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Packing for a Cross Country Road Trip

Tips for packing for a cross country road tripI’m in a trip planning mood. Not that I don’t ALWAYS want to plan a trip, but there’s something about the transition from spring to summer that really makes me want to pack my bags, throw them in the car and hit the open road.

Last year, my husband and I drove from Ohio to the Oregon Coast and back. It was our first major trip as “almost” empty nesters and it was amazing. We knew where we were headed in Oregon and that was the extent of my pre-planning. We picked up travel brochures as we traveled through each state and armed with several apps- Roadside America, Chimani National Parks and RoadTrippers, we were able to experience an amazing vacation on the fly.

Ecola State Park in Oregon.

We drove along the shoreline of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, met friends and fellow road trippers at the Corn Palace in South Dakota, we saw Mt. Rushmore, spent the night in an adorable cabin in Yellowstone National Park and awoke early the next morning to see bison, collected sand dollars along the beach in Oregon, toured a sea lion cave and hiked among the Redwoods.

Walking among the Redwoods in California

While I planned key stopping or stopover points and maybe a few can’t miss attractions, everything else was pretty spontaneous. You just never know what we’ll find to explore on a road trip- which means that I need to be prepared for anything and packing is not my strong point. Here are some things that I’ve learned are essential.

Packing for a Cross Country Road Trip

1. Skip the suitcase and pack travel bags.

When I’m road tripping, I always pack multiple bags- generally a couple smaller bags with a change of clothes and toiletries for quick overnight stops so I don’t need to lug around a heavy suitcase from stop to stop. I’ve also found that duffel bags and other soft-sided travel bags can easily be tucked around the rest of your gear in the trunk to save space.

2. Think comfort and layers.

When it comes to clothing, it’s important to pack comfortable clothes that can be layered. Even though we were traveling in July, and it was really warm in the Midwest, the temps dropped as our elevation changed. Mornings and evenings were downright chilly and sweatshirts were definitely needed, while afternoons were warm. I packed items that were comfortable to travel and hike in that could easily be layered when needed.

3. Pack sturdy shoes.

I generally pack a pair of flip flops when I’m road tripping because I hate to wear shoes and flip flops are easy to slip on when we make quick stops. But for the rest of the time, I make sure I pack a sturdy pair of shoes that can take me from the lakeshore to the trails in the Redwoods. For me, it was a trusty pair of Sketchers, but I have my eye on a pair of Keens.

4. Pack plenty of Water.

I drink a lot of water, and it’s important to stay properly hydrated not only when road tripping, but especially as you travel to higher elevations. Drink up, people!

5. Pack an old fashioned atlas.

I learned this the hard way. While I love my GPS and I really don’t know what I would do without it, there were several times we had no signal and got turned around. Plan your route the old fashioned way and don’t trust that your GPS is taking you on the shortest, or best route.

6. Don’t leave home without portable chargers for your electronics.

While some people enjoy unplugging while traveling, travel is my job so I’m normally connected. I don’t leave home without a car charger for my phone.

7. Pack a travel pillow and blanket.

I’ve never been one to sleep in the car, but that’s starting to change. Especially because we travel long hours. I’ve realized that a travel pillow and blanket make sleeping on the go so much more comfortable.

8. Change and small bills for tolls.

Most toll roads now accept credit cards, but not all. I always make sure to pack change and small bills for those often unexpected surprises.

9. Pack plenty of snacks.

My husband hates to eat out when we travel we pack lots of healthy snacks to munch on until we stop at a rest stop to cook our meals at a rest stop or stop for the night and cook in a hotel room.

10. Don’t forget your playlist.

I have a list of road trip worthy songs that we love to listen to on the road that really put us in the road tripping mood. Whether they’re saved to your favorite app, iPod or you’ve burned your own CD, a playlist of your own sure helps to cross those miles and keeps your fingers from flipping through station after station.

11. Don’t forget the camera!

You’ll want to document your trip and all that you see and discover. While cell phones are great for taking photos, sometimes you just need to have a good old fashioned camera!

12. Sunglasses.

I rarely wear sunglasses at home, but I realized on our last trip, that I definitely need to be more mindful about protecting my eyes. Just pack your sunglasses. Period. Your eyes will thank you.

What items do you consider essential when you road trip?


Sunday 4th of August 2019

I love your suggestions. You are a person after my own heart. I didn't know about the Roadside Attractions app and have been scribbling down notes from Wish I knew more about how you packed your bags though. Do I pack several bags: underwear, shirts, pants, shorts and then choose a combo to put into the overnight bag or do I pack a big bag with everything and then go through it to make my overnight bag? Other things I like: Binoculars and bird books, folding chair, small pop-up tent for those times that I just can't find a motel room and can't drive any longer, flavored protein powder and individual servings of almond milk with an immersion blender, night before I put oatmeal (and other additions) in pint jar with almond milk and have cold cereal in the morning although I could microwave it, updated list of all drugs and supplements I take with emergency numbers and tape to dashboard incase I'm in an accident.

Tonya Prater

Sunday 15th of September 2019

When I'm traveling and not staying at one hotel, but stopping at many I typically pack a tote rather than a suitcase. The tote will have all my clothes and I can simply go through them each night to quickly pick what I need. I could have them sorted by days but I'm funny and like to choose my clothes based on my moods. LOL I always have a toiletries bag packed and ready to go which I keep in a small tote bag or duffel bag and then I simply toss my clothes on top of that and I'm good to go. The husband and I typically van camp now so instead of staying at motel or hotels, we're often at campgrounds so this method works especially well for me.

Thanks for sharing some of your tips and packing ideas! I'll be implementing some of those on my next trip. :) Protection Status
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