Nothing beats the thrill of hitting the open road, exploring new places, and creating unforgettable memories along the way. However, having a well-organized car can really make or break your road trip experience. That’s why I’ve put together 15 amazing ideas to organize a car for a road trip, so you can focus on the journey and not worry about the mess.
After countless journeys across the country, I’ve perfected the art of road trip car organization. I used to just throw everything in the car (with no road trip packing list, meaning I often forgot tons of items) and hope I would be able to find it when I needed it later. You probably won’t be surprised to hear this doesn’t work – it took me way too long to find that one item I needed, and I’d have to open everything open to find it.
Fast forward to now, when I’ve gotten much smarter about organizing and can tell you exactly where any given item is with 99% accuracy, and now I’m here to share my advice with you. Whether you’re a road trip newbie or a seasoned pro, these organizing tips and hacks will be a game-changer. From simple storage solutions to handy gadgets, these ideas are all about making your life on the road much easier.
Quick Road Trip Organization Hacks
Here are a few tips to keep in mind before heading out on your trip:
- Don’t overpack. I used to be a chronic over-packer and didn’t really think about if I’d actually use an item or pack way too much food that I never ate. Take a few minutes to write down a list of what exactly you’ll use and how much of each item you’ll need to save some space before you even pack.
- Repurpose household items. While I have suggestions on this list of organization items to buy, you can also save money and get creative. Use empty tissue boxes as a plastic bag dispenser or a makeshift trash bin, and use an empty cereal container with a lid as a portable trash can.
- Keep essentials within reach. I got big on this in the past year, and it’s made road trips so much easier. Store items that you’ll frequently need, like snacks, drinks, and toys, within easy reach to minimize the need to rummage through your bags while driving.
- Clean out your car daily. At the end of each day, go through and throw out all the trash, recycle bottles, and put anything you’ve taken out back in its proper bag. You’ll thank yourself the next day.
15 Brilliant Ideas to Organize a Car for a Road Trip
These easy ideas for how to organize your car for a long road trip (like a Vancouver to Banff drive) will ensure you keep a clean and tidy car on your next exciting road trip.
Check out my family road trip checklist and get ready to organize like a pro.
1. Backseat Organizer
First things first, use every storage compartment provided in the car to stow the appropriate items away in the right places. These include cup holders, backseat jackets, and the doors’ side pockets. When you’ve exhausted all the car’s available storage compartments, backseat organizers are your next go-to.
These are useful for ensuring there is ample space for passengers in the backseat and that the car doesn’t feel cluttered and cramped. Most backseat organizers are attached to one or both of the front seats so that they hang facing the passengers at the back.
Backseat organizers come with separate pockets where you can store different items such as toys, stuffed animals, wet wipes, and fresh diapers. It’s also a good idea to store a few disposable bags (like car sickness bags).
Some organizers sit between the seats or on the floor and feature different compartments where you can place certain items. Using a backseat organizer leaves enough space for other items like pillows, small blankets, and neck rests. Remember, the aim is to create enough room for passengers to sit comfortably.
This comes in particularly handy when traveling with young ones, and I have more tips for a road trip with a baby.
2. Organizing Containers
If you’re like me and can’t stand the idea of bits and bobs lying all over the car, you’ll love this road trip organization hack. Use small, plastic organizing containers and bottles to store pens, medication, and hair ties in the center console. Here, they’ll be easy for the driver and the person sitting in the front passenger’s seat to reach when needed.
The center console is an important area in the car that needs to be well-organized and free from clutter. This is a prime spot for keeping coins and loose change (for toll gates on the road and parking fees when you make your stops) and light snacks (like mints, dried fruit, and sweets) for the passengers in front.
You can save some cash and look around your house for useful items to turn into organizing containers. Get creative with old plastic bottles (like those used for pills) or Q-tip containers. This is also a helpful idea on road trips with couples so you can keep your snacks separate (trust me, it helps).
Driving cross country with a dog? Make sure they have a container as well full of snacks, water, and poop bags!
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3. Cord Organizer
Have you ever gotten frustrated looking for the right cable or cord for a specific device? Or felt completely overwhelmed when you opened your glove box to find a jumble of cords all mixed up together?
Say goodbye to that problem for good by using a cord organizer to keep your cords in one place. These usually come in small and medium-sized cases and pouches with different colors and designs. You even get convenient cable organizers with different compartments where you can store your gadgets’ cords and chargers neatly.
4. Organize Your Glove Box
The glove box is the car’s command center and should always be as clean and organized as possible. Remove all items that aren’t needed for your trip (yes, that includes old receipts and dirty napkins from your favorite fast food joint). Only keep the essentials.
What are the essentials, you ask? Well, that’s easy. The items best kept in the glove box are your license and identity documents, cord case (see above), hand sanitizer, and tissues. It’s also handy to keep all-purpose wet wipes, a flashlight (with fresh batteries), a roll of toilet paper, and a direction map (as a backup if you encounter any problems with your GPS navigation system).
Another great tip I can give you is to save space in your glove box by checking for an electronic (digital) copy of your car’s manual online. If you can find one, leave the chunky printed version at home and free up some much-needed space in your glove box.
5. Pre-Packed Snacks for Kids
Some people have strict no-food rules while traveling, but I firmly believe that snacks are essential for all passengers, especially road trip snacks for kids. Pre-packed zip-top bags with the kids’ favorite munchies should be placed conveniently in the car. It’s best to ensure they are easy and quick to access, like in one of the compartments of a backseat organizer (see above).
You can also use a stackable container to organize your snacks, neatly separating the food items into sections. A major advantage of pre-packed snack bags is that you can control the snack portions your kids consume on the trip. It also eliminates mess and clutter.
I find that it’s best to organize yummy pre-packed snack bags with a full lunch already prepared.
The following make for a well-balanced pre-packed meal:
- A delicious sandwich
- Fruits and/or vegetables
- Nuts or trail mix
- One sweet treat (granola bars are always a winner)
- A juice box (or juice inside a spill-proof cup for the younger ones)
While you’re at it, use binder clips to seal unfinished snacks (like chips and sweets) and keep your receipts together. Bring a portable mini cooler bag to keep your drinks cold if there’s extra space.
Travel Tray for Snack Time
I like the idea of a set space where kids can enjoy their meals. Why not include a travel tray for kids to use for eating? Little ones can also place their gadgets on them while they watch their favorite cartoons on a cell phone or tablet.
Travel trays serve multiple purposes. Use them as a mini play station for the kids’ toys and games (also great for when the kids want to color in). If you prefer not to purchase a new tray, simply choose one from your home that’s a comfortable size to use and store.
Tip: Keep the remainder of the snacks in the car’s trunk with the rest of the groceries. Only have carefully prepared, packed snacks in the car’s main area so that no one overeats and risks getting sick during the trip. We did this during our Seattle to Crater Lake road trip, and I was glad.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
6. Use Carabiners to Hang Small Items
If you’ve ever gone hiking or camping, you’ve likely come across carabiners. Fish them out of that old “outdoors” box in your garage because they will prove helpful for your road trip.
When you don’t have bag hooks to use in the car, use carabiners as clever clips. You can attach as many carabiners as you need to the front headrests on either side so that they hang off facing the backseat. Use them to suspend small items like handbags, wallets, umbrellas, and kiddy backpacks.
You get locking carabiners that will sit securely once you’ve hooked them. This is useful when toddlers want to fiddle with them while sitting in the backseat.
You’ll find this especially helpful on an outdoor vacation like a Spokane to Glacier road trip.
7. Document Holder
Every road trip requires that your paperwork is in order, and I know just the item to help you stay organized. Use an accordion file or an expandable file folder to keep all your essential documents and papers in one place.
Keep the car registration, your insurance information, medical cards, and information related to your destination (such as accommodation details) neatly stored in the file folder. You should also keep a printed version of your itinerary with all your other paperwork.
Make sure to label each section of the folder clearly to know precisely where to find each document when needed. File folders come in many colors and styles, which is excellent if you want to get multiple uses out of them with your home admin. While you may not think you’ll use this, I promise you’ll be happy with this car organization hack for road trips if you do need to find a paper quickly.
Tip: Print a copy of my fantastic road trip trivia questions and keep them in your document holder with all the other travel papers. When things get boring on the road, whip out the questions and enjoy some fun trivia mania.
8. Organized Box with Entertainment Goodies
This is one of the best car storage hacks for your next road trip. Use clear containers and boxes to store essential items, such as coloring books, crayons, and stationery items for the kids. By using clear boxes, you can quickly identify what’s inside of them and get what you need quickly.
In fact, clear boxes are useful for more than just the kids’ entertainment goodies. You should do things a little differently on your next road trip and use clear boxes to store other items in the trunk. These include clothes, shoes, extra toys, and small trinkets you collect along the way – you’ll be glad you took the time to organize your car for a road trip.
Tip: If you have more than one child in the back of the car, a pack of travel games is a great way to eliminate fights and have everyone entertained and playing together.
9. Pop-up Trunk Shelf
The trunk of your vehicle can be a scary place, where different family members throw things in there for “safe-keeping” (only to be re-discovered months later). Bring an end to all of that with this road trip storage idea. Start by cleaning out your trunk and removing all the old junk that may have been sitting there for a long time.
Then, to prepare for your road trip adventure, use trunk shelves (and trunk organizers) to keep items in the car’s back storage area neat and tidy. Sometimes you want to separate certain things, like keeping muddy, wet, or dirty shoes away from other items.
I suggest you organize the trunk’s items so that those you’ll need to use often are placed on the top (or in front), where they are easy to access. Set the trunk into distinct areas: luggage, groceries, a car emergency kit, dirty clothes, and shoes.
10. Hang Your Groceries Using a Bungee Cord
This idea seems like an odd one, but I promise you it works like a charm. When traveling with groceries, the last thing you want is for separate items to escape from their shopping bags and slide all over the trunk.
That’s why using a bungee or suspension cord is the perfect way to keep them neatly packed and standing upright for the duration of your trip. Fix your cord from one end of the trunk’s side to the other. Enjoy the benefits of not having your grocery items move and shift around in the car’s back storage area.
If you don’t have a bungee or suspension cord, make use of any suitable taut rope that you can fix securely across the length of your trunk.
Tip: Distribute your groceries evenly into all the shopping bags you’ve used. Make sure not to have some bags fuller or heavier than the rest. This way, you’ll avoid the bags tearing or splitting.
11. Pre-Packed First Aid or Sick Kit
As everyone knows, especially parents, minor medical emergencies do happen while on the road. From small cuts to minor bruises and other little mishaps, it’s always best to have a traveler’s first aid kit handy to handle any medical problems when they arise.
It’ll be frustrating if you don’t have the correct items or have to search for them in odd places around the car. So save yourself the stress and hassle by organizing a pre-packed first aid bag (also called a sick kit).
Your kit should have all the medical essentials, such as:
- Bandaids (of different shapes and sizes)
- Rolled bandages
- Alcohol or disinfecting wipes
- Gauze pads
- Topical cream for insect bites, antiseptic cream
- Disposable gloves
- Anti-nausea medication for car sickness
- Mini scissors
Quick tip – make sure all medicines are still good and not expired!
12. Line Your Cup Holders with Baking Cups or Muffin Holders
This is a tip for decreasing the chances of creating a sticky mess in your cup holders when there are spills (and trust me, there will be, even when kids use spill-proof cups).
By lining your cup holders with baking or muffin cups (try using silicone baking cups if you can), you protect the cup holders and keep them clean. You can change them out whenever they get too dirty, which is why it’s one of my favorite tips to organize a car for a road trip.
Sometimes you’ll travel in a larger group and need more cup holders in the car for all the drinks. Use a muffin tray, which you can place in an appropriately sized basket, as a multi-cup holder.
It’s also a good idea to keep paper towels in a convenient place in the car for quick clean-ups and tidying up after passengers eat something. And, of course, you’ll have wet wipes in your backseat organizer, which is one of my favorite tips to organize for a road trip.
A great way to prevent a mess on your seats and the floor is by using seat and floor protectors (try rubber floor mats). These will prevent stains in your car from the mess that dirty shoes, spilled drinks, and food cause. Seat and floor protectors also come in handy when traveling with animals.
13. Use Suction Shower Caddies
Another unique road trip organization idea to store items while traveling is to use small suction shower caddies. You attach them to the windows in the backseat so that passengers can store small items like sunscreen, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and hand cream nearby. This is also a great place to keep snacks and drinks, especially for the little ones.
14. Store the Car Emergency Kit in the Trunk
Although a well-serviced and well-maintained car shouldn’t give you any trouble on the road, it’s best to be prepared for any emergencies (like when the car breaks down). Prepare and store your car emergency kit in the back trunk to be ready when needed.
The kit should contain the basics, including the following:
- Jumper cables
- A wheel wrench
- A tripod jack
- A reflective cloth
The great thing about car emergency kits is that they already have their own designated spot beneath the trunk’s floor covering where the spare tire is typically stored.
15. Use a Designated Garbage Collection Bag
There’s nothing worse than a car full of empty snack packets and bottles lying all over the place. This is why one of my top travel tips is to have a designated garbage collection bag where you can store all your trash.
It’s a surefire way to avoid a dirty, disorganized car during your trip. You can buy a portable car trash can if you’ve got the extra bucks or use an old shopping or plastic bag.
Hang the garbage collection bag from the backseat or keep it on the floor. When you stop at a gas station or take a break to stretch your legs, you can dispose of it once it’s full. Replace it with a fresh, empty one.
Leave enough comfortable leg room if you keep any storage items on the floor. You can do this by storing certain items underneath the car seats.
Have any tips to add on how to organize a car for a road trip? Leave it in the comments!