We have a really small car! As passionate road-trippers, we’ve been known to live out of our little Pontiac Vibe for weeks, even months on end. We choose to travel in a tiny car for many reasons -maneuverability, great gas mileage, and easy upkeep, just to name a few. And we’ve become experts at packing light.
Our experiences backpacking have really helped us learn to pack only the bare necessities for long road trips. When you’ve lived your life out of a backpack, a car trunk seems cavernous. Of course, that makes it tempting to pack more than you need, but in the end, tough decisions are made, and the car wins. So what do you have to pack for a long-distance road trip? Well, that depends on where you’re going and what your doing, but I do have a few tips to share based on our own experiences packing a small car for a big trip.
Before you Begin Packing
- Think about the season you are traveling, how long you will be gone, and what you want to do on your trip. We are pretty big on outdoor adventures, and we mainly travel in the summer, so our packing list usually reflects that.
- Create a packing list, starting with supplies that you can’t live without (clothes, food, and shelter), and moving on to items that will make your trip more exciting and memorable (fishing poles, toys, games, books , and musical instruments).
- Recruit your kids to make lists of their own. Even if you have to nix the idea of bringing along the pet iguana or the boogie board, at least their ideas were in the running.
- If you truly think you will have more stuff than will fit in your car, consider buying, renting, or borrowing a car-top cargo carrier for extra supplies. I Even though ours isn’t the most beautiful, I don’t think we could live without it. We use our cargo carrier to hold all of our bedding, backpacks, tents, and souvenirs, while the trunk is for food, cooking supplies, and clothing.
Packing for a Long Road Trip
This packing list is for a months-long, cross-country car trip in the summer for a family who cooks every meal and spends every night camping. In other words, this is our packing list. Yours might be different, but I do find that for us, the basics are always the same.
- Clothes – For each person – underwear and socks for one week, a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts, bathing suit , one pair of pants, long underwear top and bottom, fleece pants, fleece pullover, wind-breaker/rain coat, wool cap, gloves, hiking boots, sandals, and one dress (for me). Everyone’s clothing stash goes into a compression sack. We bring another compression sack for dirty laundry.
- Camping/Hiking – a light-weight sleeping bag and pad for everyone, small pillows, two tents suitable for car-camping and backpacking- one for the kids, one for the grown-ups, internal frame backpacks for everyone, headlamps, a lantern, and rope for a clothesline, Crazy Creek camp chairs (they pack flat), and mosquito head-nets.
- The Kitchen – In our car we are lucky enough to travel with a kitchen, a fridge, and a pantry (otherwise known as a duffel bag, cooler, and big plastic tub). In the kitchen, we keep a double-burner Coleman camp stove, a backpacking stove, lightweight MSR deep dish plates, travel mugs, silverware, backpacking cookware, cooking utensils, two collapsible buckets for dish-washing, biodegradable dish soap, microfiber dish cloths, a tablecloth, matches, and propane. You can read more about our camp kitchen in this post.
- The Fridge – Our little cooler usually contains our dairy products and vegetables, plus the snacks for day, which we prep in the morning. We rarely use ice, so we have to eat things up pretty quickly. The cooler sits between the kids in the back seat.
- The Pantry – The pantry is a big Rubbermaid tub. In it we keep canned goods, crackers, bread, our spice kit, coffee, refillable water bottles, and condiments. The pantry gets refilled about once a week, just like at home.
- Car repair kit – Our emergency car repair kit contains motor oil, anti-freeze, washer fluid, a small air-compressor for filling the tires with air, miscellaneous tools that I really didn’t pay attention to, because honestly, if it were up to me, I would just call AAA and hope for the best.
- First Aid Kit – Because we like to travel off the beaten path, we always keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. You can read more about our first aid kit here.
- Fun stuff – If there’s room, we pack toys and instruments. travel guitar, harmonica, various books and field guides, binoculars, an iPad with a keyboard, swartphones, camera, colored pencils and journals, backpacking hammock, Frisbee, football, swim goggles, card games, and dice.
Occasionally we get bored with our clothes or books and we have stop at a used book or clothing store to trade them out. We don’t usually buy souvenirs, but we do collect stickers for our cargo box. Now every time I look at the box, I want to hit the road again.
What are your must-have necessities for long road trips? Have you ever traveled across the country in a really small car. It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.