Notes From An American Road Trip: 10 Essential Gear Items

Tripping Content Manager Katy Birnbaum is currently on a 2 month road trip across the country, and we will be getting dispatches from her as she makes her journey. Click here to read all of them! -Grahame Not everyone can load up the equivalent of a small house in a rock star RV and head off into the great unknown. For the rest of us, there are some pretty nifty travel items that make it tolerable to take off in a mid-sized station wagon on a 10,000 mile trip. Some may be small, some may be big, and others may be completely unexpected, but there is one thing that all of these items have in common--they have at some point or another been superbly useful on this trip. And what better way is there to celebrate these small wonders than to share them with other travelers? Though there are many more, here is a quick list of 10... 1. Sturdy hiking boots I had never owned a pair of real hiking boots before heading out on this trip. Let me tell you, they have revolutionized my wilderness experiences. Previously, I had always been worried about twisting an ankle or sliding down a trail with my tennis shoes. But now I can trek around steep gravel inclines or out into slippery creek rocks and feel safe and comfortable. Although these aren't the heavy duty 20 mile plus hiking boots, they have solid ankle support and rugged tread--the two essentials for any serious hiking boot. 2. Cotton bandana Although it might seem girlie or garishly cowboy, a nice cotton bandana can be a lifesaver. While going on hikes or sitting around camp, it can be a great low-tech air-conditioner. Dip it in some ice water before you tie it around your neck, and you'll be set for a hours. But watch out for cheap ones from the dollar store--they can bleed when they get wet.The oversized sunglasses and red tongue are optional! 3. Spray hand sanitizer Many campgrounds do not have soap in their restrooms. Additionally, it can be difficult to find a bathroom when you are on the go in a big city. This little bottle of all natural, alcohol-free hand sanitizer has been a great substitute for a quick wash. It doesn't leave a lingering smell and is guaranteed not to leak with its sturdier dispenser design--a vast improvement from your run of the mill pocket-sized gel sanitizers. 4. Egg contain Eggs have been a terrific fast meal for me during this trip. They are cheap, easy to prepare, and can last quite a bit when hard-boiled. The only downside is that they can be difficult to transport, especially in a cooler full of ice. Luckily, I found this spiffy carrier in Jackson, Wyoming. So far, not a single broken egg. But best of all, there also hasn't been a soggy cardboard container to deal with. 5. Cast iron frying pan I used to be skeptical of people's snobbishness when it came to cast iron pans, but I have become a believer. Much less fragile than any nonstick, this deep cast iron pan distributes the flismy flame of the camp stove well, keeps food warm, and is easy to clean up. It may be a bit heavy, but it's worth every ounce.   6. Self-lighting camp stove I am not a smoker, so carrying around a lighter has never been a habit. Unfortunately, this means that it is often difficult to find one when I need it most--right before dinner in a dark campsite. This self-lighting camp stove has simplified the cooking process by a great deal. It's self-contained, easy to clean, and durable. Although I don't usually endorse brands, I'll let you know that it is a Coleman, and I'm glad I paid for the extra couple dollars for the brand name, as the other self-lighting camp stoves had subpar reviews. 7. Insulated water container Although buying bottles of water is convenient, it also wreaks havoc on the environment. In fact, my New Year's resolution to help the planet was to stop buying plastic water bottles, which meant that figuring out how to stay hydrated on the road was going to be tricky. The most convenient solution was this two gallon insulated water pitcher. It carries enough water for a couple of days or an evening of cooking and dish washing. It also keeps water at about the same temperature as it goes in, so it doesn't end up tasting like a cup of water boiled in plastic after a few days.   8. Rainproof tent Rain has been an unexpected companion on this trip, and I am happy to have invested in one of the best rated rainproof tents. It is also supremely easy to setup. The only drawback to this particular model is that it is fairly high, making it a bit precarious in heavy, heavy wind. Again, although I don't usually endorse brands, I would definitely recommend this Kelty Grand Mesa 6-person tent. 9. Car inverter and power strip Though I wish I was better at completely unplugging while on the road, life demands a bit of high tech connection. And keeping all of the devices charged isn't always easy, especially when camping. This inverter allows you to plug it into the car charger and output to AC power. Coupled with a power strip, this baby can charge a whole house of electronics while on the road. Just don't forget to turn it off when you stop driving, lest you want a dead battery to come back to! The power strip has also been very useful in hotels or houses lacking in convenient power outlets. 10. Brightly colored, scuffed tennis shoes Last, but not least, one pair of colorful, scuffed up tennies are critical for road trip documentation. Stick 'em in any picture and you've got a shot of a famous site made all your own. Gear Tip Although air mattresses may seem comfortable and convenient, they most definitely are not. They are loud to inflate, which can be bad when arriving at a campground after quiet time, most always lose some air by morning, and can be awkward to pack. I would recommend investing in a real camping mat, such as a Thermarest air mattress (thin) or foam. Road Trip Tip Don't be afraid of packing in boxes. I was fooled into thinking that it would be easier to squish bags in instead of boxes, but have found that they can be much more difficult to organize and fit. A few correctly sized, sturdy boxes can act as a solid foundation for packing stuff on top, ultimately protecting your gear and making it easier to find.