7 Tips and Hacks To Packing Your Car For Safe Travel

packing car for travel

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Looking for that Weekend Warrior lifestyle? Learn how to pack your car so you can travel at a moment’s notice.

The typical American spends over 70% of their time working for most of their years living on this planet.  Even worse, many of you only take two weeks off each year. So, we spend most of our time working two days each week to prepare to return to work on Monday on the hamster wheel of life.

But there is so much more to do, see, and experience, and we hope to inspire you to get out there and follow your dreams, whatever they may be. We are here to tell you today that there are ways to maximize your weekends and begin experiencing the life you dream of now.   

Car travel is the easiest way to get out there and start experiencing. We started our travel adventures as weekend warriors, hitting the road shortly after we clocked off each week and returning in time for work on Monday. Not only did this give us opportunities to see beautiful places, but the weekends were more fulfilling, felt longer, and left us energized for work.

For some, traveling each weekend or most weekends sounds like an enormous, expensive, or stressful undertaking. Below are some practical tips on how to set yourself up to have a spur-of-the-moment adventure, save time and money, and be prepared.

You may not be able to fit that fabulous Maui vacation into one weekend, but you can fit a fantastic road trip into one.

Keep your vehicle prepped

Having a reliable ride is the foundation of being able to take off when adventure calls. Nothing ruins a trip faster than an unexpected roadside incident. 

  • Routine Maintenance – Ensure you are up to date with routine maintenance such as oil changes, keeping fluids at proper levels, checking lights, and getting your required services.
  • Tires – Before you leave, ensure your tires have the correct air pressure. Check tires for bulges, cracks, and tread level. Before you take off, a tire shop should check out worn tires or other potential concerns. Carry a spare tire and jack, and know how to change your tire.
  • Brakes – You should have a mechanic check your brakes and brake pads for wear and replace them as required. 
  • Fuel and Fluids – Fill up before you hit the road, top off your washer fluid, and check your coolant levels. Depending on your destination, be mindful of service accessibility for refueling.
  • Clean – Try to wash and vacuum your vehicle before hitting the road. Car travel lends itself to a messy car, so starting with a clean slate is best. Plus, a clean car gets better mileage!
  • Emergency Kit – Always carry a roadside emergency kit, including a first aid kit, and customize it for the type of travel or weather conditions you may face. This should include snow chains if traveling in the winter.  

Get Organized

Packing Your Car For Safe Travel | 7 Tips and Hacks

Create a system for weekend car travel that greatly reduces the chore of packing and unpacking. This will free up time and get you to a place where you can be ready to go anytime. The system may vary depending on the type of car or rig you plan to travel in. We started as weekend warriors in an older Passat wagon. 

We kept our shared gear packed in plastic storage bins, so all we needed to do was load them in the car. For personal items, our daypacks were always packed and ready to go. During the week, we would wash our clothing and put it directly into our packs to prepare for the next adventure.

I also had duplicates of toiletries in my daypack, so I never needed to waste time gathering items. Make a list of items you need and set up a system where those items are stored in large containers or bins that you can quickly load into your vehicle.  

Set up a Travel Kitchen

Packing Your Car For Safe Travel | 7 Tips and Hacks

A travel kitchen will help you keep costs down, save time, and allow you to cook for yourself when on a budget, require a special diet, or have sparse dining options. For us, a minimalist approach was best, with many cross-functional items in a bin. This helped us limit our gear and made cleaning up a breeze. Below are some ideas for what to include in your travel kitchen. 

  • Camp stove, JetBoil, portable barbeque, or another cooking device. Extra Fuel.
  • Pots, Pans, Dishes, Utensils, Travel Mug
  • Dish Pan, Soap, Scrubber, Towel
  • Staple Items such as coffee, tea, pasta, canned soups, meal kits
  • Water Jug
  • Cooler
  • Packable Camp Table

Consider sleeping in your car

One of the ways we have been able to travel year-round is by setting up our car as a camper so we didn’t have to quit traveling when the weather turned. We always carried our tent, but sometimes sleeping in the car has been easier, faster, or more comfortable. Initially, we traveled in a wagon with folded-down seats, giving us space and ample space for our sleeping bags and pads.

Depending on your vehicle type, many aftermarket products are available for Overlanding, such as cargo carriers, rooftop tents, racks, and truck bed sleeping platforms. There is also the DIY approach to turning your car into your ideal road warrior by adding a platform bed or turning your vehicle into a camper.

When nature calls

Packing Your Car For Safe Travel | 7 Tips and Hacks

In case you haven’t heard, everybody poops. Now that we’ve got that out in the open, it’s much easier to travel with a companion, friend, or partner without any bathroom awkwardness. Easier said than done, I know, but being flexible in your bathroom requirements will make things a lot easier when a squeaky-clean porcelain throne may not be available.

  • Stock a car bathroom kit with toilet paper, wet wipes, feminine products, hand sanitizer, a trowel, and trash bags. You may also consider carrying a privacy pop-up bathroom tent.
  • Learn how to go in nature the proper way. Digging a cat hole and burying waste is generally accepted in backcountry locations and at least 200 feet from water sources. Toilet paper should be buried or packed out, and feminine products, including used tampons and pads, should be packed out.
  • Rest Stops and Truck Stops. If you are traveling on the interstate, rest and truck stops are your best option for a quick pit stop. We’ve found some of the cleanest restrooms at those big truck stops that cater to the big rigs, and some even have showers!
  • State Parks and campgrounds generally have facilities that may be flushing or vault-style.
  • If you have phone service, apps now allow you to use technology to find a clean restroom—for example: “Toilet Finder” in the Google Play Store. There are many.

Entertainment and Comfort

Packing Your Car For Safe Travel | 7 Tips and Hacks

Just as much as we enjoy picturesque landscapes and anticipating our final destinations, the journey is one of our favorite parts of car travel. Setting the car up for comfort as the miles click by can make the trip. Here are some ways we set things up for an enjoyable journey.

  • Audiobooks or podcasts– Ideally, download these when you are on Wi-Fi and check with your local library for free audiobook downloads
  • Snacks and drinks– We chose options that are easy to eat on the road and low in sugar to keep everyone alert and healthy.
  • Travel pillows and blankets – This is especially useful when there are differences of opinion on the ideal car temperature

Setting up your vehicle and travel supplies will make weekend adventures more accessible and help you achieve the life you dream of now.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I maximize space when packing my car for a road trip?

To maximize space, list essentials to ensure you only pack what you need. Use soft, flexible bags instead of hard suitcases, as they can easily be squeezed into tight spaces. Place heavier items at the bottom to lower the car’s center of gravity and distribute weight evenly. Utilize all available spaces, including under-seats and the floor area in front of the back seats. Roof racks or cargo carriers can also be used for extra storage, but remember that this can affect fuel efficiency.

What should I keep within easy reach in the car during a road trip?

Keep snacks, water, a first-aid kit, and entertainment options within easy reach. It’s also wise to have a road trip kit that includes chargers, sunglasses, sunscreen, a map or GPS device, and a trash bag that is accessible. Make sure documents like your driver’s license, registration, insurance, and any reservation confirmations are easily accessible. Comfort items like pillows and blankets should also be within reach, especially if traveling with children.

How can I ensure my car is packed safely for a road trip?

To ensure safety, avoid overloading your car beyond its weight capacity, which can be found in the owner’s manual. Ensure the driver’s visibility is not obstructed by luggage. Heavy items should be packed low and towards the vehicle’s center to avoid affecting handling and stability. Secure loose items to prevent them from moving or causing injury in case of a sudden stop. Regularly check your car’s tire pressure, especially if carrying a heavier load than usual, as it may require adjustment.




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