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Tips for packing for road trips

Tampa, Florida
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2,624 posts
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Tips for packing for road trips
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We are doing our 1st major road trip this summer and will be gone for 2 weeks.

I am looking for any travel tips you guys can provide for packing to help save space. There are 3 of us (mom, dad & teenage daughter). I know, I know, we need a pull-behind U-Haul just for her stuff, BUT, that is not an option....LOL!!

We have an SUV, so we have lots of room, but once you start cramming everything in, the room will get smaller and smaller.

We are road tripping it to the Grand Canyon.

Any tips or ideas to help save space would be great! Thanks so much in advance!!

PS--we also cruise every year, so I have all the packing tips down for cruising, but this is a very different type of vacation.

Edited: 10 years ago
San Diego...
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1. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Hi,

My first recommendation is to check out the "What should I pack for a road trip in the USA" link at the above right under "Top Questions About Road Trips" section.

Personally, I'm of the mindset of one suitcase per person--you pack it, you lug it--approach.

So if your daughter wants to bring a suitcase the size of a small house, make a deal with her that she packs it, handles it every day of the trip, and does so without complaint. :-)

That said, if I'm going to be in a different hotel every night, I generally will carry along a small backpack or bag that I use each night. I'll pull out a set of clean clothes and toiletries for the next day out of my suitcase in the trunk, put them in the back pack, and take them up to the room, leaving my suitcase in the locked trunk. Any valuables (camera, laptop, etc.) always come to the room with me. (With an SUV, it may be more difficult to hide suitcases left inside, so you may want to bring them in to avoid tempting any would-be thieves.)

The next morning, I take my dirty clothes put them in the backpack, carry them down to the car, and put them in a dirty clothes laundry bag in the trunk. That way, they stay separate from the clean clothes and are easily gathered for laundry day, whether on the road or on return home.

Regardless of how carefully you think through your packing plan, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be changing it your first night or two on the road, then you'll settle into a routine that works best.

A couple of other geeky packing / road tripping tips:

- I love Ziploc freezer bags for my electronics. I have one for my GPS unit, cable, and mount; one for my cell phone charger and power adapters (when traveling to Europe); and one for my camera (spare battery, charger, cables). Of course, I label the bags with the contents.

- I use the black "Bulldog" spring clips to keep the pages of my atlas open to where I need them to be (yes, I still bring a paper atlas even with my GPS).

- I use a plastic garbage bag from the grocery store to put the garbage that I accumulate through the day into it.

- I always have a couple of bottles of water with me in case of breakdown, especially if I'm traveling when it's hot or when going through remote areas.

Hope that helps give you some ideas.

Zed

Edited: 10 years ago
Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
2,624 posts
144 reviews
87 helpful votes
2. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Thanks Zed! Those are some awesome tips! I never thought about the atlas, but I think I'll purchase one of those for us. Hubby is good with the GPS, but we know not to depend on that 100% of the time (especially in that area of the country). Luckily, I can read a map....hubby, not so much. LOL.....

I 100% agree with one suitcase per person, you pack it, you lug it! She'll have an extra bag with all of her electronic stuff, I'm sure.....but again, you pack it, you lug it!

I also plan for us to have a case of water in the vehicle at all times. We drink a lot of water, but I figured once we run out, we can always stop at a Sam's or Costco along the way to buy more. We like the big cases, but we can always stop at a grocery store if need be. I didn't want to fill up the back of the SUV with numerous cases of water for the entire trip.

I agree on the Ziploc bags! I always take these (all sizes) with us when we travel. They come in very handy for different things.

Love the clip idea for the atlas. Never thought of that either.

Great, great tips! Thanks so much!!

Ohio
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276 reviews
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3. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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When my husband and I travel, I divide the clothes into 2 bags-- combined-- so we only have 1 suitcase to lug in (if that makes sense) don't think your daughter will be keen on that idea, sharing with you 2, but-- you and your husband could still do that. 2 bags in each night as opposed to 3. Dirty clothes bag in each suitcase-- all clothes stay in the one bag. Once that first bag is full of all dirty clothes, it stays in the car and we switch to the bag with wekk 2's clean clothes. Also, if traveling on the road, I have the first change of clothes in the toiletry bag to not cart in big suitcases. From there on, we're typically in one place for more than just a night and go with the bigger cases.

We always travel with a cooler-- not a space saver, but it's a time and $$ saver. We have one that plugs into the cigarette lighter (there should be one in the back end of the SUV) No need to bother with ice. However-- you cannot leave them plugged in for more than 4 hours with the car off and will need to be taken into the hotel rooms. An adapter allows it to be plugged into the wall. We picnic along the way.

Soft side cases are way easier to pack into the space. We use assorted sizes of duffle bag type suitcases. My husband packs the back end like a rubics cube :) but makes sure anything needed while traveling is easily accessible.

West Midlands...
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for Road Trips, World Cup
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4. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Hi.

We always rent an SUV, but as transatlantic flight baggage allowances tend to concentrate the mind on packing light, I'm not sure I can help you in comparison to the homegrown US road trippers. If I was driving from home dread to think how much stuff we'd be tempted to lug around.

Houston, TX
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21 reviews
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5. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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I am a map person, even though we have/use/depend on a GPS for road trips. I put maps, internet printouts, paperwork for hotels, prebooked tickets for attractions, etc in colored pocket folders, which I then put in a reuseable bag, along with any guidebooks etc. Each night at the hotel I put the things we've used that day back into their folder and if we are done with them, back into the bag. Then I pull out the folder for the next day's drive. This takes about 5 minutes and we are organized for the next segment of the journey. This also works if you like to pick up brochures etc along the way at your stops--all the things organized by segment.

I also take a couple of extra reuseable bags along for trips to the grocery store, souvenirs, whatever comes up along the way.

Second the notion of a cooler. It's nice to have a cold drink during the day. We always freeze a couple of bottles of water to serve as our ice packs for the first day. We also take ice packs and freeze them if we can if our hotel rooms have the facilities. If not, you can buy packs of store-brand frozen vegetables (think peas) which keep things surprisingly cold. Another use for those ziplock bags is ice from the hotel ice machines.

Keep your eye on your gas tank. Once you get farther west there are long, long stretches of road with not much at all along them. There may be town names on the map and you get there and find a few houses clustered together near the road, with no services.

We like to take a nightlight with us for hotel rooms in which you cannot leave a light on in the bathroom without the vent fan also being on. Helps us find our way in the night, especially when you may be staying in a different place every night and forget the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This isn't for everyone, but we have also taken audio books with us, in addition to the iPods and satellite radio. Perhaps you can find something set in a place along your route. It makes a nice change from music and radio talk. We have learned to make it something light so the driver can enjoy it as well--things with lots of footnotes don't work too well.

Have a great trip.

Pittsburgh...
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6. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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For road trips, pack by day instead of the type of items. I find the biggest packing challenge with road trips is having a new hotel every other night. You don't want to be lugging around a giant suitcase to every hotel when you will only be there one night!

I travel for business every week and found that folding clothes in plastic grocery bags prevents wrinkling. For road trips, I suggest to pack each day's outfit in a separate plastic grocery bag (complete with undies and accessories). I highly suggest that you pick these outfits with a similar color theme so all your outfits will go with either one pair or tennis shoes or one pair of dress shoes.

Then, have a small duffle with all your shower and beauty items, shoes and necessities. When you go into a new hotel, just grab one of your pre-organized grocery bags with a complete outfit, throw it into the duffle with your basic necessities and walk into the hotel. No lugging that giant suitcase around. Then, after the stay is over throw the dirty clothes into a designed dirty clothes suitcase that stays in the car until you do the laundry.

Of course, with this method and a common sense tip for all road trips- never pack anything of great value. If you must bring something valuable, keep it on your person at all times.

My second tip is to bring Tide Pods or those detergent sheets. I could never imagine having two weeks of dirty laundry in my hamper at home- why do people travel with 2 weeks or dirty laundry? I like to bring these compact detergents with me and do laundry at a hotel halfway through the trip.

Pittsburgh...
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7. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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FYI: They do make fancy packing organizers for this method, but the plastic grocery bags really do prevent wrinkling. Plus, the grocery bags are still free in my area.

Sedona, Arizona
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for Sedona, Arizona, Monument Valley
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8. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Make room for a small cooler. Having water in the car is a must, but having it ice cold is a luxury and easy enough to manage. Plus, it's good to have cold cuts and picnic fare for economical snacks and meals along the road.

Uden, The...
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9. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Are you driving from NC to GC and back in 2 weeks? Do you already have a reservation for GC?

We always have a cooler in the car and several gallons of water. Always bring water in the car. You never know what will happen. Bring a flashlight for GC and we can't do without our swiss army knife to open all kind of things. E-reader instead of bringing heavy books and don't bring too many clothes. You will use a laundry in a 2 weeks trip anyway but we often only need a sink to wash. (detergent buy first of course) Wrap the wet clothes in a towel and hang them up. Works perfectly but better in a dry climate than in a humid one...

Tampa, Florida
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2,624 posts
144 reviews
87 helpful votes
10. Re: Tips for packing for road trips
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Thanks everyone for the awesome tips!

We did plan to take a cooler and always have water with us. We also planned on having picnics along the way as well. Hubby always wants good dinners while on vacation, so that is why I was thinking of picnicing for lunch. All of the hotels I have reserved (only for going out & while we're there), have free breakfast, so no worries there.

Tet14--yes, we are doing the trip in 2 weeks and we do have our reservations for the GC. Actually made that months ago. We have no desire to do a lot of stopping on the way out there since we are going I-40 and we have been to most major sights that way anyway. We plan to drive it in 3 days, but take our time out there and coming home. This is more our daughter's vacation, so we let her pretty much plan the trip with things she wants to do. (Plus, it's pretty much impossible for hubby to take off more than 2 weeks at a time).

I have added many of these ideas to my packing list. Thanks again!!

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