Road Trip Survival Guide: Prepping and Packing

Mom was right when she told you to make a list and keep it simple.

Last Christmas, as my husband and I were on the highway en route to the second of three holiday destinations, we groused about all the travel.

I know all my relatives are reading (Hi, Mom!), so I have to say this: We love you all and spending time with you during the holidays is of the utmost importance to us.

Which is why we allow you to make us into Christmas nomads. We even have a theme song!

Christmas nomads, where are you going?
Are you there yet?
Is that the Yule log?
Or just the dashboard glowing …

Packing and prep-work for our 10-day, two-state holiday extravaganza takes nearly as long as the trip itself. When Emmeline was an infant, the trips were a breeze. Not only would she sleep for the entire drive, she also had very little gear.

You know what I’m talking about.

The gear.

Oh, the gear.

When she was really little, it was simple: Toss a duffle bag in the trunk, put the stroller on top and go.

I figure that now, about two-thirds of our packing is for the kid, who is one-third our size. She needs a place to sleep (portable crib), her potty (oy), her toys (which she never plays with, but God forbid we leave those 1,000 Little People at home), her clothes, her sippy cups …

I’m tired just thinking about it.

That’s why I enlisted the help of professional organizer Liz Witts, of Organized Living, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Witts has spread her special wisdom all over the land through her many appearances on HGTV’s Mission: Organization.

I tried to get her to come and live with me (Professional! Organizer!), but she declined.

I can’t imagine why.

Write it Down

Anyhoo, Witts says the key to being organized for a long road trip is making a list and—wait for it—checking it twice.

“As you think of things to take with you on the trip, write them down, or as you see items or think of items that you want to take with you, start to set them aside in advance of the trip,” she says. “That way you won’t be running around at the last minute grabbing everything.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d think she’d been spying on me. And I think I see my husband over there, giving me the I-told-you-so stare. Because I made fun of him when he made an EXCEL SPREADHEET listing what he was going to wear on each day of our trip.

Jen Magnuson of Flagstaff, Ariz., is a veteran road-tripper, and she (wisely) married a former Eagle Scout and “packing fanatic.”

While Magnuson cleans the house in preparation for their departure, her husband makes a list for everyone in their family, not an easy feat when you have kids ranging in age from 1 to 12.

“He makes a detailed punch list of what we’ll need, and then I procure and pack the items into bags,” Magnuson says.

I have to admit that a list helps, a lot. Especially when you have children. Because the last thing—and I mean the very last thing—you want to do is forget something essential.

Like their lovie. Or their shoes.

The Art of Packing

Is it just me, or do shoes take up more space in your suitcase than a bowling ball? Witts has the cure for what ails you, if you are one of those people (stop looking at me) who routinely need to sit on their luggage to get it closed.

“Wear your biggest clothing instead of packing it, unless the weather does not allow for it,” she advises. “Wear your jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt and sneakers, because flip flops take up less space in the luggage than sneakers.”

Oh, and here’s a cool little tip: If you must pack shoes in the suitcase, tuck your socks inside them. Nifty!

Another way to free up space in your suitcase for all the goodies you might want to bring back home is to pack lightly, especially if you will have access to a Laundromat, washing machine or laundry service.

“I personally would pack four days worth of clothing, and just keep washing and re-wearing,” Witts says. “And taking things that truly mix and match can create the appearance of 10 different outfits, if not more.”

Once you have all that stuff stuffed into the suitcases, it is time to stuff it all into the car. In my house, that task falls to my husband. When I asked Witts if she had any tips for packing the trunk, I was pleased to discover that we actually get high marks in that subject.

Witts recommends filling the trunk from back to front, using all the space, and placing the suitcases on the bottom so you can stack other items on top of them.

But the best advice Witts had to offer was to keep it simple.

“I like the ‘take only what you need to survive’ philosophy,” she says. “Think compact whenever possible.”

Oh, good. That means all I need to pack is chocolate.

My work here is done.

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

Great Ideas Something else I do when we are going to more than one location - I pack one suitcase for our first stop, and one for the second. Last March, when packing for my grandmother's funeral and then trip to the inlaws - I packed one suitcase to take into my Aunt and Uncle's with our 'nice' clothes and such, and left the second in the car. The second came out (without funeral wear) at my inlaws. Saved me a lot of packing and unpacking, and juggling multiple suitcases for multiple people. I didn't realize a spreadsheet was 'funny' - I have a couple different ones depending on where we're going! ;)

Cool Tips Great advice. This is useful not only for road trips, but also for air trips. I would have never thought of stuffing my socks in my shoes to save space. Although it was a great article, I think a few more examples would have helped out a lot more.

Great suggestions Especially the list. I do the sock trick, it's something my mom taught me. Works with hose and heels, too, and then you make sure to have everything matching. Which is important to some people. : )