Packing for a Road Trip

Packing for a road trip is when your journey starts to seem real. And if you load up your car carefully, you'll make it much easier on yourself every time you stop.

Whenever we're packing for a road trip, we follow a few basic principles:

  1. Put the overnight stuff in first. Bringing sleeping bags, pillows, and a Pack-and-Play crib for the baby? Those can go deepest in the trunk or farthest back in the cargo area. You won't need them until nighttime, of course, and at that point, you'll be taking some of your other larger cases out of the car anyway.
  2. Add larger suitcases next. You probably won't need to change clothes during a day's drive, so you can put your big cases and bags fairly deep in the storage area.
  3. Leave the things you'll need on top of the pile or closest to the hatchback. The list can include jackets, hats, snacks, a portable grill, an ice chest or drink cooler, camera or video camera, and of course, the diaper bag if you have a baby. You will need the diaper bag, and probably sooner and more urgently than you think.
  4. Keep a bag of essentials handy in the car. Up near the driver - but not right at his or her feet - place a little bag that contains the real essentials such as printed directions, maps, cell phone, hotel confirmations, and sunscreen.
  5. Keep a kids' bag in the car, too. This one's a no-brainer: if you're traveling with children, keep their games, toys, stuffed animals, and non-perishable snacks in a dedicated bag. This bag can stay by their feet or on the seat between car seats.
  6. Fill all available cup holders with drinks. It's such a waste of time to stop just because you're a little thirsty, unless of course you needed to stretch your legs or wanted to snap some pictures. So before you set out, fill your cup holders with water bottles and travel mugs filled with the beverages of your choice.

Any time you stop for the night, you'll unload the car in reverse order from how you packed it, of course. The next morning, you'll simply load the car the same way you originally did. If you think you'll have trouble remembering how you packed your car on Day One, snap a quick picture with your cell phone or draw a quick diagram of how things go.

And one more thought on packing for a road trip: before you hit the road, make sure that any toys you don't want your kids playing with during the drive (noisy ones, dangerous ones, ones that could create a glare on the windshield) are well out of their reach. You'll thank yourself when you don't have to pull off an Interstate to confiscate a hard plastic figurine from your toddler who has been banging it into the nearest window.

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