I know, I know. It’s been a while. I’m SORRY!!! But as soon as we got to Arizona we hit the ground running, and I’ve only now just tripped over a rock and had the chance to come to a crashing halt.
Wait, Arizona, What?
Oh right, ok, back up then. About three weeks ago, January 27th to be precise, I left Annapolis on a circuitous road trip adventure, ending up in Apache Junction, Arizona, on February 3rd. I headed north first, hitting my friends in Philadelphia, Nazareth, PA, and Hamlin, NY. In Hamlin I picked up a travel companion by the name of Mindy and then we headed west. Well…south west. Making stops in Lexington, KY, and Memphis, TN, before making a mad dash west along 40 until we came sliding into Apache Junction like a baseball player stealing third. Along the way we picked up several fantastic stories, which I will share, I promise, just not quite yet. Because before we can talk about the trip itself, we have to talk about the trip prep. Which is the real point of this post: Packing for a Road Trip. Equally as difficult as, though much different than, packing for a crawl around Europe (see Packing with Poise).
How is it different? You may ask.
Well, road tripping around American means seeing the extremely varied countrysides our country has to offer, maybe getting accidentally or intentionally lost along winding side roads only to stumble upon fantastically quaint towns, and catching up on all the new music and NPR programs you’ve been meaning to listen to.
It can also mean spending hours on the highway stuck in the car with your traveling companions, few hostels or similarly inexpensive lodging options, and plenty of fast food temptations. It is important to enjoy the perks and avoid the risks, so you arrive at your destination (if you have one) well rested, healthy, and happy.
Packing for a road trip is all about planning proper package placement. Hmm, that’s some great alliteration there. Lets go with that, here are the 4 P’s of road trip packing:
These aren’t really a step-by-step guide, but rather important guidelines to use every step of the way.
First you have to decide what you’ll need on your journey. And that involves some pre-trip planning. Consider the trip: how far do you hope to travel each day, when and where will you stop, and where will you sleep when you do stop. Consider the destination: what activities do you need to pack for, what will the destination climate be, what will you need on the road, and what can stay packed until you arrive.
What did our road trip look like? Well I was leaving early to visit with some friends, but ultimately the road trip west was about packing up myself and my business and heading out to the first renaissance festival of the Circuit season. The “Circuit” is what traveling Rennies call the path one takes working one festival after another. A “Rennie” is the nickname we traveling renaissance workers have given themselves, playing off of the slang “carnie” for carnival worker. My Circuit starts in February in Arizona, hits Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and ends in Maryland at the end of October.
Though I was leaving early, I had a lot of stops to hit in one week: Philadelphia, Nazareth, Hamlin, and Memphis were all must stops to visit old friends. Lexington was thrown in as an entertaining half way between Hamlin and Memphis- a 17 hour drive otherwise. We were shooting for driving days of 8 – 12 hours. Good mileage without the risk of getting highway hypnosis. For the most part we had friendly couches to sleep on each night. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. So one important thing to consider before departing is your lodging options.
Will you be camping your way across the country, or are you more of a shabby wayside motel kind of traveler? Camping can be inexpensive, with national parks coming in at around $7 – $15 a night for a campsite, and KOA’s averaging between $20 – $40 a night for a tent site, and more for an RV if you are so privileged. However, camping can also be time consuming. Spending time setting up and breaking down a tent each morning and evening might not be built into your schedule, if you’re in a rush to get where you’re going. Though, if you’re in that much of a rush, maybe driving isn’t your best travel option? Planes anyone?
If you go for motels, there are plenty of options available. Room rates tend to go up as you approach cities and towns, so sticking to obscure highway exits can be your cheapest bet. If you’re a lone traveler, remember to trust your instincts. If the motel seems shady, it probably is. Move on. Also, hotels that offer continental breakfasts and other unnecessary amenities will charge you more in the room rate for that “free meal.” Think bare bones and brightly lit when picking a wayside motel for the night.
In Lexington we couch-surfed with a friendly Air Force rescue specialist and his bar-tending brother. They showed us the town, checking out the local hot spots and their favorite spot- The Holy Grail, a renovated colonial church turned bar.
In between Memphis and Apache Junction we made a motel stop. We gave up around hour 16 and pulled into a wayside Best Western with amazing pillows and terrible coffee.
But now it’s time to pack the car. I realized I needed to pack for two trips: the big packing for the Circuit packing, and the little packing for the week of driving and visiting. Into the Circuit bags went winter and summer clothes, costumes, a complete set of toiletries and lotions (Arizona is DRY!), and camping gear…for Two People! Remember my traveling mate Mindy? On top of all of that went my sewing chest and all the bolts of fabric we could cram into that little Jeep. Yup, Reincarnation Outfitters is just as mobile as their CEF (Chief Executive Fairy). I’ll be building stock and making inventory while on my trips.
I am convinced Alice (my Jeep) has the powers of the Marry Poppins bag- there is always just enough room. In the traveling bag went some spare clothes, a toothbrush, and my purse with the daily necessities.
But maybe your activities are different. What will you be doing when you arrive? If there even is a final destination. If this is your basic “make a lap o’the country” trip, than you won’t need more than some clothes and maybe some camping gear (see above). But if this is a road trip with purpose, like mine was, than the packing list can become much more extensive.
Regardless of your activities I do recommend bringing a cooler along with you. Fast food gets old faster than you can eat it. It makes you feel heavy and lethargic while you drive, and can demand unplanned rest stops down the line. Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, bread and lunch meat, and crunchy snacks like granola and pretzels to keep you going.
So you’ve planned your trip. You’ve packed your bags with purpose. Now it’s time to load the car. This is where positioning and prioritization comes to play. I’m sure you’ve all realized that it is important to pack the small week bag last, so it’s easily accessible each night. But more than that, consider how you’ll have to unpack when you arrive. We assumed that Mindy would need to be dropped off and set up first, since she would be camping in Arizona. She would need whatever remaining daylight we had to set up. I would be staying in a booth with electricity (minor indulgences go a long way), so could unpack leisurely at night. Also, the sewing stuff could stay in the car until we settled in and I had a chance to get to it. So when we packed we packed sewing stuff first, then my gear, then Mindy’s gear. The week bags got shoved at our feet in the front, sadly. We were that full!
Poor Alice and her poor old shocks. She was weighted so far down that if we hit a speed bump too fast she’d scrape her tires in the wheel well. It was a slow, delicate crawl across the country. But crawl we did, with many a laugh and nary a flat tire to hinder our progress.
And if you’d like to hear about those laughs, you’ll have to tune in next time!