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How to Pack a Tote for a Road Trip

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Updated july 29, 2016

How to Pack a Tote for a Road Trip

I love my tote and don’t travel anywhere without it!  It is my most indispensable travel tool, used to keep at hand my valuables, medication and a few comforts to make the going more enjoyable.

With so many bags to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?

The answer is simple . . . 

. . . the one that best meets your travel needs.  

A bag needs to be light weight and as tough as your luggage; made of durable, water-resistant fabrics and heavy-duty construction.  It should take whatever is thrown at it and still come out looking great.

During my travels I've used many different bags.  I found out boxy and bulky styles were clumsy, clunky and difficult use.  They didn't fit well anywhere and didn't sit well on my person when slung over my shoulder.  

When I’d turn, the bulky thing would whack into people, pull merchandise off racks in stores or knock products off shelves, and they were constantly sliding off my shoulder.  

My things become lost in their voluminous interiors, didn't stay put or sank to the bottom.  Constantly rummaging the bag’s depths for what I needed, but couldn't find, became more than annoying really fast.  After finding myself dumping the bag every time I needed something from it, I ditched it, donating it to a local second-hand store.

Design is Important

Travel Tip

Never put your bag on the ground, especially outdoors or in a bathroom where it can come in contact with unwanted germs, diseases, noxious chemicals such as motor oil or gasoline, and other health hazards. 

Carry a packet of disinfecting wipes to keep your bag clean and safe to use.

A cleverly designed bag with a slender profile works best and can easily slip under airline seats or behind your legs, can be squeezed into places for keeping at the office, and rides nicely along your body when carried under your arm, or in your hand.

Messing with an extra shoulder strap didn’t work for me.  I chose a bag with two leather-bound, padded handles.  The handles have a comfortable grip, are short enough to carry the bag in my hand with good ground clearance, and long enough to comfortably sling over my shoulder, either under my arm or out of the way toward my back.

Easy access is also important.  Choosing a tote with two handles instead of one allows the bag to open wide for packing and for reaching easily into.

A flimsy bag made of fabric that pools on the floor is difficult to use and provides little protection for its contents.  My tote is substantial; it stands up on its own when set down on a flat surface, so I can easily reach in for what I need when I’m in a business meeting or driving.

Color Makes a Difference

Flying Tip

Using a nondescript day-pack instead of a tote makes for hands-free travel and slips nicely under the airplane seat.

The day-pack should be packable in case only one carry-on item is allowed.

Attach a luggage tag and include an index card with your contact and shipping information.

Secure the day-pack with a luggage lock.

Opt for dark colors to hide any dirt and inevitable wear. Darker shades of neutral colors, such as black, gray, brown or navy blue, are nondescript, and go unnoticed.  They don’t shout “tourist” when traveling in areas frequented by bag snatchers and pick-pockets.

My color of choice is black, because it is versatile to my usage. It complements my wardrobe and matches my luggage.  Black is chic, yet classic, transcending fashion trends year after year. For me, black goes from a casual adventure in the outback, to a formal boardroom meeting, without missing a beat.

Unisex in color, design and function, my black bag presents no embarrassment for the male members of my family when they travel with me.  It looks as good on them, as it does with me.

If I want to dress up my bag, I attach to the handle a bright fob, luggage tag or scarf.

Make Your Tote Multiple-duty

Travel Tip

Put a small package of Kleenex™ in your tote.  It comes in handy when a public restroom is out of tissue.

My tote serves as a business brief case, computer bag, and an overnight or weekend bag, a catch-all for daily auto trips, a school book bag, a traveling office, and my carry-on for airline flights.  

In a pinch, it’s even done time as a temporary diaper bag!

Pockets!  Pockets!

Packing Tip

Pack a small L.E.D. flashlight in your tote.  Navigating the dark in unfamiliar surroundings can be dangerous, especially during tornado warnings in New York City!  (Yes, this happened to us!)  A flashlight will prevent injury and quell panic.

My most important pockets are the two outside water bottle pockets.  They hold my hot and cold beverage containers when traveling, rolled up magazines, a folding umbrella, eye glasses case, packaged snacks, hand sanitizer, hair spray, etc.

These grab and go pockets are the ones I can’t live without!

My second most important is the back pocket that unzips to slide over the handle of rolling luggage. When zipped up it doubles as another pocket.  Behind this well designed pocket is another zip pocket that holds the mail, grocery list and other important documents or papers I need on the fly.

Security Features

Travel Tip

Place an index card with your contact information and shipping address inside your tote in the event your luggage tag is separated from your tote.  

Attach a luggage lock to prevent theft when your bag is left unattended in the car or at your lodging. 

Choose a bag with a double zippered main compartment, which, when closed, can be secured with a luggage lock.  This zipper runs close along the top so nothing can spill out, nor can small fists reach in, deterring would-be pick-pockets.  

Inside, this roomy compartment look for a large zip pocket along the inside back wall where smaller sundries, paperwork or valuables can be stored and readily available if needed.

I found a bag with an array of pockets on the outside front, designed to prevent easy pick-pocketing.  These pockets, while created for electronic paraphernalia and office supplies are versatile enough to serve a variety of needs.  Deeply hidden inside are two security pockets for valuables.

What to Pack in Your Tote

Flying Tip

Pack your toothbrush, a clean shirt, a change of socks and underwear in your carry-on bag or backpack, just in case the suitcase you checked in doesn't arrive with your flight.  

Whether on the road or in the air, I always take a raincoat. Considered a “heavy” packing item, hang it over the back of your car or truck seat.  If flying, throw the raincoat in the overhead storage bin along with your carry-on.  

My coat of choice is a packable raincoat with a detachable hood, and folds into a carrying pouch.  It slips nicely into my tote.  

Put a sweater into your tote (I prefer a polar fleece sweater), along with gloves and a warm hat.  

For ladies a decorative pashmina scarf can serve in place of a warm hat and doubles as a shawl, another layer of warmth.  I’ve also used a pashmina scarf for added protection from the blazing sun and as a decorative shawl to dress up my wardrobe for evening festivities.

Travel Tip

When on the road, go prepared.  (It’s the Girl Scout in me.)  

I bring extra water and throw in some meal replacement bars, my pocket knife, compass, and a flint and steel.  

These survival tools have rescued me from numerous roadside jams when venturing into less traveled wilderness areas where help is hard to find and cell phone service is nonexistent.

Add a packable hat with a broad brim for natural sunscreen in sunshine country.  In the wilderness, such a hat acts as protection against voracious insects and bird droppings.  Yes, this has happened to me on numerous occasions, like lightening striking from a clear sky (this has happened, too)! My favorite hat is a “natural” color and goes into my tote.

Carry your valuables with you in your tote, including a jewelry roll, camera and camera bag, binoculars, and a book or Kindle™.

Other travel items to have handy are sunglasses, a packable umbrella, a spare packable shopping bag, a water bottle, snacks and a small handbag or wallet.  Consider adding a packable travel blanket that doubles as a travel pillow for luxury comfort while traveling.

With a little planning, packing right makes for carefree travel and an enjoyable road trip.

More Packing Tips You Might Enjoy

How to Pack a Suitcase for a Road Trip

Packing for a Road Trip--What you need to Go!

The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List & Tips

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