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Staying Organized On A Road Trip

Keeping The Overlanding Chaos At Bay

There’s something nostalgic about a good, old-fashioned road trip. You can connect with friends or family while traveling slowly and seeing some pretty amazing landscapes and towns that you’d otherwise miss out on by flying. But road trips–especially long or gear-intensive ones–can easily lead to a jumbled chaos of stuff you have to try and navigate through to find that elusive phone charger. Having a clean and organized car keeps morale high when the hours on the road really start to add up. All it takes is a little pre-planning and strategic packing for your weekend or month-long overlanding success.

Pack Your Bags

Strategically packing your bags saves you from that scenario where your stuff is strewn about the car because you had to dig for something at a rest stop. Strategically packing also means that you can have more leg room and easy access to snacks—who doesn’t want that? To stay organized on the road, you’ll want to pack in three zones: the trunk, up front, and the top of the car.

Tidy Up The Trunk

The trunk (or back) of the vehicle is where you’ll store your luggage. Duffels are a great way to pack your things as you can toss them around, they stack nicely, and they’re easy to carry once you arrive at your destination. Pack your duffel with items you aren’t going to need while you’re on the road like tomorrow’s clothes and that extra pair of shoes. You’ll want to pack lightly; however tempting it is to bring along that extra sweater you know you’ll never need. 

The way you pack your duffel can also make life on the road easier. Place items you think you may need access to like a toothbrush, extra socks, a beanie, or slides at the top of the bag (or in a side pocket). That way you won’t need to rummage around and unpack the entire back of the car in a pinch.

Essentials Up Front

In the front of the car and around your seats is where your on-the-go essentials will live. Ensure you have enough leg and wiggle room by packing a small bag as lightly as possible. Things like water, coffee, charging cords, entertainment, napkins, and snacks will help keep morale high. With a space-saving cooler like the YETI Roadie 24, you’ll be able to bring (and keep cool) snacks that you love and that make you feel good. It’s compact design won’t take up all of your leg room, and you won’t have to rely on junk food or gas station stops to stay fueled. 

Another good morale booster is a Rumpl Solid Puffy Blanket. You’ll be able to avoid a thermostat war and keep comfortable. It packs down small when you don’t need it and is easy to keep close for when you do.

Bulky Gear Up And Away

The top of the car, in a roof box or cargo net,  is reserved for bulky gear, an extra can of fuel, or anything else that doesn’t fit (or that you don’t want) in the back of your car. If you’re on a gear-intensive road trip, attach a Yakima EXO GearLocker on your hitch for overflow luggage. This gear locker adds more storage space while keeping the roof of your car free for SUPs, kayaks, canoes, or skis. If you aren’t bringing along large, roof-hogging gear, the Yakima LoadWarrior makes a great addition to the top of your vehicle to conveniently store an extra can of fuel, camping gear, or anything else you won’t need access to until you arrive at your destination.

Plan For The Unexpected

Being prepared for the unexpected is a good skill for any outdoors person—and road-tripping is no different. Knowing where all of your emergency items and basic car repair essentials live will not only will help keep you and your crew safe, you’ll also save time and stress should anything go wrong.

Paper Map & Cash

Even though navigation and payments can be completed electronically, you always want to have a backup plan, particularly traveling through rural areas. If your phone dies or you lose service, a paper map will keep you on route. Paper maps can also be a source of entertainment if you’re traveling with kids as they can provide them with another way to connect to the world around them. You just might also discover an off-route pit-stop worth your time that you may have otherwise driven right past. 

Having cash on hand can also save you in a pinch, whether for a roadside fruit stand or that cash-only cafe.

First Aid Kit

First aid kits are a must-have on any adventure. For your road trip, keep the first aid kit some place easy to access, and make sure everyone knows its location. Keeping wet wipes in your road trip first aid kit can also be a game-changer if something sticky spills while you’re driving down the highway chasing sunsets.

Car Repair Gear

Jumper cables, tire inflation canisters, a jack, and an extra can of gas can save the day should something happen while you’re on the road. Fingers-crossed you won’t need these, but if you do, knowing exactly where they are in your vehicle can save time, energy, and stress.

On The Go Organization

Once your vehicle is packed and you have emergency essentials, it’s time to hit the road. To help make sure all that planning and packing were worth it, there are a few tips you can follow to stay organized while on the move.

  • Keep charging cables up front (with an extra or two in your small, up-front bag).
  • Have a backstock of coins in case of tolls
  • Have a writing utensil handy for filling out campground forms
  • Take advantage of the space behind seats (especially if you’re traveling with kids) by using DIY hanging organizer or filling the pockets to hold snacks, toys, and other essentials to keep everyone happy
  • Have a designated trash bag or bin that is regularly emptied
  • Do a quick reorganizing and tidy at every rest area or gas station stop

Rachel Jorgensen is a freelance writer based in Michigan but doesn’t stay put for long. She’s lived in three countries, four states, and is always after the next adventure. When settled, you’ll find her climbing, skiing, or trail running with Scuba, her Thai rescue dog. Follow along @rjorgie