Do you want to impress your friends and family with your awesome road trip skills?
Whether you’re a highly organized planner or a laid-back, spontaneous explorer, you can be everyone’s king of the road by packing like a pro. Here are some worthwhile tips to remember when you’re traveling with cargo in the car.
1. Safety First
When you prepare for a road trip, the first and most important thing to think about is safety. Check the condition of your vehicle and make sure it’s in top driving condition. When was the last time you had your car serviced? Confirm its mechanical health and that it steers, accelerates, and brakes well.
Check all of your fluids, lights, and other operational features you may value like audio and climate control. Also, remember to properly inflate your tires to the recommended pressure.
Before you put any luggage into your vehicle, double-check your car’s emergency kit. The bare necessities include a spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack. Many vehicles come with an emergency triangle. Bring jumper cables too, and consider taking along a small fire extinguisher.
If you’ll be driving for long distances out in the wilderness, you might want to pack a no-spill gas can for those long stretches with no fuel stops. And if you’re especially handy you probably won’t want to leave your toolbox behind.
If you plan on camping in the middle of summer, some forest rangers will require that you have a shovel and a certain amount of sand and water with you. Always check for any local regulations and fire restrictions at the areas you plan to camp in.
2. Plan Strategically
If you can, start stocking your vehicle the day before your big trip. Otherwise, make sure you have all your bags packed and your luggage laid out and ready to go at least an hour before you need to depart.
Clear out your car and remove any clutter or loose items so you can work with a blank slate. If you aren’t bringing children or other passengers, check if your car’s interior is modular. Some cars have rear seats which can fold down to create more cargo space.
You’re going to want to pack strategically for optimal weight distribution and proper accessibility. Determine what you won’t immediately need for the journey, much like how you would pack your check-in luggage and carry-on differently for a flight.
If you like navigating with GPS, get the system ready, and if you’re taking someone in the front passenger seat, delegate co-pilot responsibilities. Your road trip buddy should be willing to navigate, pick music, and answer any messages or calls for you. After all, you need to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
3. Time to Pack
In the trunk, put the largest and heaviest bags in first with handles facing towards the rear hatch, door, or tailgate. Push the luggage all the way in so most of the weight stays low and closer to the center of the vehicle.
Put in heavier and medium-sized bags in next, along with your cooler if you plan on bringing one. If you’re going camping or backpacking, the relevant gear and equipment can go next. Then, fill in any space with smaller, miscellaneous items.
Position everything like an expert Tetris player, and remember not to pack too high.
You need to be able to see out the back from your rearview mirror.
You also don’t want things shifting around and falling over while you accelerate, turn, and brake. Keep the stuff you’ll immediately need near the rear hatch or by the doors, especially if you’re about to engage in outdoor activities.
4. Consider the Roof Rack
If your vehicle has a roof rack, you can store your luggage in a rooftop cargo carrier which would afford more space and comfort for additional passengers.
A roof rack comes in the form of either side rails, crossbars, or both. You can have aftermarket ones and other mounting accessories installed too. Roof racks have weight limits stated in the owner’s manual, but you should leave the heaviest items inside the car to keep the car’s center of gravity nice and low.
When you store your belongings on the roof, try your best to evenly distribute the weight across both sides and front to back.
Roof racks can accommodate metal baskets and equipment like kayaks or bicycles.
They also give you the ability to carry soft or hard top carriers, but take note that any exterior addition will increase drag or wind resistance while driving. Modern cargo boxes can come in short or long variants, and typically feature low-profile and aerodynamic designs that can be opened from either side.
If you put anything on the roof, make sure the rear hatch can be opened all the way. And if you pack soft carriers or items in a metal basket, make sure the contents are secured tight and tied down to the roof mounts. You don’t want stuff sliding and rocking around, especially somewhere you can’t see.
And you certainly don’t want to accidentally lose anything on the road.
5. Last but not Least
If your vehicle has a rear hitch, you can use it to mount cargo boxes, racks, and other accessories too.
You can also tow a trailer, which opens up a lot of nifty possibilities for travel. If you aren’t ready to invest in any of these things, many places will rent them out. Just remember not to over-encumber your vehicle, which can compromise your car’s suspension, drivability, and stopping power, hence, safety.
If you have a pickup truck, make sure everything is positioned, partitioned, or tied down securely and consider covering what’s in your bed with a tarp or net. There are a bunch of brands that offer great storage solutions for pickups too.
Waterproof whatever is outside your vehicle if there’s a chance you’ll encounter dynamic weather. Check the forecast so you can have the proper outerwear readily accessible, in case you need to step out of your car for gas or a snack stop.
If you’re taking the kids along, let them have their knapsacks right beside them or at their feet, and don’t shy away from comforting luxuries like pillows and blankets. Other travel essentials can stay in the car’s cabin, within arm’s reach of your co-pilot and passengers.
These can be sunglasses, jackets, USB chargers, devices, drinks, snacks, cameras, and maps. Last but not least: be well-rested, drive safely, and have fun!
Here’s a quick recap on how to travel like a boss with cargo:
- Safety first
- Plan strategically
- Time to pack
- Consider the roof rack
- Use a vehicle with a rear hitch