Road trip essentials: everything you need to pack on a road trip

Thinking of going on a road trip? Make sure you pack these essentials!

Road trip essentials: everything you need to pack on a road trip

As the winter begins to loosen its grip, our attention turns to the open road, weekends away with friends and letting our sense of adventure run wild - or at least as far as a rural Airbnb search, anyway.

The road trip, whether it’s a day out to Brighton, a weekend jaunt to the Cotswolds or a week crossing the Alps, is an adventure, a holiday and an excuse to drive on some fun roads all rolled into one. It’s also time to be spent with your mates (and your car), and an opportunity to get reacquainted with your favourites albums, or introduced to some new podcasts.

Naturally, this being T3, we also love road trips because of all the cool gear we get to take with us. Yes, every road trip needs a GoPro or two, and yes we really do need to take that flashlight, those bags, those cool sunglasses and give the car Alexa integration while we’re at it.

From sat-navs and dash cams, to luggage, wash bags, cameras and shoes, we hope this guide to the ultimate road trip essentials will give you some inspiration for your next weekend behind the wheel.

(Image credit: TomTom)

Find your way with a sat nav

We know that Google Maps on your smartphone can do an excellent job of navigating you from A to B, and for daily drives it is hard to fault. But if your road trip is going to be one worth remembering, it will probably take you to places where there is no phone signal and your £1,000 iPhone suddenly becomes as useful as sticking your finger in the wind.

And while car manufacturers’ sat navs have improved over the years, some are still clunky, unreliable and generally a pain to use. So while it might feel like a backwards step to go forwards, you’re going to need a top-notch sat nav to pull off this road trip without a hitch.

Say hello to the TomTom Go 6200, our favourite sat nav for 2018 and a device which has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, voice control, a built-in SIM card slot, worldwide maps, traffic information and speed camera alerts. This sat nav learns how you drive and adjusts its routing accordingly, and through Bluetooth you can control it via Siri and Google Assistant.

If you prefer Garmin’s maps then fear not, because our second favourite sat nav of 2018 is the Garmin Drivesmart 61 LMT-S. It has a large 7-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, voice control, plus traffic and speed camera information

For more sat nav recommendations, check out this buying guide:

Alternatively, use a smartphone navigation app

If you’d still rather just use your smartphone for navigation - perhaps because you don’t fancy a trip to the 4G-free bits of Western Scotland - then Waze is where it’s at. 

Not to say there’s anything wrong with Google Maps, and even Apple Maps has recovered from its farcical, error-packed launch, but Waze’s crowd-sourced routing is hard to beat.

Merely by having the app running you are helping out other Waze users, who benefit from knowing when fellow Waze-ers are snarled up in traffic. But the real magic lies in users telling the app about accidents, unexpected road closures and new police speed traps - information that is then passed on to other Waze users.

Follow Waze off the motorway five junctions early, tell your passengers you know a shortcut, and prepare to feel suitibly smug.

Record it all with a dash cam

Dash cams have become hugely popular over the last couple of years. Not only can they give your car lane departure and forward collision warnings, but the footage they shoot could be invaluable in the event of an accident.

The Garmin Dash Cam 55 is T3’s favourite, thanks to its high-quality camera, GPS, compact design and simple magnetic mount. An 8GB SD card is included to store footage, and action cam dimensions means it is more compact than its rivals.

If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, we recommend the Thinkware F770, which fits snugly behind your rear view mirror and can be hard-wired to your car for constant power. Doing so means constant recording from the moment you turn the ignition, and the camera even grabs up to 48 hours of time-lapse footage each time you park up. 

The F770 can be paired up with a rear-facing camera for added peace of mind, and there are also speed and lane departure warnings if you fancy them.

For more dash cam recommendations, check out this guide:

Let Amazon's Alexa keep you company

Alexa is so useful we thought we’d bring her along for the journey; it’s not like she takes up much space. Launched at CES in January and available soon, the Roav Viva is powered by your car’s 12V lighter socket and offers hands-free calling, music streaming and interactions with Alexa.

You can ask her to order pizzas to your destination, navigate to the nearest petrol station, play music and control your smart home from the road - handy for switching on the outdoor lights and opening the gate as you turn into your street. The gadget also has two USB ports for on-the-go smartphone charging.

If you can't wait for the Roav Viva to launch, you should check out the Logitech ZeroTouch.

Pack everything in a weekend bag

Head over to our best travel bags guide and you’ll see we are big fans of the North Face Base Camp duffel bag. This 69-litre bag is made from ballistic nylon, is water resistant and has enough zippered compartments to keep all of your road trip essentials in one place.

If your road trip is less about four mates going to Wales and more like a weekend blast down to Monaco in something exotic, might we suggest the Moss Classic Holdall by Caracalla1947. 

Finished in the same blue as the Ferrari 250 GT Sir Stirling Moss drove to victory at the 1960 Goodwood TT, the bag features the same number 7 as that car and includes Sir Stirling’s signature embossed into the leather. It is far from cheap, but when a bag has a story so evocative it’s hard to ignore.

For more bag recommendations, check out these guides:

Keep clean with a wash bag

Smart and simple, the Ted Baker Delset is a faux leather gents wash bag with a pure cotton lining, contrast embroidery on the front and a grab handle on the side. It also comes with a classy towel made from 100% cotton.

Look cool (and protect your eyes) with sunglasses 

With a bit of luck, the sun will be shining - so you better pack yourself some shades. Our favourites for 2018 are the Ray-Ban Clubmaster. The lenses offer UV protection and can be built using Ray-Bay’s Remix website, which lets you personalise every style to your heart’s content. Bright blue lenses in a light brown frame with chrome details? Sure! If that’s what you want.

Our second choice is the Persol 714SM - basically because the SM in their name stands for Steve McQueen, who famously wore Persol sunglasses. These shades offer Sixties Hollywood cool, a compact folding design so they’ll slip into your pocket, and polarizing lens which help to cut out light reflected from the road ahead.

For more sunglasses recommendations, check out this guide:

Feel the road with a pair of driving shoes

You can go one of two ways with this one, and it will depend on your passengers. If they’re petrolheads then go all-out, pack a pair of Herring Maranellos and talk for miles about how they help with the old hell-and-toe on approach to every roundabout.

Or, if that’ll make you sound like an unrelenting bore, grab a pair of Tod’s Gomminos, which blend the comfort and pedal feel you want from driving shoes, but with a design which is subtle and passes for everyday footwear.

For more driving shoe recommendations, check out this guide:

Get some sleep with a travel pillow

No matter how good the front-seat DJ might be, hour after hour of motorway monotony can take its toll. That’s why you should invest in a travel pillow - and while those designed for using on the plane are often small and U-shaped, when you’re slumped in the back of a friend’s car you can be a bit more extravagant.

We recommend the Huzi Infinity Pillow, which is filled with microbeads and is probably the closest you can get to bringing your actual pillow along for the ride. Wrap the large part around your head, lean to the side and tuck your hand into the small bit to snuggle up against the door. Dreamy.

If this road trip requires someone to use the rear middle seat, then they’ll want to invest in the Go Travel Ultimate Memory Pillow, our favourite for when you’re stuck with a passenger on either side, be it in the car or on a plane.

For more travel pillow recommendations, check out this guide:

Make a road trip movie with an action camera

Think about action cameras and you will inevitably think about GoPro. Like Biro pens, Hoover Vacuum cleaners and Sellotape, err, sellotape, GoPro is synonymous with tiny, rugged, waterproof cameras with a go-anywhere mentality and superb video quality.

The latest installment is the Hero6 Black, which you won’t be surprised to learn is our current favourite action camera. It’s waterproof to 10 metres and shoots 4K video at 60fps - or 1080p at 240fps for some smooth, smooth slow-motion, and also snaps 12MP photos.

If the Hero6 is out of your budget then the older GoPro Hero5 Black is still an excellent action camera. Water resistant to the same 10 metres, regular HD video will look just as good, while 4K drops to a still-acceptable 30fps.

For more action cam recommendations, check out this guide:

Keep your phone juiced up with a portable battery

No matter how good the view out of the window, your passengers are going to want to check their phones and upload Instagram snaps to their mates back home. And while most of today’s cars come with several USB ports, it’s always worth your while packing a huge portable charger too.

They don’t come much bigger than the Anker PowerCore 20100, which has a 20,100 mAh capacity capable of charging a smartphone like an iPhone 8 almost seven times. Add your own USB-C cable and it’ll charge Apple’s latest MacBooks too.

Drown out the noise with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones

Similarly, while you might be having the time of your life up front and in control of the stereo, your rear passengers might want to tune out for a while. That’s where the magic of noise-cancelling headphones come in, blocking out much of the ambient noise to create a peaceful, silent backdrop for their own tunes.

For drowning out the monotonous hum of the motorway (or a train or plane), active noise cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold.

Our favourites for 2018 are the Bowers & Wilkins PX, which blend classic design with 22 hours of battery life when streaming music over Bluetooth and using active noise cancelling at the same time.

For something a little more compact (because they fold up), we recommend the Bose QC35 II. I’m a big fan of the Bose QC range ever since I bought a pair after a transatlantic flight, saving my ears and encouraging me to vow to never use regular headphones again. The updated II version includes Google Assistant, which is summoned with the press of a button on the right can.

For more noise-cancelling headphone recommendations, check out this guide:

See in the dark with a flashlight

We’re edging towards crisis-avoidance territory here, but it’s always best to plan for the worst, right? You might only need one of these torches because you’re the hardy sort who go on a road trip to the Scottish Highlands in winter, to a cottage on Airbnb which is on an unlit and unnamed road which no sat nav has ever heard of.

Sorry, we’re recalling a personal story there, but you get the point; sometimes a small torch can come in handy. Our favourite is the Fenix PR35 Tactical Edition, which has a 1,000 lumens LED bulb. It’s just 15cm long and weighs 91 grams, so can slip into your pocket or live in the glovebox next to the massive bag of road trip Haribo with ease.

If you fancy something that makes you look like mountain rescue - or at least that you probably know what you’re doing - try the Sidiou Group Searchlight, which boasts a massive 8,000 lumens of brightness from its six LED array. The torch is made from tough aluminium and it can project light a whopping 1,000 metres.

If you need to keep your hands free to change a tyre or top up the screenwash, we recommend the Petzl Reactik, which straps to your head and provides 190 lumens of brightness. Being nerdy, we love how this torch intelligently adjusts its brightness based on the ambient light.

For more flashlight recommendations, check out this guide:

Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.