Packing your suitcase for a road trip #1 : traveling lightly !

28 January 2016
Valise road trip

I can already see the smile on my friends’ and family’s face… Yes, we cal all agree that traveling lightly is not exactly my specialty, and the title of this article is gonna make some of you laugh pretty hard ! BUT… During this past year, I have literally lived out of a suitcase – either road tripping around California, working in Paris, going on exchange in Canada or studying in Toulouse. So step by step, we learn a few tips ! And we still traveled about a month on the US West coast, so I might give you ridiculously simple tips, but you will find elements you had not be thinking about as well… Who knows ? Let’s roll, let’s pack our suitcase !

Packing suitcase road trip

» Choosing your bag or suitcase

Let’s begin at the start, and that would be the choice of the container before the actual content ! How to choose your bag or suitcase before going on a road trip ? Of course, the choice also depends on the length and nature of your trip. If your a real adventurer, do not take a rigid suitcase; on the contrary, if you absolutely need all of your stuff with you, you will not be at ease with a small backpack. So, what are your options ?

THE SUITCASE : I actually got a brand new suitcase for my birthday, the Samsonite Cosmolite (see above). Nothing to add, it is perfect : everything (and more) fits in it, the suitcase is very light and easy to handle and the capacity is rather impressive. Even if it is a good solution for long-haul flights, is it practical for a road trip ? Well, yes and no. Let me explain, if you are traveling in a group and every one of you is bringing a big suitcase, it will not be manageable. On my side, I was sharing this suitcase with Marijke so we had no space problem. We appreciated being able to open it and reach both our sides of the luggage immediately; on the other hand you will need a bit of space to actually open it (on the front seat for us) and elbow grease to move it for the night. Otherwise, the fact that we shared this suitcase made us save half the price of the checked in luggage when we were traveling by plane !

THE SUPPLE BAG : Even though I actually did not have one, I would say that big flexible bags are the most adapted to such a road trip. You will not have any problem to store it in the van; and if you choose one with shoulder straps, you can easily carry it on your back if you need to. There are many different references at PatagoniaEastpack, or even simply Décathlon (if you have this French brand in your country) that will offer you a good price-quality ratio. Last advice for the road, choose a bag that has several openings so you will not have to empty the whole thing to find your favorite shorts at the bottom of it !

THE BACKPACK : It is essential, the perfect carry-on luggage ! If you are traveling VERY lightly, you can even consider only taking this. But otherwise, I would strongly suggest that you buy a backpack, it will always be useful. It is so convenient, once it is on your back you do not have to worry about it anymore. In the van, I also found practical to be able to pack a small bag every 3 days (clothes, toilet case…) – so I would not have to search the suitcase all the time. To make your choice, you can adapt the size to the use you plan on having. I decided myself for the Quechua backpack (here above on the right) and it was perfect, even rather big, but fitted as a carry-on luggage.

» Selecting your clothes (among the pile of stuff you have at home)

Yes, yes, I am very sorry to tell you that you will definitely have to select the clothes you are traveling with ! Well, why couldn’t we take this cute black dress or this adorable white shirt ? STOP, we agreed on traveling lightly ! And to achieve that goal, you have to take only clothes you are actually going to wear. But it is not that easy, because you will have to be ready for a pretty radical change of weather from one place to another. In fact, during our road trip we went from Death Valley with (almost unbearable) 40°C to Yellowstone covered in snow ! So here are some tips on what to pack in your suitcase !

Packing road trip warm clothes

We are starting with warm clothes (to end up on a more joyful note later on) that you will have to pack for sure. The US West coast is not only made of palm trees and sun, so you will have to bring warm tops and pants. Beyond that, invest in one or several sweaters (your school’s for example, I myself wore the one from UVic all trip long) that will save chiller nights and days on which the sky will be a bit cloudy. A raincoat or windbreaker can also always find itself useful ! As far as the tip of toes are concerned, I would recommend that you bring hiking shoes (or at least shoes that hold your ankle and that are a bit warm). It is kind of heavy so you can wear them during the flight instead of putting them in the suitcase. Otherwise, a pair of Converse will be perfectly fine for everything else ! You can even buy them there, I paid mine about 40€ or something like that – it is worth it. For when you go on a hike, make sure you have appropriate clothing (technical legging and shirt) knowing that this usually does not take that much space. Slip a scarf and a hat as well just in case !

Packing road trip summer clothes

And we go back to good news, because theoretically, whenever you go on a road trip on the US West coast, you will surely find useful to have summer clothes ! (YEEES) So take some shorts, tops (with cardigans or shirts), your bathing suit and your sunglasses ! Choose neutral colors that go with everything so you can mix it up anytime you want and fabrics that do not get creased (same for warm clothes actually !). Do not forget to pack up sandals and/or flip-flops !

Here we go, it is not that much of a trouble in the end… But do not forget that you should at the same time be ready to face any type of weather but also not have too big of a bag to carry around. Everything you bring with… You have to carry during the whole trip ! One or several laundromat stops will be necessary if you stay more than 2 weeks probably. And well, we are traveling lightly but you can always take one or two extras… A cute little dress for your parties in Las Vegas will surely fit in your suitcase !

» Not forgetting the household linen

Last but not least for today, you might wonder about bed linen, blankets and towels ? (We are going on a road trip, but still !) For the bed linen, it really depends on the nature of your trip. In motels and most of the hostels, it will not be necessary to bring everything from Europe. If you rent your campervan at Escape (see my previous article about the choice of the transportation mode), everything will be included in the vehicule (pillows, duvets, sheets). Nevertheless if you choose an accommodation for which you have to provide the bed linen, you have several options : buy a sleeping bag and/or a sleeping bag liner, buy everything at home and carry those vacuum packed or even get everything on site (very cheap at Walmart for example). I would still suggest that you find a solution that will prevent you from having to worry about all those. For your showers, one solution : microfiber towels ! I strongly recommend the Nabaiji brand from Decathlon. You will have to get used to the fabric if you do not know it, but they are very handy and easy to fit in the bag, a must buy !

That is all folks, we are getting to the end of the first part of this article ! In the upcoming weeks, I will give you a checklist for your toilet case and the additional equipment. Do you have any questions on these first tips ? 🙂

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