Depending on how far you're going and how long you plan to stay, consider the following basics:
Here are some extras you might be into, depending on your plans:
Yes, Google Maps on your smartphone is likely all you need, but if you're going to an area where your phone may lose service (or you want to limit your data usage) get a dedicated GPS device. You can download maps to use offline on your phone, but if you get lost or have a last-minute change of plans, you'll need internet to figure out where you are. Having a GPS as a backup is important. This Garmin I bought in 2014 is still my most coveted piece of tech. You don't need the latest and greatest—though they're quite nice. Any Garmin GPS still in production will do.
It doesn't matter if your trip is going to last a day or a full weekend, you should pack lunch, dinner, and extra snacks and drinks. At a time where it's up in the air whether restaurants or food halls are open, and you're trying to limit contact with other people as much as possible, it makes sense to have it all with you. You'll need to keep it all fresh and cool, so a cooler will come in handy.
We have a guide filled with coolers we like for all situations and budgets, but the Pelican Elite 20QT is our choice for road trips because it's tall and narrow. It fits into most trunks or back seats. In our testing, ice stayed frozen for two days, even after being driven around and stored outside in 80-degree weather. It has four cupholders with drains, so it can be used as a small drink table too.
You probably don't need a tent that's super luxurious or ultra-lightweight for a casual road trip, so you have ample affordable options. WIRED senior writer Adrienne So loves all things Coleman, and its $190 4-Person Cabin Tent—with a screened "porch," nonetheless!—should give most people enough headroom, and it fits a queen-sized air mattress.
We haven't tried the Ozark Trail 6-Person Instant Cabin Tent, but it's a popular brand among campers and costs just $125, with enough room for two queen-sized air mattresses. If you aren't concerned about budget, we like the MSR Habitude 4. It packs down small, is easy to set up, and has a built-in vestibule for your dirty shoes, but it costs $500.
Even the most seasoned camper probably doesn't love sleeping on the ground. A sleeping mat, like the Alps Mountaineering Lightweight Series Air Pad, will give your back a bit of relief. It's not as good as an air mattress, but it takes up less room.