How To Organize Your Car and The Best Packing Ideas For Your Road Trip

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How To Organize Your Car and The Best Packing Ideas For Your Road Trip

I love a good road trip!  How about you?  Even if you don’t love road-tripping, almost everyone is in a position to take one at some point.  You’ll want to be organized for the journey when it’s your time.  I have done all the work for you.  With this guide, you’ll be ready to head out on the open road with everything you need!  Car organization

You may think throwing what you need into the car and setting out on the open road seems easy.  But in the rush of prep for a long trip, it can be easy to lose track of everything once you’re driving.  Packing the right things is important, but packing those things in the right places is even more important!

Be Prepared

Let’s start at the beginning.  Where are you going?  How long is your road trip?  Do you have a route mapped out?  With today’s technology, it’s easy to punch a couple of addresses into your GPS and have all those answers in a flash.

While planning your route from beginning to end, consider adding a few extra quick stops to get out and stretch your legs.  Now I’m in my 50s, and long car trips are different.  I’m beginning to understand the importance of stopping regularly to stretch my legs, even if it’s only for a minute at a time.  One of my favorite road trip apps is called Roadside Attractions, and using this app has given me so many fun side adventures on my road trips.  You can read about one of those fun trips and see pics of all the fun stops in The 9 Best Roadside Attractions You Must See on Your Road Trip Through Iowa.

A woman in a blue sun hat lifts a suitcase into the back of a car.

Emergency Situations

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of where everything fits in your car, let’s cover a couple of emergency situations.

First, consider what you’ll do if you have a technology breakdown.  A good, old-fashioned Road Atlas is necessary.  I love this one, and have wonderful memories of following along on my travels before GPS was a thing.  Sure, it’s scary to think about planning a route with it now, but in a pinch, I know I could revisit those old skills and find my way to my destination.  But does this Atlas need to live at your fingertips?  Probably not.  A Road Atlas is the perfect item to tuck away in a back seat car organizer.

Next, let’s talk about First Aid.  We certainly don’t want a crisis while driving, but some things happen when we least expect it.  Preparing will go a long way to making your trip smoother.  I like to pack a small first aid kit where I can reach it while traveling.  Just in case I have an unexpected headache or get a nasty papercut when looking at those paper maps.  Traveling does weird things to our digestive system, and tummy trouble is common when we change eating habits.  Not to mention all that sitting can wreak havoc on our muscles, especially as we age.  Be ready!

Finally, consider keeping a backup paper copy of phone numbers with you as you travel, just in case you have a technology failure.  I don’t know about you, but I have very few numbers memorized anymore since I’ve been able to rely on my phone for that.  But what if that phone dies?  Could happen.  Be prepared.  Read The Best Printable List of Packing Essentials for your next Road Trip for more ideas and a free downloadable packing list!

Bonus tip: Keep track of all the cool places you’ve visited with one of these cool fobs that holds personalized discs for every location you check off your bucket list!

Prep and Pack in Advance

Now you’re ready for significant emergencies, real headaches, and the kind that come from tech failure.  But before you can start organizing your car, you’ll need to know how many suitcases and bags you’ll be packing.  After all, part of the packing process is knowing what you’ll need to fit into your car.  Check out The Best List of What to Pack for a Weekend Trip Away for a refresher on what you’ll need.

Front Seat – Visors, Consoles, and Cup Holders, Oh My!

Command Center

The front of your car is your cockpit when you’re traveling and the area where you need to keep most organized as you travel.  We all know that distracted driving is a major no-no, so all the things you need to use as you drive must be handy.  Let’s talk about everything you need to keep within your arm’s reach when you drive.

A co-pilot is the best thing to bring with you to eliminate distracted driving.  However, not all trips are meant for two.  I do most of my road trip traveling alone.  I enjoy that time to let my mind wander and sing what I want to sing or listen to an amazing audiobook

Cell Phone & Holder

Your cell phone is one essential item on your road trip.  I use mine for GPS directions, listening to music or audiobooks, and dictating my thoughts and notes while traveling.  I have an excellent system for holding my cell phone in my car.  Do you?  If you don’t, now is the time to find the right phone holder.

I connect my phone to my rear-view mirror with this handy device, so it is easy to reach and to glance at while I travel.  There are multiple options for mounting your phone in your vehicle.  Try a vent clip holder, or a dash mount.  

I also have my cell phone connected to my car’s stereo via Bluetooth, so I have control over my listening choices.  Radio is nice, but not always.  Don’t worry if you have an older car.  So do I!  You can pick up a simple device such as this one that will connect your phone to your car’s stereo.  You can even answer phone calls and listen through your speakers.  Handy!

A woman's bare legs are propped on a car's window white hands hold a map on her lap.  The scenery is a lake and a cloudy sky in the background.

Glove Compartment

I talk about all the emergency documents you need to bring along on a road trip in The Best Printable List of Packing Essentials for your next Road Trip, but what’s a girl to do with all those things?  The glove compartment is perfect for holding your car registration and proof of insurance.  I keep mine in this handy portfolio, so they are always safe, dry, and ready if I need them.  Also, put your printed emergency numbers and other paper items of high importance there.  You’ll always know where these items are, and they will stay safe and dry.

The glove box is also perfect for that first aid kit and a small flashlight.  I also have a pen and a small notebook if I need to jot anything down.  If your glovebox is tiny, consider keeping a downloaded version of your car manual on your phone or laptop and removing that big book. 

Sun Visor

I don’t know about you, but I use my sun visor when driving.  So I prefer to keep my driver’s side visor clear of clutter.  I keep this handy tissue holder on it, so I am ready for any sneezing-type event.  I keep a car sun visor organizer like this one on my passenger visor.  It’s the perfect place for small extras like sticks of gum, pen, and paper, travel credit card, face mask, or a couple of Plackers in case I need an emergency toothpick.  It will also hold your sunglasses.  Keeping an extra $20 bill stashed in it in case of emergency is a good idea, too.

Cup Holders

My car has two cup holders near the front seats.  I always try to keep one open, so I have a place for a soda or coffee cup.  But I am also a big water drinker.  I like large water bottles and prefer to keep them easily accessible, so I don’t get dehydrated.  The problem is my water bottle doesn’t fit in my cup holder, so I found this handy cup holder expander which allows me to keep that big old bottle at my fingertips.  I also like to keep my cup holders pretty clean.

I have been using cup holder coasters, and I like how they soak up the extra condensation from a cold drink and keep the bottoms of the cupholders clean.  I have a friend who uses silicone baking cups in her cup holders.  She swears by them because she can easily pop them out and run them through the dishwasher when they get gunky!  Brilliant!

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Car Console

Like the junk drawer at home, your car’s center console can be a big black hole filled with a whole lot of nothing.  But this is a beautiful space to utilize when you’re traveling.  Most vehicles have some storage between the seats; of course, each car has its own personality with unique cubbies here and there.  Choose some small containers to keep items organized, and be intentional in how you use those little spaces.  Think loose change (you’ll need this if you have any tolls along your route), extra condiment packets, a few straws, hair ties, mints, gum, toothpicks, binder clips, or travel packs of tissues. 

The console is also a great place to keep your charging cords.  You will need a charging cable for your cell phone, which you will likely need to use while you drive.  I always keep this cord in my car, and I pack a spare for wherever I stay when I reach my destination.  You may also need cables for your AirPods, tablet or iPad, laptop, camera, etc.  For all the extra cords, fold them up neatly, secure them with a cable strap, and put them together in a zippered organizing pouch and keep them handy.  I also pack my AirPods in this pouch.  Then put the pouch right into your suitcase or your electronics bag.

Snacks for the Road

Of course, any great road trip requires delicious and healthy snacks!  Instead of throwing a plastic bag in the passenger seat, let’s talk about the best way to pack snacks so you have easy access.

I love to bring fruits and veggies to munch on while I drive.  When I travel, I listen to my audiobook and watch the road, but sometimes my mouth needs to be busy, too.  And candy and chips are an easy fallback, but with some prep, I can munch on healthy items and land guilt-free at my destination.  Do prep work in advance by cleaning and packaging snacks in small, single-serve sizes.  You can use some of those small containers or ziplock bags to do that, but I prefer to keep waste to a minimum and use reusable silicone snack bags or fabric zipper bags

You may need to keep your snacks cool if you travel through hot weather.  I have a tiny refrigerator that holds up to six cans of soda or, in my case, two cans, some small bags of fruits, and a little chocolate.  It plugs into my car and keeps everything nice and cool, even when I have to get out for a rest stop, and I don’t have to deal with wet food from an ice-filled cooler or cooler bag.  Another option, if you don’t like a wet, icy cooler, which is a spill risk, is to pack a standard small cooler with some reusable freezer packs.

I like to keep my cooler in the passenger seat on this leveling tray when I’m traveling alone or in the space behind the console in the center of the back seat if I have a co-pilot.  If you are transporting a large amount of food, like groceries, on a family road trip, you will want to pack your large cooler in the back of the vehicle.

Back Seat

Now that we’ve discussed your travel plans for the front of the car let’s talk about the back seat.  If you’re traveling alone, the back seat is a great place to keep items you may need when you hop out for a rest.  I have many friends who car camp and like to keep the backseat open and uncluttered.  They pop in a car air mattress and get a good night’s sleep in their car.  Talk about saving a dime!  Most campgrounds cost much less than hotel rooms and come with bathroom facilities.  Jot this down on your list of great ideas to make traveling less expensive.  Stay tuned!  I’ll be trying this out this summer, so I’ll be sure to share my adventures.

But in the meantime, I like to keep a trash bag handy by hanging one on the back of the passenger seat.  I use inexpensive headrest hooks and hang a plastic shopping bag from one.  I can easily take the trash bag out to discard at a gas station or rest area and begin with a new one.  I also hang my purse back there so I can get to it if I need it, but it’s not thrown on the floor somewhere.

Consider a back seat organizer if you have passengers in your back seat.  I love this one with a tray for my passengers.  They can store their water bottle, have a space for eating or smaller items, and stay organized.  This organizer also looks handy for car camping to keep clutter organized when you bed down for the night.

Another handy option for the backseat is to use a hanging shoe organizer to keep anything and everything convenient, organized, and off the floor of the car.  If you’re on a family road trip with children, you can tuck small toys and items from the dollar store into the pockets.  A small toy or gift every hour on the road is a beautiful way to entertain kids and keep the car neat.  A neat car and well-entertained kids make less stress for everyone.  This idea would work on the front passenger or back seat or even in the far back of an SUV to hold small items.

A Tidy Trunk

Now that we’ve made our way through the front and back seats, let’s talk about the far back of your vehicle, the trunk, or the back end of an SUV or truck.  Nothing is worse than large items sliding around or tipping over while driving.  It’s annoying, distracting to the driver, and can damage your belongings.  To combat this, use a trunk organizer or bungee cords of varying lengths to secure wheeled suitcases or top-heavy items.

When loading the back, remember to place the heaviest items in the bottom.  If you need to access any of those items, keep them nearest the back of the vehicle, where you can get to them.  Bonus tip:  Be sure to check your vehicle battery and tire health before heading out because your spare tire and jumper cables will be buried under lots of heavy bags, boxes, and suitcases.

Are you bringing outdoor gear, boots, or items that may get wet or dirty?  Bring a plastic or rubber tote (size appropriate, of course) to keep wet things away from dry things.  A small tote with holes drilled in the top and sides is a great way to allow air to get to the wet items while keeping everything else dry.  The holes also help to prevent mildew on wet items.  Plastic totes are also a good option for dirty laundry.

Use a Sharpie marker to label these totes and stack them for easy access.  If you’re a touch OCD, like me, and you can’t stand scrawling words with a sharpie across your beautiful drawers, check out this super cool and compact label maker! If you have a large area in the back of your vehicle, you can also consider plastic drawers for the same purpose.  Drawers will allow you to access items without removing totes from the middle of a pile.

A Clean Car

When I travel, I feel like I manage to create so much garbage.  I don’t know how it happens, but it does.  Maybe it’s fast food.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good burger on the road?  But I digress.  I must work extra hard on my road trips to keep the car clean and tidy.  One thing you will need is a way to collect and discard trash.  I mentioned hanging a trash bag on the back of the passenger headrest, but if you have passengers back there, that may not be ideal.  This trash can fits perfectly in the front, and because it attaches to the gear shift, it won’t fly on a short stop.

You’ll want to keep your car smelling fresh, but car fresheners can be pricey.  Stash a dryer sheet under your seat to keep the air smelling fresh.  You can make a small cleaning essentials tote to keep on the floor of the back seat in case of spills or other messes.  Tuck a handful of paper towels or extra napkins in it, along with some car cleaning wipes and a few extra trash bags.  This small hand vacuum is perfect for keeping tucked away in the back and works well for crumbly messes.

Wrapping It All Up

Road trips can be horrible and inconvenient, or they can be a lot of fun!  If you’re prepared and organized, you’re well on your way to making your road trip fun.  The key to good prep is to think about what you may need and when you may need it, then make sure everything goes into the correct space.  Use these tips to make your next road trip more comfortable and convenient.

What is your favorite tip for staying organized on a long road trip? Tell me about it in the comments or in the Friends of the Hip Grandma Facebook Group.

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PIN image for Organizing Car for Road Trips with a green background, the title and a photo of a small fake car loaded with luggage.

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