How To Pack For A Road Trip

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

Lewis Carroll

Road trips have many benefits: they allow for spontaneity, offer opportunities for exploration, and leave plenty of space in your car. However, when it comes time to pack for a long car ride, most people tend to overpack their luggage or forget essentials. Road trips can be an absolute nightmare if you're not prepared. Don't let this happen to you! 

If you always seem to have trouble figuring out what's necessary when making your list, I’m going to share with you how to prepare ahead so that packing is simple and stress-free. When you're packing for your next road trip, remember these simple tips to make sure that everything fits and that you’ll bring the items you need to make the trip more enjoyable.

Use an overnight or weekender bag.

You can’t overpack if you don’t bring a large suitcase. Just sayin’. Betelgeuse comes with me everywhere, but sometimes, I just want to bring my weekender bag. If you don’t have to carry work equipment (laptops, camera gear, etc…), then a weekender bag should do. For me, it’s a weekender bag for my wardrobe and a backpack for tech.

3.1 Phillip Lim x Target Weekender. Canvas + faux leather. It's about the size of a LV Keepall 45.

This is my favorite backpack. I've had mine for about 6 years and it only has a small tear in a mesh side pocket.

Don’t pack anything that you don't need.

I know this seems like common sense, but you know what they say about common sense? That it ain’t that common! What’s great about road trips is that you can stop and get what is needed in an emergency. This isn’t a carte blanche for you to go on a shopping spree for whatever you buy, you’ll have to haul!

Pack clothes that are versatile and can be used in different ways – for example, bring two pairs of jeans instead of five or six.

I’m a fan of putting outfits together before I start to pack. This way I can see what I’m bringing with me and the key is that one piece of clothing/pair of shoes/jewelry must be used in at least three different ways. If I am struggling to make it work, it’s probably not worth the hassle of bringing it with me. 

Don’t pack anything that is irreplaceable (e.g., sentimental items) unless it's really necessary to get the job done.

Piggybacking off the last tip, it just isn’t practical to bring anything you aren’t prepared to lose. I lost my favorite scarf in Paris, but it wasn’t expensive so it didn’t sting as much. I was however without a scarf in Giverny. *brrr*

Pack clothing in a way that is practical and easy to access.

Packing cubes are my BFFs. I seriously don’t know how I did without them before. You can’t overpack packing cubes. It’s physically impossible. They save you from yourself. Packing cubes can help you organize your clothes, too. One cube could be for shirts, the other for bottoms, and so on. 

Pack all your toiletries in one place, like a reusable bag or reusable “ziplock” container.

Or wait to buy your toiletries when you arrive at your destination. Usually, road trips for me mean going to visit family, so I just end up going to the local Target to pick stuff up. I did this also before going on a cruise in Miami. If you get super lazy, you can also pick up a ready to go kit like this one:

I love these reusable snacker bags. Use them for toiletries!

Put bulky items like shoes and sweaters at the bottom of your suitcase so they won't make it difficult to zip up when packing. If at all possible, wear your heaviest clothes. 

The bottom of the suitcase or weekender is best. Packing this way also provides a bit of a foundation for the rest of your wardrobe. I usually hang my jacket on the coat hook.  

Create an emergency kit with items such as bandages, pain relievers, and allergy medications for any mishaps on the road.

Keep it in your bag or better yet have a mini emergency kit in your car at all times. You can build your own or just buy a kit. Just remember to check expiration dates once in a while and refill as needed.

Bring only what will fit into the car to avoid exceeding weight limits.

It just puts unnecessary stress on your vehicle and your gas mileage will suck. Just try going over the Grapevine in California with a loaded car and you’ll see what I mean.

Keep snacks and water on hand for when hunger or thirst strikes during long hours of travel. They'll help keep you energized, refreshed, and satisfied.

A soft cooler/cooler bag is perfect for this. My husband and I created a system for exactly this issue. Usually, the day before we leave on a road trip, we go to the store (if we don’t have it already in the pantry) to pick up snacks and other non-perishable foods. Fruits, nuts, and popcorn are our favorites. So why the cooler? For our beverages and wraps/salads/sandwiches. We usually pack a wrap/salad/sandwich just in case. Hunger can strike at any time. Also, bring enough water. I can’t stress this enough. If you have doggos or meowzers coming with you, bring enough water and snacks for them, too. 

My husband and I have done the NorCal-SoCal road trip many times. We know where to stop for food, gas, and to rest. Especially when you have a pet with you, it’s imperative you get this down. But obviously, you won’t always know what you’ll come across on your road trip, but if you prepare ahead of time, you can pretty much bet you won’t have to rely on fast food.

Wear clothes that are light and breathable.

Those long drives ain’t no joke! My travel outfit hasn’t changed. My road trip outfit is pretty much my travel outfit. You can look presentable and be comfortable. For me, it’s joggers or a pair of comfy jeans, a light tee shirt, slip-on sneakers, a shawl, and a scarf just in case it gets cold. My hair is up in a bun or braided with minimal makeup. You know? Just so I don’t look dead. And lastly, my Timex weekender watch. Never underestimate the power of old-school tech. Comfort is the name of the game

My go-to travel outfit: A photographer who was passing by took a photo of me in front the green windmill. 
Items that make up my basic go-to travel outfit. My lucky 7.

Take only one charger for your phone, laptop, tablet, etc.; if there aren't enough power-points in the car, then charge them all up before leaving home.

First, get yourself a cord organizer for the chunky cords you will not be using while driving. I usually keep two USB cords in the center console. Our Honda Accord has two USB inputs perfect for phones and tablets. Normally charging our phones when we stop for coffee or food, but I say keep ‘em plugged in so you’re always at full charge. We don’t really have time for our laptops or tablets until we reach our destination, but with kids, it’s a different game. Keep them busy and you get to keep your sanity.

You’ve got your clothes, your passport (or Real ID), the map, and directions to where you are going. Don’t leave home without these items in a well-organized bag that is easy to carry when it comes time for departure! Did I miss anything important on this list of essentials? Let me know in the comments below so I can make sure everyone has what they need before hitting the road. If nothing else, at least remember to pack some snacks and water because there will be plenty of opportunities for hunger or thirst along the way. 

Happy and Safe Travels!

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