How To Downsize Your Car Packing For Aussie Summer Trips

Every few months, I drive from Sydney to Adelaide with my family. My most recent trip involved a challenge, however, I'd changed cars, and my new vehicle was significantly smaller. Here's how I overcame the packing challenge.

"Driving across the Hay Plain in a Yaris with 3 kids is my definition of hell"

Those are the words of a good friend of mine when I mentioned to him that I was going to take a brief holiday break just after New Year's Eve by heading to Adelaide to see an elderly relative of mine. Partly that's because he is much more of a car nut than I am, but equally he had a point. My previous car was a much-dented and well travelled sedan which offered plenty of space to pack not only my family, but also the necessary clothes, food, distractions and bedding supplies needed for the trip. The new car is considerably smaller, especially as my "new" (it's second-hand; I've never much seen the point in "new" vehicles if you're not car-inclined) Yaris is the even-tinier three door version.

Kids, You're Going To Have To Wear Less Clothing

Packing the car thus became a matter of applying some principles that we've covered off on Lifehacker a number of times previously; Gus has spent time living out of only a single suitcase, for example.

Clothes were my first target for downsizing. Thankfully for this exercise, my kids are well past the nappies-and-muliple-clothes changes stage, so there's less clothing needed for a trip like this. Equally, it's summer in Australia right now (you may have noticed), so I could pack much more lightly.

As a result, for a five day trip, I only packed two days worth of clothes for each family member. Why two days? Simply because we'd be travelling in one change of clothes anyway, and while you're on the road, what you're wearing (as long as it's decent) doesn't matter that much anyway; you're likely to sweat a little, but not too much, and you're not seeking any kind of presentation standard to speak of. Two days clothing is enough to keep going while doing a little light washing at the destination, whether you've got access to a washing machine or simply use the sink and a little manual labour to get clothes clean. Again, summer helps here; in the end the machine at our destination was always busy when we needed it, but it didn't really matter because anything we washed and dried rapidly.

Surviving On Roadkill

Food was the next downsizing issue. For this particular trip there's only a few areas of concern; I've previously managed it as a single day shot, swapping drivers every two hours, but in this case I was breaking it over two days. It's feasible to use roadside takeaways to an extent, although it's notable that between Wagga Wagga and Mildura (around 6hrs driving) you're in a zone where there's essentially nothing beyond petrol station food on offer. I packed plenty of liquids but relatively few snacks, choosing instead to travel early when the kids wouldn't be seeking quite as much food. This meant we could stop sensibly where there was food on offer without having to pack too much, or be forced into petrol station restaurant prices and grease.

The middle of nowhere isn't noted for its fancy restaurants.

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round

Finally, entertainment. If there's one aspect I do agree with my friend on, it's that crossing the Hay plain with three kids in the back with nothing to distract them would be sheer hell. Previously I'd packed multiple iPod Touches, Nintendo DSes and an in-car DVD player, but this time I downsized to a couple of iPads, pre-loaded with games and video for them to watch. In concert with the Wallee Headrest, it provided more than enough to keep the back seat passengers mostly quiet.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Previously, I've packed a little bit of everything, on the grounds that I might need it. Foolish stuff, not just from a space perspective, but also because outside of the bits of the road that involve absolute dead nothing, within Australian towns you're never that likely to be all that far from just about any kind of supply you might need. I don't necessarily want to buy additional clothes per se, but I was ready for the prospect if one of the kids damaged clothing, or a bag got lost or something. It's relatively trivial to pick up a new T-shirt, pair of sandals, batteries, sunscreen — you name it, and the chances are excellent it's available at your destination. Packing lightly means that if you do need it later, you can take it back with you, and if not, you could always donate it to a charity of your choice, given that charity drop bins are everywhere. I think I may have even hallucinated one on the Hay plain.

The trip itself ran well and without particular problems, and it did teach me a few things. Firstly, I've been overpacking for years and years, mostly because I could. This isn't just a problem of an overpacked and uncomfortable car — although I did pass a few that appeared to have little breathing room for the actual passengers — but also economy, as the more weight you're carrying, the more petrol you're going to need to use to haul it all.

Secondly, a smaller car doesn't necessarily mean you've got that much less space. My previous vehicle was a wider sedan, but it had a lot of space I couldn't actually make use of, because it was just wide without having actual storage compartments. The new vehicle, as plastic as it might be, is filled with nooks and crannies that can be multi-purposed, whether it's using the cup holder as a phone mount or the underside of the seats to store emergency towels.

Finally, far too many people still drive like utter maniacs. Yeah, that's got nothing to do with packing your car, beyond what it'll spill out onto the road when you crash into something. Slow down, and enjoy things more; it's better to get to your destination alive, even if you're a little later than you might like.

Got your own compact car packing tips to share? Hit the comments.


    Plenty of modern small cars are great for storage. Our mk6 Golf for example while technically having a smaller boot than our second generation GS300 is far easier to pack because it's not odd shapes and has a hatch. Also while the interior is smaller, it doesn't feel any less roomy as the lexus wastes a lot of space with big comfy seats and thick sound deadened doors. The lexus definitely has less road noise though!

    How do you convince the wife to downsize her wardrobe? Please?

    Why anyone with 3 kids would even consider a 3 door hatch is beyond me. Have fun when the kids get older and need more leg room. Not to mention the safety implications, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a patient with a spinal injury out of the back of a 3 door car? Very.

    I'll be sticking to my VX wagon, I don't even like what Holden have done to the VE.

      do you have any idea how hard it is to get a patient with a spinal injury out of the back of a 3 door car?
      Not that dissimilar to getting one out of a 5 door car once you follow the SOP of cutting the roof off.

        That takes a lot of valuable time is is usually avoided. Plus for a true spinal you'd have to cut the whole side of to get a board under the patient.

      Honestly, the leg room isn't at all bad; I spent one driving shift in the back without particular problems. But this is an aside to packing issues in any case; I'm happy enough with my car.

      Well, based on that logic let's also get rid of utes and sportscars, and while we are at it the crumple zones in people movers are useless so nobody should use them either.
      Why don't we just all drive VX commodores and ignore the enhanced safety of the VE because we don't like them.

    In Europe where I live a VW golf is a family car.

    Previously I’d packed multiple iPod Touches, Nintendo DSes and an in-car DVD player, but this time I downsized to a couple of iPads, pre-loaded with games and video for them to watch. In concert with the Wallee Headrest, it provided more than enough to keep the back seat passengers mostly quiet.

    Jeez, When I was growing up, Our twice yearly 8 -12hour road trips meant that I either looked out the window or read a book. If we were bored we were told to shut up and suck it up!

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