Since the dawn of the automobile, Americans have taken to the road, eager to see new places outside of their home regions. While the advent of the Interstate highway system in the 1950s, cell phones, and fast food have certainly made life on the road much easier than it was for our wagon-train-traveling ancestors, driving from coast to coast is still a monumental effort.
Anyone considering such a trek is pretty well aware of the essentials to take traveling with you in your car to ensure that you actually reach that desired other coast: money, phone, AAA card, first-aid kit, you name it. In addition to these belongings, here are some other must-haves that often get looked over and whose usefulness is only realized far too late. Granted, these items may not have you reaching California (or New York, depending on which direction you’re going) any less weary, but they could nevertheless be the deciding factor between a memorable experience and a faithful re-creation of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Traveling Across Country Alone Essentials
BURNER PHONE —Yes, most people have their smartphones and tablets along for the entire trip, which gobble up data and battery life faster than you yourself are gobbling up that 3 pound bag of potato chips. But it is a very good idea to invest in a cheap “burner phone” that you would only use in cases of extreme emergency. These phones tend to latch onto area signals perfectly well and also have a longer battery life since they aren’t bogged down with always-updating apps. You never know when you may need to contact someone and your iPhone or Android is at 2% battery because you had your GPS tracking you across the Great Plains.
MULTI-TOOL—There are multiple multi-tools on the market (like these) and they offer a near-infinite array of uses. You never know when you might need a knife, pair of scissors, a screwdriver, or even a bottle opener. Again, while your smartphone is pretty impressive, it can’t snip that annoying tag off of the new pair of sunglasses that you had to buy after the other pair snapped. Even better, a lot of multi-tools are designed to break car windows in case you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of a nasty auto accident and need to escape the confines of your vehicle quickly.
NON-EMERGENCY CAR KIT – You’ve got the emergency kit with all the essentials you’ll need should something go wrong — a flashlight, assorted batteries, jumper cables, antifreeze — but you’ll also want to have a non-emergency car kit is packed with stuff to stay somewhat neat and civilized on the open road — trash bags, tissues and napkins, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer and travel-size toiletries. Plus a bag to toss it all into.
SNACKS — This is an absolute must. Keep a steady supply of snacks on hand from Day One. Buy them before you go at your preferred home supermarket, where you know they will be cheaper and where you may possibly even apply coupons and shopper’s club cards. Highway rest stops, gas stations, and the like will apply all sorts of markup to everything from candy bars to Slim Jims, so it makes far more financial sense to beat them at their game and pocket a little extra spending money. Additionally, be sure to ration your snacks for each day; if you are driving from New York to San Francisco, make sure you don’t swallow an entire 3-pound bag of potato chips before you even cross the Pennsylvania state line.
PAPER MAPS – Yes, Google Maps is a far more interactive experience and can provide you with everything from terrain levels to traffic conditions. But suppose your device battery runs out? Suppose you are in an area of the country where even 3G service isn’t an option? Your maps app of choice will be pretty useless then! Make sure you have plenty of actual road maps on hand because, while they may not show you how many Burger Kings there are in an area, they will also never run short of battery or data.
And the most important item that isn’t purchasable…
EXTRA HOURS —While the other items on this list are materialistic, this is one item that won’t take up any additional luggage space. Sure, according to your calculations, you can make it across the country in 4 or 5 days, but give yourself more than that. Budget for 7 days, or even more. This way, you can account for unexpected traffic delays, visit something off the beaten path, or even just sleep in a few extra hours before starting out again on the road.