Packing Checklists, Kettle Grills…and Our Big Road Trip!

I LOVE packing checklists – the planning, the organizing, the reassurance – and especially the checklist part. (Geek! Yes, I’m aware.) For our current road trip, we wanted to pack enough to be comfortable, but not so much that we felt weighed down. We would likely be driving for eight days in total and would be gone for three or four weeks. We were not yet sure where we would be staying along the way–motel? camping? car? — but we wanted to be open to a variety of different roadside opportunities. Adding to our dilemma, our apartment in Las Vegas, where we would be staying for eight nights, only contained basic furniture and appliances and nothing else. Richard definitely wanted to golf, and I wanted to continue to workout and practice yoga. Already the image of necessary pillows blankets sleeping bags, portable tent, towels, golf clubs, yoga mat, clothes, toiletries, cooler, and basic food supplies was growing completely out of control.

We could not be the first ones ever to take such a trip, so… we consulted the Internet for expert advice. For a two-week-plus (car-camping-style) road trip, some sites suggested that we include a kettle grill, high heels, and a pocket dictionary. Nope, I’m not kidding! (Sources) In order to travel a bit lighter, other sites suggested that we leave behind aspirin, nail polish remover, extra razors and extra reading material. Now, I’m sure that these sites were less camping-based and went with the rationale that you could easily buy these things along the way. However, the authors obviously have not seen me without reading material or with a pounding headache and no convenience store or pharmacy in sight (not to mention that needing to buy too many extra items, with the current US-Canadian dollar exchange rate, would undoubtedly make me need those aspirins). The absolute irony here is kettle grill vs. a bottle of aspirin…words simply fail me!

Other sites, more realistic about the size of the average car or SUV, suggested that we avoid the need for a grill and consider cooking our food on our car engine, or baking cookies on the dashboard. (Again, I’m not making this up.) The Internet even has loads of directions on how to do both things. (Examples: here and here.)

As Richard and I both have definite limits to our sense of adventure, we left the kettle grill behind and opted against using our car as a cooking device. When we finished packing the necessities listed above, and then added our dog, dog food, feeding bowls, grooming stuff, pet blanket, etc., etc. (so that we could drop off Cody in Vancouver on our way) we would not have wanted to squeeze in one extra item. Without exaggeration, we have seen whole families move abroad with less.

After surviving full two weeks on the road, it is time to reflect, and write this blog. What would we definitely take on our next big road trip? What would we leave behind?

We never regretted our decision not to bring a kettle grill and I never once had the desire to wear high heels or to study a pocket dictionary (although I did use my on-line thesaurus more than once). We did definitely use our extra reading material, razors and aspirin (as well as vitamin C and cold medicine). I haven’t yet used the nail polish remover…but there’s still time.

As I predominantly had the role of passenger, navigator, meal arranger and organizer, I found it invaluable to have my smartphone, laptop and phone charger (that plugs into the car cigarette lighter) within handy reach. Our smartphone not only served as a multi-faceted communication device, but it also served as our GPS, accommodation locator, fact finder, mirror, flashlight, extra music source, extra reading material…and emergency gas station finder (please don’t ask!). Also, did you know that with your smartphone you can start your car remotely, measure your heart rate, identify a song on the radio and mail a postcard? As a bonus, I also used my smartphone as a hotspot so that I could grab my computer and stay ahead on my blog posts. (NB, check your data plan first and adjust your usage accordingly to avoid extra data fees.) I also used my smartphone to snap the following “car windshield photography”.

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The other item that was a lifesaver for us was an extra large, good quality thermos (that stayed hot and fit perfectly in our car cup holder). As we traveled many LONG stretches of road with surprisingly no Starbucks (or coffee shop of any kind) in sight, the stay-hot-all-day thermos of coffee was well worth the small space that it required. Each morning, we took the time to re-shuffle our vehicle so that the cooler (with ice packs as opposed to melting ice cubes) and snack bag were within easy reach of the passenger (who doubled as host and server). Wet Ones (lots of them) and grocery store sized plastic bags for recycling/trash also made the trip easier.

Other than the nail polish remover, we have actually used most of the items that we brought with us (we did a final culling just before we pulled out from home). For our next big road trip, we will add a roof-rack storage unit in order to help ease in-vehicle congestion. A roof rack will also be essential for when we have our dog join us for a longer portion of the trip. (Note to PETA: our dog will be in the car, not on the rack!)

Ultimately, my best advice goes back to the packing checklist itself. If you have never used one, definitely consider it for your next trip. If you prepare and store it on your computer, you won’t need to worry about losing the printed copy and you can use/modify it again and again for future trips. Sample templates to get your started can be found here and here .

A good packing checklist just may revolutionize your whole approach to packing, save you frustration and cash for forgotten items along the way, and help make your entire trip go much more smoothly. Go ahead, you don’t have to be a Geek to try it (although it definitely won’t hurt if you are).

Have you taken a big road trip recently and have advice to add? I’d appreciate hearing your feedback and suggestions.

16 Replies to “Packing Checklists, Kettle Grills…and Our Big Road Trip!”

  1. Well I have to admit, the only time I’ve actually made a list was on a cruise from Vancouver through the Panama to Miami. We usually don’t forget any of the essentials, but the one we almost got tripped up on a couple of times was passports,…….shortly after they made them necessary to enter the U.S. After our whole lives just crossing back and forth in the car with only a driver’ s license, all that changed after 911. Now, you even need a passport to cross from Tsawwassen into Point Roberts, which still seems strange. Our last lengthy road trip was several years ago when a group of friends trekked down to Palm Springs for 6 weeks. Most of us had dogs with us, and we all stayed in a dog friendly resort in Palm Desert. We took 10 days to travel the two day trip, and that actually was our favourite part. We travelled down highway 1 (or was it 101?) through the Redwood Forest, along the Russian River, through the Napa Valley, Calistoga, Bodega Bay, Sauselito, Monterrey, Carmel, down Big Sur, San Louis Obispo, and finally over to Palm Springs. As long as we have the dog beds, the leashes, a can opener for the wet dog food, a few favourite stuffies for them, the camera, and my makeup and hair equipment, we’re good to go. If we forget anything, we can always buy it when we get there. The necessity to find dog friendly accommodation resulted in us staying in some places we otherwise would never have considered, but it only added to the adventure and interest in ” stretching beyond our comfort level”. 😄 The necessity of stopping and walking them, resulted in discovering beautiful little spots in parks, on beaches and through the woods, that otherwise we would have only seen briefly driving on by. 🐕🐕🐾🐾🍷🍷

    1. Great comments, Dawne! We will be traveling back home from Palm Springs and will definitely look into the route that you suggest. Your comments also make us almost wish that we had brought Cody with us…almost!

  2. I also use checklists before a trip (and modify them after a trip to reflect what was and wasn’t used). Thanks for the links to samples… Mine are just scrawled on sheets of paper. Especially on road trips, I like to bring a little zip pouch containing things like a highlighter pen, paper clips, rubber bands, etc). I find these really can come in handy.

    1. Great idea, Janis, about going through the checklist upon your return (so that you can freshly modify it for next time). I will give that a try when I get home!

  3. aw – Hwy 1 – a highway of stunning beauty for sure! also narrow windy roads so be prepared to slow down and enjoy the sights. It is not a fast route but then life is about the journey not the destination anyway. But you already know that. maybe you will be passing through San Fran when I am there.
    Enjoy the trip. Loved the blog – must consider a packing list next time I do the road trip up from Merced. Which will be soon. May I expect. Til then, keep blogging and I’ll keep reading!

  4. Great post. Our big road trip was a year and a half ago when we drove cross-country from Portland, OR here to Florida. But we were pulling a U-Haul and it was more work than fun. This coming May we’re driving north to Michigan to see family, and we do plan on taking our time on the drive back. The only fly-in-the-ointment from your suggestions is that unfortunately my wife gets car sick with anything but the most limited reading on her phone (i.e. text messages only). So I always need to pull over and stop if one of us needs to operate the GPS or look something up on a phone! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Marty. Enjoy your trip in May. We used my iphone 6, which gives the option of voice GPS and voice friendly Siri. Do you have a voice option on your GPS?

  5. Donna, you are the perfect planner. We once left for four months and planned and packed in like 10 minutes…sure we had to buy some stuff we forgot like…a tent…cooking gear…sleeping bags. The good news is that we have spares now so other miserable planners can join us.

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