The snow has begun to melt, the sun is sticking around longer each day, and for thousands upon thousands of college students, the next few weeks will be some of the year’s best. For many, Spring Break means precious days away from school and the opportunity to hit the road and get out of town. Every road-trip car needs plenty of space for food and snacks, a couple of pillows, and enough room to make sure the travelers on board don’t murder each other. But there are a few other essentials, without which an interstate odyssey could easily become a terrible long haul.
Embarking on a road trip without the requisite Spotify playlist might as well be suicide. Two hours in a car with only conversation to entertain can strain relationships; make it a trip down the coast or across the country, and you can be all but certain that you’ll have had enough of your traveling companion(s) by the time you reach your destination.
Silicon Valley entered the vehicle infotainment business with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto two years ago, and accessing Spotify, Pandora, and other music players has never been easier. The proliferation of both systems has been rapid and expansive, with cars ranging from the Honda Civic Hatchback to the Maserati Levante sporting Apple and Android’s interface—although you won’t find either one in a Mazda or Toyota anytime soon.
The world is big and beautiful, and no road trip would be complete without some way to document the sights seen along the way. While the incredible cameras built into our phones now make hauling bags of camera gear unnecessary, even they pale in comparison to a GoPro action camera.
GoPro offers higher quality video—up to 4K—and using one means you won’t be chewing up valuable space on your smartphone (SD card storage is quite a bit cheaper than upgrading to a larger iPhone). The Toyota Tacoma now includes a built-in mount, but GoPro also has an entire product line dedicated to camera gear specific for car videos, and the CarGurus video team never leaves for a shoot without a couple GoPro cameras in their bags.
Even if you’re driving a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel or any other of the longest-range vehicles made today, you’re gonna need some cash for gas (it’s not a true road trip unless you burn through a full tank). Some cars will certainly take you further than others, and almost none will do it more cheaply than a Toyota Prius Prime, although the Hyundai Ioniq is expected to soon take that crown from the world’s favorite hybrid.
“But what if I drive an electric vehicle,” you ask? Well, although Tesla’s free supercharger network was long a benefit for early adopters of that company’s luxurious EVs, the free-ride days are coming to a close. Tesla announced last year that it would start charging drivers to charge their cars, ranging from 11 to 21 cents per kWh, rather than offering the juice for free.
Most of us use just our phones now to navigate, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Indeed, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make navigating from point A to point B easier than ever before, and some OEM navigation systems, such as Audi’s virtual cockpit on the A4 and TT, deliver stunning visual displays.
But road trips aren’t about only traveling from point A to point B—particularly when the interstates start getting congested. They’re about finding that cool truck stop off Highway 1 or the world’s largest yo-yo, 30 minutes east of I-5. And if you’re driving from Minneapolis to Mount Rushmore, your GPS might tell you to spend the night in Rapid City, but then you’d miss the Buglin’ Bull Bar in Custer. A GPS helps somnambulic road trips trundle along from A to B, but to make your trip memorable, wake up and use an old-fashioned map to find the long way through points C, D, and E.
A First-Aid Kit…for Your Car
Finally, no one should embark on a long trip without making sure his or her car is up to the challenge and prepared for any mishaps along the way. Driving with low tire pressure is incredibly dangerous and will kill your fuel economy (and possibly you, too), so check yours before leaving, and bring along a tire-pressure gauge (we recommend a dial gauge with a bleeder valve, rather than a cheap pen-style gauge) and a can of Fix-a-Flat. Keep in mind that while Fix-a-Flat may seem like black magic, it’s a temporary solution at best.
It also wouldn’t hurt to bring along jumper cables, a flashlight, and some extra transmission, brake, and windshield-washer fluid, to be safe. If you’re driving a car for which breakdowns are more “whens” than “ifs,” you should also invest in some reflective warning triangles. Finally, spring may have arrived for many, but some of America’s corners are still enjoying winter weather, so if you’re heading north, pack some tow straps and a shovel, too.
What extra things do you put or bring in your car when you take a road trip?
-Matt Smith Car Gurus