Road Trip vs. Backpacking: Do We Need to Pack Lightly?

I’m hoping that some of you can help settle a disagreement.  But the thing is, I’m having this disagreement with myself.

As you may know, I spent the last year cultivating my super-light packing style.  I spent weeks last year contemplating backpack weight, additional weeks contemplating backpack options, and then discovered the joys of packing lightly on my test-trip to Vegas.  By the time I was ready to pack for Europe, I’d pared it down to five dresses, a pair of bike shorts and a pair of Tevas.

And do you know what?  Nothing bad ever happened to me.

Sure, we both had to spend a few pounds on sweaters in Bath–it’s colder in England in July than I’d anticipated–but in every other way, packing lightly was awesome.  My laundry was done within hours of returning home and I learned how unimportant having lots of ‘stuff’ really is.

So then why, when faced with the ability to pack a car instead of a backpack, does my pile ‘o stuff look like this:

Counter clockwise from bottom left, you are looking at:

  • two skirts
  • a pair of leggings and a pair of bike shorts
  • three pairs of pants; shorts, capris, and cargo
  • six tops
  • ten dresses; two dressy, eight casual
  • a brown thing that can be either a dress or a skirt
  • three long-sleeved cardigans
  • a knit vest
  • a scarf

The two pairs of shoes–in addition to the ones I’ll be wearing on my feet–are not pictured.  Additionally, underwear are not pictured because, well, I don’t want to post photos of my underthings online.

So–what the hell?  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I seem to whittle this pile down?

And do I even need to do so?

Of course, since I’m so conflicted on this issue, my husband and I are also having a disagreement.  He’s on the ‘we’re driving so we should take whatever we think we may need’ side of the argument.  He’s a guy, and he’s planning on bringing five pairs of shoes.  Five–seriously, dear?  My Tevas fulfill the need he has for three different types of shoes–sandals, sneakers, and hiking boots.  And he has a pair of Tevas (and is, of course, bringing them!)

So–what do you think?  Do we pack light or do we admit there’s no need?

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19 responses to “Road Trip vs. Backpacking: Do We Need to Pack Lightly?

  1. Where’s the bathing suit? Fleece pullover or jacket (gets cold/windy at night & sometimes during daytime along coastline)?

    You have a car. You arent going to be running for trains, airplanes or taking taxis or buses like you did in Europe. There really is no need to be so militant about living out of 1 small bag on this kind of trip other than if you are staying at a B&B where the bedroom is on the third floor you may not want to lug a huge bag up the stairs.

    I will say that you likely won’t wear all those outfits (unless you are skipping doing any laundry at all on the trip and plan on wearing some stuff 2-3 times). I was just at the beach for 12 days. Took 1 overstuffed carry on suitcase & 2 small tote bags (totes filled with toiletries, beach towels & my laptop). I did laundry and came home with at least 3 items of clothing I never once wore.

    I don’t think you need that many dresses and skirts (or things that can be turned from a dress into a skirt). I’d swap at least 1 cardigan sweater for a Polartec fleece as it’s better for walking around at night or on very windy days near the shoreline.

    I’d bring 1 pair of sneakers or trail runners for hiking and not so many sandals. Some trails are more rocky, muddy than others and they are good to wear on a wet/rainy/cold day to keep your feet dry & warm. If you bring too much clothing, it’s fine on this kind of a trip. You can always leave some of the things you find you aren’t wearing stuffed in a plastic bag out in the car (same w/ husband’s 5 pair of shoes).

    • Bathing suit! Yes, I need a bathing suit! Duh. I’m literally getting up from my desk now to add it to the pile…

      Bathing suit added!

      That sure would have been a bummer. Whew!

      Glad you seem to agree about the excess in husband footwear! Oh and see my reply below re: dresses.

  2. Definitely bring a more something warmer than a cardigan for keeping you warm at night. Atlantic Canada generally cools down quite a bit at night, especially if you’re on the coast. I second a bathing suit or two, we have some amazing beaches, and in August the temp in the water finally changes from freezing to bearably cold. Anything for rain? Umbrellas don’t cut it here, the wind just eats them up!

    • Hmmm. Rain gear. Ok, yeah, I’m going to need to bring more stuff. I’m really just not a ‘lots of stuff’ kind of person. Typically if it rains, I get wet (I got wet a lot in England!) I did used to have this great floppy hat…it’s what I wore in Alaska. I may need to find it. Looking now (this is the most amount of times I’ve actually stopped commenting to get up and find something–see above reply!)

      Ok. Could not find the hat (I had TWO of them and they are both missing!) but in looking for it I DID find this golfing shirt thing that I wore in Alaska. It’s basically a v-neck long sleeve top that’s both reversible (black on one side and beige on the other) and water proof. It’s GREAT. That should work for both rain and cold, correct?

      I also pulled out my hiking boots (as suggested above) but I really do wear Tevas to hike, even in wet weather. I’d rather have wet feet than wet socks.

  3. Take only 2 dresses- 1 if you can make yourself do it. 3 pairs of shoes max- hubby too (tennis shoes/hikers, sandles, flats/dress shoes). If you REALLY need something- buy it!!! You said you were trying to save money by not eating at fancy places- so don’t take fancy clothes- then you won’t be tempted so much. A ‘little black dress” or black pants and a nice top will do for most places anyway!!! MINIMALIZE!!! You could also ditch the bike shorts in my opinion. And 1 cardigan and MAYBE 1 fleece vest is plenty. But DO take some rain gear- a light raincoat with a hood.

    • I guess I should have explained the dress thing. You see, I pretty much ONLY wear dresses. Dresses to me are like jeans to a normal person. So to take one dress would be to take one outfit. That’s not going to work! If you notice, you’ll never see me in pants in any of my photos. Ever. I actually purchased the three pairs I’m taking with me specifically for the trip. The bike shorts are for under the dresses, so I can ride my bike (I ride to work–or I did when I was working!–and that’s seriously what I do!) They aren’t fancy dresses–they are (for me) everyday dresses. As I sit here now, I’m wearing a dress. Go ahead–try to find a photo of me wearing pants. You won’t! Though I am about to post one from our Alaska trip–though to be fair, I’m standing on a glacier. That DID call for something a bit warmer! 😉

  4. Ok- I’m just the opposite- Pants are IT! But I’d still cut it to NO MORE than 5-6 skirts and dresses combined. Take1-2 tops/sweaters you can pull on over the dresses for warmth if needed.I’d take a windbreaker type jacket that can do for rain and go over the sweater if it’s really really cold/windy. One with a hood would be best. Better than a hat IMO. Plan on doing laundry at b&bs or laundramats 2 or 3 or more times on the trip. Take no more than a week’s worth of undies. Take the TEVAS rather than hikers. You guys are not going to the Hymalayas- just to Canada. I don’t think you’ll be doing any strenuous or dangerous hikes. Just really some walks. Tell hubby to get real- he shouldn’t HAVE to take everything from home with him like a turtle to feel comfortable. At most he should take 3-5 pair pants, 2-3 pair shorts, 5-8 tops (at least 1 long sleeved), rain jacket, fleece vest and/or cardigan, swim trunks (don’t forget towels), socks and undies- and no more than 3 pair of shoes. My hubby can survive an around the world trip with a suitcase that weighs less than 10 lbs. He can surely survive a road trip without fill the trunk of the car and then some.

    • Yeah! I’m so making him read that! Though he kind of does seem turtle like at times! Ha! Ha ha ha!

      I’ve been inspired by all of this to do a post on dresses whilst traveling. So thanks everyone above for the inspiration!!!

  5. Just sent you a “friend” request on facebook. I’ve posted a few pics from our recent trip to Georgia and thought you might want to see them- also have some from the UK on there.

  6. In this particular instance, I totally disagree with Toni’s Rick Steves Helpline “I can live out of a single bag that weighs less than 10lbs for months on end” packing mantra. You aren’t going anywhere that you need to carry that bag by hand for more than the 5 minutes it takes to get from the parking lot to your hotel room, so why go into this trip with the “If I need it, I’ll buy it on the road” mentality? You’re trying to save money. Spending unnecessary money and having to take time out of your trip to shop for clothes, shoes, or whatever you didn’t bring because you’re trying to take no more than 5lbs of stuff in a 4lb suitcase seems like a waste. I’m not saying go ahead and load up the trunk & back seat like you are The Beverly Hillbillies, but if you have a bag that weighs 20lbs and maybe you packed 4 more outfits than you really needed, so what? It’s not like you have to worry the airlines will lose your bag, or the suitcase is too large for an overhead bin. You won’t be carrying this bag through 4 different airport terminals to make a connecting flight that departs just 22 minutes after you land. It doesn’t need to be hoisted repeatedly up overhead onto a luggage rack on a crowded train. You won’t be riding the Metro or a city bus with the bag strapped to your back.

    And even though it seems like overkill, if it makes your husband happy to take 5 pair of shoes on a road trip, just say “Whatever” & let him figure out he maybe could have just made the trip with Tevas, sneakers & 1 nice pair of dressier shoes if you go hit the town one night for dinner or drinks.

    I don’t think you will need full hiking boots, but if you own a pair of lightweight trail runners or a pair of sneakers with a good tread, it’s sometimes more comfortable to have a closed toe shoe on when walking across muddy trails or rocky beaches. I’ve got a pair of Keen H20 Sandals that have great traction & a closed toe box which I have hiked in and worn to the beach. Not sure what kind of Tevas you already own, but if you have already hiked in them and find them comfy, by all means wear them. But it does get cold at night and when it rains during the day, so I’d still have at least 1 pair of shoes that cover your feet.

    • Very good points about the difference in traveling on planes/trains and traveling in our own car. Funny story though–I went to clean out my car and realized how VERY small it is! I have a Scion XA, so it’s a hatchback…a really, really small hatchback. I think it is the car equivalent of a backpack!

      I have a plan for the whole luggage thing–let me know what you think of this. I’m taking a suitcase with everything pictured in it. I’m also taking my backpack with my tech crap in it and my toiletry bag. When we arrive somewhere, I’ll grab a dress or two out of the suitcase, stash it in the bag, and never have to lug the suitcase into a B&B. Of course, this is only when staying in B&Bs for short periods of time. For the longer stays I may lug the large bag.

      I’ve also decided that it can’t hurt to bring the hiking boots, and they will be the one pair of shoes that covers my feet. I have the very basic version of Tevas, so no toe protection there. Which I guess means I also have to pack socks. Must make a note of that now!

  7. Good plan. I stillprefer to pack light- but we don’t do road trips. The most important point- DON’T STRESS about it. If it will fit in the car and you are comfortable putting it in and getting it out- then pack it.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head. I still prefer to pack light–but I’ve never done a road trip! Arrggh!

      Though seriously–the car is scary small. But don’t worry–you know I’ll post a photo of it all packed before we go!

      I have issues….sigh….

  8. I would take what ever you want. Since you wear mostly dresses then go with your plan for the dresses/skirts. Since you are driving it will be easy. You wouldn’t have to drag the big luggage into all the hotels, take a small bag with you then you can just get into the large luggage get what you need for the night put it in the small bag. When we go to our daughters in Va., for a long weekend (we drive leave on Friday and come home on Monday) so I really only need 3 outfits, I never go with only 3 outfits. I pack at least 5, I never know what I’ll be in the mood to wear. Traveling by car is a lot easier then going to Europe when it comes to packing.

  9. If you can contain it…you can take it! Unless you have a two seater car with no trunk you’ll be fine! If you had taken all of that to Europe we would have read about the adventures of Tracy the pack mule! But I bet you can OCD organize all that stuff into nice containers, suitcases or clearly labled plastic shoe boxes and put them in your trunk or backseat! That is one of the advantages of your stateside vehicular adventure! Just don’t forget the bottle opener!

    • Well, I don’t have a two seater car, but I do have a really tiny hatchback. I’ll post photos with it all packed. It’s going to be…interesting!

      Oh–and I LOVE the phrase ‘stateside vehicular adventure’!!!

  10. Pingback: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress | Blog on the Run

  11. Pingback: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress | The Suitcase Scholar

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