USA Road Trip Packing List

Laura Lopuch

Take your Setout Divide on your next road trip and enjoy the mental benefits of packing light. Model your road trip packing list after your flying packing list with a few exceptions. Enjoy the lack of restrictions on liquid size and bring your larger bottle of sunscreen and bug spray.

A good bag isn’t just for catching your next flight. A really good bag can survive tons of different types of adventures and make each one better.

If a bag makes it onto my favorites list, it’s my go-to bag for all my awesome adventures. One of my favorite ways to scratch the travel bug is to take a winding, mesmerizing road trip through the vastness of America’s scenic roads a la John Steinbeck.

This summer, I’m embarking on my biggest road trip to date: Denver, to Idaho, to Montana, to Oregon, to California, and finally to Nevada. It’s spanning about 3,800 miles, lasting 12 days, with 2 dogs as backseat navigators, seeing 17 family members and friends, and hitting 39 scenic pull-offs.

Just kidding on the last fact, I have no idea how many scenic pull-offs the famous Highway 101 encompasses!

I’m packing in my Setout Divide.

Road Trip Packing List

All of this fits in my Setout Divide and is enough for my two week road trip:

  • 1 Swimsuit
  • 3 Short-sleeve shirts
  • 1 3/4-sleeve shirt
  • 2 Tank-tops
  • 1 Jersey maxi dress
  • 2 Pairs of shorts
  • 6 Pairs of underwear
  • 6 Pairs of socks in a packing cube
  • 1 Baseball hat
  • 1 Cardigan for cool summer nights
  • Work out clothes pulling triple duty: pjs at night, pool cover-up, work out clothes
  • 1 Jacket for chilly days
  • 1 Pair of jeans (wearing first day of travel)
  • Sandals for dressing up or casual (on bottom of bag)
  • Running shoes (wearing first day of travel)

The “3-1-1 Free” Toiletries Packing List

Happily, on a road trip, we’re not constrained to the TSA’s carry-on rules for liquids and toiletries, so we can pack a little more comfortably in that department, but there’s still no need to carry a second bag!

  • Old contact lens case with BB cream and daily face moisturizer
  • Old contact lens case with night moisturizer and coconut oil for make-up remover, moisturizer, cure-all
  • Travel-sized contact lens solution
  • Travel-sized toothpaste
  • Dry shampoo (aerosol, baby! I’m saving my powder dry shampoo for flights.)
  • Regular-sized Neutrogena oil-free sunscreen
  • Dr. Bronner’s soap
  • Travel sized spray bottle of sea salt spray taken from regular-sized bottle
  • Travel-sized bottle of x face wash taken from regular-sized bottle
  • Cream blush
  • Mascara
  • Eye-liner
  • Aerosol bug spray

Why Pack Light for a Road Trip?

Why, when I’ve got the entire car to fill to my heart’s content, am I choosing to pack light? Why not bring a rolling Samsonite suitcase? Why not indulge and stuff my car to its gills as I hit the road?

I’m glad you asked. There are a few reasons.


Have you ever watched the Top Gear episode in which the three hosts compete to drive from Switzerland to north England on one tank of gas?

That trip is about 1400 kilometers (855 miles). Before departing, the hosts strip their cars of any unnecessary weight. They empty their cars’ trunks, ditch any unneeded items, and aim for light.

Why? It saves on gas.

The more weight packed into the car, the more fuel your car consumes to get that weight moving. Think about a heavy-set linebacker. Once that brick-wall of a guy gets moving, there’s no stopping him. But it takes some energy to get him going.

Same its true with your car. You don’t need to lug around extra items in your trunk to guarantee a better trip. Pull a Jack Kerouac — simply hop in your car with your backpack and go.

Your wallet will thank you. So will the planet.

Mental Fleetness

What the heck is that?

It’s a type of mental flexibility, or adaptability, that lets you switch gears quickly and be open to change.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to adapt when you’re lugging a huge suitcase. You have to plot out a route through the maze, over the bridge, and down the steps, instead of just going.

It’s the difference between taking the stairs and waiting in line for the elevator. Or, snagging your backpack from the car’s trunk and checking into your hotel in five minutes, as opposed to spending a precious hour unpacking the trunk and sweatily hauling bags up to your room only to stack them in a  little pile along one wall where they’ll sit.

Opt for flexibility and take that unknown little road jutting off the interstate. Explore it without worrying that your heavy trunk might bottom out on a dirt road and find that private, pristine beach waiting for you at the end of the road.

Openness to New Experiences

Travel exposes you to new thinking, challenges, and adventures. But, to experience the life-altering effects of travel, you have to be prepared, and that means not barricading yourself behind piles of extra stuff.

Once you’ve stripped away the things protecting you from taking new steps (a.k.a. another suitcase filled with items you “might need”) you can finally let yourself be molded by new experiences. It’s the age-old idea of discarding the old to make room for new.

Also, that extra room in your trunk means you can bring home some mementos of your travels, instead of wasting countless hours rearranging your car to squeeze another iota of space from it.

Be Resourceful, Like Indiana Jones

I like a little self-torture. No, wait, not torture — I mean challenge. I take perverse joy in intentionally setting myself up for a hard challenge and beating all odds. Think of it like a competition with yourself. Last time you packed in an expandable duffel bag, this time you’re going lighter, in a backpack.

A road trip is the perfect chance to try your hand at this.

For example, don’t road trip with your entire tool box in tow just in case your car breaks down. Instead, take only the necessary tools you always seem to need to fix basic issues (screwdriver, pliers, wrench) to figure out the problems when they pop up.

Think of this like the Indiana Jones method. He can take off in a plane without knowing exactly how to land, betting he’ll figure it out when the time comes. (True, he does crash into a field full of cows, but no harm, no foul, right?)

Resourcefulness is taking life as it comes at you and figuring it out along the way. You don’t need a bag full of tools or extra items to do this. You just a need a go-get-’em attitude on your road trip.


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