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10 Car Essentials for Driving During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Going on a road trip or to the grocery store? These car essentials will help you stay prepared and safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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face masks in car to prevent the spread of covid-19Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images

A driving checklist during coronavirus

When it comes to car safety, there are things you should always keep in your vehicle: A spare tire plus the tools needed to change a flat, jumper cables, flares… but during a health pandemic, it’s important to think through some other key car essentials you’ll need when you travel. Whether you’re headed on a road trip or just to the grocery store, it’s important to keep extra items on hand that increase your safety and lower your Covid-19 risk when you’re on the go.

As Neha Vyas, MD, a family medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, points out, everything takes longer these days. Quick trips can turn into hours thanks to long lines that help maintain social distancing. There’s simply more uncertainty when we travel, which means what you need to travel with has changed too. To simplify, we’ve rounded up the car essentials you should keep in your car at all times so you’re prepared and safe during your travels. (Please keep in mind that some of these products may be sold out or unavailable. We’ve done our best to provide links to sites where these products were not sold out at the time of publication.)

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Perry Ellis Reusable Rounded Woven Fabric Face Masks


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Every expert we spoke to agreed that you should definitely keep extra face masks in your car. Why? You’re prone to forget them at home. And if you’re in too much of a rush to turn back, you could be putting yourself at unnecessary risk. “Sometimes people get in their car and then they realize, ‘Oh, I don’t have a mask,’ and so many places these days will not let you in without a mask,” says Dr. Vyas. “I always keep a couple of masks handy in the car, just in case.” What kind of mask do you need? You definitely need one that covers your mouth and nose and both sides of your cheeks to prevent air from entering. Even if you can’t get your hands on the coveted N95 masks (which are designed to block out 95 percent of small particles, including bacteria and viruses), do-it-yourself and cloth masks, like these Perry Ellis fabric masks, are able to provide protection. Made of 100 percent cotton, they have the breathability you’ll want to keep them on all day. And with six masks in a pack, you can switch out your mask based on your style until it’s laundry day. (This is what doctors want you to know about coronavirus face masks.)

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PURA D’OR Hand Sanitizer Gel


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“An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is good to keep in the car,” says Dr. Vyas. “Oftentimes you’ll touch doorknobs and cart handles when you’re out running errands.”  Sarah P. Cate, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, says she always uses her hand sanitizer before touching most objects, including before touching her car or keys. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends any hand sanitizer, which works by killing germs that are on the skin, that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. The Pura D’OR hand sanitizer gel—which has nearly 500 five-star reviews on Amazon—is 70 percent alcohol, providing germ-fighting power. While soap and water will always provide a more thorough clean and truly removes germs from the skin, hand sanitizer can be a more practical option when you’re on the go.

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Wonderful Pistachios, No Shells, Roasted and Salted


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You may not think you need to travel with snacks for a quick run to the grocery store, but Dr. Vyas points out that everything takes longer these days due to long lines at everywhere from the bank to the grocery store. A trip that used to take 20 minutes before Covid-19 may take well over an hour now, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re planning and packing to run errands. And you’ll, of course, want to keep healthy snacks in the car for longer trips.

“For many of our patients who have medical conditions that cause hypoglycemia, they need to keep snacks on hand to regulate their blood sugar,” says Dr. Vyas. “It’s really helpful to have a snack in the car so that you don’t run into trouble if, for instance, you have diabetes.” Plus keeping healthy snacks readily available will help reduce the chances you’ll make unhealthy choices (hello, drive though) when your stomach starts grumbling.

So what should you pack? Amy Gorin, RDN, who is based in the New York City area, has two go-to snacks for when she’s traveling. She recommends Wonderful Roasted & Salted Pistachios: “This resealable, sharing size 24-ounce bag is perfect for keeping in the car for when hunger strikes,” she says. “In each ¼-cup serving, you get six grams of plant protein, three grams of fiber, and 10.5 grams of better-for-you poly- and monounsaturated fats. This power trio of nutrients helps to keep you full for longer.” If pistachios aren’t your thing, consider the KIND Oats & Honey snack bar instead. “The number one rule of car snacks is you want to stash something that won’t melt,” Gorin says. “This whole-grains bar is a great pick because it provides protein, fiber, and healthy fats but doesn’t contain any chocolate that will melt. You get five super grains in each bar—oats, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, and quinoa—that help to keep you satiated.”

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Hydro Flask Standard Mouth Water Bottle


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For the same reason to keep snacks in the car, you’ll want to pack water, too. Keep a few water bottles (bottled water or your own refillable jugs) in your car just in case you end up staying out longer than expected. “Let’s say you have a couple of errands to run and you realize that you get thirsty during the day,” says Dr. Vyas. “A lot of the water fountains are closed now, so it’s a good idea to carry around a bottle of water with you.” For longer trips, water is also a no brainer so you can stay well hydrated between pit stops. The Hydro Flask is one of the most highly-rated reusable water bottles on Amazon with more than 9,000 reviews. We suggest opting for the largest size (24 oz) to avoid having to refill too often.

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Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit


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A first aid kit is always good to have in your car, whether there’s a pandemic happening or not. “For longer trips, which are not currently recommended, it’s important to carry a first aid kit,” says Dr. Vyas. “I think that’s just general good advice. If you’re driving at night, a flashlight would be helpful too.” As always, safety and common sense are important especially if you’re road tripping. First aid kits should include the basics: Over-the-counter medications, bandages, tape, small Band-Aids, ointment, hydrogen peroxide, and perhaps a thermometer. And you’ll want to personalize your kit to you and your fellow travelers’ needs, including specific medications and other health necessities, like an extra asthma inhaler, just in case. If you’re not sure what to put in your first aid kit or are worried you won’t have everything you’ll need, consider purchasing a ready-made kit like the Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit that comes fully stocked with 120 items for literally any emergency. Bonus: It comes with a smaller on-the-go kit that fits 32 essential medical items, so you can leave some items at home, taking only what you’ll need for the road.

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Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap


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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that the best way to prevent the spread of viruses and infection is to simply wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And while hand sanitizer is great in a pinch, if you’re planning to run a full day of errands or will be traveling for many hours, you will at some point need to wash your hands. (Bottled water will also come in handy to rinse off the soap.) “You may get caught someplace where you really need to actually wash your hands and you do not have soap,” says Angela J. Lamb, MD, associate professor in the department of dermatology and medical director of the Patient Access Center Mount Sinai Doctors Faculty Practice. “Sanitizer is great, but when your hands are soiled or you’ve just used the bathroom, you really need to actually wash your hands.” Keeping a small container of hand soap, in your car kit along with a roll of paper towels will make sure you’re prepared. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day has long been a cult favorite for its cruelty-free and biodegradable formula. Plus, the line comes in a variety of scents so you can find the one you like best.

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Maxboost Car Charger with SmartUSB Port



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We’ve all been there: You can be so focused on ticking things off your to-do list that you neglect to notice when your cell phone is on one percent and then—just as you’re about to pull up the directions to the next stop—the phone goes dead. It’s the worst feeling, but also completely avoidable. Keeping a spare cell phone charger in your car is always a good habit but when you want to limit extra trips to the store or having to ask to borrow a friend’s (or a stranger’s) cord, it’s best to just have one on you. “Oftentimes, we’re using our cell phones for GPS and we may not remember to bring the car charger,” says Dr. Vyas. Data-sucking apps can drain your battery faster than you might expect and longer-than-usual errands can leave you stranded with no way to access directions or call for help. Get in the habit of keeping a charger—like the highly reviewed, fast-charging Maxboost which has two ports and works with both Android and iPhones (USB cords not included)—in your car so it’s always handy. (Here’s how to disinfect your cell phone to kill coronavirus.)

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BAGGU Standard Reusable Shopping Bag


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Most stores won’t allow you to bring your own bags in right now to reduce the risk of you bringing contaminants with you into their establishments, but you can always keep a foldable, reusable bag in your car should you want to transfer items to your own clean bags once you’ve left. The Baggu reusable shopping bags are the perfect choice because they take up hardly any space, folding up into a five-by-five inch square but can hold up to 50 pounds when in use. (And with dozens of color choices, we have a feeling you won’t have trouble finding one that matches your style). Dr. Vyas says she often travels with a small, reusable bag: “I always keep one of those in my car,” she says. “It’s generally not a bad idea, especially if you’re going someplace where you might have to transfer things. That said if you’re going grocery shopping, it’s probably best, for the time being, to come home and have a system of wiping down or washing your groceries, like washing the milk jugs and the orange juice jugs and wiping down everything else.” (Also, find out about the germ-spreading items you’re probably carrying.)

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URBAN K Women’s Plus and Regular Size Racer Back Jumpsuits and Rompers


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While most experts said it’s unnecessary to travel with an extra set of clothes, there may be some cases when it makes sense. “If you’re going to visit someone who may be compromised, it’s not going to hurt,” says Dr. Vyas. “You should be cautious. We have a responsibility to protect those around us. So if you’re going grocery shopping and then over to your grandma’s house, it might not be a bad idea to bring a change of clothes.” Toss your old outfit in your reusable bag and leave them in the car to reduce the number of contaminants you could possibly bring with you into another person’s space. Longer road trips may require you to pack more clothes if you’re going to be in a lot of public areas, but are limited in how often you can wash your clothes. On short trips, if you tend to find yourself with an unpredictable routine or if you’re caring for someone who is more at risk for contracting Covid-19, leave an extra outfit in the car just in case. This flattering jumpsuit (it has nearly 2,000 five-star reviews) is an easy and affordable one-piece outfit to keep in the car if your travels require an outfit change. (Here’s what you need to know about washing your clothes and coronavirus.)

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Lysol Disinfecting Wipes


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Dr. Lamb suggests keeping disinfectant wipes on hand if you need to clean off surfaces (a picnic table if you’re eating outside or to wipe down items you pick up on the go from the convenience store). Though keep this in mind: Transmission of the coronavirus is mostly through respiratory droplets than through surfaces, like countertops or doorknobs, says the CDC. Still, the CDC does recommend wiping down surfaces with disinfectant to prevent possible spread as an extra safety precaution. When you’re on the go, it’s impossible to know how well a surface has been cleaned before you come in contact with it. For added peace of mind, bring along your own EPA-registered wipes to disinfect surfaces, like these Lysol Wipes, which kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. According to the EPA, these Lysol wipes need 10 minutes of contact time before you dry the surface for them to be effective. It’s also not a bad idea to keep gloves handy to use while you’re disinfecting to prevent further transmission onto your hands. You’ll still need to wash your hands once you’re done.


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