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How to Organize Your Car For a Road Trip

 (modified Aug 3, 2022)

A family road trip should be an exciting time for everyone involved. The reality is it can often descend into an anxiety ridden couple of hours thinking about all the things you've forgotten. It pays to be prepared and when you organize your car it helps your mental health as well! Car organization is one of the most important aspects of planning a good trip. We'll lay out a plan you can use to help keep your car clean and organized.

Start with a Plan

The first step in making sure a long road trip is a positive family bonding experience instead of a stress filled journey is to start with a plan. We like to start with a list, let every family member contribute — you may not end up taking everything on the list with you, but it's a great starting point.

Pack Your Essentials

Once you have your list filled with everyone's input it's time to start slimming it down to the essentials. While it would be nice to bring everything that everyone wants on the trip, you have a limited amount of space available. After everyone's agreed on the REAL essential items it's time to begin to organize your car.

Road trip

On to the Car — Organize Your Car by Section

It makes things easier if you think of your car in different sections. The front seat area is one section, the back seat area is another and the trunk is a separate section. Be sure to enlist the help of family members when planning your car organization. Each section of your car will be organized differently, with different items in each area based on the needs of the occupants in those areas and the needs of your trip.

Organizing Your Car's Front Seat

Starting in the front seat area is usually a good idea. This is the main navigational area and you'll want to make sure you have the essentials close at hand. Start with the center Console and Glove Compartment. Make sure you really take advantage of all the free space available to you in these parts of the vehicle.

Some ideas for items to keep in these areas include:

  • Charging cords
  • Lighter power adaptors
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra trash bags
  • Simple, easy access snacks
  • Important paperwork
  • Any printed maps or directions
Using glove box as storage

Organize Your Car's Door Storage Pockets

One area that’s often overlooked when families are organizing for a road trip are the car’s storage pockets located in the doors. They are a great place to keep some items you may want to have within easy reach as you drive. These are things such as tissues, paper towels, printed maps or even a pack of gum if you like to chew while you drive.

It’s best not to keep items with a lot of value in these pockets like wallets or cell phones. If you open your door too fast and forget they’re there they could end up flying out — leaving you wallet-less or with a broken phone.

Organize Your Car's Under Seat Space

You only have a limited amount of space available to you when organizing your car for a road trip, so you’ll want to take advantage of all available space. An area that’s usually overlooked is the space under your car seats. You won’t get too much under there, but it can be a great place to keep a couple of items you may need at some future point. This includes extra garbage bags or maybe a small umbrella — just remember to store any items carefully so that they don’t get tangled in the chairs mechanism.

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Organize Your Car's Rear Seat Area

If you have kids you’re going to want to take extra care organizing your rear seat area. Keeping young children entertained or teenagers engaged can be a challenge. Here are some great things you can do to create the perfect rear seat space on a long road trip:

  • Use the seat storage pockets in front of rear seat passengers for snacks
  • Purchase a car seat organizer that can sit between passengers for easy access
  • Add over the seat organizers for games, coloring books, markers and other items your kids may want at easy reach
  • Bring a blanket for pets to keep fur off your seat cushions
  • Add a backseat trash bag or portable can
  • Purchase portable lap desks for each child for eating, coloring and playing
  • Add an over the seat DVD/Tablet holder for movies and video games
  • Bring pillows and blankets for nap time

Organize Your Car's Trunk or the Back Storage Area in an SUV/Minivan

The trunk of a car or rear storage area in a minivan or SUV is probably the most important area when you’re packing for a long trip. It’s where all your luggage will be stored, but it’s also the place you’ll want to keep some emergency and must have items. If you’re not sure what these might be, here are a few great ideas to get you started:

  • Trunk organizer
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Blankets
  • Folding nylon camping chairs
  • Umbrella
  • Rain Coats
  • Extra clothes/shoes (more for day trips)
  • Lighter powered air pump
  • Beach bag
SUV organized luggage for road trip

Genius Car Organization Hacks

The space you have in your car is limited. You need to make the most of your car during the road trip, you'll need all the genius car organization hacks you can get. The goal is also to keep your car clean -nobody likes leaving a mess in the car. Here are some more car organization tips:

  • Use a plastic drawer organizer inside the center console to store small supplies (the dollar tree is a great place to find one)
  • Your cup holders can be used to hold more than a travel mug, use this space for extra loose items
  • Place a small, transparent file folder in your glove box for documents you need easy access to, like passports (find a cheap one on amazon)
  • Buy short containers or a basket that can slide under your car seats for extra storage

Other Common Car Trip Questions:

How Do You Prepare for a Long Car Trip?

If you've followed the steps we've outlined above you should be well prepared for your trip by now. Of course you may have additional ideas that can make your trip more organized and you should definitely include them in your prep work. Some other supplies you may want to bring are extra tissue boxes and water bottles. You also want to ensure your vehicle has plenty of free space on the floor so your passengers don't feel cramped, including enough leg room.

How Often Should You Stop on a Road Trip?

There isn't one right answer to this question. If you're traveling with young kids or older adults you may need to stop a couple of times an hour so look for good locations along your route. For a group of young adults, a stop once every couple of hours to stretch and hit the bathroom should be more than enough. You may even choose to plan some stops along the way to visit a store or two that you may not usually have the chance to visit. When bringing items back into the vehicle from the store you visit, it's always a great ideas to toss out any plastic wrappers, empty water bottles and other trash to keep the care mess free.

Road trip pit stop

What Are Fun Things to Take on a Road Trip?

This is another question that doesn't have one right answer. For young children you might want to bring along lots of games, puzzles and coloring books. Adults probably won't need all of these. The best advice is to consider your family's interests, the amount of room you have available and pack accordingly. For younger kids, a few toys may be a good idea. You can store smaller toys in the glove box to prevent the vehicle from becoming messy.

How Should I Pack for a Family Road Trip?

We've covered a lot of tips about how to prepare and organize your car for a family road trip, but how do you pack for it? We each have different needs, but one key piece of advice is to never pack more than you need and to be honest with yourself. Chances are you don't really need to bring 5 pairs of shoes! For a complete list of 55 items you might want to pack for your road trip check out this list created by The Road Trip Expert.

If you think it may be a while between restaurants, bringing snacks or other finger food in containers is a great idea.

Organize Your Car and Have A Great Trip

With a little advanced preparation you can turn a dreaded long road trip into a fun family adventure. These tips are a great starting point in making that next long road trip a memorable one. We wish you well on your travels!

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