How to Survive a Road Trip


Planning for a road trip can be overwhelming. It’s hard to anticipate what you’ll need along the way — and what will slow you down.

When you don’t have to pay fifty bucks to check your luggage, it’s tempting to just throw it all in the car. But, after a few trips, I learned that going this route leaves you with a car full of stuff, none of which is at arm’s length when you need it.

Even though I’m National Geographic’s Curious Traveler, I wouldn’t call myself a road trip expert (yet). But if I had to boil down what’s in my car to the top 10 essentials, here’s what would make the cut:

  1. Beach-ready outfit. Even if I’m miles from the nearest coast, I want to make sure I can take advantage of any body of water that crosses my path. A river, natural hot springs, Jacuzzi, pool, waterfall, you name it — they all require the same three things: a bikini, sarong, and flip flops. The sarong is the most versatile; it dries quickly and can go from beach towel, to dish towel, to skirt, to headscarf all in the same day. A definite must.
  2. Camera. Road trips are visual smorgasbords, and I want to capture it all. The Olympus mini PEN is tailor-made for trips: It’s small, but has interchangeable lenses that give your photos that professional edge.
  3. Little blue notebook. This little guy stays glued to my hand. I constantly use it jot down the juicy insider tips I learn from friendly folks along the way — a curious traveler’s bread and butter!
  4. iPhone. I like getting away from it all on the road, but I like to stay in touch, too — especially if it’s going to be a long haul. With Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest apps, my friends and family can see where I am in real time and vice versa. It’s also handy for planning and tracking my route, or even finding the closest gas station when I’m pushing empty. Heck, what doesn’t an iPhone do these days?
  5. Tent. My Big Agnes tent always comes with me. It’s my turtle shell: in five minutes I have a warm, dry makeshift home anywhere I want. It’s perfect for nights when I want to enjoy the natural world, or when I roll up somewhere and there’s no vacancy. My turtle shell will never turn me away!
  6. Head lamp. When you’re on a road trip, light is your best friend. Get a flat tire at night? Want to read in the tent? Want to deter would-be assailants by shining light in their eyes? Get a head lamp.
  7. Pepper spray. As a woman traveling alone, pepper spray is a necessary evil. I keep it with me as an extra precaution — though I’ve never had to use it, and hope I never will!
  8. Power snacks. Sometimes, I don’t want to stop for a full-blown meal when there are miles to cover, so I bring snacks. While it’s tempting to grab a Snickers bar, I know it will bring me crashing down quicker than I can say “Hungry? Why wait.” Instead I stock up on goodies like Rise bars and raw almonds.
  9. Mini library. I always bring a few books: a couple of old standbys for when I’m longing for something familiar and a few new ones that unfold alongside my own journey (Wildebeest in a Rainstorm is a recent favorite).
  10. Turkish nazar. I’m not superstitious, but it can’t hurt to have a talisman along for the ride. Even if it doesn’t actually ward off the “evil eye,” it makes for a nice companion after hours and hours in the car alone. It’s like having my very own Wilson (but his name is Mert).

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