Sometimes you just need to get away for a weekend road trip, the week or maybe a little longer. The open road is the perfect place to push the pedal to the metal, take a deep breath and set your eyes on new sites. So, sometimes, it can be tempting to just toss a couple essentials together, jump in the car and drive off. But those who are well-versed in the art of road tripping — some might even call it a science — know that preparation, paired with lots of packing tips and tricks up your sleeve, is what guarantees to make your next trip the best trip.
Of course, each of us has a unique road trip style. Maybe it is blasting the tunes, creating a detailed checklist before take off, packing healthy snacks or vegging out at fast food joints. Fido might be your co-pilot, you’re traveling as a couple or with kids in tow. Whatever the case may be, we scoured the web and consulted our own expertise to put together this list of road trip hacks that apply to all kinds of drivers.
To make it simple, we’ve broken down the guide by general organization ideas like, how to prepare for driving with kids, sleeping in the car and a list of tips and tricks you never thought you’d need. So next time you’re ready to hit the road, use these road trip hacks and our survival guide to be prepared no matter the length of your drive.
Organizational Road Trip Hacks
First things first. Consider what kind of car and space you’ll be working with. Knowing how to organize your car prior to take-off will be the key to a successful adventure, so spend some extra time getting everything set up in advance.
- Use a multi-outlet adaptor – Most cars have a couple places to plug in, but as we become more dependent on our phones for GPS, entertainment and scouting out places to eat, chances are you’ll need more than one. If you’re traveling with kids, this is a given. Utilize the center console as the charging station and to help keep cords organized.
- Stow your shoes under the backseat – For those of us who like to get comfortable on the drive, keep your shoes tucked under the back seat. Especially for kids, this will allow easy access and make it quick to find in the case of an emergency pit stop.
- Use a car tote – Utilize a car tote to store things you don’t want to pack up during the drive — i.e. books, magazines, laptops, tissues, etc. Place it on the floor behind the center console, so it’s easily accessible.
Road Trip Hacks for Traveling with Kids
If you’re taking a road trip with kids, foregoing the planning and organization stage is never an option. But this part of the drive can be more fun than you think — focus on transforming the back of the car into a kids nook and prepare for the drive with these printable road trip activities.
- Use a shoe organizer – Hang from the neck rest of the front seat and stuff with your child’s favorite toys, water bottles and baby wipes — or anything your kids might need quick access to.
- Shower caddy – If you have to eat on the go, shower caddies make for a great way to store your kids’ meal so food doesn’t end up on the floor or seats. Alternatively, you can use these to keep kids books and games organized.
- Craft box for snacks – Use a craft or tackle box for an easy way to pack snacks and have them all in one convenient location. Your kids will have fun with so many options to choose from!
- Suction cup shower organizers – It seems like we’re on a roll with the shower accessories, but let’s face it, they’re the best for keeping organized. Stick these suction cup organizers to the window next to your child’s seat and stash colored pencils, small toys and other play trinkets so they’re easy to reach.
Miscellaneous Road Trip Hacks
If you’ve made a couple road trips in your lifetime, you’re bound to have some odd tips and tricks up your sleeve. These our some of our favorite road trip hacks for keeping the car clean while on the road.
- Muffin liners – Place these in your cup holders to collect change, chapstick and other random things for easy removal.
- DIY trash bin – Grab a cereal container from the pantry, add a liner and voila! You’ve got the perfect sized trash bin to keep your car clean.
- Empty gum containers – Store loose change and small bills in an empty gum container. Not only do you recycle the plastic, but this will give you easy access to loose change when you pass through tolls.
- Elastic grid organizer – Attach one of these elastic grid organizers to your visor for easy access to your sunglasses, a map or pens.
- Reuse an empty tissue box – Store your plastic bags in an empty tissue box, so they aren’t floating around the car.
Road Trip Hacks for Sleeping in the Car
We asked 1,000 Americans if they’ve ever needed to sleep in their car and turns out, it’s quite frequent — at 40 percent responding yes! There’s no doubt that staying a night in a hotel room can be revitalizing for your body and give you a fresh perspective for the rest of your trip. Hours of sitting in the car can wear on your energy levels, but if you’re on a budget, you’d rather pass on sleazy, roadside motels or you just need to pull over and take a nap, there are several things you can do to transform your car into cozy space.
- Use a neck rest or a pillow – If you want to save space and forgo your regular pillow, a neck rest is a perfect alternative. Pro tip: use a foam neck rest as opposed to air-filled option.
- Set up an air mattress – If you’re driving in a large SUV, a regular air mattress can be used to transform the back of the vehicle into a full bed — simply fold the seats down. Those with smaller cars might consider getting a back seat air mattress. You may even be able to find air mattresses designed specifically for your car model. For your passengers safety, never drive with someone napping in the back.
- Car lighting – Hang a headlamp or a flashlight from your car handles to light the interior for the night without draining your car’s battery.
- Don’t underestimate your bedding – No matter the season, sleeping in your car gets cold. You’ll be surprised how frigid the scorching desert can get once the sun goes down. For that reason, you should always prepare with warm sleeping provisions.
- Crack the windows – Roll down a window enough to ventilate properly and high enough to keep prying hands out of your car. If you’re worried about bugs, drape a piece of clothing over the opening to block the passageway.
- Choose a safe location – Truck stops and rest areas are always permissible sleeping areas, as are most Walmart parking lots, but they can be especially noisy. Public lands make for a quieter and more scenic alternative.
Crowdsource Road Trip Apps and Websites
Nowadays there’s an app for everything — including road trip tips. These are some of our favorite resources that will help you out with finding the basic necessities.
- Public bathrooms – Bathroom Scout, Sit or Squat or Diaroogle
- Gas stations – Gasbuddy
- Food – Yelp or TVFoodMaps
- Pitstop finders – iExit
- Kid-friendly stops – Playground Buddy
- Free overnight camping – WalmartLocator, FreeCampsites or the US Public Lands app — this can help you determine which agencies own the land in the vicinity and allows you to research land use rules. Best of all, it doesn’t require an internet connection, so you can use it in remote areas.
If there was ever any doubt about the state of the American road trip, the latest research seems to squash it — road trips have been and continue to be a quintessential American experience. More and more travelers are driving hundreds of miles to explore unfamiliar places, even if they have only four or five days to do it.
The way in which we road trip has certainly evolved from the wild frontier feeling of decades past. Cars and technology have evolved making it easier to hit the open road in style and comfort while saving money and having more flexibility in terms of schedule. So, no matter where you’re traveling from or who you’re traveling with, you can relax, knowing that you have enough road trip hacks stuffed up your sleeve to make for a successful next trip.