Smart packing strategies for road trips

By Gillian Berner

The toughest part of a road-trip adventure? Packing. The key to an amazing road trip is sticking to the essentials and getting creative with how you maximize your vehicle space.

Think like a minimalist

Although it’s tempting to bring everything you can think of, less is more on a road trip. Focus on the necessities and resist the urge to overpack. Not only does this ensure less crowding and more legroom, it minimizes the frustration of digging through too much stuff.

Start by prioritizing safety and helpful tech—emergency and first aid kits, a battery jump starter and jumper cables, a car phone charger with extra USB ports and cables, your AMA membership card and warm blankets (to double as picnic blankets at scenic stops). A power inverter can also come in handy to charge bigger devices that require outlets.

And because not all rest stops are created equal, it pays to bring body wipes and extra toilet paper, along with garbage bags to corral trash and dirty laundry. And don’t overlook hydration. Large, insulated water bottles are crucial, especially in the warm summer months, as are insulated travel mugs for coffee on the go.

Creature comforts

Still have plenty of room left? Consider some nice-to-haves to sweeten the trip. Travel pillows can make the journey more comfortable, as will noise-cancelling headphones. Day bags are a smart idea if you plan to stop for hikes or beach breaks along the way, and a small soft-cover cooler ensures refreshing drinks on hot days.

Minimize fast-food stops and ward of “hangry” moods with sweet, salty and healthy snacks for every craving. And once you tire of podcasts and karaoke, you’ll be glad you brought space-savvy entertainment, such as a deck of cards, online trivia or conversation-starter games.

Get organized

A well-packed car requires systems. Organize the trunk and back seats to keep emergency and just-in-case items tucked away, while making your everyday supplies (toiletries, water, snacks, chargers) easy to access. It helps to group similar items together in packing cubes or a car trunk organizer, so you don’t have to unpack everything to find what you’re looking for. Consider using compression cubes for clothing and pack them in duffel bags rather than hard-shell suitcases that take up more space. If your vehicle is on the smaller side, go with reasonably priced waterproof rooftop cargo carriers for extra storage.