Trip planning: making a packing list

Let’s recap. You’ve brainstormed some trip ideas. You’ve gathered your resources. You’ve mapped out a trip outline. Now you’ll need to put together a packing list. This list will include gear, food, clothing and any other necessities to make your trip successful (with minimal stops at the store).

If you’re taking a road trip, there are several different categories of items you’ll need to make your trip fun and comfortable. I use a combination of several packing lists when preparing for a trip. Your list will be determined by several factors:

  • How long you will be traveling
  • How much space you have
  • Access to stores along the way
  • What kinds of activities you’ll be doing
  • The anticipated weather along your route
  • Your personal needs and wants
  • How much cooking you plan to do

Food and kitchen supplies

The first thing that comes to my mind is food. What are we going to eat? How much time and space will we have to prepare meals? What about snacks? How much room is in the cooler? I don’t like getting takeout or eating in restaurants as my sole sources of nourishment on a road trip. I do include some flexibility to enjoy local delicacies and try new restaurants along the way but it’s much cheaper and healthier to prepare your own meals. Besides, it give you something to do at camp.

My meal planning list includes two parts: the meals and the grocery list. For a long trip, you’ll need to plan multiple stops at the grocery store for fresh food, so it’s a good idea to time those grocery re-supply days on days you’ll be in a larger town. It’s not impossible to shop at a hole-in-the-wall rural grocery store but the chances of finding good produce can be slim. Of course that depends where you are: in the middle of the desert in the winter time or in a prolific farming area in the summer?

Start by making a grid of all the days you’ll be traveling and make columns that include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Write down the meals you’d like to make for each box in the grid. Keep in mind that some preparations can be used multiple ways, like chili. Make chili once and then have chili dogs, chili on baked potatoes, chili mac, etc.

Make sure to refer back to your trip plan when thinking about your meals. If you’ll be out climbing a mountain all day, for example, you’ll probably want a quick and hearty breakfast, an easy, packable lunch and a super easy and high-calorie dinner. If you’ll be playing tourist around town, you might plan a more elaborate breakfast, go out for lunch and make a nice meal around the evening campfire.

Pro tip: when you’re making your grocery list, don’t forget the condiments! Butter, oil, mustard, salad dressing, spices, etc will make your dishes much tastier.

Download the Road trip meal planner

Camp supplies

In camp, you want to have enough supplies to be functional and relatively comfortable. You should be able to set up and break it down easily and quickly. You should be self-sufficient, able to cook food, supply water, keep clean and provide adequate shelter, all while minimizing your impact on the land.

I have tent-camped my entire life and have been able to keep my supplies to a minimum while still meeting all of my needs in camp. The next spreadsheet includes my camp packing list as well as all of the supplies mentioned in the next sections. Give it a look.

Download all the gear checklists

Hiking gear

I hope you’ll get out and do some hiking on your trip. This is a hiking project after all. The second tab on the gear checklist includes everything you’ll need for a typical day hike. Keep in mind that every hike is different, so your needs may vary slightly. But the basics are all in there, and you may as well get into the habit of carrying the basics on every hike.

Review the list of the ten essentials whether you need a refresher, or if you’re hearing about it for the first time.

Winter provides its own challenges, so the third tab in the gear checklist includes some things you’ll want to think about putting in your winter hiking pack. Items like ice axes and crampons require some practical knowledge as well, so be sure you’re tackling adventures that are within your ability level. If you want to venture out into winter mountaineering, it’s best to find a mentor, hire a guide or take a class!

Download all the gear checklists

Car comforts

Finally, if your road trip is going to involve a lot of car time, think about what will make that drive more enjoyable. Here are my top 5 creature comforts.

  1. Podcasts. When you’ve got hours of driving ahead, it’s nice to have something to listen to. Radio stations can be, uh, limited when you’re 200 miles from anywhere, so having a long queue of podcasts can be entertaining and educational. Audio books or your favorite CD collection make great alternatives.
  2. Cozy clothes. Would you rather sit in the car for 6 hours wearing a stiff pair of jeans or some comfy sweats? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Dress comfortably (and that includes shoes) when you’re gearing up for a long drive. You can always change into more formal attire before you drop in to a fancy restaurant, but chances are you’ll be just fine wearing your car clothes out and about.
  3. Good snacks. No need to get hangry and have to swerve in to buy crappy fast food along your drive. Keep the car well-stocked with a variety of foods and beverages to choose from. Make sure the passenger can reach the food supply without having to pull over, too.
  4.  Books and maps. All of your guidebooks and maps really come to life when you’re actually traveling through the area. Even if you did thorough research at home, pull out the guidebook and see if you missed something. Find yourself on the map and notice if anything suddenly grabs your attention. You might discover something you missed!
  5. Rest breaks. While this is not something you need to remember to pack, it is something you need to remember to do. The human body does not like to be still for multiple hours at a time. Take regular rest breaks and get out of your seated position. Do some jumping jacks. Climb a tree. Run around. Do a cartwheel. Have a dance party. Do not worry about what the other people at the rest area think of you. If they’re super cool, they’ll probably want to join in.

Worst case scenario: you forget something on your list. You either make an extra stop at a local store or you improvise. Both options end up being interesting learning experiences. Start packing!

The last installment of this series will be all about executing your trip and being flexible. Aren’t you getting excited for your next big adventure?

Trip planning: making an outline

You’ve got a sweet idea. You did some preliminary research. Now it’s time to make a rough outline of what your trip is going to look like. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Paper and pencil
  • Road maps
  • Internet access and/or hiking books

Let’s get started. I’ll use a trip I took in 2011 as the reference point for the outline making process, since I made nice overview maps of each day that I wrote up on my blog. If you start reading here, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

You’ll want to start a couple of things concurrently, the map and the itinerary outline.

The map

Using Google Maps in conjunction with paper maps is the best strategy I’ve come up with for helping prepare a trip overview. Based on your research, you probably have some ideas for a handful of “must-see” locations on your trip. Find these on Google Maps and your paper map.

Why Google Maps? You can quickly and easily plot a route, quantify the distance between points and note any points of interest along your route.

Switch back and forth between the Google and the paper to find things you may have missed otherwise. You’ll be able to tell if your dream itinerary will be able to fit into the time span you have or if you’re going to have to call in sick for an extra week.

The outline

Grab your paper and pencil…or create a spreadsheet, Word document or whatever suits your style. I go back and forth between using paper or typing on Word. It’s easier to change plans when you can just delete text in a word processing document. But sometimes it’s nice to put pencil to paper.

Here’s a framework for getting started:

  • Date
  • Distance/time
  • From > to
  • Stops and notes

And an example:

You can customize the columns to suit your needs. Maybe you want to note camping or hotel locations, or add a section for permit information, or add room for Plan “B.” You get the idea.

Remember that this is a first draft that you can modify as more information becomes available. The most important pieces are to have start and end points, with a rough distance between them. Some places that are tucked back off gravel roads will take much more time to get to than a rest stop on a major highway. Be sure to estimate the time it will take and not just list the mileage.

Considerations

Most of the information you’ll find online about visiting popular destinations will tell you how amazing it is…but only in the perfect weather and best lighting. Be sure to read up on what weather to expect while you’re visiting a new area. You might happen to travel during a 100-year storm event, or experience driving in snow or navigating around washed out roads. Know that Instagram shares the highlights, but those don’t happen every day. Be prepared to research the weather and keep checking the latest updates during your travels.

Also, be aware of seasonal closures or other access issues. Do you need an advanced permit to get to that backcountry campsite? Are there fire-season closures? Snow closures? Is it hunting season? Are you allowed to go off trail there? These factors may influence which day you visit a certain place, or if you cross it off the list entirely.

Build in some flexibility. Be willing to change your plans on the fly if you gather new information while you’re out. This is where having a shareable Google Doc can be handy for communicating your change in plans to a responsible party back home. You did leave a trip itinerary with someone back home, right?

For my 2011 trip I built in a bunch of flex time around the things I really wanted to see. That allowed me to make diversions based on recommendations from people I’d met along the way. That was the only way I would have ever known about Hot Lake, for example.

Movie set? Historical reconstruction? Resort spa? You decide.

Remember that failing to plan is planning to fail. An outline will provide a framework for your trip, allowing you to hit your objectives while also building in some flex time to explore.  Next, we’ll tackle the packing list!