Valid location required
Valid location required
Valid location required

Staff picks: The best summer road trip gear and snacks

From coolers to Combos, here's what the Roadtrippers team can't leave home without this travel season

Photo: Shutterstock

I come from a long line of pack rats and I’m a collector by nature. So it’s not surprising that my most visceral memories of the family vacations we took when I was a kid are not of the places we visited, but of the stuff we brought along with us. We took road trips because flying was cost prohibitive, yes, but also because it’s hard to fit a full-size box fan, large snack cooler, and an entire set of bed linens (including pillows) in a carry-on suitcase. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be lauded for “traveling light,” but as I began to travel farther on my own as an adult, I gradually became more selective about what made the cut. If you’ve never been forced to sift through your intimates in the middle of a crowded airport terminal in a futile attempt to bring your bag under the 50-pound weight limit, then consider yourself lucky. But just because I can successfully travel to most places with just a small backpack, doesn’t mean I necessarily want to. 

When the pandemic redistributed travelers from the skies to the roads, I was excited for more people to discover what seasoned roadtrippers have known all along: road trips can be just as good—or better—than other modes of travel, in part because of the control you have over everything from mapping out your route to what you bring with you. Your storage space will vary based on your vehicle (motorcycle, car, RV, etc.)—and yes, it’s important to still be discerning and a bit resourceful (maybe only take one pillow)—but sometimes it’s also nice to pack for possibility. 

On National Road Trip Day, we shared where the Roadtrippers team was headed this summer. Whether it was to Michigan’s Mackinac Island, a local state park, or all the way to Alaska, here are the summer road trip essentials (and snacks) that went along with us:

A collage of images featuring a can of pringles, green notebook, roadtrippers route 66 book, a starbucks espresso can, vaccination card sleeve, air pods and a four piece spicy chicken nugget

Alexandra Charitan, Managing Editor, Roadtrippers

  • I’m always dreaming about or planning my next adventure—whether I’m at home or out on the road. Audio and e-books are space efficient, but I still love print books and fold-out maps; Roadtrippers Route 66 is compact enough to fit in my backpack or glove box.
  • Writing in a journal is a daily practice that I try to maintain no matter where I am and these lined notebooks are my favorite.  
  • AirPods Pro have a noise-canceling feature, making them super helpful if you’re a light sleeper or can’t agree with your passenger(s) on a playlist.
  • This clear plastic protector is great for keeping my vaccination card safe.
  • Starbucks Doubleshot espresso drinks deliver enough caffeine to keep me alert on the road without too much liquid. Pringles are available at every gas station and easier to eat in the car than a bag of chips (the cans fit in most cup holders)—but if I need something more substantial, I’ll always brake for a 4-piece Wendy’s spicy nugget.

Louisville vegan jerkey, a black 3-liter hydration back pack, and blue a pop up sleep pod

Sanna Boman, Editor-in-Chief 

  • As a motorcyclist, I’m always trying to come up with creative ways to stay cool while riding in the summer, since I don’t have the luxury of an air-conditioned vehicle. My top gear pick is a 3-liter hydration backpack that I fill with ice and cold water and strap to the back of my bike so I can drink from it without having to stop. It’s a real game changer.
  • To me, the perfect road trip snack is vegan jerky. It’s tasty, nutritious, lasts forever, and no animals were harmed in the making. I’ve been working my way through the different brands on the market, and my current top picks are the smoked black pepper flavor from Louisville Vegan Jerky Co, the mesquite lime flavor from Primal Strips, and the original flavor from Sam’s Harvest Jerky.

Nick Kelly, Growth Marketing Manager

  • The SlumberPod was amazing and so helpful on our first road trip with our new baby. The “quick-assembly privacy pod” (when combined with a white noise machine) made it feel like we had a second room for our baby to sleep in.
  • My favorite road trip snacks are healthy, easy to store, and not messy: apples, bananas, and peanut butter fold-overs (peanut butter on a piece of bread, folded in half).

Ashley Rossi, Managing Editor, TogoRV

  • A large water bottle and reusable mason jars helped me stay energized and hydrated.
  • The Roadtrippers app so I don’t miss any stops along the way.
  • Charging cords are a must, and this one is so long that even those in the backseat can use it.
  • The Yeti Roadie cooler is perfect for keeping snacks and drinks safe and cold. 
  • The America the Beautiful annual national park pass works at National Park Service sites across the U.S. and covers everyone in the vehicle. Similar passes are usually available for state parks as well.
  • My go-to snacks are Smartfood popcorn (even though it’s messy), trail mix, Chex Mix, and Chick-fil-A (if we have time to stop).

an 8-gallon water tank and a bag of pretzel and cheese combos

Ace Goulet, Staff Software Engineer, WordPress

  • I recently built out my Toyota Tacoma as a camping vehicle. I’ve added a bunch of new gear, but the absolute, hands-down best addition has been the WaterPORT Weekender 8 Gallon Water Tank. The tank, which mounts to your roof rack, self-pressurizes as you fill it up from a hose, or you can manually pressurize it with any tire air compressor or hand pump. We use it for showers, dishes, hosing off our dogs after a day at the beach, cleaning off dirty gear after a messy hike, etc. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s a total game changer. 
  • When I have a craving I’ll pick up a bag of Kettle Brand chips from the gas station (either Korean BBQ or jalapeño flavor).

Kacey McCabe, Senior Growth Marketing Manager

  • I love picking out a new book to listen to before I start a long drive, and the OverDrive app gives you access to every audiobook available at your local library, for free—all you need to get started is a library card. 
  • I rarely consume Combos in my everyday life, but they always find their way into my car during road trips (preferably the cheese and pretzel variety). 

This article has links to products that were carefully selected by our editors. Roadtrippers may earn commission on your purchases from these links.