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Road Trip Packing Lists, Tips, and Tricks

I'm no stranger to road trips and the struggle that is figuring out the logistics behind them. For the past four years, I've made the drive between Lexington and Vermont at least twice a year for school breaks and other vacations, so I've picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. I've also done the drive with a dog so for all of my dog moms out there I've included a few tips on traveling with your four-legged friend as well!

Let's Start with Packing

I still struggle with packing for road trips sometimes. It's so easy to overpack and find yourself stuck in the car with little room to do anything because you have too much crap in the car. Here's how I break down my packing lists to make sure I don't overpack and I keep plenty of space free in my car!

* Pack outfits not just random clothes

I started packing like this a few years back and it has been so helpful for me! I talk about this tip in some of my other travel posts as well because it's just that helpful. When packing my clothes, I like to figure out how many outfits I need for the trip. Not how many I want, only how many I need. I typically pack one outfit for each day and a few nicer or different outfits for any last-minute plans or events that pop up once I arrive.

I like to choose outfits based on what pieces I can wear multiple times as well. When packing, I'll start by laying out all of my different outfit options and choosing the ones that require the least amount of clothing, shoes, accessories to end up in my suitcase! Typically this means one or two pairs of jeans and multiple sweaters or shirts depending on the time of year.

* Pack like you were going to fly

There's no reason you need to pack half your house just because you can. As nice as it is to be able to throw a couple of extra items in the car and not have to worry about weight limits or whether your liquids are the right size, you still don't want to fill your trunk with items that won't even make it out of the bag.

When it comes to packing I follow almost all of the same rules as to when I fly. Other than packing full-size liquids and way more snacks, my bags look pretty much the same. My "carry-on" is my car bag. This is the bag where I keep everything I'll need for the drive. My personal favorite is the Kate Spade Cameron Street Havana tote (I don't think this style is available anymore but this one is pretty close to the same thing). My suitcase is where I keep all of my clothes and other items I won't need until I arrive at my destination.

Depending on how I'm breaking the trip up, I will occasionally throw a small duffle bag or overnight bag in the trunk too, just in case I spend the night somewhere and I don't want to bring in my whole suitcase.

Now, I will say my one exception to my 2 bag rule is the snack bag. I like to avoid stopping as much as possible on these trips (especially during COVID times) so packing a bunch of snacks and drinks makes it easy to only stop when I need gas or have to pee.

* Make a list of any random items you need to bring

Sometimes you need to bring a random item you may not bring on a flight. For me, that's often gifts or items my family has requested from Kentucky (like my mom's favorite coffee or my dad's bourbon of choice). To minimize all of the panic packing or just blind tossing that can happen when it comes to these items, I like to make a list, that way I can be sure what I actually need is packed and what I don't need doesn't even make it to the car.

* Utilize your trunk space

There's no reason every bag needs to be in the front or back seats of your car, and honestly, most items you bring don't need to be where you can reach them. That being said, make use of the space in your trunk. Once you throw your suitcase in, pack the rest of the things your bringing in the trunk as well. I use my trunk to pack everything from my suitcase to my dog's food and even my road trip essentials (jumper cables, extra blankets, etc.) If you're worried about items falling over or moving around, get a few plastic bins or an extra bag to organize everything and keep everything from falling over.

* Packing for your Dog

Somehow I always end up packing way too much for Wrigley. When he was little and still working as a service-dog-in-training he definitely needed a lot more items. But now, he's content as long as I remember his food, a few toys, and his leash.

When it comes to packing for your dog I find it's helpful to pack the essentials first, and then add in a few of their favorite items! Trust me, your dog won't mind if you leave most of his/her toys at home, as long as one or two make the trip it won't matter.

Organizing their items in the car is easy too! I always put Wrigley's bed, a bone or toy he won't destroy, and bowl for water along with his leash in the front/back seats of the car and the rest of his stuff goes in the trunk along with everything else!

Tips and Tricks

* Plan out the drive ahead of time

As obvious as this one might seem, it's pretty common for people not to think this part through. I mean how many times do you just get in the car, turn on your GPS and drive wherever it is you need to go? The thing with road trips is, you need to plan out the drive. I don't mean you need to know every exact detail of your trip but it's helpful to know a general route you'll be going.

Do you need cash for tolls? What states are you going through? Do you know where you would want to stop if you need to spend the night somewhere? Are there hotels close to where you'll be all the time? These are important questions when it comes to driving long distances. For example, I know that once I reach about 3 hours from Vermont there are very few places to spend the night, so if I need to stop for the night, I know it needs to be before that point in my drive.

* Break up the drive

This doesn't always mean you can't complete your road trip in one day (trust me, I've definitely driven straight home in a day before) but breaking up the drive definitely helps. Whenever I stop for gas I like to take a few minutes to get out, take the dog out, stretch my legs and just give myself a minute to relax since driving takes a lot out of me. I also try and break my drive up into even sections. Personally, I can drive about 5-6 hours before I start getting restless so I break my 15-hour trip into 3 sections. There are some really great rest areas along the drive home and thankfully they're just about 5-6 hours apart from each other so I use those to give myself a break on the drive. As much as I don't like stopping and taking my time at each stop, sometimes I just need 20 minutes doing nothing before driving a few hundred miles again.

* Prep the night before

As obvious as this one seems, I can't tell you the number of times I've thought of just doing everything in the morning. The problem is, leaving everything to the morning of your trip undoubtedly means you never leave on time. Pack the car, get gas, finish getting your house set for your trip, whatever it is you need to do before you head off, make sure it's done the night before, that way you can just get up and leave!

* Use the time in the car to catch up with people

Especially if you're traveling solo, road trips can get a little boring at times. That's why using roadtrips to call friends and family is one of my favorite things to do! Since I have my phone connected through my Bluetooth it's super easy to call anyone on my contact list. Not only does this give you something to pass the time in the car, it also gives you a chance to talk with people you maybe haven't had time to call in a while.

* Keeping your dog comfortable and safe

If you are traveling with your dog it can add a layer of stress to your road trip. Between having another list of things to pack and trying to figure out where to stop along the way it can get overwhelming. It can also be really overwhelming trying to figure out how to keep them comfortable and safe in the car. My biggest tip is to make sure your dog is okay traveling in the car. Like people, some dogs can get really bad car anxiety, so it's important to make sure you check to see if that's the case with your dog before your trip. If your dog does have car anxiety consult with your vet to see what the best option for him/her might be!

When it comes to safety for your pet there are so many different options that could work. What I works best for Wrigley and I is having him in the back seat of my car. He's a fantastic traveler so I don't personally use a doggy seat belt for him or a crate. He just hangs out in the back of the car! I don't like having him in the front because it's a really dangerous place for dogs to be; especially if you get in an accident; also he's pretty big so he wouldn't fit anyways.

Like I've said before, Wrigs is definitely spoiled too so making sure he's comfortable on our drives is always one of my top priorities. For him, putting his bed a toy that he can't destroy and a bone in the back seat is just the thing! I also make sure to take him out, give him water, and usually a treat every single time I stop and get out of the car. If it's been a few hours and I realize I haven't needed to get gas or take a break I'll stop then just to make sure he's okay! Also, for him he's the most comfortable if he eats before we get on the road (some dogs get car sick though so just keep an eye on your dog's habits).

There you have it! Some tips, tricks and packing advice for road trips! Have you ever been on a road trip? Are you planning on road tripping anywhere once travel is a little less restricted? Let me know!

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