We recently had dear friends stay with us for the night. They had just gotten married and were making their way cross-country to their new home in California. Their car was packed. Our neighbor happened to have the same model car, so we could see just how weighed-down their car was!
We met them in the parking lot so we could give them our parking spot (after all, they had most of their earthly goods in their car!) and move our car to street parking. They brought in a few bags then, and assured us they’d get the rest later. When we got in for the night around 10:30, they dug around in the car for a big suitcase (one of several) and a few more bags. They started asking each other “Do you remember what bag my hairbrush is in?” and “Is this the one with my pajamas?” I remember those days.
The drive from our grad school town to Hubs’s New Jersey hometown is 13 hours, plus stops. We have made this drive about a billion times (seriously, at least 10 times in 5 years). The first several times, we were like our friends. Packed car. Everything was in there somewhere. And we’d get the suitcases later, which meant that no one could shower the next day until someone went out to the car in pajamas (or whatever we found to sleep in) and dragged all the over-packed bags upstairs.
And my Ohio hometown is along the way from grad school to New Jersey, so we used to stack those trips. Meaning that the suitcases would get haphazardly re-packed (as long as it zips, we’re good!) and the drama would repeat. I’ve slept in driving clothes because I was too tired to care, and I’ve reworn clothes to avoid dragging the suitcase in. Not pretty.
So if I had been there when my friends were packing, I would offer this advice: Pack one bag (duffel or carry-on) for your trip. Only things needed for the roadtrip go in this bag. Things like toiletries and underwear, you’ll probably have more packed elsewhere, but this bag is just what you’ll need for the next week. If you can’t fit all your clothes in a carry-on, don’t go to a bigger bag! Instead, use Ziploc Space Bags, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, packing cubes, grocery bags, or any other kind of bag to designate the next “batch” of clothes to pull from. Put all your batches of roadtrip clothes and some clothes for unexpected weather in one bigger suitcase, and keep it in an easy-to-reach spot where you can find things and get them out without taking the suitcase out of the car. If you run into unexpected weather or go through everything in your carry-on bag, then open your bigger suitcases, get out extra clothes, and stash your dirties (we like Space Bags for this).
After years of long road trips ended by too many bags, I’ve developed a first-night bag system. If I’m going somewhere with more than one bag, I make sure that our smallest (and easiest to reach) bag has the following:
- Next day’s clothing
Suddenly, getting in at night is easy. We know that we only need to grab one bag, and it’s a light one. Everything else can be dealt with the next day, after we shower and put on clean clothes, I get breakfast, and Hubs gets coffee. (But sometimes we still leave our big bag in the car until we’re completely out of clothes…planning can only help lazy so much) If we’re going on a one-bag trip, I make sure to pack the pajamas and toiletries on top or in a side compartment. The goal is to make the first night and morning of the trip go as smoothly as possible, so I try to anticipate what we will need.
Other things to consider for your first-night bag:
- Layers (sweatshirt, shorts)
- Slippers or flip-flops
- Shoes for the next day
- Granola bars
- Laptop or tablet
- Travel guide
- Travel binder
- Book, magazine, Kindle
- Water bottle
Even if you carry all your luggage into your destination the first night, it still helps flow to have one bag with everything you need for the night. And if you plan to leave the rest of your things in your car or another questionable location, make sure all your valuables are in your first-night bag.