After spending four months road tripping around the US in our not-so-large Mazda, I realized there were many things we packed that were surprisingly awesome, and others that we should’ve left at home. While everything fit in the car reasonably well when packed in near perfect Tetris-style, there were often times when we could’ve used the extra space when we were in a hurry or were coming off a long backpacking trek and just wanted to hit the road.
We didn’t make life easier on ourselves by starting the trip in early spring, when we needed more bulky winter clothes and boots for the city, but it’s hard to avoid bringing extra layers when you’re planning to spend so much time outside in so many varied climates and at different elevations.
So, if you are thinking of packing your life and hitting the road, or even just packing up for a long road trip, here’s some things I loved and others I would’ve left at home.
In the Car
Loved: The newly upgraded radio with an auxiliary cable input and USB car charger with two plugs. (Yes, this fancy radio technology is the upgrade people were getting when I was in high school, but it was a HUGE improvement for our old Mazda, and gave us tons of hours of free podcasts to enjoy.)
Should’ve Left: My massive flip book of CDs from the 90s and early 00s. There was a reason I stopped listening to those bands. I also packed an over-sized Atlas when a regular size would’ve been easier to handle.
On the packing note, we should’ve left a lot of the bigger luggage and hard sided crates at home. It was easier to pack and re-pack soft duffel bags, especially as we moved things around and used different things at different times. Our clear plastic kitchen Tupperwares, though, were the exception to this rule, as they were very convenient to carry back and forth and keep everything organized.
While it crushed our gas mileage to bring the bikes (more coming on that later!), we rode them in many of the parks and in every city we visited. I loved the full sized bike pump and two U-locks we packed, but I brought a bunch of extra supplies that we should’ve left at home: a small back-up air pump, two heavy cables for locking bikes to things, chain lube, and even my helmet.
Camping Kitchen SUPPLIES
While we loved our sturdy little cooler, and it gave me peace of mind when we purchased fresh meat or dairy, we didn’t use the reusable ice packs, since we almost had access to ice when we had a way to refreeze them.
Our Teva insulated cups were also a love, as we frequently used them for hot and cold beverages. My key-chain bottle opener got a surprising amount of use, since I always had my keys zipped into my pocket. We hardly ever used the coozies I packed, probably because anything we drank straight out of the can was consumed pretty quickly and often wasn’t even that cold to begin with.
We also used our $1 2-gallon plastic grocery store water jug much more frequently than this fancy water bladder we bought at REI a few years ago. That water bladder might have been necessary on a long dry backpacking trip, but we used it exactly once on the trip when we realized we needed some extra water to top off our camel backs before leaving on a long hike.
Love: Our sleeping pads were worth every ounce of weight and inch of space in the car, keeping us warm and comfy on even the coldest nights. If forced, I would throw away a lot of other things before getting rid of those.
Leave: Most of the “extras” we had, especially including propane stove fuel canisters, which are available pretty much everywhere at consistent prices, and the extra tarp. I shouldn’t have packed so many extras. I brought tons of extra sunscreen and bug spray too, which we hardly ever used and could’ve just grabbed on the way if we ran out.
For entertainment, our kindles were a major love. The ones with back-lit screens are much nicer for reading in the tent at night, as you won’t have to waste headlamp batteries or deal with the glare. We should’ve left most of the books we brought at home, since we never wanted to carry them anywhere and we both got into cycles where we were always reading something on the kindle.
Finally, Settlers of Catan is one of our favorite board games of all time. We absolutely LOVED having it with us for stops with friends and family, though we never used it while camping since we didn’t have any friends and it’s tough to play outside if there’s any wind at all. However, we also brought some backup settlers expansion packs: the 5-6 person version, the Seafarers version, and the Cities and Knights Expansion. we packed them down into one box of pieces, but we should’ve just kept the basic game. Do yourself a favor and just stick to the original game, especially if you’re worried about room in the car!