The American cross-country road trip is a rite of passage. But for such a journey, what do you really need to bring along? The secret to packing for a cross-country trip follows a familiar mantra: Simplify, as they say, and add lightness. Take only as much as will improve the journey—no more—and prepare to return with some surprises.
What follows is a sample of our essential items for a successful, comfortable, and interesting cross-country road trip, beyond the obvious Swiss army knives, podcast downloads, and trunk-mounted safety triangles:
Long hours behind the wheel demand appropriate comfort for the entire body. These produced by our friends at Autodromo are available in five variations—black, ivory, navy, sky blue, and cognac. These gloves soothe the hands during long highway stints and aerate them after white-knuckling it.
You're not expecting any bumps in the road during the sea-to-sea trek, but you can never be too sure. A proper dash cam, like this one from Garmin, offers peace of mind in the unlikely event of a road accident. When it's not acting as a witness for insurance purposes, the driving recorder also provides a continuous, recorded feed of your drive route.
Packing light means it'll be easier to find what you need, when you need it. Place a week's worth of gear into this duffle bag and be done with it. Constructed from heavyweight canvas material, this valise is a road warrior in the truest sense—and each one comes with a unique, pub-worthy backstory. If it doesn't fit in the bag, it doesn't come along for the journey.
Treat your properly mounted GoPro camera as a counterpoint to the forward-facing dash cam. Stick it just aft of the front wheels to capture the perfectly executed nail of the apex at a national park, or affix it to the windshield to record a proper four-three-two downshift. (Or wear it on your head and narrate.) The GoPro camera is the great equalizer, when it comes to recording and preserving road trip memories.
Inevitably, whether on a chilly night or an unexpected gray day, you're going to need an extra layer. Each Barbour jacket relies on waxed cotton's proven, breathable record, and displays the storied Barbour marque. Modern waterproof fabrics do the same thing with less panache, but a Barbour jacket is a time-tested way to keep the weather out so you don't have to put the top up.
Leave it to the Italians to ensure that your road trip should never be without coffee. The Handpresso Auto ranks among our only acceptable in-car distractions—and it plugs right into a cigarette lighter. Having your own reliable source of java means you can stop at a scenic overlook and sip your coffee instead of a seedy truck stop.
At one point in history, taking a road trip meant holding fastidiously to directions listed on a paper map—or ignoring them completely. Unlike a tablet or smartphone, it won't run out of batteries or lose signal. Rand McNally still makes a great one. Buy it, and let your navigator earn his or her keep.
Follow the path less traveled, and you're likely to end up shy of overnight accommodations. The Hilleberg Keron 3 is stout enough for mid-trip shelter needs, and the 10-lb. Swedish pop-up will stow easily in the back of your MGB GT. Request a late checkout.
Any good road trip car will have a phone mount for easy access to navigation apps. The Ram mount shown here can fit phones of all shapes and sizes, and thanks to rubber touch points, you don't have to worry about damaging your device's edges.