In many ways, today’s great American road trip would be starkly different than that of the author’s premillennial adventure from Florida to Alaska, when a paper map guided the way and a dollar’s worth of gas brought the destination 20 miles closer. No cell phone or GPS. A 20-pound CD carrying case. A prepaid card and a seedy convenience store’s pay phone to let everyone back home know you were OK. But even if some of the gear has changed, today’s intrepid road warriors’ reasons for the trip would be the same as they ever were — to see the beauty of this land, to drive for its own sake, to meet great people you’d never encounter otherwise, and be inspired by the freedom to go, at least for a short time, in whatever direction they chose. Here’s the gear you’ll want to consider the next time you want to get lost.
The remarkable Oru Inlet Folding Kayak allows you to explore even further the sights along the road without the need to carry a traditional vessel on a car-top rack. At just 20 pounds, folded dimensions of 42x18x10 inches, and made for inexperienced paddlers on calm waters, the Inlet will have you scouring the map for aquatic side trips. Oru Kayak | orukayak.com
DEET might make you sneeze a few times, but you know what’s better than being attacked by mankind’s deadliest disease vector? Sneezing. The tradeoff for some of this country’s most beautiful places are mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds, so protect yourself. If you’d rather go the natural route, try Jao Patio Oil.
Jao Brand | jaobrand.com
Keep your snacks cool in the car or campsite with a soft-sided cooler that’s more conducive to cargo space than a chest cooler. Take it on a hike, strap it to a folding bike, or put it in the folding kayak, too! Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware | 2633 S. Florida Avenue
Even fans of the groovy, original V-Dub Buses have to admit (quite loudly!) that it sounds like there’s a lawnmower in the back. And a broadside crosswind felt like it could push the bus off the road. But they sure are fun to drive. The electric concept Volkswagen ID.Buzz Microbus slated for 2023 looks to have all the fun configurability of the originals with high-tech upgrades. For now, of course, it might be hard to come by a charging station on the road less traveled. For 2021 models, be sure to check out VW’s electric 2021 ID.4 1st Edition and the 2021 ID.4 Pro.
Lakeland Volkswagen | 209 S. Lake Parker Avenue
Never hear (or think!) “Are we there yet??” with some family Road Trip Games. You can go with the classic license plate game or more modern versions the kids might enjoy a bit more, like What Do You Meme Family Edition.
Target Lakeland | 3570 Harden Boulevard
Just because you’re on a road trip, or a hike during one, doesn’t mean you have to go without your favorite espresso. The Nanopresso gives you everything you need for a shot of your favorite caffeinated beverage in a convenient package.
Wacaco | wacaco.com
The necessity of a great travel mug really needs no explanation. Opt for a high-quality one, like the Contigo West Loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug with Autoseal Lid, that keeps hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold for hours. It has anti-leak and anti-spill features to keep your eyes on the road and stains out of your car. Contigo | gocontigo.com
Among the most practical, inexpensive stuff you can pack, emergency road flares will sharpen the attention of distracted drivers if you find yourself in an unfortunate side-of-the-road situation. Swing by Lakeland’s AutoZone on your way out of town for a set of them.
AutoZone | 3245 S. Florida Avenue
You’ll capture the scenic beauty with plenty of cell phone photos, but why not scratch your more creative itch by trying to paint the scene? Several renderings from your trip might be a great way to tell the story when you reach your destination. Order the SoHo Urban Artist Lightweight Mahogany French Easel; it’s collapsible and easy to pack!
Jerry’s Artarama | jerrysartarama.com
The road trip is about traveling light, and what better way to do that than with a leather duffel bag? This Cenzo bag features polished Italian calfskin leather, brass trim, and a floor-to-floor zipper. It’ll take the abuse of the road and be no worse for wear.
Cenzo Leather | cenzobags.com
If you’ll be camping in colder country and need some extra warmth, or you just have a penchant for being as efficient as possible, consider a wearable sleeping bag from Selk’bag.
Selk’bag | selkbagusa.com
Be sure the people you meet along the way couldn’t guess you’re on a road trip because you look disheveled. Keeping all your toiletries in the Nomatic is not just a great way to stay organized, it also ensures you won’t have a malodorous presence!
Nomatic | nomatic.com
There are plenty of beautiful places across the land that you won’t see through the windshield. Although the road will get you close, you’ll need to hike to get the best view, so don’t forget a good pair of hiking boots. Kohl’s Lakeland | 1401 Town Center Drive
For safety and comfort, polarized lenses are a must for long days of driving. It helps if they are beautifully crafted, too. Eyes on Lakeland carries sunglasses from Etnia Barcelona, makers of the Titanium Collection of mineral polarized lenses which are lightweight and very resistant to scratches.
Eyes on Lakeland | eyesonlakeland.com
The road lets your mind wander from the profound to the absurd to the inspirational like no other place. Don’t let those thoughts evaporate out there on the long stretches of asphalt. Reflecting in a journal on what made you laugh or cry or resolve to do something will turn to gold when the trip is over.
Scout & Tag | 244 N Kentucky Ave
If you want to camp along the way, but sleeping on the ground isn’t your idea of fun, consider a car-top perch, the Thule Tepui Explorer Ayer 2 Tent from REI (with integrated foam mattress) that allows close proximity to nature with a reasonable buffer. The creepy crawlies, raccoons, skunks, and bears can go about their business while you sleep peacefully aloft. REI | rei.com
It’s not just a bright flashlight; it’s an entire adventure kit with over 70 pieces of survival gear in a rugged package. Out on the trail, searching your car stowage, or just hanging around the campsite, you’ll be happy you have the VSSL with you. VSSL Gear | vsslgear.com
Somewhere along the road or trail, you’ll wish you had the Leatherman Topo Signal. It might just bring out your inner MacGyver and keeps the user safe with features like locking blades and an emergency whistle. Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware | 2633 S. Florida Avenue
Forgetting the practical stuff on a road trip can deflate the fun times in a hurry. Along with your vehicle’s tire tools and one of those widely available tire-repair kits, consider a tire inflator powered by a battery — which can also power a bright flashlight (and remember to pack the charger!).
Lakeland Home Depot | 805 U.S. Hwy. 98 N.
Get some shade, or cover from the rain, no matter where you are with a Moonshade Awning. It’s compact when stowed and attaches quickly to your vehicle to create a shelter from the elements.
Moon | moonfab.com
If your road-trip plans include hikes, then a good pair of binoculars can come in handy. Perhaps at a distance you encounter large wildlife, but it would be distressing to it and unsafe for you to approach. Bushnell Forge 10×30 binoculars will give you an up-close view faster than you can say Keplerian optics.
Dick’s Sporting Goods | 919 Lakeland Park Center Drive, Suite 300
The fire’s going, the stars are out, and you’re reflecting on another liberating day on the open road. Everyone could use a little more peace of mind; you can rock your way to it with the GCI RoadTrip Rocker Chair.
Dick’s Sporting Goods | 919 Lakeland Park Center Drive, Suite 300
On the road or on the trail, be sure your water is safe to drink with the LifeStraw Go Stainless Steel bottle. Sure, you could slosh some water into any ol’ container and be on your way — but it won’t filter out the impurities, and it sure won’t make your water safe if you find yourself on the trail without it. Not so with the remarkable LifeStraw, which removes bacteria, parasites, microplastics, chemicals, and dirt from wilderness water sources. LifeStraw| lifestraw.com
You could buy an inverter for the car, but that can be awkward or difficult to use at the campsite. Perhaps a more practical solution is the Jackery Portable Power Station to power your phone, laptop, and much more — and it charges in the car, a hotel room, or even with its own available solar panels!
Jackery Portable Power Station | jackeryportablepowerstation.com
Road & Trail is the only local bike shop that deals with folding bikes, and they offer folding bikes from Giant. Unless you’re specifically taking a trip to cycle, bringing a full-sized bike might be too cumbersome. A folding bike, on the other hand, allows you to take some great mini-trips on your stops along the way and takes up a fraction of your cargo space. Road & Trail | 5113 U.S. Hwy. 98 S.
For those long days out of the car, whether on the trail or city streets, you’ll want a comfortable backpack to haul your stuff. Osprey makes men’s and women’s versions that make carrying your gear feel like not much at all, like the Farpoint and Fairview Trek Pack.
Osprey | osprey.com | Road & Trail Bicycles Lakeland 5113 U.S. 98 S.
There’s no explanation necessary for using sunscreen for outdoor activities, but even long days in the car can put your skin at risk. Sunscreens have made progress lately, so don’t forget a can of Sun Bum mineral sunscreen. It’s a more effective formulation with a more pleasant feel.
Ulta Lakeland | 3615 S. Florida Avenue
A major part of the road-trip experience is stopping in small-town diners and even the famous big-city establishments for the local fare, but some nights you’ll want a DIY dinner at the campsite. The Fyre Captain lets you grill up a delicious meal with ease.
Coleman | coleman.com