5 Tips on How to Pack Effectively for a Road-Trip

For the over-packers, under-packers, and everyone in between.

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Road trips are a fun way to sightsee while traveling to your final destination, and a great way to have quality bonding time with family or friends. The only problem? They take a bit more planning than other types of trips.

Whether you’re a fan of long road trips or not, everyone knows that packing for a road trip is a much different task compared to packing for a plane ride. It entails much more than just the few outfits and pairs of shoes that you’d pack in your carry-on.

For road trips, the need to pack effectively is usually overshadowed by our desire to bring unnecessary items, which can be an issue. Also, when road-tripping, certain items that aren’t essential for plane rides may be essential to make your trip as comfortable as possible — think food, water, pillows, blankets, etc. So there’s a lot to think about.

To help you out, I’ve created a list of tips on how to pack effectively for road trips. I’ve found these guidelines to be useful and I hope that you will, too. 

1. Use Duffel Bags

Though this may not come as a surprise to seasoned road-trippers, many people make the mistake of using suitcases for road trips because it’s either all they own or they think they’re easy to stack. Duffel bags, however, are the best choice. They help preserve space because they can be “squished” down, making them smaller, allowing them to take up less space in the vehicle.

One thing to keep in mind when packing clothing items in duffel bags is that your clothes, inevitably, will wrinkle. I always make sure to only pack things in duffel bags that I know I won’t mind if they get wrinkled — comfy shorts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, t-shirts, under garments, etc. 

For nicer items, such as dresses, dress shirts, trousers, pants, or higher quality pieces of clothing that you don’t want wrinkled, see tip #2.

2. Use a mesh net to hang items (this works best in SUV’s)

Some cars already have mesh nets built in them, but if yours doesn’t, don’t fret: This $10 one is available for purchase. 

If you have items that absolutely need to be hung up to avoid wrinkling, hanging your items from a mesh net attached to the roof of the trunk preserves space because it lifts the items off of the floor, not only avoiding those wrinkles but also any dust or dirt as well.

This mesh net not only acts as a coat/hanger rack, but can also be used as storage if the floor of your trunk is too full. 

3. Invest in a car-sized trash bin

There’s nothing worse than having to throw something away while you’re in the car and you can’t. 

Car-sized trash bins are an easy way to avoid clutter and the one we linked hangs right on the back on the seat so not only is space preserved but it’s easy for anyone in the front or back seat to access.

4. Only pack one cooler

Though long road trips call for many snacks and drinks (or at least that’s the case for me), you don’t want to go overboard on the food. Too many times I’ve noticed that the food I’ve packed either spoils because I don’t eat it all or is just simply a nuisance to my space. 

After all, road-tripping gives you easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores and more and I’d rather pack less and have to stop rather than to pack too much and take up needed space.

5. Keep blankets/pillows under seats

Using the space under the front and back seats to pack your pillows/blankets (or really anything!) is a great way to effectively save room in the car. 

I recommend pillows and blankets be stored this way because they’re easy to fold and squish into smaller areas and when you’re traveling with multiple people, this especially avoids the backseats being crowded. Keeping them under the seats allows your items to stay at short reach and gives you the ability to easily store them away.

Another thing to note here is to limit the amount of pillows/blankets you actually bring. If you’re road-tripping with multiple people, the chances are that you’ll be switching off drivers, and/or some people won’t want a pillow or blanket to sleep with or use.

A way to avoid over-packing the pillows/blankets is just to pack a few and if you’re in need of another one, use sweatshirts or thicker clothing items in replace of them.

Bonus non-packing-related tips for road trip success:

  • Map out any toll roads before you leave for your trip and have cash/change handy for them. Seems like a no-brainer until you realize it’s the one thing you forgot.
  • Keep change/cash in an empty gum container. This makes it easy to access and avoids the chance of losing it.
  • Invest in an actual GPS unit — sometimes the cell phone maps don’t give the best/fastest ways, or worse, you lose cell service and can’t navigate.
  • Need tissues? Get a visor tissue holder for easy access and to save space.
  • Don’t forget a first-aid kit. It’s always nice to have one handy. There are a bunch of well-reviewed ones on Amazon for not much money.


What are your favorite ways to pack effectively for a road trip? Leave a comment below!

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