How to Organize Your Car for a Road Trip

This post is part of the Ultimate List of Road Trip Essentials.

After driving hundreds of miles a day, we really learned to identify gear that improved our ability to travel well and have fun doing it. We wanted to share our insight to help those who are new to roadtripping or just looking for new tips and tricks.

For reference we don’t have a large car – we’re driving a small sedan and there isn’t much built-in organization. When Penny and I embarked on our first cross-country road trip together we did a lot of planning to make our car as usable and comfortable as possible. Over time we realized that could have used the space more efficiently and that road trip organization is always a work in progress. This post will walk you through our process.

First, we analyzed what we needed to do while in the car. Here is what we came up with:

• Store Penny’s small items like a phone, mints, scrunchies, sunglasses, etc.
• Store trash until we found a place we could throw it away.
• Store stuff for our animals like treats and poop bags.
• Keep all our beverages handy.
• Easily access items we use on a regular basis or would need in case of an emergency.
• Safely mount the phone we use for navigation and music.
• Seep our phones charged.

During our first cross-country trip we used our small sedan’s built in organization areas and found it wasn’t enough. Sometimes, Penny and I used the cup holders for our phones and wallets but then there was no room for our water or coffee. We liked to have snacks near the front seats in case we found ourselves hungry during a long drive or a few energy drinks in case we needed a jolt. We quickly realized we needed more room and started to think of solutions. Enter the humble Slim Side Pocket. This little organizational pocket is, as advertised, very slim. It’s designed to stick to the side of your center console although you can place it anywhere that the tape will adhere. There is a division in the middle of the pocket so small items don’t slide from end to the other. This is great if you’re using it for small items like phones or wallets but if you wanted place a longer item in it this won’t work for you. Regardless, we were incredibly happy to invest in some extra space and we recommend it for a long road trip.

When we travel we inevitably produce trash. Whether it’s from fast food wrappers, paper towels, or an empty lip balm tube, we don’t like to toss trash on the car floor. There is something about a dirty environment which makes a long road trip even longer. I’ve seen some people keep a small trash can on the floor of their vehicle in the backseat and for a shorter trip with less baggage this could work for you. Since we usually go for much longer drives and floor space is a commodity, we decided to work with the space we did have. We ended up finding a robust organizational bag, that hangs from the back of the seat headrests. You can either hang these from the back of the driver’s and front passenger’s headrest or if you don’t plan on having any passengers you can hang them facing toward the front (although not on the driver’s side). We bought two and used one for our trash (the waterproof liner really came in handy) and the other for dog treats, poop bags, and leashes.

Even with the slim side pocket and organization bag we still needed more! We had a place to store spare phones and small items, items for the dogs, and trash but we didn’t have enough space for all our beverages. Our sedan only has two cup holders and that’s great for an everyday commute but let’s say you and your passenger both have a coffee but you also want water (gotta stay hydrated!) – you’re going to want to keep your water bottle close by without it rolling all over the floor.

We also like to keep an atlas, a tablet, and a few energy drinks and whatever else within easy reach. It might be overkill for some people but if you’re like us you should take a look at a mesh organizer. It’s essentially a mesh storage pocket with a few separate layers that set up to rest between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. You can toss any number of oddly shaped items in the layers and they’ll stay put. Because the organizer is mesh, you can also easily see where everything is at all times. One unexpected perk was that it represented a physical boundary between the front and the back of the car for the animals. Yay!

With all of our storage needs out of the way we started to focus on the best way to mount our phone. We prefer to use our phone for navigation and music so it had to be a set-up where the driver could easily look over and see the maps view. Simply keeping it in a cup holder not only took up valuable space, it wasn’t as visible. We’ve used a lot of phone mounts over the years and finally found one that was clean, minimal and functional. The ProClip magnet mount is strong enough to hold something as large as a tablet without falling off but it’s also easy to adjust and take your phone off / put your phone on.

Last, but definitely not least, we needed a way to charge multiple devices at once. Since Penny and I each have a smart phone we opted for a USB car charger with 2 ports although some go up to as many as 4 ports if you have a lot of devices.

Whew! That’s a lot of information but the main points are:

1) Figure out what your needs are ahead of time and try to find solutions.
2) Understand that your organization system is always evolving.
3) Keep your stuff organized and you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy the trip.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions please let us know in the comment section below. We love to hear from you and look forward to sharing your tips!

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