17 Road Trip Hacks for Your Next Adventure

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

Heading out on the open road offers a freedom unlike air, boat, train, or bus travel. For the most part, you get to choose where to go and when to stop and aren’t subjected to hassles such as long lines, lost luggage, less-than-desirable seatmates, and other situations out of your control. However, road trips can bring their own set of inconveniences. Some advanced planning can make the difference between a gloriously memorable road trip and one you’d rather forget. Here are 17 road trip hacks to use on your next adventure.

Plot Your Route

Women on summer road trip reading map for directions.
Credit: wundervisuals/ iStock

No more fumbling to unfold unwieldy paper maps or wondering how far you have until the next gas station. Whether you know your destination or are on a spontaneous adventure, Roadtrippers.com is an invaluable site and app that helps you plan your route by providing inspiration for your itinerary. Use it to find dining, lodging, and entertainment recommendations, in addition to notable landmarks and even popular photo opportunities!

Get Pet-Friendly Travel Assistance

Golden Retriever dog on a road trip.
Credit: MPH Photos/ Shutterstock

If your four-legged companion is your road-trip buddy, it’s easier than ever to find pet-friendly accommodations, shops, parks, restaurants, beaches, and more on PetsWelcome.com. Use their road trip tool to plot your route and find places along the way where pets are welcome.

Download Helpful Apps

Waze navigation app on a phone screen.
Credit: Brett Jordan/ Unsplash

You likely already have a navigation app on your phone, but here are few other apps that can come in handy on a road trip:

  • Waze is a navigation app that allows users to update road and traffic conditions, such as stalled cars, accidents, police activity, road obstacles, closures, and more in real-time. Users can even send messages to each other.
  • GasBuddy helps you find nearby gas stations and compare real-time pricing.
  • iExit also provides nearby gas station locations and lists food, lodging, and other amenities at upcoming highway exits.

Invest in a Multi-Outlet USB Adapter

White charging adaptor on a pink background.
Credit: Hayley Maxwell/ Unsplash

New cars often come equipped with multiple USB ports, but if you have more devices than outlets, it can lead to battles over who gets to charge their device first. Eliminate conflict and buy a multi-port adapter like this one from Amazon. Bring an extra cable or two in case one breaks or someone forgets theirs. (Tip: If you forget to bring a USB wall plug and your hotel doesn’t have any USB charging ports, check the TV since it may have a USB port you can use.)

Download Entertainment in Advance

A couple sing along to music while driving in a car.
Credit: Prostock-Studio/ iStock

You’ll likely travel through areas where cell coverage is spotty or nonexistent, so download your favorite playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks while you have access to WiFi at home. Consider choosing an audiobook that takes place in the area you’re traveling, or listen to real road-trip stories on National Public Radio’s Road Trips Collection audiobook. If you’re looking for other great road-trip listens, Reedsy.com offers a comprehensive list of suggestions.

Visit Your Mechanic Before Getting on the Road

The hood of a car opened.
Credit: Patrick/ Unsplash

The fastest way to ruin a road trip is car trouble. Before embarking on your adventure, make sure your vehicle is ready for the journey. Schedule a service and see if your tires, batteries, fluids, filters, and other components need to be replaced.

Turn Your Car Into a Well-Organized Machine

A well packed trunk with a French Bulldog seated inside.
Credit: Patryk_Kosmider/ iStock

Even a few hours in your car leads to trash, clutter, and lost items. You can buy organizers designed for vehicles or try one of these DIY options:

  • Turn a plastic cereal container lined with a trash bag into a car-size trash can with a lid.
  • Use a plastic shower caddy to hold snacks, fast-food meals, toys, art supplies, or other loose items.
  • Hang a small shoe organizer over the back of a seat to hold hand sanitizer, hand wipes, napkins, plastic silverware, lotion, water bottles, umbrellas, toys, or art supplies.
  • Use empty plastic gum or candy containers to store change for toll booths, parking meters, and vending machines.
  • Keep handbags and totes cleaner and more accessible by hanging them from carabiners clipped around headrest posts.

Bring an Extra Key Fob Battery

Car remote control.
Credit: Sawat Banyenngam/ Shutterstock

Having your key fob battery die while you’re running errands around town or driving to work is a hassle, but having it die while you’re on the open road can leave you stranded at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Replace your current battery and bring an extra just in case. (Tip: Don’t pay the dealer to replace the battery. You can usually buy them anywhere that sells regular batteries such as Walmart or Target.)

Buy an Old-School Paper Map or Guidebook

Person with a map in a car.
Credit: Image Source/ iStock

Unless you’re traveling through a heavily populated urban corridor, you’ll likely hit spots with no cell coverage, making your navigation apps unreliable. Go old school and buy a road atlas (or check one out of the library) as a backup. If you’re traveling with kids who only know electronic maps, use the paper maps as a teaching moment!

Bring Jumper Cables

Close up of jumper cables in use.
Credit: kmatija/ iStock

Yes, you can call AAA or hope that a stranger has a set of jumper cables when your car battery decides to call it quits, but a better option is to have a set of your own. Even a new battery can die if you forget to turn off your lights. Refresh your memory on how to use them (some car manuals include instructions).

Make a Hanging Tablet Holder

Girl using tablet inside car ready for a road trip.
Credit: NicolasMcComber/ iStock

Using some string and a pencil bag with mesh on one side and clear plastic on the other, you can make a holder for your tablet and hang it from the headrest posts. This website provides step-by-step instructions. If you have a folding tablet case, fold the back cover over a hanging string. Or for the front seat passenger, you can buy a mount from Amazon like this one that attaches to the sun visor.

Bring an Electric Cooler/Warmer

Small refrigerator in the car.
Credit: chuyuss/ Shutterstock

Whether you’re trying to eat healthier, save time and money, or minimize contact with others, consider investing in a personal cooler/warmer that plugs into your vehicle’s 12-volt outlet. There’s no need for ice as these little coolers keep food and beverages cold, or you can set it to keep foods warm.

Use Inflatable Pool Rafts or Camping Pads for Sleeping

A man gets his tent and sleeping bag ready at a campground.
Credit: Ashley-Belle Burns/ Shutterstock

If you need to catch a few z’s or spend the whole night in your vehicle, bring an inflatable pool raft for a quick DIY sleeping pad you can spread across the back seat or cargo area of your truck or SUV. Camping stores sell high-tech, lightweight inflatable sleeping pads that will make your night more comfortable.

Bring LED Lanterns or Hanging Lights

A lantern and flashlights lay on a wooden table.
Credit: Lebazele/ iStock

Save your car battery or provide light for an evening pit stop with hanging LED lights that clip onto your car’s hand grips or a tree over a picnic table.

Pack a Separate Overnight Bag

Opened packed suitcase.
Credit: Myra Thompson/ Shutterstock

For road trips longer than a day, pack essentials into a single overnight bag so you don’t have to unload all of your bags for a quick overnight hotel stay. Just be sure to bring in valuables such as laptops and devices since thieves often prowl hotel parking lots looking for such items.

Check Out Local Farmers Markets

An assortment of veggies lay on a table at a farmer's market.
Credit: kasto80/ iStock

One of the best ways to sample local food and experience a community is to stop by a farmers market. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) website offers a list of farmers markets across the U.S., with links to websites when applicable.

Keep Kids Entertained

Little sisters sitting in a car just before leaving for a car vacation.
Credit: MNStudio/ Shutterstock

Avoid the endless “Are we there yet?” questions and let your kids help you navigate. Give them paper maps and colored pencils and have them trace your route and mark stops. When the allure of electronics finally subsides (or if you want them to take an occasional break), CarRentals.com has a series of printable road trip games. Let them draw on the windows with a Crayola Washable Window Markers and Stencil Set. Get the whole family involved with an I Spy Road Game, a set of traditional playing cards with four items to spot on the back of each card.

A diner off of Route 66.
Credit: Heidi Kaden/ Unsplash

TVFoodMaps.com offers a handy road-trip planner that shows diners, drive-ins, and eateries featured on TV shows along your route. (There is a corresponding app, but recent reviewers say it’s out-of-date.) DinersDriveinsDivesLocations.com is a similar site that lists eateries featured on the popular Food Network show of the same name.

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