From the anticipation of your destination to spontaneous detours and family singalongs, there’s a lot to love about road trips. It’s a great time of year to get away too, with light nights and warmer weather offering ideal conditions for long stints behind the wheel. But there’s always one major hurdle to overcome before setting off: packing the car.
You’d be forgiven for planning a road trip without thinking about storage first. But overlooking packing could force you to abandon necessary items, obscure the driver’s view or spend hours searching for things you need. So, how can you get organised and make sure everything fits in safely?
Below, read our road trip packing tips for creating space and making the most of every nook and cranny.
How to pack a car for a road trip
Get to know the size of your vehicle (and what’s in it!)
Firstly, how familiar are you with your vehicle’s storage potential? It might be a road trip veteran, a recent upgrade or something you’re hiring specifically for this trip. Whatever the case, knowing your boot’s rough dimensions – as well as what space exists elsewhere – will help you judge what’s feasible packing-wise. Do the seats fold down, for example?
At the same time, it makes sense to get rid of anything that’s been lying around in your vehicle taking up space – like sports equipment or DIY tools.
If you’re still not sure whether your boot will handle the load, you could look into fitting a roof box – though you’ll hurt your fuel efficiency in the process.
Get ruthless with what you pack
Next, think about what you actually need on your trip. Driving will typically allow you to pack more than if you travel by train or plane – but you’ll still have a maximum capacity. So, as you’re planning your road trip, create a packing list and think carefully about:
- Where you’re going
- The time of year and likely weather conditions
- How long you’ll be away
- What you plan to do on your trip
You’ll have more to consider if you’re travelling with kids or dogs, of course. Get ruthless and prioritise your essentials over your nice-to-haves. Ideally, it’s best to do this before you start loading the car. This way you won’t have to cull items retrospectively, delay your journey and disappoint your passengers!
Pack smart first time
On a related note, it’s better to pack smart first time than start all over again when you realise things don’t quite fit.
If there’s a whole gang of you going away for a long time, your biggest space-taker will probably be clothes. Use a roll-instead-of-fold technique to help you pack more outfits in and stuff socks in shoes to free up space for other small items like toiletries.
If you’re packing bedding, big coats or other puffy items, vacuum pack bags will shrink them down to a more suitable size. Using containers for loose items like food, meanwhile, should help keep your car relatively organised for the duration of your trip.
Load your vehicle logically
Here comes the moment of truth! You might be tempted to chuck everything in and cross your fingers if you’re pressed for time, but this step calls for a more methodical approach.
The general rule is to load large, heavy items like suitcases first, and place them as far forward and low down as possible to balance weight efficiently. This way you won’t end up with wasted space that smaller items could sneak into.
No respectable guide on how to pack a car for a road trip would neglect to mention safety, though. Make sure to avoid completely blocking your windows with large items and secure anything that could move around in transit and cause dangerous distractions.
Use every inch of space
Every vehicle has hidden spaces and they could prove key to getting your load on the road. Areas like footwells, the glovebox and gaps under seats are all worth taking advantage of when your boot is filled to the brim. Don’t forget the pockets in the backs of seats too, as well as the room inside the doors and in the centre console.
This point is especially important if you’re driving a small car or one with a limited boot. You’ll be stunned at just how much luggage you can fit in when you use every inch of space available!
Keep essentials close by
We all need certain things to survive long drives, so make sure to keep your essentials easily accessible either from your sitting position or when pulled over. After all, you don’t want to have to clear everything out just to locate one or two items each time you arrive anywhere.
Snacks and drinks are a must, and you’ll want a handy selection of treats that will keep energy and spirits high. Think about throwing in something more substantial too, depending on the length of your road trip (and your attitude towards making stops).
Other items you’ll want at hand might include books or headphones for the adults, and tablets, toys or blankets for little ones. It’s handy having sunglasses nearby too, as well as medicine in case anyone starts to feel under the weather.
Remember your road trip essentials
Aside from items you obviously need for your trip like clothes, toiletries and food, there are a few extras worth adding in when embarking on a long-distance road trip.
- Spare tyre: Hopefully you won’t need to use this, but a puncture could easily derail your plans – especially if you’re travelling on more rural roads.
- First aid kit: Basic supplies like plasters, bandages, safety pins and antiseptic could all prove invaluable if someone trips and falls on one of your stops.
- Charging cables: You might be using your smartphone for navigation, music and emergency contact, so pack a USB cable to keep your device juiced up.
- Hand sanitiser or wipes: These items will help keep your hands and face clean when access to clean running water is limited.
- Toilet roll: Because you don’t want to get caught short on a toilet stop!
- Sunglasses: Driving into the sun isn’t fun, so keep a pair of these close by to reduce glare.
- Reusable shopping bag: Planning to pick up supplies at any point? Take a reusable bag to save collecting single-use items unnecessarily.
- Seasonal extras: You can never predict the weather, so an umbrella, ice scraper and extra sun cream could all come in handy depending on the time of year.
Bonus tips for enjoying a stress-free road trip
Now you know how to pack a car for a road trip, you might think the rest will be plain sailing. But we have a few more tips for reaching your destination safely and comfortably.
Check your vehicle
The last thing you want is to find your car has a fault just a few miles into your journey. A week or so before setting off, check essentials like engine oil, tyre condition and pressure, and windscreen wiper fluid. If you have any larger concerns, book a service for peace of mind.
Get a good night’s sleep
Feeling tired at the wheel isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s dangerous – so give yourself a fighting chance of staying alert. Aim to get good, consistent sleep in the days leading up to your adventure, and, if you can, avoid travelling after work, late at night or following heavy meals.
Plan (some) stops
Just like working at a desk or flying long-haul, it’s a good idea to stretch your legs every now and then. Plan stops every couple of hours or so to let everyone reset and re-energise, and maybe see some interesting sights along the way!
Stock up on entertainment
Long drives can easily lead to boredom and bickering, so having a strong collection of entertainment options is essential. Preload your smartphones with audiobooks, podcasts and playlists that offer something for everyone, and have a few road trip games to fall back on during any lulls. I spy, anyone?
Share the load
If your drive is especially long, you could share the load to give people breaks and keep everyone fresh. But even if one person takes the wheel the whole time, divvy up tasks like navigation and nutrition to ease the burden and enjoy a more efficient trip.
Get covered for your adventure
There’s just one more thing to think about when planning your road trip. If you’re borrowing a vehicle or sharing the drive with another person who isn’t insured, you’ll need to take out temporary cover. That’s where we come in!
Our temporary car insurance offers complete peace of mind for as long as you need it. It’s available for hours, days or weeks, so you can take out cover for all kinds of road trips and get back to packing.
Planning a road trip?
Take a look the this comprehensive checklist from the RAC to make sure you don’t forget anything
Wondering how to prepare for a road trip?
The RAC has you covered with this blog post with their top tips and tricks