Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Packing for Two Months • A Modular Approach

Once we decided that we were going to take two months and travel around by car (more info on our road trip here), I began to worry. I am a very organized person in everyday life but I have done very little traveling and haven't developed any organizational schemes for that endeavor. Whenever we traveled, I was always rooting through suitcases trying to find X, and I often didn't. I knew I couldn't put up with two months of chaos so I started thinking and searching and looking for different packing schemes.

There were only two of us and no kids on this trip but we were going through many different climates and did hope to do some camping. We needed everything from beachwear to winter wear plus all the technology to keep my husband's business in touch. And we have a smaller sedan. The car was a given. It is a wonderful driving car and we didn't want to rent something that had more space but was less fun to drive. So I started thinking.  

I knew I want to use space efficiently and so suitcases were out. It is recommended to pack in duffles because they reshape to better fill the space, but duffles wouldn't work well for so much of what we needed. I started looking at soft-sided solutions always keeping in mind the size of our trunk. At some point in the process I thought soft-sided zippered coolers would work and I went looking. I couldn't find anything that was an appropriate size. They were all designed for 6 packs of beer. I happened to be doing the grocery shopping and realized how well reusable shopping bags filled my trunk. And then the light bulb snapped on. I considered using the reusable thermal bags with zipper tops available for almost nothing at my grocery store. It seemed like it might work even if they are bright green. I bought a few and did some test loads. The size was perfect. 

It seemed kind of funky but it really did look like the best way to fit the most stuff into our car in an organized fashion. And in the end, it worked extremely well - not perfect but much better than any other method I've tried. Here is the pile of stuff we had in the car snapped quickly, right after unpacking.

The basic pieces included: 
  • 13 green grocery bags each with an assigned theme
  • 5 clear storage boxes with snapping lids
  • 2 small duffles for daily clothing
  • Our classic travel haba (bath) bag
  • Car Refrigerator ( I'll post separately about this wonder)
  • Computer bag
  • In-car daily bag
  • Camping Equipment - tent 2 sleeping bags and 2 sleeping mats
And the car trunk looked like this when packed:

The plastic tubs were purchsed to fit on the backseat without obstructing the rearview mirror. The upper tubs held our clothes - we each had one. We would put a small portion of clothing into a small duffle to bring into the motel each night. Most of the clothes stayed in the car and we rotated it as the climate changed. The bottom tubs were extra space and in the end we mostly filled them before we left with incidentals. I did save some space for small treasures I might purchase along the way.

After deciding on a packing system I started my packing lists. This was a good month before departure day. Using a spreadsheet I listed various categories of things I would want packed together into one case. They were theme oriented so that there would be a chance we could locate the odd things like the binoculars when we needed them.  I lined green bags along the edge of the family room and started packing things. There was some adjustment if a category didn't fit in a bag, or if I could combine 2 into 1.

Here are the categories I ended up with:

David's Clothes
Marji's Clothes
* Shoes
* Hiking
* Swimming
* Outerwear
* Emergency/ First Aid
* Food
* Cooking
* Coffee/Tea 
* Photography
* Travel Supplies
* Chargers and Electronics
* Paper Supplies
* Laundry
Cooler/Car Refridge
Haba/Health and Beauty Aids
Computer Bag
Camping items (weren't in bags)
General Other

The starred items each had its own green bag. And I took a big black marker and on the top of each bag I listed the general contents. Not only did I know where everything was but so did David. Each item had an assigned place and we could find it when we needed it. I also added a ribbon pull to each zipper which was helpful.

General comments on this packing technique:
  • It was wonderful for organization. We both knew where things were, and where to put them when done.
  • We looked like hillbillies each time we went into a motel!
  • The zippers started to fail on day 1. David applied a teflon spray to them and they last through out the trip but we did have to treat them with care.
  • It was a cheap luggage solution. These bags cost $2.50 each but I bought most of them on a 2/$3.99 sale.
  • Continued flexibility was required. We did regroup a few bags after a day or two to streamline what we brought into the motel every evening.
  • We often rotated the bags in the trunk depending on part of the country. The outerwear and hiking was easily accessible in the mountains. It rotated back as we crossed the plains.
It was a great solution!


  1. What a fantastic idea. I totally understand the mess that can occur in the back of a car when you travel. We did a 7 week trip out to Banff and back (we live in Toronto) and it was a daily project to organize the car. I love the shape of your containers so they pack snugly, but are soft so they mold together. I also love the price tag so it wasn't prohibitive to buy so many of them.

    I"m reading with interest about your trip as I would love to do something similar with my husband when we retire.

    1. Stay tuned. More posts to come. It was an awesome experience and great time.

  2. Such a wonderful idea and even if the zipper did break at $2.50 ea it would be an okay solution to replace the bag. Sounds like you were totally organised.

    1. I consider it an organizing success if my husband can finds things as well as me!!! :-)

  3. I wish I would be as organized as you two. :)
    After 2 days of travelling the car would be a total mess :))


    1. I was worried about the same thing. That is why I spend time figuring this out. I'll tweak it next time - more inner containers for small stuff for sure!