I LOVE packing checklists – the planning, the organizing, the reassurance – and especially the checklist part. (Geek! Yes, I’m aware.) For our current road trip, we wanted to pack enough to be comfortable, but not so much that we felt weighed down. We would likely be driving for eight days in total and would be gone for three or four weeks. We were not yet sure where we would be staying along the way–motel? camping? car? — but we wanted to be open to a variety of different roadside opportunities. Adding to our dilemma, our apartment in Las Vegas, where we would be staying for eight nights, only contained basic furniture and appliances and nothing else. Richard definitely wanted to golf, and I wanted to continue to workout and practice yoga. Already the image of necessary pillows blankets sleeping bags, portable tent, towels, golf clubs, yoga mat, clothes, toiletries, cooler, and basic food supplies was growing completely out of control.
We could not be the first ones ever to take such a trip, so… we consulted the Internet for expert advice. For a two-week-plus (car-camping-style) road trip, some sites suggested that we include a kettle grill, high heels, and a pocket dictionary. Nope, I’m not kidding! (Sources) In order to travel a bit lighter, other sites suggested that we leave behind aspirin, nail polish remover, extra razors and extra reading material. Now, I’m sure that these sites were less camping-based and went with the rationale that you could easily buy these things along the way. However, the authors obviously have not seen me without reading material or with a pounding headache and no convenience store or pharmacy in sight (not to mention that needing to buy too many extra items, with the current US-Canadian dollar exchange rate, would undoubtedly make me need those aspirins). The absolute irony here is kettle grill vs. a bottle of aspirin…words simply fail me!
Other sites, more realistic about the size of the average car or SUV, suggested that we avoid the need for a grill and consider cooking our food on our car engine, or baking cookies on the dashboard. (Again, I’m not making this up.) The Internet even has loads of directions on how to do both things. (Examples: here and here.)
As Richard and I both have definite limits to our sense of adventure, we left the kettle grill behind and opted against using our car as a cooking device. When we finished packing the necessities listed above, and then added our dog, dog food, feeding bowls, grooming stuff, pet blanket, etc., etc. (so that we could drop off Cody in Vancouver on our way) we would not have wanted to squeeze in one extra item. Without exaggeration, we have seen whole families move abroad with less.
After surviving full two weeks on the road, it is time to reflect, and write this blog. What would we definitely take on our next big road trip? What would we leave behind?
We never regretted our decision not to bring a kettle grill and I never once had the desire to wear high heels or to study a pocket dictionary (although I did use my on-line thesaurus more than once). We did definitely use our extra reading material, razors and aspirin (as well as vitamin C and cold medicine). I haven’t yet used the nail polish remover…but there’s still time.
As I predominantly had the role of passenger, navigator, meal arranger and organizer, I found it invaluable to have my smartphone, laptop and phone charger (that plugs into the car cigarette lighter) within handy reach. Our smartphone not only served as a multi-faceted communication device, but it also served as our GPS, accommodation locator, fact finder, mirror, flashlight, extra music source, extra reading material…and emergency gas station finder (please don’t ask!). Also, did you know that with your smartphone you can start your car remotely, measure your heart rate, identify a song on the radio and mail a postcard? As a bonus, I also used my smartphone as a hotspot so that I could grab my computer and stay ahead on my blog posts. (NB, check your data plan first and adjust your usage accordingly to avoid extra data fees.) I also used my smartphone to snap the following “car windshield photography”.
The other item that was a lifesaver for us was an extra large, good quality thermos (that stayed hot and fit perfectly in our car cup holder). As we traveled many LONG stretches of road with surprisingly no Starbucks (or coffee shop of any kind) in sight, the stay-hot-all-day thermos of coffee was well worth the small space that it required. Each morning, we took the time to re-shuffle our vehicle so that the cooler (with ice packs as opposed to melting ice cubes) and snack bag were within easy reach of the passenger (who doubled as host and server). Wet Ones (lots of them) and grocery store sized plastic bags for recycling/trash also made the trip easier.
Other than the nail polish remover, we have actually used most of the items that we brought with us (we did a final culling just before we pulled out from home). For our next big road trip, we will add a roof-rack storage unit in order to help ease in-vehicle congestion. A roof rack will also be essential for when we have our dog join us for a longer portion of the trip. (Note to PETA: our dog will be in the car, not on the rack!)
Ultimately, my best advice goes back to the packing checklist itself. If you have never used one, definitely consider it for your next trip. If you prepare and store it on your computer, you won’t need to worry about losing the printed copy and you can use/modify it again and again for future trips. Sample templates to get your started can be found here and here .
A good packing checklist just may revolutionize your whole approach to packing, save you frustration and cash for forgotten items along the way, and help make your entire trip go much more smoothly. Go ahead, you don’t have to be a Geek to try it (although it definitely won’t hurt if you are).
Have you taken a big road trip recently and have advice to add? I’d appreciate hearing your feedback and suggestions.