I’m a Notorious Over-Packer: Here’s How I Got Through a Week-Long Road Trip with One (GASP) Duffle Bag

Four states with only two pairs of shoes? EVERYONE BREATHE — it’s going to be OK.
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Caitlin Thornton
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Four states with only two pairs of shoes? EVERYONE BREATHE — it’s going to be OK.

I do not come from a road trip family. And this, I’ve learned, is the fundamental difference between people who are fine with jumping into a car to trek across the country, and those who don’t understand why anyone would suffer such a feat when airplanes exist.

luggage at airport to move

What me and ex-man left with when we moved from NYC to L.A.

My mom’s motto: “Why spend ten hours in a car when you can get on a plane and be in the same place in two?”

Every time I’ve moved to a different state, I sell most of my stuff, ship the rest, check a couple bags, and fly to my new hometown. I’d never been in a car for more than six hours.

The cross-country drive seems to be a rite of passage in the States, though. Speeding through the mind-numbing flatlands of Kansas or Texas. Stopping in weird gas stations to play with knick-knacks and pick up more beef jerky. Seeing the topography change. Getting giddy when you pass a state line.

As someone who’s obsessed with all things Americana, a road trip felt like something I had to do. But I couldn’t justify being behind the wheel — and in that strange headspace when you’re on cruise control — for hours on end. Plus, I hate beef jerky.

When my friend invited me along in the U-Haul he had drive from Los Angeles to Miami (his new home), I deflected with, “Uh, we’ll see.”

Once the truck was packed and he offered to fly me home(!!) from New Orleans, I said, FINE, I’LL GO.

I really wanted to visit NOLA.

The only issue? I suck at packing.

Dipping out to take trips to Big Sur, the desert, or even have a staycation around L.A. is my jam. Knowing I can escape to a cabin in a forest or a trailer in Joshua Tree with NO INTERNET CONNECTION is one of the reasons I love living in Southern California.

Having a car makes overpacking easy. I usually book an Airbnb, throw half my belongings in the trunk, and take off.

“You have the most bags I’ve ever seen in my life,” my friend Doug said when I spent one night in his ‘hood near the beach.

The weekend before Dude-Bro and I left L.A., I crashed at his room in the Ace Hotel Downtown. I brought five pairs of shoes.

“I didn’t know what we’d be doing!” I said as I dumped my stuff out on the floor. I looked at his Herschel Duffle and whispered, “One day I’ll be like you…”

With the U-Haul jam-packed, Dude-Bro politely asked if I could bring a little less than my five bags overflowing with beauty products, shoes, and multiple outfit options?

Later, as I shoved my single Adidas bag in the truck and he stared at it in shock, I smirked. “That’s it?” he asked. “I’m impressed.” We high-fived.

caitlin thornton grand canyon

No need for all of the makeup at the Grand Canyon!

It only took me like, two hours, and way too much brain power. But here’s how I [under] packed for a week-long trip:

SAMPLES GALORE

Finally! A reason to delve into the ridiculous basket of beauty samples I’ve been hoarding.

basket of beauty samples for travel

Tell me you have something similar...

If you're a Sephora VIB and/or have subscribed to Birchbox, I'm sure your drowning in baby BB creams, tiny tubes of hair oil, and packets of lotions and cleansers, like I am. 

Since I have my beauty routine on lock-down, I'll rarely pull out samples until it's time to take a trip.

My minis included BB cream, shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, moisturizer, eye cream, and a bottle of hair oil

And yeah, the change in skin care products made me break out at first. After a couple of days my skin adjusted and cleared up. I ended up loving Dermalogica's Special Cleansing Gel ($36, dermalogica.com) and Dr. Brandt's CC Glow cream ($39, sephora.com).

DUAL-PURPOSE PRODUCTS

goody quikstyle brush jurlique spf multi purpose products

Goody QuikStyle Half Round Brush ($6.09, target.com); Jurlique Sun Specialist SPF40 High Protection Cream ($38, jurlique.com

My hair takes FOREVER to dry — and I knew the toddler-sized hairdryers and paper-thin towels in roadside motels probably wouldn't let me achieve an amazing blowout (although Alison would totally pishposh my old-school towel-wrapping). 

I used Goody's QuikStyle Half Round Brush with Microfiber Bristles to speed up my styling in lieu of my beloved hairdryer and boar bristle paddle brush.

During the packing process, I also swapped out my two bottles of face sunscreen and body sunscreen for Jurlique's SPF40 for face AND body. 

Jurlique's an Australian brand, and my friend from Sydney told me she thinks it's weird Americans use different creams for face and body for sun protection. Since she's from a country where YOU WILL BURN without sunscreen, I trusted her and went with the dual-purpose SPF. It's light, not greasy in the slightest, and has a subtle floral scent.

BORING CLOTHES

plain clothes for travel

Not pictured: [Not enough] panties, a few pairs of dumb socks, the bikini I didn't wear. 

Also whilst packing, I went through many conflicting thoughts such as, "Pink motorcycle boots? NO PUT THEM BACK. Leather skirt? WE DO NOT NEED THAT! But my trusty Misfits halter top? EHH..."

woman santa fe snow

It was a bit colder in Santa Fe than I expected.

I ended up with an assortment of snoozefest clothes: Tank tops in oatmeal and black, a v-neck white T-shirt, two pairs of jeans (one in a dark wash and high-wasted, another skinny, lighter pair), white Chucks, black ankle boots, a white bra, a black bra, a denim shirt, and a pair of joggers that proved to be the utmost useful when Dude-Bro woke me up to hit the road at ungodly hours and I passed out in the truck right after we inhaled fast food breakfasts.

Another key item was my Wildfox scarf that doubles as a blanket. You know, for my daily road naps.

NEAT-O ACCESSORIES

cool accessories for travel

See me in usual man-flannel with no makeup or jewelry in the reflection of the rad, cat-eye alien sunglasses from Wildfox (similar, $179, wildfox.com).

OK, fine: Black-and-white clothes and cool accessories is not a new or novel packing method. I hardly wear jewelry — and if I do, I take it off within fifteen minutes — so bringing out the huge-ass earrings and necklaces was a change-up from my normal look, and made me feel sexy-hot when wearing dirty jeans, an oatmeal tank top, no bra, and perspiring in the Louisiana humidity as we waited for our flat tire to get replaced in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel

flat tire uhaul road trip

Watch out for those jagged curbs in Alexandria

Some Barbie-pink lipstick (mine is Great Pink Planet from Lime Crime, $18) also added a lil' somethin'-somethin' to my plain ol' outfits.

MAKING MY NATURAL HAIR TEXTURE [SHUDDER] WORK

Tell me what it is like to be you, person who can air dry your hair and have it look neat and nice. My lion's mane and I do not understand.

Post towel-brush, parting, and letting my hair air dry before giving into the loudest motel blowdryers, I used a Hot Tools 1-inch curling iron ($39.99, ulta.com) to fix up some kinks and then LET IT GO. My hair was massive, but the tight curls loosened up on the second day — thus helping me avoid some gnarly roadside showers.

WHAT I WISH I BROUGHT

MORE PANTIES: I truly believed I brought enough! When you're on your sweaty butt in a U-Haul for eight hours at a time, you can never have too many, apparently.

FRUIT: I have a tangerine tree, dammit. I thought they'd be messy to eat in the car. Finding a good piece of fruit in a gas station is a joke. I want to give a fruit basket to every trucker now.

in n out burgers roadtrip

In-N-Out is delicious. Vowing to eat green things forever as I look at this post-trip.

WHAT I’M HAPPY I BROUGHT

MULTIPLE LIP BALMS & MOISTURIZERS: How is it possible to sweat so much as your skin gets dry and crocodile-like? 

I brought tubes of hand and body lotions and a couple lip balms that were about to kick it so I could toss them along the trip.

A FULL STICK OF DEODORANT: See above.

YES TO CUCUMBERS FACE TOWELETTES ($5.79, target.com): Also great for face, hands, and sticky stomachs and chests.

A PERFUME ROLLER: I'm usually not so smelly... Or maybe I hit a second wave of puberty on this trip, who knows. I used Chloe Eau de Parfum ($25, sephora.com).

OTHER TIPS FOR SURVIVING MANY HOURS IN A VEHICLE

caitlin thornton roadtrip snapchat sunglasses

Bombarding friends with Snapchats is one way to pass the time.

PODCASTS! AND MORE PODCASTS!: I learned hundreds of fun facts during our 30+ hours of driving. My new favorite podcast is NPR's Invisibilia. We also downloaded the This American Life app to access a bunch of back episodes.

MAKE STOPPING AT GAS STATIONS AN ADVENTURE: Play with all of the knick-knacks. It gets entertaining eventually, I swear.

SAY NO TO CHOCOLATE SNACKS: Oh, is it hot outside? They're going to melt. It's freezing cold? Let's blast the heat and melt them, too! 

Exception: Eating all of the chocolate snacks immediately. 

WET-NAPS ARE CRUCIAL: Also, see above.

HANGOVERS ARE HELL: It’s tempting to explore each city by bar-hopping. However, nausea, pounding headaches, and chemically-induced bouts of anxiety will destroy your trip.

DODGY MOTEL 2-IN-1 SHAMPOO DOES HAVE A PURPOSE: As an excellent shave cream, should you choose to forego packing one.

That's all I got! What tips do you have for rad road trips? Are you a fellow over-packer? Should I consider not being so high-maintenance (LOL)? 

Follow me on Twitter: @caitlinthornton