Road Trip: Packing for a Year Advice

The planning and packing preparation for this trip started long before we actually left.  The first step started when we gave up our NYC apartment.   We strategically packed the boxes: pre-trip or post-trip.  Not only that, we made sure to label which room the box should go to when we open it again.  For example, “post-trip kitchen appliances”.  

Anything that was post-trip was never opened and was moved directly to my grandma’s attic.  By creating a clear divide when we were packing, it eliminated second-guessing and the added hassle of unpacking and repacking all of our belongings.  

We went through quite a few location changes after we left NYC.  We stayed at a family friends’ house, with Sam’s parents in NC, and with my parents in NJ.  When we packed our stuff from each step of the journey, we edited more items out.  The amount we tagged as pre-trip was ridiculous and unnecessary. 

We thought through how we would want to transport our belongings, in a car we had yet to buy.  It was uniquely done.  If I were to give advice to someone else, buy the car before you buy the storage that is going in the car.  We are traveling with 3 big plastic bins: 1 for cleaning & medicine, 1 for kitchen utensils and 1 for pantry items.  

The entire time we were searching for a car, I kept measuring how big the back was with the seats down in comparison to cars we own/have rented.  There were definitely cars that were eliminated from the mix because their storage space was not sufficient to drive across the country.

Packing The Car: Trial Run

Assuming you will be smarter than we were and own the car before you start planning, do a trial run of packing the car first.  What do I mean by this? Take every backpack, suitcase, plastic bin, etc. that you wish to bring with you and fit it into the car.  You can do this trial run with them all empty.  

Make sure you save a little room if your suitcases have expanders.  A helpful tip: if your drivers are different sizes, set the drivers’ seat to the larger person’s adjustments to make sure your belongings fit behind both of you.

Once your car is “packed”, take a lot of pictures.  You will need to pack it the same way every time and it will be easier if you and your partner are working with the same roadmap.  By having the layout agreed upon beforehand, you can split the workload between packing the car and other last minute tasks.   

Now that you have all of your vessels to travel with, these are the guidelines for what you can pack.  If you can fit all of your stuff within these vessels, you are golden.  If you cannot fit all of your stuff, time to go back to the editing stage.  

I have been on my trip for a little over a week and there are clearly items that I am grateful I packed and others that will have to earn their spot in the car.  My top 3 most-used items are a candle, my pillow, and a personal blanket.  It is no surprise that these are all comfort items.  Make sure you are not editing them all out, so you can make each spot feel like home.   

Elaina’s Thought Process for Packing

The process of packing my clothes was extensive.  I started editing my clothes based on what fit, what I still liked, the quality, and what I wanted to own when I was 27/28.  This last part may seem silly, but back in March, I still owned quite a few things that I had worn in high school.  

Taking a trip at this stage of my life allowed me to evaluate all of my belongings and let go of anything that I did not want to be wearing in my late 20s.  I started the process of letting go with my Winter clothes in March and then went through the process again the week before we left with my Summer clothes.

I created 3 piles: keep, donate, & try to sell.  For the last option, I tried to sell my items on ThredUp.  They make it super easy. Follow along on their website for best tips & tricks.

Once I had all of the clothes I wanted to keep, I still had too many to take on this trip.  I do not have attachment issues with a lot of belongings, but I definitely do with my clothes.  Because of this, I decided to write out how many of each type of clothing I wanted to pack.  This way, I knew I wouldn’t overpack.  One of the hardest parts of packing for this road trip, besides the fact that it has to fit in the car, is that it is for such a long time.  I needed to pack for different seasons and occasions.  

Step-by-Step Packing Instructions

First Step

Look at the different temperatures and weather in each location.  Figure out how the weather translates into clothing.  For my trip, it was clear that I would need more Fall/Winter clothes than Summer.  I tried to pack with the ability to layer.  If an article of clothing could only serve one purpose, it likely did not make it.

Second Step 

Pick your neutrals.  In our everyday lives, we aim to be stylish and diverse.  Not while packing to travel around the country.  For most people, including me, the neutral I chose was black.  I do not like to mix black with brown or navy.  Therefore, anything that was brown or navy or I would want to pair with brown or navy was immediately eliminated.

Third Step 

Write out your detailed packing list.  For a normal trip, a packing list that says “dresses” or “one-pieces” could be fine.  For a trip like this, the packing list should say “casual dresses, fancy dresses, jumpsuits, rompers, etc.”  Another place to be specific is with t-shirts.  Separate out graphic tees, nicer tees, and long-sleeve tees.  You want to make sure you are covered in all areas.

Fourth Step 

Lay out your options.  I took all of my clothes category by category and I laid them out on the dining room table.  As I made my selections, the items that would not be coming with me went directly into storage plastic bins.  There were some categories that were easy because I only owned a few and that was how many I needed.  There were other categories that took more effort, like sweaters, because there are so many different types: varying necklines, weights, styles, colors, etc.  I kept making choices and circling back to make sure I still agreed with those choices.

Fifth Step

Leave room for shopping. When you are packing, it is best to save room for items you will pick up along the way.  It would be a mistake to bring 100% of the items needed and not be able to shop in the amazing places you are about to be in.  

I tried to identify what categories I would likely want to shop in.  

Sixth Step

Put your items in your suitcases.  Start with figuring out which items should go in which vessels.  For efficient weight distribution, put your shoes at the bottom.  For optimizing the space, roll your clothing.

I was almost done before I realized I had so much extra room in my bag.  I packed everything with extra room & without using the expander.  (I am curious to see how my bag looks when I come back.)  To note, rolling may optimize space, but it also makes your bag extremely heavy.  If you or your partner cannot handle the weight, think through using a few smaller bags.

What About Your Other Stuff?

The second half to packing for a year is storing.  There were a lot of items that were tagged “keep”, but did not fit in our car.  It is important to have a plan on how to store them to make sure they are in good condition for your return.  We thought through different temperatures & weights, where we were storing items, and what we were storing them in.  All of our clothes are packed away in plastic bins, Sam’s guitar is on the main level of my parents house (with temperature control), and my grandma started putting plastic over our furniture to help keep them dust-free.

Moving is the best and the worst.  Even when you have a plan, it can be extremely stressful.  Moving away for a year is that experience to the 19th power.  On the other hand, packing allows you to declutter your life and signals the start of a new chapter.  I am proud of the hard work Sam & I put into editing and storing our stuff.  Now, when we come home, we will have a fresh start.  


Create a routine for packing, including a detailed packing list, for your next trip.  Make it a goal to become an efficient traveler, even on small trips.  This way, when the big ones come along, you can be stress-free.

*I apologize, I did not take a single picture during this process, it was too hectic.

Elaina Pearl
Elaina Pearl
I started Elaina Pearls as an outlet to share my voice. The topics I write about cover fashion, lifestyle, & travel. On every post, you will find a challenge to spark self-growth. I believe that each day there is a lesson to be learned and something to be grateful for.