In the movies and on Instagram, a road trip looks easy: just pack some stuff and hop in a car and go. Based on my consumption of such cinema classics as Easy Rider and Crossroads, I too was under the impression that road trips were all about spontaneity and the open highway.
They aren’t. Or at least they aren’t if you’re working on a budget of money and time. For our half United States/half Canada cross-country road trip, a friend and I booked all of our accommodations in advance, scheduled time off of work, and made checklists for what to bring.
Planning the route and accommodations was one thing, packing was another. I am by no means a light packer. I’m under the impression on every trip I go on that for some reason I’ll be changing outfits at least twice a day. That type of “I dunno, just bring it anyway” tomfoolery won’t fly on a road trip. We have a small car and half of it will be filled with camping gear. We need to economize, and since we’re camping for part of the trip, we’ll need outdoors-approved, weather-appropriate attire as well as the essentials for looking cute while in the cities.
Really, this should be titled “The Vain Millennial’s Guide to Packing for a Road Trip” as that’s exactly what it is.
The best travel advice I’ve ever heard is, “Bring half of what you think you need, and twice as much money.” As much as I’d like to bring my entire wardrobe with me, I can’t do that. I do, however, need different options for different weather possibilities. It’s always a good idea to check the long-term forecast of wherever you’re travelling to to get a sense of what you need. I’m travelling through North America in June, so I’ll have shorts and dresses, but I’ll also bring a rain jacket, jeans, and some warm sweatpants because you never know with Western Canada.
As far as footwear goes, it’s sneakers and boots for hiking. Again, you have to judge what you’ll be doing. I know I’ll be doing a lot of walking and hiking in the woods. I’ll only bring one pair of cute shoes for nights out. Maybe two. Three as a complete maximum.
When you’re packing apparel for a road trip, you always need to think about comfort. So much of your time will be spent sitting in a car. You’ll want to be able to stretch, to breathe and, in all honesty, to let your gut hang out a little bit. You won’t want to wear tight jeans or a body con dress with heels. Unless you’re at your most comfortable in that, in which case, go for it.
We live in an age of travelling via Instagram posts, and maybe many of you absolutely are not more content with having outfit options for a couple of pictures, but I unashamedly am. If you are with me and think about this kind of thing, you need to narrow it down. Bring only two or three nice pieces to wear for photographic moments or nights on the town. Because really, the majority of time you spend on the trip will be sitting in the car, stretching at roadside stops, and walking around cities.
Beauty + Skincare
The best and easiest option is this: don’t bring any makeup. Just don’t do it. Idealistic but not realistic. I’m a person who loves their makeup and I’m bringing it. The key is, again, to downsize. Really only bring the essentials, the holy grail products that you know won’t fail you. Now is not the time to try out that new eyeshadow palette or three different foundations that look promising.
As far as skincare goes, the most important is sunscreen. If you know you’re going to spend any amount of time outside, bring it. Also bug spray. Leave your fancy five-step night creams at home. Since I’ll have makeup and will be outdoors, it’s also a good idea to bring makeup wipes or micellar water, something you can use to clean your face up without running water, even just to get the grime from the day off. Same goes with any kind of cooling or refreshing spray. When you’re jumping between being outside and being in a climate controlled car, you’ll probably not be feeling so fresh by day four. The only other necessary beauty product to bring in my opinion is a dry shampoo because it will keep you sane in the chaos.
A portable phone charger. I cannot stress this enough. You won’t always be near somewhere with an outlet and if your phone dies while stranded on a roadside you’re perfectly set up to become a side character in a slasher flick. This is especially relevant if you plan on using your phone as a GPS.
Obviously, since the main event of a road trip is the driving, I’d recommend bringing something to pass the time. Even if you’re going with your best friend, I don’t know if anyone can talk for nine hours straight. Consider the following: music, audiobooks, podcasts, maybe even a game you can play while driving.
As I’m camping on my trip, there could be a whole other section for camping-related equipment, but it’s pretty standard what to bring: a tarp, tent, bed rolls, sleeping bags, flashlight, matches, water, and a cooler to bring food in. If you are going camping it’s also wise to bring some warmer clothes. Again, you never know.
My last piece of advice could be considered the holy grail of road trip necessities: Advil and motion sickness medication. I’m not playing around. Driving for hours on end can have you pretty messed up pretty quickly. You want to be awake, alert, and having fun on this trip, not lying down in the back seat with a cold compress to your head.