I am from a little town north of Austin, Texas, and my boyfriend is from a little town near Greenville, South Carolina. We both currently live in West Hollywood, California, but we make it a point to go see our families at least twice a year (once in the summer, and during the winter holidays). Our families are extremely important to us, and luckily we have jobs/lifestyle that enable that kind of nomadic excursions.
Flying all that way would be hella expensive, and rather restrictive. So to save money, we usually drive the distance in my 2015 VW Jetta.
The drive to Texas is about 21 hours, if you drive straight through. But because of breaks, even if we don’t stop for the night it usually takes us about 26-28 hours, if we go the most direct route, hitting Phoenix and El Paso.
From Austin it’s about a 16 hour drive to Greenville, South Carolina, going through Shreveport and Atlanta. We can normally accomplish that drive in about 20 hours, without stopping for the night.
We’ve made this trek several times a year for the past 3 years we’ve been together, and WOW do I prefer it! We have time to talk about the future, listen to audiobooks, good music, and laugh at farts. It’s not just a drive, it’s a journey.
How do we pack the car?
Trunk: In the farthest back of the trunk, we have emergency stuff. I have a spare towel, extra lady products, a very small tent (that we’ve never had to use, but just in case). This stuff doesn’t take up very much room.
Then we load gifts, or things we aren’t going to touch until we get to our destination. Once that’s loaded, we put in our suitcases with the bulk of our clothes, plus any heavy coats or extra shoes/boots.
At this point my trunk is pretty full, so on the edges of the trunk I have my roadside and first aid kits, and we have our Pit Stop Bags, and Coty has a few weights. It’s a fun game of tetris, and as long as you can stick to this rough formula, we always seem to make everything fit.
Back Seat: This is where the magic happens. How you pack the back seat can determine if you have struggle frustrations or not.
Strapped to the seat behind the front passenger, we have the dry snacking food. Then in the middle back seat is the cooler. This way the driver can reach it if the passenger is asleep, and the passenger can get back to it whenever they need to.
On the back seat behind the driver goes your bag with your computer/electronics, purse, and your Pit Stop bags. On the floor behind the driver goes a case of water bottles. I know it seems wasteful, and totally un-environmentally-friendly, but when you’re on a marathon of driving, you can’t stop to fill up your water bottle, and it’s more important to have a healthy and hydrated driver than anything else.
On the floor behind the passenger is a good place for a brown paper bag for the trash to go. Whatever you do, make sure this area isn’t too confined, because you want the passenger seat to be able to lay back as far as it will go.
Extra jackets, blanket, etc. can go on top of anything in the back. Preferably on top of the dry food. This way the sun from the back seat won’t melt anything.
Up Front: It’s best to keep the front seats as clutter free as possible. All you really need up there is your phone chargers, whatever you’re currently drinking, and whatever you’re currently snacking on. As well as maybe a book for the passenger. Be sure to keep some chapstick nearby, and a large heavy flashlight under the driver seat.
When you’re in a car for such an extended period, clutter will only exacerbate the feelings of confinement and discomfort. Throw away garbage at every gas station break.
Pit Stop Bag
We find that it’s good to have a small bag ready to take into any gas station restroom to help maintain your memory of what a clean human is. This way you can efficiently pee and then freshen yourself. Sometimes having cleanly brushed teeth can make you forget you’ve been the one in the driver seat for four hours, and it feels like a new morning.
My bag always has:
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, tongue scraper.
- Clean sweatpants or pajama shorts (whatever the opposite is of what I’m currently wearing, so I can go from shorts to pants, or pants to shorts).
- Clean underwear (no thongs, people.) and spare socks!
- Clean top. I like to layer when I’m roadtripping, so I’m almost always in a comfortable tank top with a zip-up jacket nearby. Having a scarf around is a surprising comfort-hack for when you’re sleepy and want to feel warm and cozy.
- Face wash, face lotion, & hand towel (gas station paper towels suck to dry your face with).
- Hair brush, hair ties, etc.
- Deodorant, and something that makes you smell good (just don’t overdo it).
- * OPTIONAL – Mascara (a full face of makeup is not the best idea, but sometimes mascara can make me feel human).
What do we stop for?
Gas – Obviously. I recommend downloading the GasBuddy app (not sponsored). It helps you see all the gas stations in the area, as well as compare the prices. You can also add in prices you see along the way and enter to win free gas money. Definitely a handy tip, not just for saving some money but also for safety reasons.
Pee Breaks – Always get gas during pee breaks, and always pee during gas breaks.
Food – This is rare. I always try to bring as much road snacks as possible, but sometimes it’s nice to have a hot meal without moving for 45 minutes. Yelp helps with this situation. It’s good to start looking on Yelp when you know you want to stop for a bite, say 30 minutes before you actually stop. And try to stick to large cities for food; you will have more options.
BIG TIPS: Weather & Safety
- Go ahead and make sure you have a decent data plan for your phone. You will want full access to your GPS, Yelp and a weather app at all times. I also recommend Spotify, and AirBNB if you plan on stopping anywhere.
- Download a weather radar app. MyRadar is great, and has saved my ass more than once. Give it permission to track your location in the background, and you will even get warnings for floods, tornados, etc. before you hit it.
- Large flashlight under driver seat. You don’t know what will happen, or what time of day you’ll be stuck on the side of the road. Plus if your flashlight is heavy, you can use it as protection if someone tries to hassle you.
- Make sure your auto insurance is all paid up BEFORE you go on the trip. You might need their help.
Driving Vs. Flying
The reason why we drive the distance instead of fly it, not only is it half as expensive as two plane tickets, but we also have to opportunity to bring gifts, and liquids, and not have to be as stingy with what we pack. Yes it is slower, and in some ways more dangerous, but with significantly more freedom and possibility for lovely moments. It is always an adventure when you drive.