It’s about this time of year that I start planning my winter road trips and travels. I used to live in New England and California where a road trip from home could be as great of an adventure as any international trip. Now that I live deep in the heart of the Midwest, I pretty much have to fly to get to any mountainous area within a day. To that end, I’ve been intrigued by the new company, RelayRides who provides peer-to-peer airport car rentals. For this newly-midwestern traveler, that means that I could rent a more road-trip friendly pickup truck or SUV for what I’d normally pay for an economy car. This makes flying and then road-tripping out of Denver, Salt Lake City or Oregon far more economical. Less money spent on car rentals means more to go towards lift tickets or vacation rentals.

RelayRides has asked me to share what I’ve found to be most useful on my road trips, whether 100 or 1,000 miles. From my most recent 6,000 mile trip across the South to my month long trip out west, there’s some things that I try never to leave without.
Vermont's Route 100 would have excellent scenery this time of year- always wanted to drive it in the winter
Smart phones have had a profound effect on travel. Ten years ago I was still printing out mapquest directions, relying on phone cards and using an old-fashioned compass even on shorter road trips. These days, those are all apps on my phone. While I would never forfeit my phone for the cumbersome old-fashioned methods of direction and information, there’s several items that could never be replaced by an app in my world. Smart phones die, occasionally break or simply not work in some places which is why I continue to rely on some of my favorite relics.

Delorme Maps

Simply put, Delorme Maps are the best road atlases available. Designed in my adoptive-state of Maine, Delorme maps were extremely handy to seasoned hunters and wilderness lovers as well as the casual day tripper. There’s an incredible amount of detail on the maps but they are easy to read. Additionally, the information in the front contains destinations, points of interest and trip ideas which could be easily glossed over in an internet search of “cool things to do in ____”. Even with my three dozen travel-related apps on my phone, I constantly rely on my dog-eared, highlighted and somewhat torn Delorme atlases. When I went on a 25 state tour of everything east of the Mississippi, you can be sure I had one for every state.

Garmin eTrex 10 Handheld GPS Receiver

You can spend a lot of money on a GPS these days. A quick google search of hand-held GPS devices will reveal that the eTrex is one of the “cheaper” models. Sure I could get a more detailed one, but I’ve been relying on this one for as long as I’ve been traveling and never once thought about spending a penny more than I did here. Again, there’s plenty of GPS-related phone apps but it is important for me to have a long-lasting GPS for when the phone invariably dies. The eTrex is essentially a waypoint mapper and helps you get from point A to point B (no topo map) but that’s really all you need for 95% of your travels. From deep in the Rocky Mountain wilderness to local Chicago state parks, I’ve always appreciated this GPS for basic path finding and directions. It’s a great bargain for those who don’t feel the need to spend 600 dollars on a 2 pound GPS device.

REI Double Shot Press Mug (or any Portable French Press)

Although there’s no app for this (yet), the portable Frenchpress falls into my 21st century travel essentials. An unexpected expense of road-trips is coffee. Spending 2-3 dollars a cup on those long days can get a little pricy on a longer trip. Plus, gas station coffee is usually half-burned by the time you get it. Most coffee connoisseurs would agree that French pressed coffee is infinitely better than mass produced stuff anyways. Having that little extra luxury on a long trip really makes a difference. When I was camping, all I had to do was have hot water and coffee grinds for a local-coffee-house grade cup of Joe. On my more civilized trips for conferences, I brought my little French press along and enjoyed not having to rely on iffy hotel-room coffee machines. It is my 11th essential.

Stanley 1000 Peak Amp Jump Starter/Compressor

The Stanley Jump Starter is like a Swiss Army Knife for automobiles. I purchased one of these for an extended expedition into the Canadian woods where I was going to be on logging roads for the duration of the trip. However, I’ve found that this useful pack has saved me on multiple out-and-about trips near home. Having a portable batter jump-starter, flat tire air-compressor and USB charger gives me peace of mind on all my road-trips. Not only that, but I could charge my phone or tablet overnight in my tent when I was far from any outlets (and didn’t have to leave my car on!) It plugs right into a car DC cigarette lighter, charges pretty quickly and runs for hours. From filling up a flat mountain bike tire to giving a quick jump to my lawn mower, having one of these jump-starter packs is invaluable on long road trips and at home. (They make this in 300-1000 amps which will charge most any car, truck, boat, ATV or snowmobile) 

AC Power Inverter

Speaking of electric outlets, it’s nice to be able to turn your car’s cigarette lighter into a simple AC outlet (like the kinds you have in your home). I purchased one of these along with the jump starter and essentially was able to charge anything and everything from my car’s cigarette lighter. Given that a majority of my travel writing is done on site, I really can’t be driving all the way to a coffee shop to charge a phone/tablet. With the power inverter, ever single device was always charged- from electric shaver to laptop. These are not very expensive but make a huge difference on a road trip.
Would love to head back out to Utah and drive this road again! (Valley of the Gods)
I’m always the first to get a new app that continues to expand my traveling universe but something things can’t be done by the smartest of phones. As such, I always include a little extra space in my car or luggage for those few non-replaceables that add a little extra peace of mind or luxury to a camping or road trip.