Packing Hacks for the Road Warrior

The Cathedral on the Prairie in Hoven, South Dakota. A packing hack led me to it!

Last Updated on September 21, 2021 by Barbara Trapp

In May of 2016, I took a road trip in my (‘soul red’) Mazda 3 hatchback that took me through 22 states in two months. Traveling for that long makes efficient packing a necessity. Here are the packing hacks I used that will make your adventure easy and comfortable:

Packing Hacks for the Front of the Car:

  • Collapsible trash bin with a loop: Great for small trash like wrappers, tissues, lens wipes
  • Cup-holder sized bottle of antibacterial wipes: I used these after gassing up or eating, and on the steering wheel, phone, etc. (I kept the container in the trash bin when it wasn’t too full)

    The Cathedral on the Prairie in Hoven, South Dakota. A packing hack led me to it!
    Cathedral on the Prairie in Hoven, South Dakota. A packing hack helped me find it!
  • Road atlas: Even the best GPS can’t replace a birds-eye view of the area you are traveling. You’ll be able to see alternate routes and some landmarks you may have missed. That’s how I discovered Cathedral on the Prairie in South Dakota (beautiful) as well as four-way stops with no stop signs (eye-opening!). And reviewing a map of your travel plans with children not only is a great way to involve them, it helps build spatial reasoning skills (read more in this PBS article). Tip: If you hear, “Are we there yet?” you can just hand them the atlas and say, “I don’t know…are we?”
  • Sunscreen: Put it on ALL exposed areas of your skin daily! I thought I would be protected from the sun while in my car, but I was only partially right. Car windows may block out UVB rays, but not the deep, damaging UVA rays. I discovered this after my first full day of traveling west on I-10. That evening my skin was red and felt burned on my face, neck, and arms. From then on I put on sunscreen in the morning and then reapplied it later. Tip: Store a tube of sunscreen lotion in your car’s side-pocket and a can of non-greasy spray-on sunscreen in your cooler. Refreshing!
  • Dry snacks: Nuts, jerky, gum, dried fruit. I was so grateful for these while stuck in a couple of traffic jams.
  • Sports water bottle: My favorite is Camelbak’s Podium squeeze bottle. It locks so no worries about leaking. Get everyone their own bottle (earth friendly!) and only use it for water so that the plastic doesn’t retain other flavors or smells. Tip: Clean them at night and refill with ice and water before hitting the road again.
  • Bottles of water (the crunchy kind): Okay, it doesn’t sound earth-friendly, however, if you are going to put ice in your cooler, it might as well be in the form of frozen water bottles. Tip: The ‘crunchy’ eco bottles are great for achy backs. Put one behind you while you drive to reduce inflammation (a tip I learned from a chiropractor)!
  • Lens wipes: Use for your sunglasses, camera lenses and cell phone (lens). And even the backup sensor near your license plate.
  • Envelope for travel receipts. Even if you aren’t tracking your expenses, the receipts will let you retrace your travel stops. Tip and nerd alert: I entered mine into an Excel spreadsheet with dates, locations, what I bought, cost, etc. And guess what? Two years later I was able to locate the same truck stop in Louisiana that had the best Boudin balls! Here’s my Yelp review.
  • Two journals and one big rubber band: One journal is for…journaling the trip. The other journal should have thick paper so it can be used to press and preserve any wildflowers you find along the way (honoring any state laws about picking flowers of course). Tip: Use the rubber band to hold the journal shut and keep this under the seat of your car. The heat will speed up the drying process.

Packing Hacks for the Back of the Car:

  • Laundry: Bring a large lingerie bag for each traveler. Put a package of laundry pods, a container of quarters and a baggie of dryer sheets into one of the bags. Everyone uses their bag for their dirty clothes and the bags are great for laundering delicate items. Using hotel (or friends’) laundry rooms will be a breeze!
  • Utensils:
    • Small paring knife with sheath
    • Vegetable peeler
    • Can opener
    • Wine/bottle opener
    • One fork, knife and spoon for each: (real silverware instead of plastic is earth-friendly and just easier to use)
    • Plastic storage containers: Use for fruit from roadside stands, a place to contain sandwiches and messy fast food while you are eating.
    • Paper towels
    • All-purpose cleaning wipes
    • Small bottle of dish detergent and sponge in a plastic baggie: Use to clean all the water bottles, coffee mugs, silverware, etc at the end of each day.
    • 4-cup glass measuring cup: Great for heating water for tea and coffee in a hotel room with limited coffee supplies.
    • Plastic coffee cone and filters
    • Small blender and cup: Yes, I made some smoothies along the way to avoid eating a lot of hotel lobby waffles.
    • Blender shaker cup: Use to mix up powdered drinks.
  • Food:
    • Ground coffee
    • Coffee creamer pods and sugar
    • Tea bags
    • Travel salt and pepper shakers
    • Boiled Eggs: These offer quick protein and can supplement a carb-heavy hotel continental breakfast.
    • Protein powder
    • Mandarin oranges: They travel well!
    • Cheese sticks
    • Microwave popcorn
    • Celery and carrot sticks
    • Jerky
    • Juice
    • Milk
  • Comfort items:
    • Epsom salts and bubble bath: Yes, it takes up space, but I love a bath after a long day of travel and activity. This is my favorite comfort packing hack! Tip: Use the all-purpose cleaning wipes to clean out hotel tubs.
    • Pillow: There’s nothing like your own comfy pillow to help you get a good nights sleep. Tip: Use a brightly colored pillowcase so as not to forget it in a hotel room!
    • Throw blanket: Use in hotels rooms, or in the car to get a quick nap at a rest stop. Tip: Store this inside the pillow.
  • Safety and miscellaneous items:
    • Scissors: For removing tags and well, how often do you reach for scissors?

      My red Mazda in front of Mount Shasta. I used some great packing hacks to fit in everything I needed!
      My Mazda in front of Mount Shasta. I used some great packing hacks to fit in everything I needed!
    • Gloves: A pair of work gloves are useful if you have to change a tire, do some heavy lifting, handle dirty stuff, etc.
    • Packing tape: This is always in my car for when I want to mail a package or secure something.
    • Hand towel: Use to clean up big spills, dry off after getting caught in the rain, etc.
    • Grocery store plastic bags: save these to discard trash, hold extra laundry, wet clothes, etc.
    • Road triangle and flare: These help other cars see you if your car dies on the road at night.
    • Gallons of water: Always travel with at least one gallon of water in your car, ideally one per person. If you have car trouble on a desolate road in the southwest, you will need it. Tip: Don’t have car trouble on a desolate road in the southwest ;). But at least gas up when you get below the half-full mark.
    • First aid kit: Include an antihistamine (for use in case you get bitten by a bug or have allergy issues), waterproof band-aids and calamine lotion.

These packing hacks make my road trips comfortable and fun. Clothes packing, technology and activity packing will be saved for another post. What packing hacks can you add to this list???

Overwhelmed? Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here for your free consult. I’d love to help you Zen Your Den® (or your car!).

Barbara Trapp, CAPM
Professional Organizer
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO