Is anyone else planning a big summer road trip too? I leave next week for my second coast-to-coast road trip and Liz asked me to share my number one tip for packing for such a big trip (we’re hitting 23 states and Mexico!).
Here it is: Pack just one small suitcase for each hotel night.
Typically, each person brings one carry-on on a trip, right? For multi-state road trips where you are sleeping at a different place each night, my hack is to take those carry-on bags and pack just enough in each one for each person for one day/night.
Each night, I leave everything in my car and only bring these items into the hotel: 1) one carry-on bag for that destination, 2) a small toiletries bag, 3) a backpack with electronics/books, and sometimes 4) a reusable grocery bag with cold items for a refrigerator (drinks, yogurt, snacks). My kids each carry their re-usable water bottle and a stuffed animal in and out of the hotel. That’s it.
The genius of it is that it saves so much time checking-out of a hotel with such limited bags and there’s no need to completely unpack/re-pack your car everyday. And with just one outfit already chosen, getting us all ready is faster than when we’re at home.
Day Ten is a big milestone for my upcoming trip – I’ll finally reach my mother’s home in Southern California after driving across the entire United States. I can spend a few days unpacking everything, washing it all and re-packing again. To reach Day 10, my plan is to pack five carry-ons (again, my rule of one carry-on per person) and each carry-on bag will have: one set of clothes, one set of pajamas and two sets of underwear and socks for all five of us.
I’ll use Bag 1 for nights 1 and 6 and will re-use our clothes and wear them twice (except for underwear!). Bag 2 will be used on nights 2 and 7, Bag 3 for nights 3 and 8, etc.
Does wearing an outfit twice gross you out? I often re-wore clothing a few times on big international trips, my hope is that the same can apply for a road trip too. Except for underwear, of course!
Separately, I also have packed a swim/exercise clothes bag that I leave in the car (unless I plan on swimming at the hotel). I love having a separate swim bag, it makes spontaneous swimming so easy (no need to dig through suitcases).
Jackets and shoes stay in the car as well. Each of us bring two pairs: one sandal and one sneaker. Okay, maybe I have a couple other pairs stashed in the car for me!
The only time I do not advise to leave the rest of your bags in the car overnight is when you’re staying in a major city where theft is more common. But typically, our stops in major cities are for more than one night and I can justify un-packing our entire car when we’re in a hotel for more than 24 hours. I always cover our remaining luggage with a dark-colored towel and I’ve never had any problems (knock on wood).
That’s my tip! Bring just one suitcase in your hotel for each night. It worked well for us two years ago and I’m hopeful it will be helpful again this summer. My trip this summer is 40 days long, from North Carolina to California… and back. I will also be driving without my spouse, so as the only adult with four young children, I really rely on anything that can save me time and stress.
Do you have any road trip advice? I am always eager to learn more tips, so please share below!
Photos are from road trips with my family, and a couple images from Liz’s road trip last year.
Who stays in hotels while they are on a road trip? Camping all the way!
I don’t have any advice but I thank you for all the great info.
Perfect. Perfect! So genius. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do this forever. Tried bins, laundry bags, etc.
Love, love this idea. We use Eagle Creek cubes where each day or kid gets a color, depending on the trip & need! So many incredible uses! Check out more road trips with kids ideas here: https://thefamilybackpack.com/category/before-you-travel/road-trips-with-kids/
Hi Sarah, yes, packing cubes are so helpful. I use them to separate types of clothes (all the kids’ pajamas in a cube) when I pack for road trips. Thanks for sharing those links!
Sounds helpful. So how many bags do you take on your trip total ?
Hi Carrie, for my trip this summer, I’m taking five carry-ons (5 of us traveling), one small toiletries bag, one swim/exercise bag tote bag and one backpack for electronics/chargers/books. We’ll be gone for 40 days, just two days shy of six weeks.
This is such a great idea! It makes the unloading and loading of the car so much easier!
Thanks! The burden of packing/unpacking your entire car was my original reason but I found that the biggest time saver is actually just having only one suitcase to use in the hotel, it makes getting dressed and packing up so fast.
Definitely going to remember this when I finally take a road trip! Thank you, and the photos are gorgeous! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
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