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Heartland America Blog

Gear Up for Adventure: Top 10 Road Trip Prep Tips for Unforgettable Journeys!

Dive into our ultimate guide with 10 essential road trip preparation tips to unlock unforgettable adventures on the open road! From choosing your ride to entertainment essentials, discover how to gear up for an unforgettable journey.

Outdoor Living

by Jessie Breheim • February 28, 2024

Hi there! I’m Jessie B., a travel enthusiast, and Heartland America’s Web Content Manager. Some of my best memories growing up have been on road trips with my family. And now, I still make it a point to go on a yearly road trip with my family. Based on my numerous road trips across the US, I’ve always kept a mental list of things to make my next trip easier. I figured now is the time to put it to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in this case!) and share my road trip tips so you can enjoy smoother and more delightful travels. With that being said, let's dive into the ultimate road trip essentials that will keep you prepared, entertained, and ready to tackle whatever comes your way!

1. Decide if you want to rent a vehicle or use your own. Choosing between renting a vehicle or using your own for a road trip depends on your car's condition, the journey's demands, and cost implications. Renting can provide a newer, tailored option without wear on your vehicle, along with potential peace of mind through rental services. Yet, using your own car might offer comfort and cost savings, especially if it's reliable and suits the trip's requirements.

2. Avoid legal headaches on your trip. Ensure your insurance is up-to-date and your vehicle's registration and tabs are current to dodge fines or issues if pulled over or in an accident.

Pro Tip: I have AAA roadside assistance, which has come in handy when I ran out of gas in a very remote area. They brought me enough gas to get to a gas station, which was included in my plan. It also includes a free towing service if you need it.

3. Get packing early. Write a checklist of everything you’ll need and ensure it’s all packed before you head out for the long weekend, and pack your bags or suitcases at least the day before. If you’re not taking an RV and need more space in your vehicle, install a car top carrier if you don’t have one.

packing for trip

4. Make sure your vehicle is ready to hit the road. The last thing you want to worry about on your road trip is car troubles. Get your car ready by seeing if there are any issues with your car using a diagnostic scan tool. Once your car passes its health check, you’ll want to top off fluids and do an oil change if necessary. Check your tires to be sure they have enough tread and air. Using a tire inflator with auto shutoff at preset pressure, like the Auto Joe Hybrid Tire Inflator, will ensure you have just the right amount of pressure. You’ll also want to pack emergency tools for your car in case of a roadside emergency. Pack a roadside emergency kit with jumper cables and LED roadside flares so you’re confidently prepared if an emergency happens (which we hope doesn’t happen!).

Car Prep Checklist:
Inflate tires
Run diagnostic scan
Put LED flares in your car
Put an emergency roadside kit in your car
Top off fluids
Fill your gas tank
Check vehicle insurance status
Check vehicle registration status and tabs are UTD

diagnostic tool
Performance Tool OBDII Diagnostic Scan Tool $29.99
tire inflator
Auto Joe Hybrid Tire Inflator $29.99
roadside kit
STP Emergency Roadside Kit $19.99
road flares
LED Road Flares - 6 Pack $29.99

5. Clean out your vehicle. Another overlooked task for road trip prep is cleaning your vehicle. Clean out your car, van, truck, RV, or whatever it may be before you head out on your journey. Your vehicle will likely get messy along the trip, so starting with a clean slate can reduce travel stress. I use a handheld vacuum to clean out debris and crumbs, and then wipe down the windows and seats. For extra organization to keep the car clean longer, I also have a mini trash can in my car that hangs off the back of your car seat, so it saves space. I also keep hand sanitizer and wet wipes for when the bumpy roads hit and snacks accidentally spill.

Once your car is spick and span, add in some car seat cushions for maximum comfort. Pack a neck pillow for passengers to catch some ZZZs during your trip. An eye mask can also help block out light during your passenger’s naps.

Pro Tip: Get a massage pad that plugs into your car’s aux power outlet (AKA cigarette lighter) to alleviate back pain from sitting so long. Your back will thank you.

6. Bring food. Bringing your own food on long car rides can minimize the amount of stops you make, making your travel time shorter. There may not be many spots to grab a bite to eat if you’re traveling to a more remote area. If you’re traveling with kids, some healthy snacks can keep them content and happy.

Pack a cooler or portable refrigerator full of food and drinks, and place the cooler in a spot in your car that’s easy to access. Pack a water bottle with a built-in filter and refill it when you stop. This budget-friendly method is also good for the planet since it cuts down on plastic waste (and it doesn’t have harmful toxins from plastic water bottles!).

Pro Tip: The Frigidaire Portable Mini Fridge is a compact cooling system with AC and 12V DC power to plug into your car.

mini fridge
Frigidaire Portable Mini Fridge $29.99

7. Plan ways to stay entertained. Having good entertainment on the road makes the trip fly by. Long stretches of road can sometimes turn the excitement dial down, especially for the little adventurers in the backseat. Enter the portable DVD player with a screen - a throwback gadget that still holds its charm in the streaming era. Load up on your favorite movies, cartoons, or series and enjoy uninterrupted entertainment; no internet required. It's a fantastic way to keep passengers entertained, making those miles fly by just a little bit faster. You can also download a music playlist on your phone or MP3 player to jam out to tunes by connecting it to your car via Bluetooth or an Aux cord.

Another way to pass the time is by playing fun games with passengers in the car (if they’re willing!). As a kid, I always loved playing the license plate game to see who could spot the most license plates from different states. I’ve also found a few other fun, free games you can play on the road. If you give them a try, let me know how you liked them in the comments below!

dvd player
Proscan 13.3" DVD Player $99.99

8. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If you’re driving through severe weather, you’ll be taking on more drive time. It’s a great idea to have an emergency weather radio on hand so you can get important weather updates. Weather emergency radios have features and capabilities specifically designed for emergency situations, making them more reliable and informative for weather updates and emergency alerts than a standard car radio. The last thing you want is to run into a tornado, snowstorm, or hail and be unprepared for the intense effects the weather might cause. If you’ll be driving through areas with severe cold weather, pack plenty of blankets and cold-weather wear, such as hats and jackets.

emergency radio
Voyager Emergency Radio $59.99

9. Try to avoid driving during peak travel times. Head out earlier or later than peak travel times, if possible, to beat the rush and spend less time in the car. If you’re like me and take forever to get out the door, set an alarm to keep you on track. If you’re traveling through remote areas, have a GPS that isn’t your phone on hand for when the signal cuts out. From my previous experience, driving on dark backroads at night without a GPS isn’t a great way to start your vacation time (yes, there’s trauma unlocked just by mentioning it). Most GPS devices have updated, preloaded maps to access current route info.

10. Map out rest stops and scenic views. In the past, I’ve driven by some really cool stops that weren’t far off my route. Part of the joy of a road trip is the journey itself. Before you leave, research your route for rest stops and scenic viewpoints. Planning breaks helps to stretch your legs and refresh and allows you to experience the beauty of the places you're passing through. These stops can provide some of the most memorable moments of your trip, offering unexpected discoveries and breathtaking views. For trip planning, check out to help plan your trip, or use my personal favorite, Wanderlog, to add destinations and browse places to see along your route. Both are very similar, useful tools for trip planning that are free to use unless you opt for the upgraded versions, which I have never needed to do for my past trips.

couple stopping on road trip to look at views

Wrapping Up Your Road Trip Plans

As we pull into the final stop of this road trip guide, remember it's all about the balance of planning and spontaneity. While it's very important to pack essentials and prepare your vehicle for the voyage, it's equally important to embrace the unexpected detours and moments that make road trips truly special off the beaten path. Whether you're chasing sunsets, exploring new terrains, or simply enjoying the company of fellow travelers, your road trip is a canvas waiting for you to paint unforgettable memories.

So, buckle up, hit play on your carefully curated playlist, and embark on your adventure with excitement and peace of mind. Happy travels, and I hope you found my road trip essentials guide helpful! May your road be filled with joy, discovery, and the freedom only the open road offers.

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