6 Dad Approved Road Trip Essentials

By Cindy Aparbal

As a kid, I loved when our family would go on summer road trips. It was a way to save money and spend time together while visiting new destinations. We’d spend long hours in the car bickering about the music, playing i-spy, or getting the truck drivers to honk their horns. So, when we got the chance to do the same with our kids, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity. Instead of towing luggage and two kids through airports, airplanes, and layovers, we headed on our first multi-state road trip as a family to New Jersey. Road tripping along the East coast was the safest and most affordable way to spend time together and visit new cities during the pandemic.

Family getting ready for car road trip

The aim of any good road trip is to keep everyone safe, entertained, and happy as you travel to your destination. Fully aware this would be our first long road trip with two young kids, we wanted to be sure we prepared for everything.

When packing for a trip, you usually concentrate your planning around all the things you’ll need when you get to your destination. However, the drive there is often full of unknowns. Thankfully, Dad had his own road trip essentials that saved the day when we needed it. And better yet, these few key items didn’t break the bank.

Dad and two kids in a park enjoying the warm weather

1.  An OBD Code Reader    

Luckily, the drive to New Jersey went off with hardly a hitch, and the vacation itself had us all relaxed (or maybe just exhausted) and ready to jump in the car and head home. Our drive was going smoothly, so we stopped for one last family meal at Fat Dragon in Richmond, Virginia. There, we enjoyed one of the best dinners we’ve ever eaten, then got back on the road. About thirty minutes later, on the highway near Richmond, VA, I noticed the check engine light turn on and the vehicle handled differently. That’s when my husband’s OBD II code reader came in handy. We got off of the highway to figure out the problem. An OBD II code reader is an automotive code reader, which allows you to diagnose car problems and help you figure out if that noise is something minor or something you might need a specialist for. Simply plug it into your vehicle’s dash, and the reader will generate a code to determine where the problem is.

Unfortunately for us, the code we got wasn’t something we could repair, so we had to spend the night in Virginia. When planning your next family road trip, consider including an OBD II code reader—just in case!

Dad checking car before a long road trip

2.   A Tool Box with Basic Tools

Not only do these items come in handy when you need to make repairs on your car, but they also come to the rescue for all kinds of minor emergencies. You should always have a couple of screwdrivers (both flathead and Phillips head), a pair of pliers, wire cutters, a utility knife, flashlight, gloves, and a socket set, in either standard or metric, depending on what type of vehicle you drive.

3.   Vehicle Fluids

If you already know that you have a leak, you probably keep extra fluids on hand. However, some of the dad-approved essentials in this category are antifreeze or coolant, depending on the time of the year, brake fluid, power steering fluid, wiper fluid, and a quart or two of whatever oil your car takes.

Brother and sister in the park enjoying themselves

4.   A GPS Unit

Before you say, “But I have my phone,” hear me out! A GPS unit for your car keeps from draining your phone’s battery and ends the argument over who has to sacrifice their podcast or YouTube binge for navigation. Many newer cars come equipped with an onboard navigation system, but if yours does not, you can snag a good one for under $100. Some of the high-end units even offer live traffic updates and are voice-controlled.

If you choose to stick with your phone, at least download a few helpful apps like Waze and Gas Buddy to help you find your way and guide you to the cheapest gas in town.

Dad with two kids at the beach with amusement ride in background

5.   A Cooler with Tons of Snacks

Yes, Dad brought the snacks! A cooler filled with tons of snacks and drinks is essential on a road trip with kids. We’ve found that a mix of both healthy and “indulgent” snacks makes for happier travelers. Eating the wrong foods can contribute to fatigue and lack of focus for your driver. Not to mention, feeding the kiddos too much sugar in combination with a long drive does not make for a peaceful trip.

A cooler filled with our family’s favorite snacks kept us on schedule and cut down on pit stops along the way. The quick-grab snacks we brought included fruit gummies, chips, cookies, granola/protein bars, nuts/seeds, and dried fruits. We also kept the cooler fully stocked with bottled water and juice, which proved a real lifesaver.

Kids with Dad in a game arcade having fun

6.   Battery Pack/Jump Box

A Battery Pack/Jump Box is a backup power source for a dead car battery and is fabulous for keeping all your gadgets alive. While it is a little more expensive than granola bars, it’s probably the one dad-approved essential that saw the most use on our journey. Luckily, we did not need to jump-start our vehicle, but it sure came in handy for charging tablets and phones.

Before your next trip, including these dad-approved road trip essentials on your family’s packing list, a bit of preparation, and a few key items can help ensure a fun and safe family road trip for everyone.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author of this article and may not reflect the view of AAA—The Auto Club Group. For more information about insurance with AAA, please visit AAA.com/AutoInsurance


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