How to Pack Your Trunk Like a Pro

Hitting the highway? Follow these 6 steps to pack your car like a pro.

man carries soft tote bags to load into car hatchback while boy watches, picture
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.