After all, this is the part of your move that you will have to handle entirely on your own – your professional movers will be of minimal help here.
Luckily, we have done all of the leg work and research for you. In this article, you will learn the ins and outs of packing up your own car before moving long-distance, including:
- De-cluttering your car before movers arrive for pick up
- Compiling a checklist and prioritizing what you should take with you in your car
- Deciding whether or not you should buy an overhead carrier for extra items
- Prioritizing your packing within your personal vehicle to optimize accessibility for important items
- Car packing basics that will make your own long-distance drive as safe as possible
- A detailed FAQ covering this entire process
Prioritizing Essential Items
Obviously, the distance of your move will determine the amount that you ultimately decide to take with you in your car. However, that doesn’t affect what you’ll be taking with you. You will still need clothing, toiletries, snacks, a first aid kit, a car emergency kit, and a number of other items in order to make a seamless trip to your new home.
It should go without saying that you won’t be packing all of your clothing in your car. You will only need a certain number of outfits, depending on how many days you spend on the road. This means you will need to calculate how many days your trip will take. Assuming that your move is of the typical cross-country variety, you will be able to cover a fair amount of the distance on interstate highways. All things going well, you can assume 55-60 miles covered every hour, accounting for bathroom breaks and other short stops.
This equates to roughly 8 hours or 450 miles of driving per day for the average person. Of course, you can push yourself further than this, but if you aren’t used to long drives, it’s important to account for fatigue. Even though you’re sitting still, long drives are a surprisingly draining activity. Your movers will be moving at a slightly slower rate than that, due to DOT drive time laws, as outlined by the FMCSA. Even if you can move at a faster rate, it likely won’t impact how quickly you’re able to move into your new home.
Divide the total distance of your move by expected miles per day in order to get your expected travel time. Be sure to pack at least one more set of clothes than you expect to use. It always serves to be prepared.
With the abundance of convenience stores off of highway exits, you can always buy more of this essential item group at any point during your drive. These stops will often take you further out of your way than is reasonable and will add to your total drive time. In case of emergencies, you should pack every toiletry item you could possibly need in a bag and keep it handy in your car’s front seats. This includes the obvious items: toothbrush and toothpaste, nail clippers, contact lens solution or eyeglass cleaner (if needed), soap and shampoo for stopovers in hotels, etc.
First Aid Kit
If you don’t generally keep one in your car, it could be a good idea to build a first aid kit from scratch before your extended road trip. The odds of you actually needing this during your trip are fairly low, but planning for emergencies is never a bad idea. You often won’t realize how many items in a basic first aid kit you took for granted until they are packed in a separate moving truck and unavailable to you. This should be kept in your glove compartment or center console for easy access.
Car Survival Kit
This is separate from your first aid kit, but similarly themed. This kit should include jumper cables, at least a quart of motor oil, extra coolant, basic tools (screwdriver, wrench, and pocket knife), and a high-powered flashlight. Strobe lights or roadside flares in case of a breakdown are a huge plus as well. These items can go in your trunk, as you will likely have to pull completely off the road to use them anyway.
Pillows and Blankets
This is more of a necessity if you have passengers traveling with you. But, these items could be of use if you are traveling alone and need a nap along the way. If you are planning on sleeping in your car, instead of in motel beds during your road trip, these items will quickly become essentials.
No one wants to go on a road trip without having ready access to food along the way. Aside from this, grocery store trips can be incredibly time-consuming. Any potential alterations to your timetable for arrival should be avoided, if possible.
First and foremost, any items that you cleared out of your home safe or lockbox should be kept close by at all times. Social security cards, deeds and titles, checkbooks, birth certificates, and any other such forms are included in this.
Any other small antiques or sentimental breakable items should be packed in with your clothing if you must take them in your car. This is the most space-efficient way to protect them.
De-Clutter Your Car
Before embarking on a long-distance move, de-cluttering your car is as necessary as de-cluttering your old home. Depending on the number of passengers, as well as the length of your road trip, you may be forced to make use of all of the tight spaces your car has to offer. Any trash or non-essentials should either be disposed of or packed for your cross country movers to take.
It could be worth your time to stop by a local car wash that has free vacuums and make use of their facilities. Cleaning dirt and small clutter out of your car will make its interior space feel larger, which will make your packing process less overwhelming.
Buy Overhead Storage If Needed
If you have a long drive ahead, a small car, or a number of passengers sharing your car space with you, an overhead storage unit could be an essential purchase. This is a great place to keep anything that won’t be needed immediately during the drive, including extra clothing or blankets.
The name brand in this area is Thule, whose products’ price points begin in the $300 to $400 range, and only go up from there. Similar to many name-brand products, you can find these used, on Craigslist, for a fraction of that cost.
Prioritize When Packing Your Car
Items that you know you won’t immediately need, like excess clothing or toiletries, should be packed away in your trunk, or in an overhead container. When packing these things, vacuum bags can be of great use to you as a space-saving solution. You should do all that you can to avoid packing heavily over your spare tire if it is stored in your trunk. On the off-chance that you do need to use it, a poorly thought-out packing job could result in an unnecessary headache for you.
Your semi-essential items, like toiletries, pillows and blankets, and more, should be loaded into your trunk, backseat, or overhead container after all non-essentials are squared away.
Essential clothing, that you know you will likely wear over the course of your trip, should be packed into your car last. They should preferably sit in a spot by one of your rear doors, for ease of access.
The remaining items, such as important documents, your emergency kits, and food, should ideally be kept within arm’s reach. Documents can be kept in your glove box, while first aid kits can go under the passenger seat (not in any of the footwells, if you can help it.) Snacks and water can be kept on your passenger seat if it is open.
Anything that you take in your car should be packed in garbage bags or other plastic bags. Remember, space is at a premium. Any boxes packed should have gone with the movers – full-sized cardboard boxes have a way of eating up precious space. The same goes for luggage, especially when packing clothing. Bags are far more malleable, and able to fit within tight areas.
Packing for Safety
Windows and Visibility
It should go without saying, but your visibility through your rear windows and windshield should never be obstructed by anything you’ve packed. Especially since your long drive will likely take you over heavily traveled highways, any lack of visibility is a huge safety hazard to you and others. If you need to pack your car to the brim in order to fit everything, buying an overhead storage container or renting a tow-behind trailer are far superior options.
This goes hand-in-hand with packing for optimal visibility. Loading your car up with heavy items (or just packing it to the brim) can cause your vehicle to ride differently than you’re used to on the open road. Remember, you only need immediate access to essential items. Packing smartly and safely will lead to increased safety for you, as well as other motorists on the road.
Car Packing FAQ
What items shouldn't I take in my car when moving cross-country?
The list of items which you shouldn’t take with you is nearly identical to the list of things long-distance movers won’t transport. Any flammable or toxic chemicals most likely are not a good idea to have sitting in close proximity to your person – at least not for a period of days. Most items on this banned goods list wouldn’t qualify as essential things, that you would need day-to-day anyway.
When should I begin preparing my car to be packed for my move?
The packing process in general should begin about two months out from your move, around the time when you get your moving quote. As you’re going through your home over the last couple of weeks before moving day, you should begin to place items aside in a specific place to be taken in your car.
You should actually start packing your car the day before you’re scheduled to move. Since many of the items you’re taking with you are essential to your day-to-day life, you won’t want to lose access to them for too long.
Should I pack an essentials box in my car for when I reach my new home?
If you have any non-banned items that you’re either on the fence about or know you’ll need immediately for move-in, you should pack an essentials box to be placed at the end of your moving truck for easy access. You won’t be able to do much cleaning or prep work on your new home before your movers arrive anyway.
If there is a chance you’ll arrive in your new city or town well before your belongings, you should pack your car with extra clothing and an air mattress to avoid the potential cost of an added hotel stay.
Are there any non-banned items I should avoid packing in my car?
Generally speaking, heavier items should go with your movers. Their trucks are far more equipped to handle the added weight than your car is. Fragile items should be packed away on the moving truck as well. Antiques, no matter how valuable, have little place alongside essential items on a cross-country drive. If you have full valuation insurance on your goods, it’s always better for your moving company to assume liability for their safety.
Can my movers help me to pack my car?
Yes. Your movers will happily help you to complete most tasks that are directly related to moving. Even though this is typically the most DIY area of your move, they should be quick to help out and to give packing tips as needed.