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10 Must Have Car Accessories For Your Next Road Trip

Jun 12, 2023

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There's nothing quite like packing up the car and hitting the open road with the family or a few close friends. A few hours or a few days on the road can put hundreds or thousands of miles behind you, and it can be just what you need to clear your mind or get a vacation from the day to day grind.

Of course, finding yourself a few hundred miles from home and realizing you've forgotten something critical can be a nightmare. With that in mind, you'll want to make sure you're equipped with everything you might need before you back out of the driveway. Once you've double checked your suitcase for toiletries, medications, and that you've packed enough socks, you can start thinking about ways to upgrade your road trip experience.

Road trips have changed quite a bit in the last few decades and there's no reason you should suffer the long stretches the same way your parents did. If the open road is calling to you and you don't want to miss it, these are the essential accessories we recommend to take your next road trip to the next level.

No road trip can even begin until you've stocked a cooler with enough drinks and snacks to get you where you're going. By the time you reach your destination you should be so full of sugar and starch that you're likely to puke. It's part of the road trip experience. Unfortunately, another part of the road trip experience is perpetually replacing the ice in your cooler, lest your snacks find themselves in a slowly growing puddle of frigid water.

Fortunately, the modern road tripper need not rely on ice like you're a pilgrim traveling the Oregon Trail. Instead, you can choose from a growing number of electric coolers to keep your snacks cool not with ice, but with science! Electric coolers typically look like the coolers you're used to, so they'll seamlessly blend in with their less technological peers. Inside, you'll find the usual insulation, but you'll also find a thermoelectric cooling and heating unit, tasked with maintaining the desired temperature inside your container.

Whichever you choose, look for a cooler compatible with your car's electrical outlets. Most are compatible with a cigarette lighter outlet, rendering them almost universal. Once plugged in, the cooler serves as a mini fridge to keep your foods cooler, longer.

There are two main requirements for the success of any road trip. First, you need to know where you're going. Second, you need some way to keep entertained during the long, boring stretches of road. In decades past, that meant filling your car with your favorite albums or the crafting of customized road trip mix tapes. It also meant purchasing an updated road atlas for reference during the trip.

These days, all of that functionality can be found on the smartphone in your pocket. You've got a functionally infinite selection of music, audio books, podcasts, and more to keep you entertained on the road. And you've got access to digital maps that update in real time, thanks to the world's global positioning system (GPS). The challenge is accessing that information safely while you're navigating heavy machinery.

A good phone mount will keep your device where you need it without distracting you from your primary objective on the road: safe driving. In addition to holding your phone steady, many modern phone mounts also plug into your car and offer wireless charging while they're docked, ensuring your phone keeps a full charge until you get to your destination.

Obviously, if you're the one driving, you want to remain alert. But if you're one of the lucky passengers just along for the ride, there's no reason you shouldn't get comfortable. Let's face it. If you and your family are going to spend hours or days confined to the small spaces of the family car, you're going to want to be as comfortable as possible and there's no easier way to add some luxury to your ride than a pillow.

Headrest pillows offer essentially the same thing as an airline neck pillow, but with a little more support and a little more customization. The car headrest pillow from Zorunowa is a typical example of the sort of headrest pillow you'll find on the market. It connects to your car's existing headrest to attach a small, semi-rigid, memory foam pillow to either side of the headrest. It sort of looks like a pair of small armrests, but for your head. It gives you something solid to rest your head on, instead of smooshing your face into the passenger window.

Then, when you're done napping, the pillows pivot easily out of the way for an ordinary riding experience. They're never far away, however, whenever you or your little one need to catch a few winks, serenaded by the sound of wheels against the pavement.

Coffee is arguably the most important ingredient in any successful road trip. Driving tends to begin early or extend into the late evening, and staying alert while piloting a vehicle is of paramount importance. The trouble is, when you get on those long stretches between cities, the options for a quality cup of joe can become limited.

Sure, instant coffee or bottled coffee can help bridge the gap but there's nothing like a fresh brewed cup, still steaming in your hand. The Minipresso from WACACO offers the ability to brew a fresh cup of coffee without the need for any electrical or battery power. The entire unit is self-contained, including a small compartment to add your beans and a reservoir for hot water. Admittedly, you may need to get that hot water from a gas station or other establishment, but we must make some concessions to physics.

Once the water and beans are in place, you'll manually pump the water through the beans by squeezing the Minipresso, and fresh espresso will come out the other end. You could complete the entire operation from the passenger seat of a car, provided you've got some hot water handy.

Everyone who's ever been on a road trip knows that after a few hours, you'll end up with food wrappers, discarded jackets, and other items scattered across every possible surface. Sooner than later, something is bound to slip into the gap between seats and be lost to eternity. Inevitably, the thing that falls into the gap is never something useless you're better off without. The only solution is to pull over and brave the uncharted lands beneath your seats to recover your lost item, if you can.

Alternatively, you could get a seat gap filler and fix the problem before it begins. There are dozens of different seat gap filler designs, intended to fill one of the common seat gap designs. You'll want to take a moment to look at your car's interior, maybe break out a tape measure, and ensure you find the right gap filler for your situation.

They all do essentially the same thing, however, by filling the space between your seats and preventing your phone, or anything else, from falling into the wastelands of half-eaten candy and crumpled receipts beneath your car seats.

Road trips aren't the riskiest vacation you could plan, but anytime you're leaving the familiarity of home there is some inherent risk. You may not be leaving civilization on your road trip, but you are leaving all of the stuff you're accustomed to having at hand. If you run into trouble when you're on the open road, you'll want to make sure you at least have the essentials.

A good emergency kit will cover most of the essential bases you'll need when away from home or civilization. This Roadside Emergency Kit from WETBAS is typical of the sort of thing you should have in your trunk before embarking on any long trip. It has most of the things you're likely to need in a roadside emergency, or even in a roadside inconvenience. The kit comes equipped with jumper cables, work gloves, basic tools, a flashlight, a tow strap, reflective road triangles, and more.

There's also a small first aid kit, in the event that the needed repairs are biological, rather than mechanical. It includes adhesive bandages, triangle bandages, cotton swabs, and an emergency blanket. It's not the same as all the conveniences of home but will take care of minor speedbumps in a pinch.

Even with a small group and a short trip, the storage space inside your car is at a premium, and it's likely to fill up with snacks, blankets, and people pretty quickly. Trunk space vanishes pretty quickly, too, especially if you've got a couple of people bringing supplies for more than a couple of days. You might find that you don't have enough room in your vehicle to carry everyone and everything you need for your trip.

That's where rooftop storage comes in handy. You could pull a Clark Griswold and lash all of your belongings to the roof with straps and bungee cords, but that's a recipe for disaster. A rooftop storage container offers additional storage while keeping everything stable and contained. Best of all, rooftop storage containers are more affordable than you might think.

You can get a flexible waterproof storage bag for under $100, with all of the necessary ties to install it included. More robust metal or hard plastic containers are also available, but slightly more expensive. Even if you don't strictly need the extra room, rooftop storage is a relatively affordable way to free up some legroom on your next trip.

If you've planned appropriately, your road trip is punctuated with intermittent stops for bathroom breaks, food, and sleeping. Sometimes, however, you just can't find anywhere suitable to sleep at night. Maybe you've decided you want to stay outside the bounds of civilization for the night or you misjudged the distance and didn't make it to your hotel. Maybe you're just flagging mid-day and need to pull over for a quick power nap. Whatever the reason, an inflatable backseat mattress can seriously upgrade your en-route rest stops.

There are several different designs available depending on the layout of your backseat, but they all do essentially the same thing. One portion of the mattress inflates to fill the space between your front and back seats. Then the rest of the mattress inflates to lay over the entire space. It's roughly equivalent to a twin-sized mattress but that's a vast improvement over your existing backseat. Not only will you have more room to stretch out, but you'll also avoid seat belts digging into your side while you sleep.

If you've got a truck or a hatchback, there are alternative designs that take advantage of the rear storage space to provide even more sleeping room. If your crew is small enough and you're okay with close quarters, you could feasibly get through your whole trip without ever needing to leave the car.

There isn't much to do on a road trip besides look out the window and push snacks down your gullet. Step one in the road trip snack battle is choosing the right snacks — but that's only the beginning. You then have to successfully consume those snacks while in a moving vehicle, which is not always an easy feat.

Airplanes have solved this problem with tray tables built into the space around you, and there's no reason you shouldn't do the same in your car. We recommend a cup-hold tray table, like this one from CYEVA. Its expanding base wedges into your existing cup holder and provides a larger cup holder on top, compatible with bottles up to 40 ounces in volume. A post sticks up from the side of the cup holder and attaches to a small tray table you can swivel out over your seat. It's capable of holding up to 4.5 pounds of snacks, which should get you at least a few miles down the road.

Provided there is a cup holder in the back, riders could benefit from the same tray table listed above but also have access to a wide variety of backseat organizers with included tray tables. This one from JOZUTTOW includes three pockets on the bottom for storing water bottles and a tray table on the top, alongside additional pockets for storing phones or tablets.

Once you've got your road trip gadgets and accessories assembled, you're going to need a way to power them. If you've taken full advantage of this list of road trip swag, you're likely going to need multiple outlets and a variety of power options while on the road.

The only thing you're really guaranteed in a car is a cigarette lighter outlet (and that's only if it works) and, if your car is less than a decade old, a USB outlet or two. That's enough for commuting back and forth to work or going to the grocery store, but it isn't going to cut it if you've got your car packed to the rafters with all your buds and all your stuff.

A good power converter will plug into your car through one of the aforementioned outlets and provide you with a power center you can use to juice up your new toys. You can choose any number of power converters, but we like this one from BESTEK, if only because it has style. It looks like a coffee cup and fits into a standard cup holder. You'll plug it into your car's cigarette lighter outlet and, in exchange, you'll get two USB plugs and two conventional 12v power outlets. If that's not enough to get you where you're going, you've overpacked.