Simplify RV Packing With These Expert Tips

a stainless steel stove top oven sitting inside of a kitchen next to a refrigerator and a refrigerator freezer

RV Packing 101: Tips for Efficient and Organized Travel

Packing your RV: This one seemingly simple task tends to be the hardest part of the RV experience for non-full-time families. When you look at the mental effort that goes into packing your rig, it makes sense why that is the case. There’s pressure to remember everything when you hit the road, but also pressure to pack light and save weight.

Remembering everything when packing your RV

There are a myriad of clothing options needed: clothes for rain, clothes for the sun, shoes for lounging, shoes for hiking, and shoes for the shower if you plan to use the public bath.

There’s food to consider too. What will you eat? Will you have enough snacks (moms know this one all too well)? What about the food that goes with you in the car if you’re traveling with a bumper pull or fifth wheel to keep your body fueled for long drives?

When it comes time to roll up your sleeves and bring out only what’s critical, without leaving out anything you’ll want or need on your camping trip, having a system for packing your RV is necessary. It’s this system that I’ve worked on fine-tuning for our family since we bought our first RV and started traveling with two babies under the age of two. Years later, the system I started continues to save our family hours of stress, headaches, and overwhelm before every single RV trip.

Step 1: The big brain dump

The first place I always start is with a big brain dump. On one side of my RV packing checklist, I jot down everything I can think of that we’ll need. That, on the surface, sounds overwhelming. If you approach it as a massive brain dump without rhyme or reason, it can be.

Do a walk-through before packing your RV

Instead, I like to move through each area of the RV mentally. I think of myself approaching the rig first. What do we need for our outdoor time? Solar lantern. Check. Coozies for our drinks. Check. Tablecloth. Check.

Then, I move inside. With our layout, our bedroom is the first area on the right. Clothes are a must. Check. Shoes. Check. Socks. Check. Unmentionables. Check. Swimwear in the summer. Check. Beanies and big jacket in the winter. Check. On my checklist, I’ll add a small checkbox for each family member next to these items to ensure everyone has what they need. Don’t skip that step. I forgot to pack my oldest son’s pajamas one year, so we had to get creative. A small checkbox for each person in your family when packing your RV will prevent that mistake from happening again.

I keep moving through the rig. What’s needed in our kitchen? Pots. Pans. Cutlery. Napkins. Cups. Which linens will we need to bring? Extra sheets and blankets. Towels for the pool or the shower. Then I look at our kid’s activities. What are they still playing with from their special camping drawer? What’s something new I can surprise them with on our next trip? 

Finally, I end up in our bathroom. We’ll need regular toiletries, of course. We’ll also want medicine in case someone gets sick. A first aid kit. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Extra RV-friendly toilet paper. Once I’ve done this mental walk-through, adding items to the RV packing checklist, it’s time to move to the next step—meal planning. Packing your RV without serious meal planning is a new RVer’s biggest mistake.

a closet filled with lots of clothes next to a bed and a hat on top of a wooden shelf, packing

Step 2: Plan beyond your meals

If there’s one place I don’t want to drive to while camping, it’s the grocery store. Grocery shopping is already one of my least favorite chores, so adding it to a camping trip just feels frustrating. To help avoid that need, I take a similar approach to the big brain dump above when packing my RV with groceries.

First, I plan out our meals and snacks for when we’re on the road. Knowing what we’ll eat not only helps avoid unnecessary grocery runs, but it also helps me breathe easier while at the campsite. Everything is planned, so it’s easy to grab what’s needed, make something delicious, and relax while camping. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my kids say.

After jotting down meal ideas for our trip, I list every ingredient we’ll need. If we’re having fajitas, I write down peppers, onions, tortillas, sour cream, avocado, cheese, and a side salad to go with it. If we’re having hamburgers, I jot down the meat, buns, cheese, and all of the fixings and condiments. That list of specific ingredients makes it so we don’t overlook something yummy.

Step 3: Make food ahead of time when packing your RV

One of our favorite things to eat while camping is mac and cheese warmed up over the campfire. However, I do not love making mac and cheese at the campsite. Cooking pasta, draining the pasta water (which should not be done in your RV sink), melting the cheese and milk together—give me the big kitchen for that task!

Because I like to make some meals and side dishes ahead of time, I list out what’s needed before we go on my RV packing checklist. Putting it on the checklist makes it easier to plan your packing schedule and ensure you’re not forgetting anything important for your trip.

Step 4: In the car

With the rig’s interior packed, I move to think through travel days. Because we have two kiddos and travel with a bumper pull, I like to pack our car with activities, snacks, trash bags, diapers (when the kids were still in diapers), and wipes to get us to our destination. 

Having snacks, activities, and supplies in the car is helpful if you have an unexpected stop that requires you to leave your rig. Not having to climb up inside and pack a bag to head out to a fun and unexpected picnic lunch by a lake you just discovered will simplify your experience and help you, the packer of the RV, feel more at ease. Packing your car or truck is just as important as packing your RV.

Step 5: Travel day packing

Certain items don’t go in our rig until travel day. Toiletries are an obvious one. We also pack our phone chargers, tablet chargers for the kids (they only get them in the car), and pillows on travel day. Writing each item down on our checklist lets me rest easier as we roll out of the driveway and hit the road. 

Bonus tip: Notes for next time

Inevitably, you’ll forget something. Or, you’ll think of something you wish you had in your RV that you didn’t think to pack. Or, you’ll run out of a staple in your rig (toilet paper, I’m looking at you) that you’ll want to remember for the next trip. 

Having a notepad in your RV to jot down things you’ll want to remember for next time helps you to keep refining your own system for packing your RV. Then, when you get home, you can add those items to your next camping trip’s RV packing checklist, so you can keep rolling your big brain dump forward and simplify the packing process even further. 

Packing your RV doesn’t have to be the most stressful part of camping. In fact, it can be fun to think through all the adventures you’ll have. Having a system to simplify the experience makes it far easier to remember everything, saves you mental gymnastics of rolling through your lists over and over again, and helps you sleep easier the night before you travel, knowing you have everything on your list.

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