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.

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