Packing Tips for Road Trips

Over the past two years of traveling the United States, I’ve backed my entire life into the Jeep Cherokee 9 times. At first, I refused to give up certain things, even if I couldn’t fully justify taking them with me. By now, however, I only take what I use on a daily or weekly basis, a list of items that gets reassessed every 3 months right before we pack up the car again. While I certainly don’t carry a burdening amount of stuff anymore, it still helps to have some tips and tricks for condensing stuff to maximize my space as much as possible.

Whether you’re going on a road trip or packing up the car for a move across town, these tips will make your life immensely easier, especially during the unloading process:

1. Tie your hangers together with zip ties. 

You might think hangers are easy space fillers, but packing them loosely creates all sorts of chaos in the car and often leads to hooked items or broken hangers before you’re done. Instead, use zip ties to organize them into neat little packs, which can still be used as space fillers. Zip ties are cheap to buy at Home Depot or Target – I recommend buying the strong kind. I like to tie the hangers together in groups of 10 with two zip ties, one on top near the hook and one on the bottom to keep either end from flailing out. Trust me, doing this will make shoving hangers into empty spaces way less regrettable later when you go to unpack.

2. Use minimal amounts of boxes.

Packing with Bags not Boxes

Had to learn this one the hard way. This is pretty much the golden rule for all road trips, especially for clothes. It just saves so much space to not have bulky boxes for items that can easily be malleable around other stuff. After a year into traveling, we decided to get a roof bag and put all of our clothes up there, which is amazing and would never work with boxes. But even without a roof bag, it’s just smarter to use bags for clothes.

3. Learn the skills of bundle wrapping.

Have you ever heard of bundle wrapping your clothes? If not, you’re welcome. Try this once and you’ll never pack your clothes the same again, whether it’s for a road trip, camping, or a flight. Bundle wrapping is exactly as it sounds like, layering clothes in a certain fashion and then wrapping them all together into a very tight bundle. It’s kind of like vacuum sealing your clothes in a way, and allows you to fit way more pieces than you thought imaginable into any space. One tip I have for bundle wrapping is to throw small items like underwear, socks, scarves, and even shoes into the center of the bundle before you wrap it up all tight.

There are a lot of long, wordy videos about how to do bundle wrapping properly, but as a visual learner, I find this one the most useful:

The best way to learn how to do it is to try it for yourself!

4. Use shoes as space fillers.

Don’t pack your shoes into boxes or bags, it’s completely unnecessary. Even with super nice shoes that I don’t want to lose their shape, I mostly still don’t pack them separately – you’d be surprised how durable your nice shoes are. Instead, shove those babies in unused spots when you’re all done packing the big stuff into the car. My shoes usually end up between the crevices of my bike (which is foldable so it goes in the trunk), under seats, and shoved easily into side pockets of the car. For long boots, just roll them up from the sole of the shoe, but not too tightly so as not to stretch, crease, or scratch the material.

5. If you run out of space, use Amtrak!

Did you know that you can ship with Amtrak? Shipping with Amtrak is so helpful if you’re going across country, as it cuts down on your gas mileage and doesn’t cost very much at all! You can ship up to 100lbs for $49, and then it’s 0.46 cents per pound after that. Here are some details you need to know:

  • You can ship up to 500lbs per day. If your stuff is over 500lbs, you can ship it over multiple days
  • Each box should not be larger than 3ft x 3ft x 3ft and should not weigh over 50lbs
  • You cannot ship perishable or fragile items, furniture, or electronics (for security reasons)

Figure out how much shipping your stuff will cost with this Amtrak price estimator.

6. Most importantly, just pack less stuff.

Packing for Road Trips

The best advice I can give you for traveling is to cut back on how much you take with you. If you’re headed on a road trip for the sake of adventure, you can always buy stuff along the way. Pack clothing that is versatile, that can be dressed up or down, to save space. Leave behind clothes that you never wear but keep because of their sentimental value. Leave behind EVERYTHING that doesn’t fit you. You don’t have time to wait for your clothes to fit, just ditch them and buy better fitting stuff later. You’ll thank yourself.

One helpful question I ask myself when deciding whether or not to get rid of a clothing item: “Is this something that I absolutely love? Or is this something that I wear?” You’d be surprised how many articles of clothing we LOVE to have in our closet, but don’t actually wear very often at all. The same goes for jewelry.

As for book lovers, limit yourself to 3 books and don’t bring any you’ve already read. Even if you love to reread it, open yourself up to new books – you’re on an adventure after all! If you’re not opposed to it, condense all your reading material onto a Kindle or iPad.

Making Friends on Tinder

When it comes to making friends while traveling, I’m what you might call a “hustler.” No matter what, I’ll get the job done and end up with at least one good friend and a few acquaintances by the end of a 3-month assignment. But when Long Beach was proving harder to make friends than I had bargained for, I decided to take desperate measures and sign up for a Tinder account to try to make friends. This is my experience.

To start, I took certain steps to make my Tinder experience as platonic as possible, such as:

1. Limiting my matches to women only. This was just a preference for me. I didn’t want to deal with any guys that would act interested in friendship at first but expect it to go somewhere romantic later, despite me already being in a committed relationship. To weed out this kind of riffraff, I stuck to just women. Plus, women are awesome.

2. Stating up front with the first line in my bio, “Just here to make friends!” It seems like this would be a given, but I came across a lot of single ladies who were apparently trying to make friends as well, yet didn’t quite state it in their bios. Instead their bios would say something like, “I just moved here and don’t know anyone!” or just a list of things they love. This left it to my discretion whether or not it was safe to swipe right for friendship. I judged a lot of photos if I was unsure. If her photos were of her hiking (so many hiking photos) or hanging out with her dog (so many dog photos), I’d probably take a chance and swipe right.

After taking those few steps to make my intentions clear, I dove into the world of Tinder, and here is what I experienced:

Bios are essential for someone looking to make friends on Tinder.

Unlike with dating, most people don’t go about making their friends by first determining if they’re physically attracted to them or not. As a friend, your physical looks are just not important to me at all. I want to know about your interests, if you have a sense of humor, if you read good books, and if you’re down to hang. Therefore, whenever I came across a Tinder bio that was empty, I swiped left. Whenever I came across a Tinder bio that asked, “Does anyone actually read these things?” I declared, “Yes! I do!” Then I swiped left.

Everyone on Tinder in the LA area is looking or someone with an Annual Disneyland Pass.

Or vice versa, some people on Tinder already have the Disneyland pass and are looking for people to go with. The reasoning is that it’s really expensive to own a pass, and the only way to justify paying for one is to go a LOT of times throughout the year. Those who don’t want to buy one are looking to piggyback on the passes of others, while those who already have a pass also have friends who, understandably, don’t need to take 10 trips to Disneyland every year, and so the pass holder has to look elsewhere.

So basically, anyone with the pass shoots automatically to the top of the LA Tinder food chain and can be as picky as they want with their right swipes, because everyone will match them back. I don’t like or care about Disneyland (not sorry), but even I started feeling like this whole Tinder-friend-making process would go quicker if I had that pass. But then, how would I ever know if my new Tinder friends like me for me? Would our friendship ever truly be real?

Much of the awkwardness of online dating was present.

Even though I wasn’t looking for anything romantic, I still found myself experiencing some of the same things that my friends who do date on Tinder have also dealt with. For example, I was constantly editing my bio at first. Sometimes I would think it was perfect, and then after five minutes of swiping I’d realize that my bio sounds more like a resume than a profile and anyone who sees it will most certainly swipe left at the dorky list of skills and qualities in front of them. Or, even more neurotically, I would think my bio was fine and then come across other people who had something in their bio that I related to but OMG I TOTALLY FORGOT TO EXPRESS IT AND NOW THEY MAY NEVER MATCH WITH ME BECAUSE I FORGOT TO SAY THAT I LIKE CAMPING AND WHAT IF OUR FRIENDSHIP WAS MEANT TO BE BUT NEVER HAPPENED BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW, THEY JUST DIDN’T KNOW?!

Needless to say, the bio editing got a bit crazy. At one point, what I consider a key descriptor of who I am went from “I love Beyonce” to “I’m much more like Rihanna than Beyonce” to “I’m much more like Solange than Beyonce” and eventually, “Beyonce can hang.”

Much of the frustration of online dating was also present.

Starting a conversation with someone you’ve matched with – What do you say? Because eventually I get sick of the same old “Hey how’s it going?” and a lot of people aren’t interested enough to respond to that anyway. Sending a smiley face just felt too flirty for friendship. Sometimes I would remark on something I read in their bio and realize later that I definitely came off creepy or lame. I very quickly felt the need to market myself with everything I did, and would second-guess myself later if I didn’t receive a response.

Never having used Tinder for dating, I initially thought this wouldn’t be that hard. “I’ll just be myself,” I thought, “because I’m awesome and really good at showing it!” But the thing is, people don’t know I’m awesome from an app. And TELLING them I’m awesome is the worst, and trying to make a total stranger laugh is actually pretty difficult. It’s not that I didn’t know how to go about connecting with someone, but more that I found myself navigating mirky waters of social interaction as I felt weighing on me this expectation to charm someone instantaneously, but without misleading them on a platform primarily used for dating.

Whenever I did engage in good conversation with someone, it would carry on for days. But then the second I would suggest taking this convo to a next level, meet-in-person situation, the girl on the other end of the convo would disappear! Or deflect for days until I eventually gave up. I mean seriously, I had 97 matches and I maybe got 6 phone numbers out of that, 4 of which actually led to hanging out in person. I understand why some girls put, “Swipe left if you’re not interested in actually meeting up!” in their bio, because seriously, so many people on Tinder will just chat forever. Which to me, is completely worthless. I have plenty of friends to text all day. I’m a traveler in a new city, and I want a friend to experience this physical space with me.

Accidentally sending someone a “Super Like” is WAY creepier when you’re just trying to be friends.

For those of you who left Tinder before this update, “Super Like” is the like button you press when you want the other person to know you swiped right for them, and well, you SUPER LIKE them. Unless you pay for an upgraded Tinder account, you only get one “Super Like” per day, so it’s kind of a strong gesture. I actually haven’t met anyone who really uses the “Super Like” button.

To “Super Like” someone requires only a mere swipe up of your thumb. Which, with all the swiping left and right of different people’s profiles, can easily happen accidentally. It’s mortifying when it does, but if you’re looking to date the person, I guess it could come off as flirty, cute, or flattering. But when you get a “Super Like” from someone just trying to be your friend, it’s pretty creepy.

“Hey I am friendless right now, and I don’t know you, but I REALLY want you to be my friend.”

It happened to me twice accidentally, and neither one of those girls have swiped right for me yet. I don’t blame them.

Meeting in person was weird at first.

At some point the usual question had to come up; “So, what brought you to Tinder?” But somehow it just seems like it would be more natural to ask someone about their intentions when you’re setting up a romantic relationship rather than a friendship. I’ve never gone into a friendship asking the other person what they are looking for in a friend or why they came to be looking for friendship in the first place. That being said, it has been interesting hearing about how other girls discovered that Tinder could be used for making friends. One of the girls who I met up with has a best friend who was recently diagnosed Lupus, and while this girl spends a lot of time by her friend’s bed hanging out with her, she eventually decided to look to Tinder to find new girlfriends to go out with on the weekends.

Making friends through a text conversation format pushed me to explore more of Long Beach.

Everyone I spoke with asked me what I had discovered so far in Long Beach. Answering this question over and over again, I felt motivated to not have the same answers every time. What had I explored in Long Beach? Surely in the first month I had ventured beyond 4th street restaurants and thrift stores?

One girl I met up with had lived in Long Beach her entire life, despite a brief college experience in rural northern New Mexico. She was a single mother of a 3-year-old, living with her parents, and was using Tinder to both date women and make friends – whatever relationship was worth getting away from her family sometimes to socialize. She took me to Yogurtland for my first time, a very California experience of frozen yogurt. Then I introduced her to open mics in the area that she had never even heard of before. Together we began listening to local music and reading local poet’s works. Although she grew up in Long Beach, she was just as much a newcomer as I was in the way that often happens after you go away to college and come back to experience your hometown as an adult.

So there you have it. If I had to rate my experience of finding friends on Tinder, I would probably give it a 6 out of 10. I did make friends with people with whom I probably would have never struck up a conversation otherwise. But even without the dating aspect, Tinder is unreliable and exhausting in its mystery. My fiancé and I leave for San Francisco in a week, and instead of jumping back on Tinder, I think I will try out FriendZone, an app I recently heard about that is used just for making friends. I’ll post about it if there’s anything worth sharing.

Cafe Gratitude

Even if you’re not from California, you may have heard about Cafe Gratitude, an organic vegan food spot based around healing energy and the power of affirmations. If you live nearby one in California, you might not necessarily go all the time for two reasons:

  1. The idea behind it is sort of gimmicky, and might feel like an option that only appeals to tourists.
  2. There are plenty of organic and vegan food options in California that don’t require you to be so positive about the world.

However, after going to Cafe Gratitude twice, I have to say that I really appreciated the place – was grateful for it, even (yes, I did that).

The first of this small chain of cafes opened in Venice Beach, and that’s the one I visited both times. The interior of the restaurant has a very “bungalow” vibe to it, as do many places around Venice Beach. Low circular tables are surrounded by whicker chairs surrounding and a warm, yummy Mexican-style throw draped over the back of each chair to keep you warm if needed, creating the effect of sitting around a bonfire on the beach.

Water sits in a bottle with positive words like “Love” or “Peace” written on the bottle, a tribute to Emoto’s Water Experiment. As the waiter comes and explains the menu to you/asks if you’ve been there before, he tells you the affirmation question of the day, which you can sit and reflect on or discuss with the table, whatever you feel. The one I remember most was, “What keeps you grounded?” I don’t remember what the question was on my second visit, but I do recall feeling like the people sitting with me at the table were the answer both times. My fiancee keeps me grounded. And so do my crystals.

The menu is the really special and fun part of the cafe. Each menu item is titled with an adjective that will be your affirmation when you order, such as “magical,” “glorious,” “accepting,” etc. Then when you order, you have to say “I am…” and your food choice, which for me was “bountiful.”

The food is all vegan and delicious, and obviously quite healthy. While you’ll have fun with it either way, I recommend that you don’t leave without ordering one of their juices or smoothies. So delicious.

And there you have it, very simple, positive concepts put to work at Cafe Gratitude. And while it might make you seem a bit eccentric to make this spot your go-to for eating, the food is top notch for vegan eaters and it certainly makes a fun outing for visitors to the LA area.