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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Meeting My Long Beach Neighbors

Just when you think you’re at the end of your rope, a 50-year-old woman with no reservations sails a boat right under you, tells you to jump in, and hands you a glass of wine.

Seriously, things were getting tough and I wasn’t ready to admit it. People always compliment me on being able to make friends wherever I go. What most, aside from my closest friends, don’t realize is that I often hit a breaking point of absolute loneliness before I make my first real friend in a new place. Tonight was that breaking point, and tonight I made… an unlikely group of friends.

So my fiancée works night shift as an ICU nurse, the reason why we travel. And this weekend he was on from Thursday to Sunday night. I could justify staying in and curling up with Netflix on Thursday, but heading into the weekend with zero plans and no one to go anywhere with was an unbearable thought. I had already been to four open mic nights, and while I met a few cool people, no one really stuck. Plus you never know with an artistic scene. Sometimes it feels like everyone has something to prove, which can make it hard to really get to know anyone.

I remembered meeting a woman named Angela, who seemed only a little bit older than me, in the elevator last week. She told me her unit number and said to come knock if I ever wanted to hang out sometime. So Thursday night I put a post-it note on her door explaining my weekend situation and scribbled out my phone number in case she wanted to hang out. Well Friday came and went, and I got no response from Angela. So around 6pm, I gave up and headed to an orientation for volunteer work at the Long Beach Animal Care Services, aka the Long Beach SPCA Animal Shelter, hoping to make a friend.

Within the first ten minutes of this orientation, the supervisor asked us flat-out to commit to one year of volunteering before signing up. That was the end of my ability to volunteer at the shelter, but I decided to stay the full 2 hours because I had literally nothing else to do and I wanted to give the puppies treats at the end. On my way out, I offered one girl a ride in my Uber because she said she lived downtown, and while she declined because she had her bike on hand, another girl overheard me and told me she wouldn’t mind giving me a ride in her car. It was an act of kindness I really needed, and on the way we chatted about places to go and things to do in Long Beach that I hadn’t heard of before. Can’t wait to check out Tuesday $1 pupusa nights!

Anyway, I realized pretty quickly that there was an age gap between us that made me feel a little creepy to try to hang out with her – she wasn’t of drinking age yet, and well, I just turned 26. So I thanked her when we got to my building and said goodbye without asking for her number (oh, friend hunting can be so hard and awkward!).

Let me tell you a little bit about my building before I get into what happened next. I live in downtown Long Beach on Ocean Blvd, in a very nice building with beach access, garage parking, a fancy library with old furniture, a gym, pool, and sauna, etc. It is probably one of the tallest buildings in Long Beach, 16 floors high, and located right next to the most famous, very old, former hotel and now apartment building in Long Beach (it has gargoyles looking down on my balcony – I love it). I’m renting from a woman who owns the condo, but is currently upstate living with her boyfriend. If you hadn’t guessed yet, my building is filled with older wealthy people and doctors, the only types of people that can afford to own these condos. But the thing about Long Beach and the Los Angeles area in general is the older you get, the more eccentric you are. No one in my building is stuffy, bougie, or conservative in any way. At least that has been my experience.

So I entered my lobby and could tell immediately that there was a party going on in the library off to the right. With nothing else to do, I decided to wander in and see if this was a private event or not. I asked a sprightly, 70-year-old woman, whose name I would later learn was Mary, what kind of event this was. Well Mary was just THRILLED that I had been so brave as to wander in when I am “only a renter” because “the renters should feel welcome too” and immediately handed me a glass of wine, a ham sandwich with sauerkraut, and introduced me to like 10 people, most of whom were named Don, all of whom were around her age, clearly very wealthy, and very laid back.

I was a little bit overwhelmed, but enjoying myself. I noticed a table of people around my age standing and chatting. Mary took me over, butted right into their conversation, and introduced me to all of them. I felt a little bit awkward, but everyone was very nice. I then realized that the young woman to my left, who I had just struck up a conversation with, turned out to be Angela, the one whose door I had put my post-it note on the night before! Awkward!

Anyway, it turns out she didn’t get the note at all and immediately took my phone and put her cell number, email, and unit number into it. Whew! A friend! It was at this point that my left arm was grabbed by a 50-or-so year old woman with one blood-shot eye and a drunken slur in her speech. I’ll call this woman Trish. Apparently Trish lives just down the hall from me and knew I was in her friend’s apartment and had been meaning to come talk to me and my fiancée because she used to be a traveling therapist! She wanted to connect and take us out sometime.

This woman was a total character, I could not believe it. She brought up the Grand Prix, soon to come up in April, that will be happening literally right outside of our apartment:

“I don’t give a crap about the cars and stuff, but oh the parties! They have the VIP tent right outside and you need tickets and everything to get in, but I just get in anyway. And I’ll get you and your fiancée in too. We’ll have such a blast. Oh you’re going to love it.”

Seriously this was within 3 minutes of conversation, and I already had plans to party hard with this one-blood-shot-eyed, drunk, eccentric, and actually quite beautiful woman. I loved her.

Trish was clearly a vivacious woman who would either find the party or create it herself in any situation. She seemed to know and be very close with everyone in the building. She beckoned over one of the older guys, Wilson, and introduced us. After learning which apartment I was in, Wilson immediately ran upstairs to grab his iPad so that he could show me some photos he took from my landlord’s balcony a year or two back.

While he was gone, Trish informed me that Wilson has some “obsessions”. She wasn’t kidding. His condo is apparently like a museum (I’m supposed to be getting a full tour next week) filled with old relics from the most famous ships around the world that date up to a hundred years back. He even has a letter that a woman wrote to her husband as a passenger on the Titanic, just before it sank. Now in our building, almost everyone has a view of the Queen Mary – a very old, supposedly haunted ship that is permanently docked and now a museum and theater in Long Beach. But apparently Wilson’s apartment has the absolute best view of the ship in the whole building, and that’s why he lives there.

Long Beach Photography

Wilson started showing me photos and man were they cool! He must own around 25 lenses with all the different shots he has. And with everyone being around the same age and all friends and owners in this building, he had shots of a bunch of different apartments, including the penthouse. The penthouse is awesome, covered in funky sea art that makes you feel like you’re underwater. Even the bathroom has a wall of mosaic sea creatures underwater, all of which light up with LED lights when you flip a switch.

“What I would give to just have 2 hours alone in that bedroom and bathroom,” Trish exclaimed about the penthouse.

As we kept scrolling through photos, I soon learned that Wilson was gay when we got to photos of some guys around the pool area of our place.

“Oh honey, they are gorgeous,” said Trish, looking at a photo of three middle-aged guys standing around the pool. “I have never seen so many cute men and none of them interested. It’s frustrating! Oh the frustration, every night it comes. Let me tell you.”

I was dying of laughter on the inside. Who are these people who just fell into my lap on this evening that was supposed to have been spent alone with my television shows? Angela came over at this point to scroll through the photos with us, which soon got to a cruise that Trish and Wilson took together over 10 years ago. Photos of Pisa, Turkey, and the French Riviera. I was drooling over the fabulous life these people have lived.

“That’s where I spent my second honeymoon,” Trish told me, pointing to a very famous hotel in France, the name of which I don’t remember anymore.

As she’s talking, Trish spills some of her mug of red wine that she had been clutching between her legs. All three of us were sitting pretty close on the couch together, and I guess some of the wine got onto Wilson’s black pants and onto the couch cushion. Wilson stood up at once, clearly upset.

“These old people,” Trish complained while Wilson ran to get napkins, “they make a scene out of everything. They’re so fussy. We could be in the middle of a 5-star restaurant and he would still stand up and make a scene like this. It’s just champagne Wilson!”

Wilson, so clearly annoyed, grabbed a separate chair and sat away from us, leaving us his iPad to keep scrolling through.

“Just kidding, it was red wine,” Trish whispered to me. “Now quick, email yourself some of these photos to show your family later. He gets so stingy with his pictures, but I think it’d be nice for you to have some to show to your family. Let them see where you live! I’m going to email some to myself as well.”

And that’s how I acquired quite a few photos of our building from the amazing but fussy photographer, Wilson from the 4th floor. (Full disclosure: When Trish had gone to the bathroom, I did ask Wilson if he minded that I had emailed some of these photos to myself and whether it was ok to post some on my blog, and he gave me the ‘OK.’)

When Trish came back, she chatted some more to Angela and me.

“Of course I’ve been to every club in Vegas,” said Trish. “I don’t go back as often anymore, but when I moved here 15 years ago, I was going there 2 to 3 times every month.”

As the night went on, Angela and I both got pretty tired from wine and decided to head upstairs. Trish joined, and what do you know, we have plans for happy hour this Monday. Not exactly what I was expecting when I hoped to God I would make friends tonight, but it’s certainly something to write about. Here are some photos from Wilson below:

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach California

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach

The Pacific Apartments in Long Beach California

Taking Home With You

“I was never lost. I only chose to never go home.”

Finding home is important when you change locations every 3 months or less. People who live out of hotels for work or for those in my situation, packing something small that makes you feel centered and complete can make a huge difference as a traveler. It transforms your place into somewhere you long to get back to when you’re away from it for more than 2 days, even though you’ve only lived in that place for about a week. People sometimes say to me, in so many words, “How do you handle changing homes every 3 months? I would lose my mind.” These small items are one big way I keep my sanity when nothing around me feels familiar.

Stuff I Bring to Feel at Home:

My favorite books. My books are something I go back and forth arguing with my fiancee about, as he really doesn’t think we have the space. But for me, those 6 books which I love are non-negotiable. When you have a bad day and your home is not really your home, everything feels 100 times more terrible. Picking up and reading something familiar, words I know I’ve already loved, has provided me with much needed escape on those days.

Printed photos. One of the real drawbacks of our technology age is that people don’t print photos much anymore. I never really cared about doing so before – if I need to look at my life or my friends/family, I just login to Facebook. But those times when I am subletting from someone else’s home, it gets weird knowing the whole style of the home, and everything inside of it, however much I may love it, belongs to someone else. There isn’t much about this that can be changed, but adding photos to the desk, entrance way, and refrigerator at least reminds me that I have home in my friends and family, and that they are not lost on me in this new place.

CandlesI never used to be a candles or incense person. I didn’t really understand the appeal unless it was Christmas time and you wanted your home to smell festive. But since traveling, I’ve grown more fond of having candles around as a means to establish my presence. “Yes I am here. Yes this place is safe for me.”

Crystals. Another thing that I was never into before traveling. Now I love crystals. I believe in their energies, and even if they don’t exist, I believe that believing in their energies is helpful to me. Having a physical manifestation of the energy you want to bring into your life can be very powerful. So I have my earth and grounding crystals in my bathroom, my prosperity crystal on my desk, and my skyscraper crystal that I’ve had since living in NY near the doorway. Laying out the energy fields of where I live when I otherwise have no say in the decor or feng shui of the place is my way of nesting.

My pillow from home. My fiancee and I both bring our pillows from home wherever we go. For him, he’s just a total pillow snob and thinks his pillow cannot be beat (which I will say, it’s pretty cozy). But for me, it’s like going home to your own bed. When you don’t have your own mattress to miss, having your own pillow is the next best thing.

When you’re filling out an online profile and the question comes up, “What couldn’t you live without?” the answers might be simple – food, water, friends, love, etc. But when you really do have to decide what you can and can’t live without, I think it’s important to put your foot down on items that aren’t deemed “necessary for survival,” but make you feel whole in some way.

What really makes your home feel like home? Is it your garden, your bed, or something smaller? I encourage you to find a piece of home that you could carry in your backpack if you had to. It might change your definition of what “home” really means.