When you’ve got a road trip vehicle to fill with stuff, packing becomes a headache. A corollary the old saw that work expands to fill the available time, the stuff you bring seems to expand to fill the available cargo space. Every time I check into a motel, I seem to have more junk to haul to my room.
But there’s a small batch of necessities I keep coming back to day in and day out. They’re my seven trip essentials, and I’d recommend them to anyone hitting the road this summer, whether you’re going across the country or just on a weekend camping trip.
Smartphone: The number one gadget to make your life easier. No matter the carrier or data plan, a smartphone will get you turn-by-turn navigation, make mobile hotel bookings, stream music, take photos and connect with friends back home. It’s an absolute essential.
Portable wifi: The folks at Virgin Mobile loaned me an MC760, a 3G USB air card that gets my laptop online anywhere there’s a cell signal. The connection isn’t the fastest, but it will let you upload blog posts about the final shuttle launch from inside your tent in Titusville–or anywhere else you can’t find wifi.
Rain gear: File this one under “only because I have the space.” Gear maker Arc’teryx loaned me the Beta AR, a high-end shell that I’ve only used once, when a downpour in Orlando dropped three inches of rain in three hours. If only I’d had the waterproof pants to go with.
Laptop: I packed my personal MacBook Air on this trip, and I use it much more often than my work-issued machine that weighs twice as much. So far, it’s held up to my abuse: It’s even survived crashing into the pavement in Detroit, with only minor battle wounds.
Sunscreen: I’ve been on multiple beaches this trip, and of course walking the streets of cities puts you out in the sun. Spray-on sunscreen is dead easy to apply and isn’t greasy. I keep it in a cup holder for easy access.
Tents and sleeping bags: Whether you’re camping out or just crashing on a friend’s floor, packing your own bedding can be a life-saver. You never know when plans will change: As long as you have the trunk space, better to pack your own campground-ready hotel.
Something fun: I brought along a parafoil kite, which has no rods and therefore packs down into a tiny stuff sack. It’s great on the beach, fun in a park, even a conversation starter if you pull it out at a roadside rest stop. It’s fun, and isn’t that what road trips are supposed to be?