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How to Pack Your Trunk Like a Pro

Hitting the highway? Follow these six steps to pack your car like a pro.

Soft totes fit more easily than suitcases.

James Bueti

The GPS is programmed, and the cooler is stocked. But don’t treat packing the trunk as an afterthought. Here are tricks for maximizing your car’s space so the trip ahead is as smooth as possible.

Make It a Game

Approach arranging your trunk as if it were a puzzle. Put the largest, heaviest items on the bottom and the lightest on the top. Blankets and pillows are great for filling holes around oddly shaped items. For hatchbacks, secure the whole load with a cargo bar, a bungee cord, or ratchet straps. Leave enough room at the top of the cargo area to see out the rear window.

Keep Essentials Close

Don’t bury anything that you might need en route, such as a roadside emergency kit, a flashlight, phone chargers, medicine, garbage bags, or wet wipes. Stow these in the passenger area.

Go Soft

Choose pliable totes over boxes or hard-sided suitcases. You won’t waste space if you don't fill them completely, and the bags will fit into any available areas. AAA Travel expert Anne McAlpin also recommends getting strategic with color: “I like different-colored totes for each person, so you know who each bag belongs to at a glance,” she says. “And red for laundry, something that says, ‘Danger! Dirty clothes!’”

Play Hide-and-Seek

Use hidden spaces. Water bottles and snacks can fit under rear passenger seats. Try seat pockets for books and other slim items.

Lighten Up

Buy consumable or disposable items, like food and diapers, on the road, rather than packing them.

Plan for Comfort

Passengers can keep flip-flops near their seats to pull on at rest stops. McAlpin also advises bringing inflatable beach balls for breaks, to let people get outside and have fun.

Skip the DMV wait times and complete basic paperwork like car registration at your AAA branch.

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This article was first published in Fall 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.