What’s In Our Bag: Packing for Six Weeks on the Road

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It’s no big secret that packing is pain in the ass. You know what’s even more tiresome? Packing for six weeks when you haven’t a clue what the weather is going to be like.

I’ll be the first to admit that we struck out in many packing arenas before our Great American Road Trip. For some reason, I thought it was going to be warm—oh, I don’t know, maybe because we were traveling in MAY and JUNE—and I can count on two fingers the time I wore something that wasn’t long sleeves and pants.

Here’s the thing: We kind of just threw a whole bunch of crap in bags and stuffed every nook and cranny of the trailer with said crap. This is not the way to go. The trailer isn’t exactly full of ample storage space, so a lot of time these bags were just tossed under the table or on the benches (where we spent a lot of time given the rain), and because we brought so much, I never could locate what I needed.

If we were to do it all again, here’s what I’d take…

What came in handy:

My Merrell hiking shoes. As I had also packed my running shoes, I wasn’t sure if I would also need hiking shoes (turns out it was the other way around). The extra grip on my Merrells proved handy on the slick sandstone of the Canyonlands (particularly when jumping).

The rice cooker. Yes, we brought our rice cooker on the trip. And as small as the kitchen was, it was completely useful. Do you know how many meals rice goes with? Practically everything. Putting a pot of rice on to cook and making some kind of meat like baked chicken and a vegetable like roasted cauliflower made for a lot of easy—and healthy—meals without eating processed food.

A French press. We love gourmet coffee and loathe instant. We replaced our eight-cup French press for a smaller four-cup model and used the heck out of that thing.

Both fleeces and my puffy coats. I started collecting jackets during my time in the freezing Bay Area and now have two mid-weight North Face fleeces and a North Face down coat (what can I say? I love their stuff) that get a whole lot of use. I pretty much lived in these three items of clothes the first three weeks of the trip when it didn’t get above 60 degrees during the day and got as low as 30 most nights.

My rain boots. Last minute, SVV coaxed me to throw my parka and my rain boots. (I was being overly optimistic, way too optimistic in thinking I wouldn’t require warm or waterproof clothing.) Need I even say they barely came off my feet the entire time?

One nice dress. We only went out to eat at nice restaurants twice, still it’s always handy to have one dressier item of clothing withΒ  you…just in case.

Tank tops. I have those classic Gap ribbed tanks in every color of the rainbow. I often take a whole stack on any given trip, as I wear them underneath skirts or fleece or just paired with a cotton skirt. They always get worn.

Rain coat and winter hat. That goes without saying.

Lots of socks and underwear. Duh. That’s a no-brainer. Still, I think I brought a two-week supply and still found myself doing laundry pretty frequently. Next time I’ll allot less space for clothes and more room for undergarments.

Kindle. When has my Kindle not been a smart thing to pack? The answer: Never. And I read a whole lot of books on this trip, too.

Hoodies. You may have seen this purple hoodie I bought in Canada years ago make a frequent appearance on the blog as it’s part of my Official Flying Outfit and I wear it everywhere; however, early in our trip when we realized how cold it was going to be, we made a pit stop at Cabela’s and I also bought two heavily discounted Columbia hoodies and a North Face one as well (for around $30 each—total steal!).

ExOfficio insect repellent pants. I’m famously not a pants wearer—if you’ve noticed, I wear dresses more often than not—but I bought these bad boys when I went to Rwanda to ward off mosquitoes, and they’ve been a godsend ever since (especially since they’re the only non-yoga pants in my casual clothing collection).

Gap tees. I’ve also never been a T-shirt wearer but purchased two super soft, worn-in T-shirts from Gap right before we left, and alternated them every day it seemed.

Audiobooks. Prior to this trip, I hadn’t listened to a single audiobook in my life, but after loving Game of Thrones on HBO this spring, when my sister-in-law gave us the first book for my iPod. That was an immediate 35 hours of entertainment while driving. We started the second one on our cross-country move this past week.

Sirius car kit. I have Sirius in my Altima, but the truck didn’t have satellite so we bought a portable player for the road (which can be tacked onto your account for an additional $10 a month). While Howard Stern was on vacation much of our trip—what is up with that anyway?—we still got uninterrupted service, even in the boondocks where we wouldn’t have had regular radio channels.

What I did not need:

Running shoes. Sad but true. Due to the weather, I only ran twice in 42 days! I still take my running shoes on every trip, and 90% of the time never actually have time to go run. One day, I’ll learn.

Hand weights. As predicted, they were used twice in six weeks. Oops.

17 sundresses. That’s probably a conservative estimate. More like 37. If my pictures are any indicator, the number of sundresses I wore during my time on the road tallies a whopping one.

Three bikinis. Not like these consume a whole lot of space, but one bikini would have sufficed given the only day I used it the entire time was to lay out by Lake Coeur d’Alene.

My cowboy boots. I packed my originals, but also had the pair Langston’s Western Wear sent me, as well. While I will always take a pair of boots on vacation for when I’m wanting to look cute, on a road trip they weren’t necessary.

Coffee grinder. Why we SVV is a coffee snob who prefers to grind his own coffee daily, after a week or so, for some reason we started buying the ground stuff anyway and using it in the French press instead.

As far as what electronics we take on the road, well, that’s a whole post of its own!

COMMENTS
  • August 7, 2011
    k

    Right now I am thinking about what to pack for 3 months in Norway and I am feeling soooo lost (you don’t have an old post on what you packed for Denmark do you?). It is more than a vacation, but still just temporary. I’m struggling with whether or not to bring things that are part of my every day life here, and will likely be part of my everyday life there too. Things that I am sure I could buy there, but why when I already own them and will just have to get rid of them when I leave (I am way too frugal and waste conscious for my own good!). Except for the fact that it is big and bulky and hard to pack, thus staying here – a yoga mat is a good example of what I am talking about. I guess I’ll just pack what I need (this includes my skis, I don’t care how big and bulky they are!) and see what kind of room is left.

    Totally just rambling here… once I figure it out, this might make a good post for my own blog…

    • August 7, 2011
      Kristin

      No I don’t, sadly! We’re grappling with the same problem what with 4 months on the open sea, 16 countries, a whole lot of climates and just two bags per person! When in Denmark, I found myself constantly going to H&M for warmer clothes I didn’t care about, and then tossing them out when I left, for what it’s worth.

      (I’m also going to do a recap post after Semester at Sea, but that won’t help you much then!)

  • August 7, 2011
    k

    (What the funk… where did my comment go? I’m gonna try this again.)

    Right now I am struggling with what to pack for my first 3 months in Norway (you don’t have a post about what you packed for Denmark anywhere in your archives do you?). I am too frugal and conscious about waste for my own good. There are too many things that I use reguarly here, that I’ll use reguarly there, that I’d like to bring with me even though I could certainly buy it there just because I already have it and then would just have to get rid of it when I leave. Besides it being big and bulky, thus not making the trip overseas, my yoga mat is a good example of what kind of things I am talking about. I guess that once I pack the neccessities (including my skis, I don’t care how big and bulky they are!), I’ll see what else I can squeeze in.

    Totally rambling now… once I figure it out, this would probably make a good post topic for my own blog.

    • August 7, 2011
      Kristin

      To everyone else whose comments are disappearing, they’re just falling into my spam folder and I’ll approve them next time I’m at the computer…not to worry! Askimet is being wonky of late =)

  • August 7, 2011

    The pic of you and Ella on the boat is absolutely priceless. I LOVE it. Great insight into your packing, too. I just went shopping yesterday for my trip to Thailand, and the GAP outlet is now my godsend! Hello, cheap and comfy Ts!!

  • August 7, 2011

    I do the same thing with running shoes…they’ve been on so many trips where they just stay in the suitcase. I’m an eternal optimist though and truly believe each time that I’ll go for a nice jog. Maybe someday.

    • August 7, 2011
      Kristin

      I think in the past four years, I’ve taken my running shoes on EVERY trip and used them twice. And yet, I will persevere, continue to take them and ONE DAY put ’em to good use! =)

  • August 7, 2011

    I TOTALLY would’ve thought the cowboy boots were a good choice. No shame there!
    We are going to the uk for 2 weeks in November WITH OUR ONE YEAR OLD. Promises to be a packing adventure! I’ll admit, I’m already spending time almost daily strategizing.

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Oh, I am DEFINITELY taking them on Semester at Sea. It was more because of the rain that I couldn’t wear them at all (and the fact that they pair better with dresses then yoga pants and hiking gear!).

      • August 8, 2011

        as a former gap employee – check the sale rack – search the sale rack – they usually have more of those short sleeve ones lurking around. also there should be more coming in, more than likely in autumn colors, they should be getting or have already gotten their transition lines for early fall. if not, they will have the same shirts, just in long sleeve for the upcoming cold season. πŸ™‚

        • August 8, 2011
          Kristin

          Ha, I did! But only one shop (in Sacramento at that), and I came up empty (well, one XXS in black, but sadly I’m not an XXS). Doing some “back-to-school”/going-to-sea shopping on Thursday, though, so I’ll try the Nashville stores =)

  • August 7, 2011

    I’m not a big T-shirt gal either, but those worn-in GAP tees always come with me when I travel. So comfy!

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      I tried to go back to Gap in June and buy them in every color, and they don’t sell them anymore! Drats. Thought they’d be perfect for Semester at Sea. Guess I’ll have to wait until next spring…

  • August 7, 2011

    Every different kind of travel requires different kind of packing. You did pretty good except for all the sundresses. I like to wear skirts and dresses too though so I do understand.

    Right now I’m packing for my river trip and all my stuff has to be labeled with name, weight and destination. Then it goes to Lees Ferry, the South Rim and finally a mule down to Phantom Ranch. Where I’ll meet it with the other packed items for hiking to the Ranch. Then repack it all into dry bags. This is a new kind of packing for me.

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      It doesn’t seem like I’ve learned my lesson, though, as both of my suitcases for Semester at Sea are chock full of sundresses!

      • August 8, 2011

        Maybe it will be warmer. But don’t forget the parka. πŸ˜‰

    • August 8, 2011
      SVV

      Impressive! I couldn’t handle that type of logistics.. πŸ™‚ We rode a raft with a guide that did a river trip down the Grand Canyon. His eyes shone with pleasure. Have fun!

  • August 8, 2011

    As an otherwise beleaguered Gap shareholder, I appreciate the plug! Have a great trip!

  • August 8, 2011

    The most unusual thing we carry in the Winnebago is our yogurt maker. I have a smoothie for breakfast every morning and the store-bought yogurt just can’t compare to the stuff my wonderful husband makes for me. The limited space really does put a crimp in your wardrobe selection, but we find ourselves in jeans and t-shirts 95% of the time. (Being in the Northwest, where the temperatures haven’t been like the inside of an oven, has helped!) That said, I’d never go anywhere without my down vest – it’s perfect for cool mornings and evenings by the campfire.

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Scott wanted to take the juicer, which is HUGE. I’m so glad that’s one item I vetoed seeing as we didn’t even have counter space (or cabin space) for the grinder, let alone something three times its size. I don’t own a down vest, as I haven’t found one that doesn’t add 20 pounds heh, but it’s on my to-buy list. Have a favorite brand?

      • August 8, 2011

        I loved one I got at Eddie Bauer, but I wore it out. The one I have now is by Mountain Hard Wear – I picked it up on sale in Flagstaff and I’ve been really happy with it as well.

      • August 8, 2011

        Ohhh, I’ve just started juicing, this is going to be a problem for me in the near future.

        I second what Amy@GoPetFriendly said: I have a down vest by MHW too. I like the warmth but I hate looking like the michilan man. I also have a fleece vest. When I’m cold enough, I don’t care what I look like.

        • August 9, 2011

          I’ve so enjoyed reading what others pack. I forgot to add in my original comment that we take our own favorite lightweight down pillow, they roll up small and I take two pillowcases. I also take at least one towel from home, usually two. Some hotel towels give me the heebie-jeebies.

  • August 8, 2011

    I am a chronic overpacker, but I have vowed to tone it down on my next trip. I hate doing laundry on the road, so I pack too many clothes. I usually spend the last few minutes before leaving pushing a spare t-shirt or pair of underwear into any small empty spot in my pack.

    I have loved books on audio for many years. I have driven over 85,000 miles during my National parks quest (most of which by myself) and I probably couldn’t have done it without them. If you want a real treat, try listening to the ones where the author reads it themselves.

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s so hard not to overpack when you have a whole car/truck/RV/trailer for space! It’s a lot easier to pare it down when you’re restricted by luggage weight and fees.

      Which audiobooks would you recommend? Have you listened to Game of Thrones? The narrator totally makes those books for us!

      • August 8, 2011

        It’s so funny- I’m listening to Game of thrones right now. I like the narrator, too, but he doesn’t read the 4th book and although they brought him back for the fifth book- the fans on amazon seem to indicate he’s lost it a bit. I’m still going to listen to them all.

        The narrator make a big difference. You’ll find some you hate and it will make listening to the book impossible. To be fair, That hasn’t happened to me many times. As far as recommendations, I love Bill Bryson’s books, and he even reads a couple of them. Same for John Krakauer. I also have listened to all of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (like Game of Thrones in a way but twisted), and all of the Harry Potter books, which have the single best narrator of all. I also like John Grisham’s books because they are simple to listen to. I find that as a rule- I don’t like listening to anything too complicated, in case I get distracted or take a couple days break between listening sessions. Oh, another travel writer I like a lot is Paul Theroux- although his are a little too complicated and long-winded to listen to if I can’t give them my full attention.

        Audible is a great service for these. For about $20 a month, you get two credits, which is usually two books (But in the case of The Game of Thrones books, they charge two credits for each book.). I also have raided my local library for many, many of mine. I just burn them into itunes.

  • August 8, 2011

    For us:

    YES – Kindle (amen), flip-flops, two pairs of pajama pants (we never get dressed), rice cooker (amen again!), umbrella, extra pillows (mostly RV-related, but I always pack my memory foam pillow wherever we travel), hair dryer (yep), wide-brim hat, sarong, VitaMix, and printer (we used it so much!).

    NO – Hiking boots (I’m not even optimistic), running shoes (still not), an external hard-drive (just use Mozy), heels (ha!), and an alarm clock.

    When it comes to clothing, the best thing I’ve discovered is to bring what you normally wear! And an excess of comfy clothes, but maybe that’s just me and my own laziness. πŸ™‚

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      On our first stop in Salt Lake City, we had to go to TJ Maxx to get more comfortable pillows and TWO spare comforters as it was so flippin’ cold. You’re totally right on the PJs: I took my robe and wound up wearing it for the first half of a lot of days! =)

  • August 8, 2011

    I pack similarly, I’m still learning… I also bring along random things: a bandana (good for getting wet and keeping cool, or wrapping around my neck if it’s cold); a mountain of wool socks; flip flops; Ivory dish soap (for hand washing stuff); my kindergarten scissors (If I have to carry on, they’re allowed); nalgene bottle (so I can keep my drink safe w/ a lid); a deck of playing cards (for times of boredom w/ strangers when there’s no internet); a paperback book to read; a few empty ziploc baggies; babble, babble, babble πŸ™‚

    • August 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Ziploc bags may have been the single most useful multi-purpose item we brought. We definitely went through a box of those. Good call! And the kindergarten scissors=GENIUS.

  • August 8, 2011

    it’s amazing how you can pack with the best intentions & mother nature has a not-so-wonderful way of putting the cabash on plans! thankfully you had enough to keep warm & dry without seeming like you were wearing the same pieces day-in & day-out!

  • August 8, 2011

    A dress ALWAYS comes in handy!

  • August 8, 2011

    You are my cowboy boots to look cute inspiration. SOMEDAY I will own my dream pair.

  • August 9, 2011

    I have an unhealthy obsession with what people pack on vacation. I kind of feel like I’m stalking you now, I’ve read this post twice. πŸ˜‰

    xox

  • August 10, 2011

    Packing is actually my least favorite thing on earth, ever. I become filled with such anxiety it often brings me to tears. And my bag is always too large and too heavy, and I always arrive wishing I had brought more stuff.

    • August 11, 2011
      SVV

      We were wishing we didn’t bring as much as we did. It really is a shock (and rather refreshing honestly) to see how LITTLE you need for travel once you break it down to the essentials. We had the luxury of a truck, however. Backpacks are another story entirely.

  • August 11, 2011

    I thought I was smarter than the average bear, but I can’t find an email address, so I’ll babble here. I saw a comment not too long ago about SVV’s desire to bring along his juicer on road trips. I am this.close to buying an Omega juicer from CostCo, but someone said “why not use a Vitamix?”. I did a little reading and it seems some people juice most everything with a Vitamix and some use a milk nut bag (or cheese cloth) to further strain the juice to get the chunky bits out and are happy with the amount of juice it yields. The Vitamix users say it’s faster to clean and takes up less counter space. Traveling with my juicer will soon become an issue, and I also thought of you and your travels. Now I’m perplexed, do you have any opinions on centrifugal juice machines vs a Vitamix?

    • August 11, 2011
      SVV

      Great question. There is NO WAY a blender can compare to the power of a juicer. The sheer torque these machines employ to grind up celery, ginger, apples etc just cannot be replicated with traditional blades. Once you’ve used one you’ll understand. Plus they almost completely separate the fibrous stuff out (more liquid.) They are a bit messy to clean and I’m glad we didn’t bring it along in retrospect because our trailer kitchen couldn’t handle the volume of water necessary to clean it properly on a regular basis but I dearly missed those apple/carrot/ginger/pear juices.

      That said, if you’re planning on juicing only softer fruits & vegetables a blender will work fine. Why strain it? That stuff is good for ya! I definitely wouldn’t spend $400 on an industrial one like Vitamix, however.

    • August 11, 2011
      Kristin

      One thing I found AFTER learning the hard way is that you’re not actually supposed to juice softer things. So all the tough veggies like Scott mentioned above–mainly apples, carrots and pears–we juice, but when I’m making green juice (spinach and bananas), we blend. We tried juicing with spinach before and it wields about a tablespoon of juice for an entire bag so totally not worth it!

      But yes, the juicer is awesome. We didn’t go with the most high-end one–I think ours was around $200 (purchased with wedding gift cards)–and I don’t know why you’d need anything more expensive than the one we bought.

      • August 12, 2011

        Thank you both so much for your wise words of wisdom. I have a juicer but it’s somewhat lacking, especially with greens such as spinach, parsley, romaine lettuce, etc. So rather than try to juice them I eat my salads like a good little rabbit. I haven’t tried bananas yet, it makes sense to run them through the blender. I’m still learning as I go, I appreciate your information.

  • August 16, 2011

    I always bring a ton of bikinis- I don’t like putting them on when they are wet! I’m sure you’ll get more use out of dresses on the ship, but maybe (only maybe) don’t need 37!! πŸ™‚

  • August 17, 2011

    I like the idea of the hiking shoes. I love my hiking boots, but damn, they’re huge and heavy! Plus, I feel like you can wear your shoes in more circumstances than just hiking. Good thing to keep in mind if we ever get to take that magical European backpacking trip we keep dreaming about…

  • August 17, 2011

    37 sun dresses….I love it! You and Andi P!

  • August 26, 2011

    Oh my god, the sundresses! This is totally how I would pack too, so don’t feel too bad. I did the same thing on one trip that I had and I ended up having to buy a lot of clothes there because I was SO unprepared for the weather switch!

    Sara

  • May 14, 2013

    I’m about two years late to reading your blog, but have to say I am finding it super informative. I’m planning my own huge “Great American Road Trip,” and found your useful packing list super helpful.

    I don’t really have to worry about sun dresses though.. πŸ™‚

    -jack

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