The best way to pack your car for any road trip
For most people, summer is synonymous with vacation and travel. As temperatures rise, 80% of Americans plan to change their daily landscape, and most of them will do so by taking a road trip. And that makes sense since driving is more flexible and cheaper than flying.
Your car trunk has a lot more space than just carry-on luggage, but it’s definitely limited and you’ll need to make the most of it. Packing for the road isn’t just the satisfaction of winning a complicated Tetris luggage game – safety is also important.
The importance of packing well
If you think that as long as you manage to squeeze in every last thing, up to and including the kitchen sink, you’re good to go, think again. Poor packing can quickly turn a summer vacation into a frustrating experience, like when you can’t find sunscreen or luggage shifts and smashes your delicious banana bread. But an errant water bottle or unsecured grill grate can have even more devastating and dramatic effects.
At best, moving and toppling objects are a distraction. If you constantly check the rearview mirror to make sure the board game on top of your luggage isn’t slipping and scattering pieces all over the place, your eyes aren’t on the road, creating a hazard for passengers and other drivers.
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“Packing cars properly mitigates these dangers and also helps keep all passengers safe and organized,” says Thomas McIntyre Schultz, product technology and communications manager at Volvo Car USA.
But at worst, loose objects can be deadly. According to Volvo’s loading recommendations, an object weighing 44 pounds can achieve an equivalent projectile weight of over 2,200 pounds in a head-on collision at just 30 miles per hour. At this speed, if the object strikes the driver or any of the passengers, it could cause serious injury or even death. Packaging is therefore more than a matter of comfort and convenience – it could literally save your life.
“Wrapping a car is a mix of art and science that helps protect everyone on the road,” says McIntyre Schultz.
And as with any masterpiece or science experiment, he suggests you start with a plan. Before throwing items into the trunk, make sure everything you intend to bring with you is present and accounted for. This way, you’ll avoid the frustration of packing the whole trunk only to realize you forgot a gym bag and have to start the process over.
First, dismantle or fold up large objects like strollers, for example, so that they are as small as possible. Then, to make sure you’re making the most of the space in your car, pack anything that’s particularly bulky or with sharp edges in its own box. Fill every nook and cranny with soft, pliable items like blankets, pillows, or jackets. This will make packing easier and protect your luggage from scratches or dents.
Once everything in the driveway or garage is ready, visualize how it all might fit together before you start loading. Place heavy bags at the bottom of the stack to prevent them from sliding or crushing more delicate items. For particularly large or odd-shaped items like bicycles, scooters, or sports equipment, consider installing a bike rack or roof rack on the outside of your vehicle. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions carefully to ensure the racks are secure.
Once everything is in place, take a photo so you can reference it and replicate the results when you get home.
For added convenience, keep handy items like first aid kits, snacks and entertainment devices in the passenger area. Keep them in baskets or boxes and try to secure them to seats, or wedge them firmly on the floor between rows to prevent them from slipping or toppling over.
Pay attention to your car
What you’ll need to make your ride safe before hitting the road will depend on what you’re driving. McIntyre Schultz explains that sedans — cars with separate closed trunks — don’t require as many security measures as other vehicles.
“A trunk provides natural separation for passengers from baggage, heavy or loose equipment and can minimize distractions from objects moving mid-way,” he says.
If you drive an SUV or a sedan, things are different. To prevent a flying suitcase from ruining your trip, store heavy objects in the back of the trunk and away from people. This will make them easier to store while preventing them from falling on passengers, crushing other objects or, in the event of an accident, turning into deadly projectiles. For added security, use rope or bungee cords to tie down heavy objects to your vehicle’s built-in tie-down anchors. If you have luggage stacked in the back seat, secure it with a safety net. This simple barrier can also prevent cargo from flying into the front seats.
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If you’re stacking high, don’t let luggage bang against the windows – prevent breakage or damage to the glass by leaving a 4-inch gap between it and your gear. Also, remember to leave enough room for you to see out of your windows and through your rear view mirror.
Finally, make any modifications your car needs to handle the heavy load, especially if you’ve attached a hitch-mounted rack or trailer. Check your car’s specs carefully and determine if you’ll need to adjust your tire pressure to account for the extra weight. You will find all this information in your car manual.
Tying all your belongings and gear in place (and yourself too) will make your road trip safe, so you’re more likely to arrive at your destination healthy, happy and ready to enjoy a well-deserved summer vacation.