couple loading car for road trip

Road Trip Packing Tips for Your Next Excursion

Before you start your engines, read on for our road trip packing tips that will have you cruising like a pro.

Road trips are one of the MVPs of traveling. Flexible, affordable and tailored just to you, the freedom of being on the road makes for lasting memories whether you are a youngster or perennially young at heart.

To truly make the most out of any length road trip—be it a cross-country tour or just a few hours jaunt from home—take the time to prep and pack appropriately.

How should I plan for a road trip?

As a journalist who has visited more than 100 countries, Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan has been on more than her fair share of road trips.

When it comes to getting organized, she says to never overestimate the importance of a good old-fashioned list!

“Personally, I enjoy the satisfaction of physically crossing things off a handwritten list with a pen, but it's just as easy to run a checklist on your computer, notes on your phone, or with a checklist app,” Jerrard said.

It’s never too early to start getting organized for your excursion. As your excitement about hitting the road builds, so should your preparations.

“You want to make sure you’ve thought about everything you need for the trip a few days before you leave,” notes Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede of Connecticut-based Livable Solutions. “Start creating piles of items in a spare room in your home a week before so you are not rushing at the last minute.”

Vander Wiede even created a packing list template to take the guesswork out of your packing prep.

Does your road trip involve an RV? Check out our blog for ways to save your ride on the road.

What should I pack for a road trip?

One of Jerrard's top picks?

“A travel trash can! The worst part about road trips is the amount of trash that collects on your car floors from snacks and activities. A collapsible one is usually a good option for easy storage when not in use. And if you’re throwing away cans of drink make sure it’s waterproof.”

Battery packs and portable chargers are essential for keeping your devices juiced up on the road. If your phone does lose power or you’re traveling somewhere with unreliable reception or wi-fi, an old-school physical map can help keep you on track.

Essentials like wet wipes, hand sanitizer, extra toilet paper (for understocked rest stop bathrooms) and a first-aid kit are also important to have on hand.

Keep tabs on the weather at your destination to ensure you pack comfortable, temperature-friendly clothing, as well as potential rain or snow gear (for you and your car).

Finally, before you pull out of the driveway, stow items you’re going to need regularly within easy reach (in the glove compartment, for example), and stash things you won’t need until later in the trunk or backseat. That way, you’ll avoid having to make unexpected stops.

If you’re traveling on the road for an even bigger adventure, read our guide to suitcase packing to explore the world.

What should I not pack for a road trip?

woman neatly organize suitcase and packing light for roadtrip

When you don’t have to worry about TSA requirements and extra-luggage fees, it can be tempting to just throw everything in the car and sort it out later. However, taking the time to get organized and be strategic about what you’re taking on the road can save you a lot of stress (and mess) while you’re cruising.

To save space, Vander Wiede recommends leaving items at home “that can be purchased inexpensively at your destination.”

She also likes to do several rounds of culling when it comes to her outfits, noting that her first pass is usually more than she ends up needing.

“I really like the 5,4,3,2,1 packing method for each person,” she says. “5 tops, 4 bottoms, 3 dresses, 3 shoes, 2 swimsuits, 2 bags, and 1 of each accessory such as sunglasses, hat or belt. It helps you really whittle down items that work together and create several outfits.”

Jerrard cautions against taking high-ticket items like jewelry and other valuables on road trips.

“No one on the road cares if you're wearing expensive jewelry, watches and other valuables, and it actually increases your chances of being a target for theft,” she said.

For entertainment, you can save space by leaving the heavy hardcover books at home and downloading audiobooks or loading up an e-reader with things to read at stops along the way.

For more ways to pack light, check out these expert tips on our blog.

What should I pack for kids on a road trip?

two kids in backseat of car stay entertained on a road trip with tablet and toys

When traveling with little ones, Vander Wiede says that “keeping kids fed and occupied is key to a great road trip.”

She gives each child their own Bento box with snacks and small meals in several compartments. Not only does It help balance healthy foods with chips or sweets, but “there is a lot less asking for food when they have to ration what they have themselves!”

It’s also important to stay hydrated on the road, Vander Wiede adds, so everyone should have a refillable water bottle.

Keeping kids entertained with small toys, activity books or games is also paramount to the whole family enjoying the vacation no matter how many miles you rack up.

Mesh organizers that attach to the back of car seats are a useful way to keep kids of all ages organized while you travel, and they will be easy to reach for those riding in the back.

With the whole family fed, entertained and safe, you’re bound to have a road trip for the ages.

Happy travels!

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