My husband and I spent three glorious weeks driving up the coast from Virginia to Maine last summer. Before we left, I considered potential problems that might arise and how we could avoid or solve those problems. Having been on some shorter road trips in the past, I knew how inconvenient it can be when you need something on the road and must track down a place to buy it. Since we would be changing hotels almost every night, I also didn’t want to be dragging a lot of luggage into our hotel every night. For that reason, I decided to bring as many useful items as would fit in a small space and could stay in our SUV. I bought a set of plastic school pencil boxes for $1/each at a dollar store and the 3 plastic drawer cart made by Sterilite for about $10 at Wal-Mart. The dimensions of this cart are 14.50 x 12.63 x 24.00 inches, so all of the items listed below fit into a little over two square feet. We used it without the wheels, it fit perfectly in the back of our SUV (without blocking our view), and there it stayed for the duration of our trip. Once we returned home, I put it in our storage room and it is ready to go on our next adventure.
I found that I could fit up to five pencil boxes in each drawer and each pencil box held a lot!
As you can see, I used one pencil box just for sunscreen (body and face) and bug repellent. Also, in this drawer were items categorized as Problem Solvers, Laundry, First Aid, and Office.
Problem Solvers. My goal was to include items that could be useful in a variety of circumstances that might arise. Fortunately, we only needed about half of these items, but I was glad to have them all along, just in case. We could have fit even more into this pencil case, had we wanted to.
Laundry. Not wanting to pack three weeks worth of clothing, I knew that we would need to do laundry at least twice, but I didn’t want to cart around a bunch of liquid detergent, fabric softener, and static guard. Luckily, I already had these 3-in-1 Purex laundry sheets that I had purchased on Amazon a few years earlier when we were needing to do laundry between a conference in Seattle and a cruise to Alaska. We only use these for travel since they are a little pricey, a little over a dollar a load, but I think it is more than worth it to not mess with liquid detergent and the rest while traveling. I really like the Purex, but if you cannot find those, you might try WashEZE. I also saved quarters in an empty mini-M&M package. It was the perfect size! We used everything on this list at some point during our trip.
Don’t accidents always happen while on vacation? That is why I put more thought into our first-aid kit than anything else. The one thing I almost left behind was this compression bandage because it took some doing to get everything on this list to fit into that little pencil box and I wasn’t sure that big compression bandage deserved so much real estate. Turns out, that was the one item I needed most. On our VERY FIRST night on the road, I tripped and broke my elbow in downtown Nashville. What are the odds? We didn’t know it was a break until we returned home. I initially thought it was just a sprain and so did the doctor at the Urgent Care that we went to the day after I was hurt. He was impressed that I had immediately done RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate. This was possible because the kit was in our car and not in our hotel room, so we were able to easily access the compression bandage, advil, and a Ziploc baggie, which the nice bartender filled with ice for me. I was able to fulfill my dream of listening to live music at the Station Inn for a little while before we headed back to the hotel where I took advantage of another item in my first-aid kit…a prescription-strength pain killer from my recent surgery.
I used old medicine bottles for some supplies, one for cotton and Q-tips and one for rubber gloves. I also made a splinter kit out of a little matchbox. It had a needle and some matches to disinfect the needle. Come to think of it, that might not be best way to handle splinters, but that’s how we all did it when I was growing up.
I also put small portions of several medications in tiny Ziploc-style bags and stored them in an old Altoids tin. I had purchased the bags previously in the jewelry-making department at Hobby Lobby, one of my many abandoned hobbies. Medications were included that would treat pain, stiff muscles, allergies, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and motion sickness.
I also had a list of our current medications and another paper that had first-aid instructions. It was from these instructions that I was reminded to do RICE.
I knew we would want to send some postcards to family and friends during our trip and also that we would be dealing with all the maps, brochures and other paperwork that piles up when you are sightseeing. I put some of these smaller items in a plastic soap container that we had never used before. The mini tape measure came in handy when we stopped to look at antiques a couple of times. The highlighter helped us mark places where we wanted to visit and the permanent marker was used several times to label items.
Everything listed so far fit in only ONE drawer in the Sterlite 3-drawer cart. Can you believe it? Luckily, I don’t have much to say about the remaining two drawers, so try to hang in there with me for a few more minutes.
One of the other drawers was my mini-kitchen on the road. We wanted to spend our money on experiences on the road and that meant having some picnics and avoiding spending a lot on beverages. We brought some reusable Copco coffee mugs and Copco tumblers. Having a little bottle of dish soap meant that I could wash these out each night at the hotel. Every morning, we would fill our tumblers and a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with ice at the hotel. We also saved by filling our mugs with coffee each morning at the free breakfast. We kept our tumblers full at water fountains and from our stash of beverages that we brought along and replenished along the way. It was fun to pick up regional beverages at local grocery stores for a reasonable price.
One of my favorite finds was this nifty little Japanese knife with wood sheath which only cost about $7. This was handy in preparing a wide range of items, but especially cutting up fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Having a Swiss Army Knife also came in handy, especially when we decided that we needed wine! I brought our reusable string grocery bags for more than groceries because they hold a lot and take up very little space.
The final drawer held cleaning supplies for a variety of situations, but especially for the many bathrooms used along the way! Speaking of public bathrooms, have you heard of the Charmin Sit-or-Squat app? It was a lifesaver and we found a lot of humor in labeling bathrooms a Sit or a Squat based on their cleanliness.
In addition to the pencil box, the cleaning drawer included a thin bath towel, paper towels, and wet wipes.
Having this cart in the back of our SUV was a huge help because we didn’t need to unload it every night and we could easily access needed items on a daily basis. I hope you find this information useful. Happy traveling on your adventure!
Please click below for a free printable list of all items mentioned above, plus everything else that we fit into our Ford Escape: