The Ultimate Packing List for a Year-Long Road Trip

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This might be the MOST fun article we’ve ever worked on.  Karen wrote in asking for a packing list for an upcoming RV trip.  The catch?  She and her family are selling their house, and traveling all over the US…for the next two years.

Karen wrote:

My husband and I are in the process of selling/donating/purging nearly all of our worldly possessions with plans to purchase a Class A motorhome (used) in order to spend the next 1-2 years traveling around the US/Canada before our daughter (3) needs to go to kindergarten. We are lucky enough that my husband’s job is remote, so as long as we have decent internet we are set! Obviously, we have about a million things to do (including selling the house and buying our new home on wheels) but we’ll need to figure out what to bring with us with very limited cargo room! 

My husband will have no issues downsizing his wardrobe, but I’m stumped about what to consider a ‘must have’ list of things to bring! We’ll need clothing for a variety of activities, though a ‘work wardrobe’ is not one of them. I’m afraid I’ll fall into a trap of nothing but athleisure and get bored quickly! Do you have any suggestions of great multi-purpose, CUTE, comfortable and functional items that you’d consider must-have items? We’re sure to face everything from crazy heat, rain, and early spring/late fall (transitional season) weather. I’m a chronic over-packer. Please help! 

This was such an exciting packing challenge, but a very tricky one.  After tossing and turning for a few nights, I realized that an effective way of facing this very overwhelming challenge was to structure it around broad activities, on a per season basis.  I recruited one of my friends, Linzi, to help.  Linz is one of my most practical friends, and I knew she’d help balance out my loftier ideas.  (Does one really need over-the-knee boots in an RV?  Probs not.)  

Linzi and I broke the packing list down into four general categories:

  • Something to Lounge In (one outfit each for winter, spring, summer fall)
  • Something for Outdoor Adventuring (one outfit per season)
  • Something for Urban Exploring (one outfit per season)
  • A Few Things For Fun (NOTE: this is where I’d add the OTK boots, if so inclined.)

As we were putting this together….Linzi noted that this would actually be a genius way to structure our own wardrobes.  Can you imagine the ease of having a single, go-to uniform for your favorite outdoor activities?  And another complete outfit for museum days?  There’s nothing like travel (even if it’s just a virtual trip, lived vicariously through Karen) to help whittle down your wardrobe to just the essentials.

Also note that this isn’t necessarily intended to be a comprehensive packing list.  You’ll want to pack underwear, and maybe more tshirts than we actually recommend, etc.  But Linzi and I are both planning to use this concept as our Packing List For Life.  (haha)

Lastly, while the collages below do have specific pieces in them, the idea here is to simply use them as a general guideline.  If, say, you hate off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, swap out that one for a quirky graphic one that’s more your style.  The idea is to have a list of carefully curated pieces you love.  Definitely go beyond the basics here.  I don’t think a wardrobe of only basics will get you through two years of travel without major boredom setting in.

Something To Lounge In

For loungewear, the focus should obviously be on comfort (think: long driving days) but also items that will give you a bit of style and can “get in the mix” for non-lounging activities as well.  This will keep you from falling into the trap of having nothing but athleisure.

If you wanted to consolidate further, you could skip the slip-on sneaks and just go with the fashion sneakers, or just choose one of the cardigans.  But I’d keep the skinny sweatpants, faux-leather leggings (lined in fleece – the MOST comfy things on brutally cold days), and beach pants (which are cool enough for summer).  You’ll probably spend most of your time in these.

We worked on this packing list before my NINO Brand collab was launched….but I would absolutely bring the Livy dress instead of the one pictured.  It’s just as comfy and cute….but very durable and can be worn as a top, too.

 

Something For Outdoor Adventuring

This is the category I specifically want to solve in my own life.  Linzi and I argued a bit over footwear, but in the end, this is one area that practically really does matter.  So the hiking shoe choices are ones that we both found “cute enough”.  And while this might feel like too many shoes….please note that the same hiking shoes are used in both Fall and Spring.  We also wanted to make sure you were covered no matter where in the US you might be, no matter the season.  Linzi also encouraged me to add some color – this is an easy and fun way to mix it in.

To consolidate further…you could swap out the hiking sandals for traditional Tevas (and leave the Birkenstocks from the Lounging section behind, too).  The disadvantage is that traditional Tevas can’t be slipped on when getting out of the RV (like Birks), nor are they as protective as the hiking sandals we included.  But depending on what kinds of activities you will actually be doing….the might be “good enough” in both categories.

 

Something For Urban Exploring

City exploring we’ve got on lock.  Simply use our go-to formula:  cool denim, pretty tops, and comfortable (but edgy) shoes, and a jacket.  I highly recommend a leather jacket.  With a cashmere turtleneck sweater, scarf and hat, it’ll be warm enough for most winter days.  You can layer it over a pretty cardigan for the swinging temps of Spring, or wear it over a tee shirt for Fall.  Each shoe has been well-tested by the TME team, and the Rebecca Minkoff backpack – in taupe – gets our nod for the most versatile bag EVER.

Also don’t underestimate the power of stripes.  They look good with everything (even other patterns), yet make an outfit infinitely more interesting.

If you must consolidate further….skip the summer sandals.  Seems like an odd thing to say, I know….but you could sub in the Birkenstocks from the loungewear section, and many cities (like NYC) are kinda dirty on the feet.  I typically wear my fashion sneaks or taupe booties, even in the summer.  (Unless it’s 95 degrees, then I go with dirty, sandaled feet.)

 

A Few Things Just for Fun

And finally….pack some stuff just for fun.  These are the key items that will prevent boredom.  Linzi is much better about accessorizing than I am, and she pointed out that accessories take up virtually no room, but will totally save you from wardrobe boredom.  She also pointed out that it might be fun to pack no accessories initially, rather pick them up in various places as you travel.  Such a good idea.

But we both agreed that every girl needs a sexy swimsuit, one set of pretty pajamas, a few good dresses, and something that can be reallly dressed up or dressed down (in this case, that black romper), and pair of heels (and a clutch) for night.  Based on experience, I think the most versatile heels in the world are nude.

Rubber flip-flops have to be somewhere on your list – they’ll save you from public pools and changing rooms and bathrooms.  I also threw in the OTK boots.  I really can’t decide if they are necessary on the two year road trip.  I only know that they’re the most-worn boots in my closet.  I use them to transition summer dresses into Fall and Spring, and they help keep me warm all winter.  If you are primarily sticking to natural, adventurous places, then maybe leave them at home. But if city dwelling is a major part of this plan, they’ll be SO helpful.

 

 

So that’s it!  Our Packing List For Life (or year-long travel in an RV, haha).  Karen, I really hope this helped (and I’m sorry it took us so long to get our thoughts together).   We’d love to hear more about your trip – there’s more than a little bit of envy over here!

And readers – thoughts on the packing list?  What are some pieces that you don’t leave home without?

xoxo

S (and Linzi)

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About Author

Shana founded The Mom Edit in 2008. She lives with the love of her life (his name’s Mike) and their two crazy boys in downtown Philadelphia. She loves a good styling challenge (her engineering side shows eventually), appreciates kindness, and usually picks scotch over wine, sneakers over stilettos, and denim-underwear, always.

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11 Comments

  1. Ooh, I love all of this! I have that jumpsuit in the last section in burgundy, and I adore it–it’s super flattering and extremely comfortable.

  2. I’m going to chime in here, on the authority of moving abroad for 2 years… with one 50 lb suitcase 🙂 . The only additions or substitutions I would suggest are a denim pencil skirt, which is just as comfortable as shorts but a little more flexible because it can be dressed up, and a flowy rayon maxi dress. Rayon dresses don’t take up any space, but could be used in spring and fall with a cardigan and summer as a dress or swim cover up. I have a black and white patterned Target dress I wear ALL the time. Enjoy the trip, it sounds fantastic!

  3. Renae Meanley on

    I love that you included an outdoor activities list. I spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities and I don’t have the money or the room for two separate wardrobes and so I end up with most of my everyday clothes being the same stuff I use for hiking and camping.
    Outdoor skirts and dresses are the best because you can wear the same thing with different weight shirts and leggings all year long. I have a berry colored hiking skirt that I have worn with a tank in a hundred degrees and with a sweater, heavy leggings, tall smartwool socks, and and my fry engineer boots at thirty degrees.
    The fun part of this is how creative you’re forced to become when working with limited options.
    I’m sure the trip will be awesome! Enjoy!

  4. Love this–we dream of taking a long-term RV trip! Birks and Tevas (plus Tieks) always make my packing list for camping, haha. Maybe this is just my own weather preferences, but I’d organize the itinerary so we just skipped winter entirely… leaves more room for cute warmer-weather clothes plus some layers. 🙂

  5. Karen Richard on

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I cannot tell you how excited I am to see my request come to fruition (though my husband sure can, based on the smile on my face). We’re currently exactly three weeks from when we handed over the keys to our big “sticks and bricks” house in favor of our motorhome. We’re cruising east through the upper mid-west currently, and I’m happy to report that I DID manage to pack some of the things on this list. Though the temptation to throw everything else out the windows while cruising down the interstate is strong!! I’m sure my tiiiiiiny closet (12″ wide plus three small drawers and a ‘squinch’ of space under the bed) will very likely be edited in the coming weeks (and with the changing of the seasons), but this gives me so much inspiration. Thanks to you, Shana and Linzi, for such an awesome post!

    Biggest surprise?! The comment about ditching so many summer sandals! I’ve got my Birks (duh), shower sandals (check), one cute animal print t-strap pair that I love and the black Børn sandals you posted (just before we left…convenient) and I think i’m covered. But with only sneakers packed for ‘closed’ footwear, I know I’m lacking, but I have some direction.

    Thanks again, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on our travels! Feel free to follow us @nomaddicksinabox on Instagram!

  6. This is great. We travel every year internationally in the summer to visit my family in the PNW. While I don’t need to span all the seasons, we do need basically clothes for spring-summer-fall because the mountain temps can vary so much. This will also be helpful to narrow in on a few pieces for my new fall-warm winter-spring pregnancy. Thanks!

  7. Can you just make it possible for us to put in our size and buy it all? I used your site to buy a ski- weekend wardrobe and it was dead on. Just practical, warm, and, fashionable! I just love your style!

  8. For the most part, this is a great list, but I would cut WAY down on the number of shoes. 1 cute pair of sandals, 1 functional water/hiking sandal, 1 pair of urban/dressy sneakers, 1 pair of hiking sneakers plus flip-flops. 1 pair of functional winter boots if you will be in winter. That’s it. Don’t wear shoes inside the motor home (keeps it cleaner)! Also be sure to throw in a winter hat – even if it’s not that cold, if you’re outside a lot, covering your head will help you stay warm.

  9. First, I love this blog; I’ve been reading it since 2011 or so, I think. It is the only casual style blog I read because TIME. And I think this is your best post ever in terms of usefulness and practicality. I’m not going on a road trip anytime soon but this is certainly a template for a functional stylish wardrobe outside of the office. The amount of work that went into this post was incredible. I think sometimes people don’t realize how much work this is . . . but that’s why we look schlumpy most of the time. Thanks.

  10. Karen here. I cannot thank you enough for this post. I keep going back to it, especially with the seasonal transition coming up. Managed to find great OTK boots AND the Lucky Brand tan booties that are so loved. In. My. Size!! Feels a teensy bit frivolous at the moment but I know I’ll love and wear the crap out of them both!

    Now if I could just find the Rebecca M backpack….

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