Planning a Road Trip? Here’s What to Pack in the COVID Era

Feature Image: How do you pack for a road trip? Small spaces mean carefully planning your pack – JW editor Amanda knows all about that / Photo credit: mkzdillon on Shutterstock.com

Essential women-tested packing tips for food, camping and clothing

By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman

Updated May 2021

Disclaimer: Before travelling (even within your own province, territory, state or region), we recommend that you check for the most up-to-date information and guidance from local health and safety organizations.

Packing is a blood sport for me. The challenge of figuring out everything I need to bring with me for a trip and configuring it all into a carry-on and small daypack is as thrilling and satisfying as the classic Nintendo video game Tetris.

I look at my trip by day and activity and make lists. As I am a visual creature, I collect my items and arrange them in a flat-lay on the floor so I have an unobstructed view of everything on my list. Then the configuration games begin. I almost always bring more than I need, but as long as everything fits into my backpack or carry-on bag, I don’t sweat it.

Flat lay detail of what JourneyWoman editor Amanda takes in her carry-on on road trips

Packing for a road trip in the COVID era is akin to a new parent collecting everything they need for a simple outing. It always boggles my mind how one tiny human can need SO.MUCH.STUFF.

On the other side of almost a year of road tripping in my home province of Ontario (when restrictions allowed),  I have a host of tips and lists to fuel your domestic driving adventures.

Road trip packing strategy

  1. Like Santa Claus, make a list. Check it twice. But don’t sweat it if you forget something. Baby brain has nothing on COVID brain. Having compassion for yourself and being able to laugh about your foibles goes a long way. And really, forgetting things – even important things – is part of the adventure.
  2. Lay everything out on a flat surface so you can visually scan it. Put things in logical piles – outfits by day/activity, toiletries, COVID kit (sanitizer, masks, disinfectant), sleeping gear, cooking/food storage/food prep & washup gear, lighting, technology, etc. Check it one more time against your list. Think like Marie Kondo and put unnecessary, non-functional items away. Ask yourself: Will I really use this? How many times will I use it? How much time/effort/grief will it save me? Will it simply weigh my pack down?
  3. Make must-go and nice-to-have piles outside of your vehicle. Start with the unwieldy/awkwardly shaped must-go items and find the best configuration for them in your vehicle. Fill in around them with flexible must-go items. See how much room you have left for nice-to-haves. Triage that list. Say goodbye to the things that won’t fit – and try not to think about them once you’re on your way.
  4. Pre-shop for any food/beverage favourites that small towns may not stock and put them in your must-go pile. This one is key for a road trip that includes camping, where the surprise element of rain can put a damper on your day. My friends and I are in love with a bougie hydrator from Toronto’s Greenhouse Juice Company – spicy turmeric lemonade. At 20 calories and packed with pucker-your-mouth flavour, this is a guilt-free drink that tricks your tastebuds into believing you’re having something special. On each road trip, I pushed my friends into stopping to grab some – and we all ended up grateful that we each had one to start every morning off with.

Road Trip Packing for Safe COVID-era road trips

  • A selection of facemasks (and filters)
  • Hand sanitizer (I always carry a small one strapped to my backpack – now, that tiny squeeze bottle isn’t enough)
  • Thermometer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • My own set of reusable dishware (plate, bowl, cup, cutlery, cutting board) 
  • My own bedding and pillow
  • Towels
  • Weighted vest (for tuning into livestream F45 classes on the go)

Packing for a camping road trip in the COVID era presents a new set of configuration challenges, as there’s some unwieldy gear to pack on top of luggage. I have a two-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon – high on power and style, extremely low on trunk space.

There were so many essentials to squeeze into my Jeep on every road trip, which usually included at least two friends and their gear. I won’t lie – there was some sweating and swearing as I packed it all in. 

Maurrie Sussman and her sister Becky at each door of a vintage turquoise trailer

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Road trip packing list for camping

If, like me, you appreciate one-stop shopping for all of your gear, Canadian roadtrippers can’t go wrong with Canadian Tire and its Woods line — quality and affordability in one.

 

  • Your smart phone, with a road trip planning app downloaded to it. Last fall, I discovered Roadtrippers, a planning app that allows users to collaborate with friends, check traffic conditions, access offline maps, and discover the people, places, and experiences worth a detour. The best part: It’s ad-free.
  • A large Coleman cooler on wheels for food and beverages (when it’s full, I sweat it out strong-arming it into the back of a two-door vehicle and feel like Wonder Woman when I succeed)
  • Metal food boxes
  • Ropes/toolkit
  • Tent
  • Ice packs
  • Air mattresses
  • Pillows and sleeping bags
  • Rain tarps
  • Camping chairs
  • Canopy (in hot or rainy weather, artificial shade/rain cover is less luxury and more necessity)
  • First aid kit

Not sure if you’re a camper or a glamper? Read Carolyn Ray’s “Why Glamping Beats Camping” to consider the pros and cons.

Road trip packing tips for food

  1. Meal planning saves headaches and money. Using an Excel spreadsheet that you can print and pack for the trip, plan breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks per person per day. To save money, plan to have no more than one meal per day in a restaurant (check local pandemic restrictions in each of your road trip stops to avoid disappointment). Pre-buy and pack as much as you are able to, and prioritize a snack-and-beverage box including pre-made sandwiches for lunch for the drive to your first destination (snacks and lunch can be expensive roadside). Pre-planning ensures that you stay organized, no one plows though your stash off-schedule, and no one gets hangry.
  2. Use a cool head when it comes to packing and storing your cooler. Pack your cooler, then lay ice/ice packs on top to ensure even distribution of cold air. Make a pact with your fellow roadtrippers to only open the cooler a few times per day to keep your items cold and slow the melt. Keep your cooler out of direct sun. If you’re camping for multiple days, make note of the nearest gas station selling bags of ice and grocery store for food essentials, and plan daily stops. You can also invest in a 12V powered travel refrigerator for more off-grid camping, but when you’re out every day doing day trips, stopping to grab ice and essentials is fairly easy to do.
  3. Easy protein sources can save rainy-day meals. Rainy days happen on road trips and while camping. Some days, you might not be able to cook over a campfire, or you could be driving through a remote area with no restaurants for miles. Waiting for hours to eat makes for hangry roadtrippers. Packing peanut butter, pre-boiled eggs, and avocados, along with tortillas or pitas can save the day.

Road trip food essentials

For the cooler:

  • Boiled eggs
  • Pre-made bacon/egg  English muffins or wraps
  • Pitas/tortillas/scones/muffins
  • Pre-made salads
  • Deli meats/pepperettes
  • Cut veggies
  • Dips
  • Hard cheeses/string cheese
  • Avocados
  • Beverages

Non-perishables & snacks

 

  • Beef/vegan jerky
  • Buns
  • Protein bars
  • Granola bars
  • Nuts
  • Trail mix
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Popcorn/chips/pretzels
  • Dry cereal / granola
  • Individual packets of condiments (saves space and the need to refrigerate)
  • Water (for drinking and cleaning up)

Discover More on the Road

Amanda Burgess, a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure, is our Editor at JourneyWoman. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it.

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2 Comments

  1. Jan

    There are several good lists online for camping/and or travelling. Print one or several off, tick off the items as you pack them and then take the list with you so when you’ve packing to come home you’ll know if you have everything. It’s amazing the things we forget to take and a list saves a lot of grief.

    Reply
  2. Tamz

    Great article. Looking forward to the road trip that we will be taking soon 🙂 I definitely agree with the meal planning tip in order to save money.

    Reply

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