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Road Trip Gear: Seven Must-Have Essentials

When you've got a road trip vehicle to fill with stuff, packing becomes a headache. A corollary the old saw that work expands to fill the available time, the stuff you bring seems to expand to fill the available cargo space. Every time I check into a motel, I seem to have more junk to haul to my room.

But there's a small batch of necessities I keep coming back to day in and day out. They're my seven trip essentials, and I'd recommend them to anyone hitting the road this summer, whether you're going across the country or just on a weekend camping trip.

Six Driving Tips from a Summer Spent on the American Road

This summer, I've driven more than 5,000 miles, from the Great Lakes to New England to Florida and beyond. Operating my car for more than 150 hours in about six weeks doesn't make me a professional driver, but it certainly has exposed me to heaps of stupidity on America's highways, interstates and surface roads. With my summer's experience, I respectfully submit the best six ways you can be a better driver by this evening's commute.

In Search of Serendipity in Savannah

Sitting in the passenger seat of a lime green Mustang, driving out of the historic center of Savannah, I started to wonder what I'd gotten myself into. A guy in a black suit was taking me, well, somewhere.

I asked where we were headed. "Bonaventure," said Shannon, as he started describing one of the biggest cemeteries in the area and the funerary traditions of Georgia's generations past. I was going to tour a graveyard with a stranger I'd just met, and it was a perfectly Savannahian moment.

Folly Beach, South Carolina: The Country's Greatest Fourth of July

This most recent Fourth of July, on a beach in South Carolina, a guy named Freddie handed me a beer after I took his photo in front of his American flag. He'd just done his best Iwo Jima pose, and as I tapped his email address into my phone, promising to send him the pictures very soon, he insisted I take a turn hoisting the stars and stripes. Road trip tip: Do whatever a beer-toting, banner-flying patriot asks on Independence Day and you'll be handsomely rewarded.

Two months ago, I couldn't have guessed where Folly Beach might be. Now, I'm singing its praises to anyone who will listen. I never thought I'd be planning my first trip to South Carolina, but after a short stay in Folly, I'm already thinking about my second.

Off the Road: Kayaking Conway, South Carolina

The guy at the marina told us that alligators are usually scared of people, so we probably didn't have much to worry about after the kayaks were in the river. But the Waccamaw flows with what's called black water--water turned dark by tannins leeched from cypress trees along the banks--making it all but impossible to see beneath the surface. If there were gators about, we'd only know it once it was too late. The sleepy town of Conway, South Carolina was proving to be much more exciting than I'd expected.

The Greatest Road Trip Radio Show in History

The best radio station I've listened to on this road trip is Road Dog Trucking on SiriusXM. It's a channel dedicated to truckers, with an ample time for call-ins and opinion-and a plethora of regional dialects, a selective sample that seems to indicate that most of the truckers in this country are white men from the south. It's endlessly fascinating, this window onto an oft-overlooked subculture, and the pinnacle of the station is a show hosted by Dale Sommers, who goes by the name Truckin' Bozo.

The Country's Biggest Tourist Trap: South of the Border

There is a tourist trap in South Carolina called South of the Border. A combination truck stop, motel, roadside attraction, carnival and snack stand, it's high kitsch of the first order, bordering on exploitative with its stereotypically Mexican "mascot" Pedro. A couple days before the Fourth of July, when I drove through, it's also a bonanza for fireworks, all manner of which are legal in South Carolina, even if they're sold at exit one, just south of the border with North Carolina.

Staying with Friends: On the Porch in Raleigh, North Carolina

One thing you won't find in New York City, at least at my apartment, is a screened-in porch. But in the summer in the south, the porch is the living room, kitchen, dining room and bar, a focal point of a home to rival the greatest of fireplaces. I know because I had the pleasure of enjoying a porch for a couple of days recently in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Six Reasons to Love the Outer Banks

You've seen the stickers. White ovals, with the trio of letters "OBX," an American riff on European nationality decals, they're a sign of allegiance to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I always found them annoying: How could some mid-Atlantic beach really be that wonderful? And why would you want to brag about your vacation on the back of your car?

Turning onto the beach road in Kill Devil Hills, with the dunes to my left, houses on stilts looking out over the water and kids slowly pedaling cruiser bikes, the reason became apparent. The Outer Banks are so wonderful, you can't help but evangelize on their behalf. Here are six reasons why.

The Ultimate Road Trip Detour: Go Kart Racing?

At the outset of this road trip, I invited friends and readers to jump in the car with me. After more than a month on the road, one of my buddies finally took me up on the offer, planning to meet me in Virginia Beach after I toured Colonial Williamsburg.

I've known Rob for more than 10 years, and while we get along wonderfully, we love competition. So it being a road trip, there was no better place to spar than on a go kart track.

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