If you take road trips all the time for work, play, or just worry that you might at some point wind up driving a lot further than the commute to work one day, it pays to be prepared. They say that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure and when you’re out on the road out between towns or trying to source supplies in a sleepy little city, that’s never been more true. Take it from someone who’s been doing a lot of traveling in a car sporting DIY solar panels with lead-acid batteries and an inverter wedged behind a wheel well in the back. Preparation pays it’s dividends. Whether you’re driving a self-renovated campervan into the wilderness with the family, a modified prius to work every day, or even a full-sized RV, having the right gear and backup plans for your backup plans is always the way to go. So without further ado, here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
1) Pack a Toolkit
While everyone should have things like their tow-hook, tire tool, spare tire, and both kinds of screwdriver, we’re talking the kind of toolkit that can help you with small detail work as well. Grab a small sturdy pouch to hold small tools that might otherwise get lost in your trunk or little crevices in your hatchback.
- Needle-nose pliers
- Small adjustable wrench
- A credit card or library card you don’t care about
- Pocket knife with a very thin blade
- Letterman tool
- Small versions of both screwdrivers
2) Command Strips and Sugru
If you have ever wanted to attach anything to anything and you didn’t have a lot of time or your shelf of various adhesives back in the home garage, command strips and Sugru are your best friend. Sugru is “moldable glue” that feels a lot like modeling clay but then cures as flexible plastic. It’s great for fixing busted cable ends, shoes, and laptop cases but its best use so far has been to turn that GD dashboard texture inside your car into a smooth surface so the command strips stick.
Command strips are 3M brand no-mess, no-residue mounting strips. They come in all varieties with plenty of accessories but I suggest just grabbing a few packs of ‘mediums’ and ‘larges’ to affix anything to anything. If one surface is textured, start with a very thin layer of sugru first.
3) Solar Panels
Putting DIY solar panels on your car is an amazing amount of fun, but do it wrong and you’ll either fail to charge your batteries or see a panel flapping off into the highway behind you. Start with flexible solar panels and washing the top of your car. Then use a frame of large (5 lbs) command strips to secure the outer edge of the solar panels to the top of the car all the way around. If you use enough, these will completely secure the panels and come off with zero residue if you need to replace or temporarily remove a panel.
Everyone’s choice of inverter, charge controller, and batteries are going to be different but one thing that is universally true is that you will wind up doing some wiring on the road. Make sure to bring your entire wiring kit including
- Roll of Wire
- Wire Cutters
- Wire Crimper
- Crimping Ends and Shunts
- Extra Nuts, Bolts, and Screws
4) One Gallon Bottle of Water
Clean water is incredibly useful on the road, even if you’re not driving an old car with a dying radiator. You can use it to wash with, to hydrate when you run out of road sodas, to make a cold compress if someone gets motion sick, and to cleanse wounds. When you do finally decide to snag a hotel room, drinking the water you brought can keep you from getting travel-belly from introducing new regional water contents into your system. We’ve got a Coleman 1-Gallon, as classic as it gets, and have never fully run out on 1-3 day trips.
5) Witch Hazel Toner is the Bomb
Staying clean on a road trip without hotel stops can be a challenge and we’ve tried all sorts of things from water to Windex. The best solution by far has been this one formula of witch hazel toner that cleanses, dries clean, and happens to leave your skin a little healthier. It’s better than sanitizer which dries out the hands and invites super-bugs and it’s a lot better than plain water. Keeping a bottle or two in the car at all times has now become a policy. For serious washing, bring a little dish soap in a travel container.