Have a back-up card. And cash. Always, always, always carry cash. Enough to get you through a few days’ expenses until a new card can arrive.
7. First-Aid Kit
Whenever you’re traveling, particularly if you’re solo, you should protect yourself and be prepared. Bringing a kit that includes Band-Aids, gauze, antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, tweezers, surgical scissors, latex gloves, aspirin, Benadryl, and any other medicines you might need in an emergency is strongly advised. If you get into an accident with minor injuries and help is far away, you can do some damage control while you wait.
8. Roll of Toilet Paper
Because toilets aren’t always where you need them to be. And public restrooms on the road aren’t always stocked like they should be.
9. Rand McNally Road Atlas
Phone died? Car charger died? No signal for Google Maps? GPS acting up? Keep a solid, turn-the-page, good ol’ fashioned Road Atlas in your car at all times. It won’t take up much space, and you can always rely on it working. Just pull over before you try to read the tiny print.
10. Freestanding Large Flashlight and Fresh Batteries
If you’ve ever needed to change a tire in the dark, you’ll know why a freestanding flashlight is an absolute must. Other car trouble? Simply having a flashlight to, well, shed light on the complicated parts of your engine to determine the issue would be better than using an app on your phone: you don’t want to add “dropped cell phone into the hot engine” to your list of problems, do you?
Pack these essentials and you’re sure to have a safe, successful blast of a trip. Enjoy the ride!