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What would you take on a long road trip?
May 11, 2005 5:38 AM   Subscribe

What would you take on a long road trip?

I was a bad daughter last Mother's Day weekend and didn't have a present ready for my mother. She is terribly hard to buy for, and the only idea I've come up with is a "survival kit" for her and my father's upcoming Grand Circle Tour.

The Grand Circle Tour is a six week driving trip that my Dad has been dreaming about for several years—they plan to drive west through the prairies to B.C., north along the coast line and into Alaska, wind up in the Yukon in time for the "midnight sun", and then head back through the NWT and Nunavut and Northern Ontario to their home in southwestern Ontario. Dad’s very excited and constantly pores over his eight-inch stack of travel guides. Mum acts like it’s going to be an endurance test.

Mum is 66, relentlessly practical, and really likes functional gifts, so what can I give her that would be useful for such a trip? I've thought of insect repellant, and my sister gave her a big book of crossword puzzles last weekend. Since my dad won't be home for Father's Day, I might as well make this a joint gift. He's the same age and is also a no-frills kind of guy. Ideas, please!
posted by orange swan to Shopping (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Car snacks; some CDs of their favorite music (if the car has a CD player); perhaps a emergency road kit with a CB Radio, since they'll be in some desolate areas; a small photo album of her kids she can stash in her pocketbook; wetnaps or hand sanitizer; car garbage bags; car snacks!; a small first aid kit; a neck pillow; disposable cameras.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:45 AM on May 11, 2005

Oh, and perhaps a journal and ask her to write in it every day and share it with you when she gets home.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:47 AM on May 11, 2005

Stuff to make motels in the boonies more pleasant, perhaps? A high grade travel toiletry kit. Portable coffee maker. Your portable version of a mini bar. That sort of thing.

Maybe make a "driving music" CD.

A pre paid dinner at a nice restaurant in a place you know they will get to?
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:51 AM on May 11, 2005

A couple of ideas:

Supplies for their camera, whether digital or conventional. Batteries, film or memory. That's a long, beautiful trip, and they're not going to stop and get photos developed or tranferred.

Small gift certificates for Tim Hortons or such, so they can stop for coffee frequently on the way.

A good set of maps or a road atlas. Or mapping software if they're taking a computer.

A gift certificate to do something really different and fun along the way. Deep sea fishing in Prince Rupert. Horseback riding on the beach at Tofino. A glacier hike in Alaska.

A book of rules for games for two and the cards and dice that go with them.

Really, really good reusable coffee cups. Ones that seal well and don't splash and fit in their cup holders and won't tip over but are easy to open to refill and will keep things toasty warm.

Phone cards. They will want to call home, or call ahead for reservations or directions or whatever and they will be in places with no cell phone coverage (most of the Northern half of BC, probably much of Alaska, as well). I'd guess pretty much all of the Territories.

Also, I realize this wasn't your question, but they know that you can't really drive much of the coastline of BC, I hope? If they want to see the coast, there's a ferry that takes a good long while, and stops in a lot of villages along the way that runs from Northern Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert quite a bit farther up the coast. It would provide an excellent view of the coast. But there isn't much in the way of roads there. The actual roads from Vancouver basically head into the middle of the province and go North through there.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:55 AM on May 11, 2005

They are planning to take the ferry along the coast, yes.

Another consideration is that my father has a fairly severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. He can walk, but not for long distances, and he wouldn't be able to do very active things like hiking or horseback riding.
posted by orange swan at 6:04 AM on May 11, 2005

Having spent months on the road, my stock answer to this is to take much less than you think you need - as little as possible. Prioritize. It's hard to find stuff in a crowded car or bag, and you can pick stuff up along the way. You have to lug stuff into and out of hotels. The age factor will probably make this very difficult, but you say they are practical people. I don't want to give an anti-answer to your question, so I'll go with, small, compartmentalized luggage bags, music, and the coffee pot/hot pot idea.
posted by rainbaby at 6:45 AM on May 11, 2005

A portable GPS unit that has maps makes it much more fun to be a co-pilot in these situations. Possibly some books on tape/cd/mp3. Actually, you can give them an MP3 player loaded with books [ripped from the library, if you have some advance time] that connects to their car stereo [either via an FM transmitter or a cassette adapter thingie]. If your Mom's feeling like this is your Dad's trip more than hers, make sure you load it with things she'll specifically like. Assisting them in whatever way to make photos [even one of those teeny photo printers wouldn't take up much room] is my last bit of gadget advice.

Less-gadgety things include: a way to heat up water in the car for tea/coffee, a small trash bag for the car [seems silly but people always forget] a small cooler with freezable icepack for cold drinks], airy seatcovers to keep you cool and a little comfy, fold-out window-cover thingies if they park their car in the sun, rolly-y bags with a lot of little packing cube type things to help them unpack and repack easily, do laundry etc. Might also want to get one of those little folding chairs [the ones that are three legs and a seat, not even the bigger ones] so they could carry it for your father to take quick breaks if they wound up somewhere that required more walking than he wanted to do all at once.
posted by jessamyn at 7:06 AM on May 11, 2005

Funny, my parents just (last week!) headed off on approximately this trip - but they're coming from the prairies heading to the other coast - and they've got six MONTHS. They're going on a motorbike, so they had to pack minimally.

A nice dinner at one of their destinations sounds like a good idea. Will they be camping or hotelling? If camping, maybe you could buy them a night in a hotel somewhere along the way to give their backs a break. Or what about something related to photography to preserve the memories of this trip? Someone suggested extra film, & batteries (or memory cards). What about photography lessons before they go?
posted by raedyn at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2005

Travel Scrabble?
posted by peacay at 7:16 AM on May 11, 2005

I just took a 45-day, 12,000-mile road trip around the U.S. this winter. Here is what I brought with me:

Car snacks: Clif bars, bottled water, raisins
Lots and lots and lots of maps
Small tool kit: Gerber multiplier, wrenches (socket & crescent) screwdriver set, vise-grip pliers, and a big fat hammer 'cause you never know.
Electronics: iPod, laptop, GPS, cellphone, Sirius Satellite Radio
Books: "Road Food," by Jan & Michael Stern, "Road Trip USA," Moon's "Blue Highways," Ian Frazier's "Great Plains."
Emergency: Jumper cables, flares, tire chains, collapsible snow shovel, kitty litter, blanket, sleeping bag, phone cards.

Depending on what your budget for a gift is, the two best things I can think to give her would be an iPod preloaded with music AND AUDIO BOOKS plus a way to play it through the car stereo (iTrip, etc. etc.) which would run you $300 - $500, or hook them up with satellite radio (Sirius, XM, etc.) which I found myself listening to MUCH more often than the iPod. The receiver was about $100, and service was, like, $15 month.
posted by dersins at 7:17 AM on May 11, 2005

Satellite phone!
posted by blag at 7:17 AM on May 11, 2005

A digital camera if they do not already have one. You can pick up a nice, easy-to-use camera for $150 or so. I just bought one for my elderly mom and she loves it.
posted by LarryC at 7:24 AM on May 11, 2005

Last year we drove 5000 miles in two weeks (with 3 kids), so I have a little bit of personal experience.

You really don't need much more than you would take going a hundred miles, but the high spots would be:
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 7:28 AM on May 11, 2005

I took a 9K mile road trip a few years ago with some friends and the most helpful thing we had for passing some time on long stretches of less enjoyable scenery was trivia. We took literature and sports trivia books, and trivial pursuit cards along with us. This saved us from some long boring stretches becoming arduous. One other helpful thing was a Letterman top-ten lists book for entertainment. it's easy to read and share with someone else in the car.
posted by battlecj at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2005

Assuming it works there, satellite radio. No question at all - doesn't matter if it's Sirius or XM (whichever has better satellite reception up there). Tons of music, news, entertainment programming, something for everyone.
posted by true at 7:50 AM on May 11, 2005

If you're putting together a survival kit, include a book light. I just bought a no-name brand clip-on gooseneck LED light that runs for 10,000 hours on two watch batteries, to use in my poorly-lit car where I can't see the cupholders at night.

Not only is it good for reading, but also for rummaging around in trunks and suitcases and finding one's way around a dark hotel room at night. Unlike a flashlight, it doesn't roll away under something just before you need it.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2005

Before leaving, have the car carefully inspected by a trusted mechanic (okay, so this might be an impossible request...) to minimize the chances of something bad happening. Take any supplies your car will need, like oil and washer fluid.

Rags always seem to come in handy, as does duct-tape and WD-40. Pack a small tool kit, and handful or two of plastic zip-ties. These are oddly, incredibly useful.
posted by odinsdream at 8:13 AM on May 11, 2005

Great Courses on CD
posted by vega5960 at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2005

Books on tape (or tapes of old radio shows)
rolls of quarters for the laundromat
postage stamps (postcard rate)
stationery and stamped envelopes for letters home, if they're not planning to keep in touch via email.
a travel journal with a couple of nice pens
posted by stefanie at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2005

A Sony PSP.
posted by PunCHdoG at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2005

There's also an active thread on a similar question over at the Roadtrip America forums that may be worth looking at.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2005

Depending on how far they're going into Alaska, you might want to get them a copy of The Milepost - it's a useful guide to attractions and services on the road in Alaska (and area).

Also, if they don't have headlight protectors, you might consider getting them a pair. There's always a lot of roadwork that's going on up North and their car will be under a fairly constant assault of pebbles and stones. Much cheaper than trying to replace them should they get smashed.

I can heartily recommend the trip up the coast of B.C./Alaska via the State Ferry travelling from Prince Rupert to Skagway. Spectacular scenery and it's just long enough to see things, but not so long that it gets tiresome.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2005

A CAA membership. Such a thing can be invaluable if there is a breakdown, and they provide excellent maps and tour books (with motels/hotels, ratings, prices, etc.). Don't know if they have the "upgrade" option in Canada to CAA Plus, but it saved our bacon in the southwest when we ran out of gas about 40 miles outside Truth or Consequences, NM. The tow truck was there in 20 minutes with five gallons of premium gas, at no charge!
posted by dbmcd at 11:28 AM on May 11, 2005

What kind of a car are they taking? This is pertinent to the types of auto accessories recommended. If applicable:

Better cupholders if they are not adequate. Many non-USian cars have little/no cupholders, which is a topic for another thread.

If space/layout/money permit: an electric cooler. Way easier than refreezing a ice pack. Many swear by theirs.

A membership in an auto club if an appropriate one exists and they don't already have one (On preview: I see someone else got this one).

Consider a satellite phone; a quick google search implies prices as low as US$399 for a used one with prepaid SIMs going for, well, a lot (400 min/ $456) or $30/month and $1.29/min (this from Good to have in a pinch (all that open space), if you can afford it.

Some sort of portable bathroom solution may be desirable. The ultimate in practicality!
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:35 AM on May 11, 2005

Along the lines of RikiTikiTavi - This. Yes, it's embarrassing, but I know an older lady who went on a long road trip with her husband and she credits this invention with saving her marriage. And certainly it will be a unique gift!
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:44 AM on May 11, 2005

Mygothlaundry, I am chuckling madly at your link. It would almost be worth it to give that (carefully tied up in pretty pink ribbons) to my mother just to see the look on her face.

Hmm, I think once I buy the gift and give it to my parents this weekend, I'll have to show my dad this thread. There's a lot of useful information here that they probably should consider, and of course my gift budget won't run to it all:-)
posted by orange swan at 11:55 AM on May 11, 2005

Yes to audio books. Although with this caveat: I only enjoy listening to them if I'm the driver. I hate listening when I'm a passenger.

I'd strongly recommend a gift like AAA and do some careful trip planning to avoid simply driving as far as one can stand, then doing that over and over. Each trip should be a destination, and the best would have a few breaks in between to relax and enjoy the trip and being together.
posted by cptnrandy at 12:23 PM on May 11, 2005

If your Mom knits or crochets (or you think she might want to learn) get her a book of sock or washcloth/dishrag patterns & some yarn & appropriate size needles. I just got back from 20 hrs. in the car and that's what I did when I wasn't driving. Socks are more advanced. Dishrags are easy & fast & can be done knit or crochet with cotton yarn.
Also I like the LightWedge for reading at night. It lights up the whole page.
Twenty questions is a good game to play if they want to interact with each other.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:44 PM on May 11, 2005

Hey, would they like to learn a language? There is a series called "In Your Car" French, Spanish, etc. I used the Spanish one & It kept me busy for months.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:49 PM on May 11, 2005

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