Hitting the road with the family is a summer tradition for many. Here are some packing tips to make that trip smoother.
First things first: Get your vehicle travel-ready, says Salwa Jabado, associate editor at Fodor's Travel.
"Get a tuneup, get an oil change, check things like the wipers," she says. "And get AAA. If you lock your keys in the car, it makes things so much easier."
Also, clean out the car. Unload the junk in your trunk and leave it at home.
"The biggest mistake people make is taking too much," says Erin Bried, who devotes a section of her book, How to Build a Fire and Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew (Ballantine Books, $15), to prepping for a car trip. "You're going on a road trip to explore, to see the world. Why take 14 pairs of shoes?"
"People pack like they're going on an airplane trip," Jabado adds. "Rather than one huge, indestructible piece of luggage that fills the trunk, pack smaller duffel bags (for) each passenger."
Jabado also suggests packing baby wipes, paper towels and a roll of toilet paper "in case you have to make a stop at some gas station." Also pack bags for trash, resealable plastic bags for wet swimsuits, sweaters (that air conditioning can get cold), pillows, blankets and things to entertain the kids. Have a first-aid kit handy (it should be easily accessible).
Bring a crushable cooler, not that giant gonzo thing you use on the Fourth of July. Fill it with water, juice and healthy snacks.
Take only what you need. Bried suggests that before you start loading the car, set out all your stuff — "then put half of it back." Place what makes the cut in a number of small bags, then take it all outside and set it by the car. You'll get some visual perspective and a nice overview of the packing job ahead.
"I think it's a good idea to have one person handle the packing," Bried suggests. "Others can carry things out, but have just one person packing."
Put the biggest item in first, and place the little packages around it — "work the angles," as Bried says. Take your time; think of this as a sort of jigsaw puzzle.
If you can lock your vehicle in your garage or another secure location overnight, pack the night before. If you wait till the morning of your trip, you might rush things and get careless.
Avoid loading up your roof. It can make the vehicle top-heavy and unstable.
"Unless you're going for a really long time, you should be able to pack efficiently enough to fit it all in the car," Bried says. "This sounds a little wonky, but gas prices are going up, and the more you tie to the top of the car, the more gas you're going to use. Everything you pack will cost you a little more money."