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Packing tips for your next road trip

Planning a road trip is nearly as fun as taking one, but if you’ve got a car full of people, packing can be tricky. How can you carry everything you need for everyone in your party and still have enough room for them to ride in comfort? Here are a few tips and tricks to make packing for your next road trip a little easier.

Start planning early

Before you start trying to pack, plan out the kind of stuff you’re going to need. Clothes for each person on the trip, toiletries, smaller day-packs for carrying once you reach your destination, and toys or books to keep small children entertained—the list can be intimidating, but it’s important to plan everything first. If you don’t, you might find you end up forgetting something important!

Skip overhead storage

It’s tempting to opt for a roof carrier for some of your stuff if it won’t fit in the rest of the car. Skip that whenever possible. Yes, it does add additional storage, but if you’re on a long trip, it also has a negative effect on your car’s aerodynamics and can reduce fuel economy. They’re great in a pinch, but it’s better to avoid them on long trips whenever possible.

Pack all the snacks

This advice is especially important if you’re traveling on a budget or have small children in the car: pack a ton of healthy snacks. Not only do they serve as a great distraction for kids who have decided they’re tired of being trapped in the car, it can help reduce your overall costs by keeping you from dining out more often than you need to. Fresh or frozen fruit, granola bars, even cheese and crackers all make great on-the-go snack choices for your upcoming trip.

Play your best game of tetris

Packing for a road trip is basically just a glorified game of Tetris—you need to make all your bags and boxes fit in a limited amount of available space. Pack from the bottom up—things you’re not going to need until you arrive at your destination go on the bottom, and things you’ll need throughout your trip go toward the top. Use flexible-sided, duffel-style bags rather than hard-sided suitcases to maximize the storage space you have.

Anything you might need in an emergency—including your first-aid kit—should be close to the top as well. You probably won’t need it, but if you do, you really don’t want to be digging through layers of suitcases and bags to try to find it!

Don’t skimp on emergency prep

You never want to get stranded without your emergency kit. Even if you have access to roadside assistance, it can take a while for a tow truck driver to reach you, and in unfamiliar surroundings it can be tough to explain how they can locate your car. If you have the right supplies, it’s often easier just to swap out your flat tire or refill your radiator with just enough coolant to get you to the nearest auto shop.

Before you leave, check your jack and spare tire and make sure they’re both in good shape. If all you have is a temporary spare or a run-flat, you might want to invest in a full spare tire, especially if your road trip is going to take you well off the beaten path.

Keeping distilled water in your emergency kit can help if your engine starts to overheat—it’s no replacement for coolant, but it can work in a pinch and carry you through to the next repair shop or auto parts store.

Packing for a road trip doesn’t have to be a pain, even if you’re traveling with kids. Just be smart about it—stuff you need soon goes on the top, stuff you don’t goes on the bottom, and don’t skimp on the snacks or the spare tire and you’ll be good to go, no matter how far you need to drive to get there!