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The best way to pack your car for any road trip

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For most people, summer means vacation and travel. As the temperature rises, 80 percent of Americans plan to change their everyday environment, and most of them will do that by taking a road trip. And it makes sense because driving is more flexible and cheaper than flying

Your car’s trunk has a lot more room than a single carry-on, but it’s definitely limited and you’ll have to make the most of it. Packing for the road isn’t just about the satisfaction of winning a complicated game of baggage Tetris – safety is important too.

The importance of good packaging

If you think that as long as you manage to squeeze everything in — right down to the kitchen sink — you’re good to go, think again. Poor packing can quickly turn a summer vacation into a frustrating experience, like when you can’t find the sunscreen or the luggage has shifted and your tasty banana bread has broken. But a wandering water bottle or unsecured grill grate can have even more devastating and dramatic effects.

At best, objects that shift and spill are a distraction. If you constantly look in the rear-view mirror to make sure the board game on top of your luggage doesn’t slip and the pieces scatter all over the place, your eyes won’t be on the road, posing a danger to passengers and other drivers.

[Related: Organize and accessorize your board games with 3D printing]

“Proper packing reduces these hazards and also helps to keep all passengers safe and organized,” said Thomas McIntyre Schultz, who is responsible for technology and product communications at Volvo Car USA.

But at worst, loose objects can be deadly. According to Volvo’s loading recommendations, an object weighing 44 pounds can achieve an equivalent projectile weight of more than 2,200 pounds in a head-on impact at just 30 miles per hour. If the item hits the driver or one of the passengers at that speed, it could cause serious injury or even death. So packing is about more than comfort and convenience: it can literally save your life.

Packing Tips

“Packing a car is a combination of art and science that helps protect everyone on the road,” says McIntyre Schultz.

And as with any masterpiece or scientific experiment, he suggests that you start with a plan. Before you throw things in the trunk, make sure that everything you want to take with you is present and accounted for. That way, you avoid the frustration of packing the entire suitcase, only to realize you forgot a duffel bag and have to start the process all over again.

First, disassemble or fold large objects, such as prams, so that they are packed as small as possible. To make sure you make the most of the space in your car, put anything particularly bulky or sharp-edged in its own box. Fill every nook and cranny with soft, pliable items such as blankets, pillows, or jackets. This makes packing easier and protects your luggage from scratches or dents.

Once everything is done in the driveway or garage, visualize how it all fits together before you start loading. Place heavy bags at the bottom of the stack to prevent them from sliding or crushing more delicate items. For particularly large or awkwardly shaped things like bicycles, scooters, or sports equipment, consider installing a bike rack or roof rack outside of your vehicle. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions closely to ensure the racks are properly secured.

Once everything is in place, take a photo so you can reference it and replicate the results when you go home.

For convenience, store useful items such as first aid kits, snacks and entertainment equipment in the passenger compartment. Store them in baskets or boxes and try to secure them to chairs, or clamp them firmly to the floor between rows to keep them from shifting or spilling.

Think about your car

What you need to make your ride safe before hitting the road depends on what you’re driving. McIntyre Schultz explains sedans –cars with separate closed suitcases-do not require as many safety precautions as other vehicles.

“A trunk provides a natural separation for passengers from luggage, heavy or loose items and can minimize the distraction caused by items shifting while driving,” he says.

When you drive an SUV or hatchback, things are different. To prevent a flying suitcase from ruining your trip, store heavy items at the bottom of the trunk and away from people. This makes them easier to pack and prevents them from falling on passengers, crushing other objects or, in the event of an accident, turning into deadly projectiles. For added security, use rope or bungee cords to secure heavy items to your vehicle’s built-in mounting anchors. If you have piled up luggage in the back seat, secure it with a safety net. This simple barrier can also prevent cargo from flying forward to the front seats.

[Related: How airbags work, and how they can fail]

If you’re piling up high, don’t bang your luggage against the windows – avoid breakage or damage to the glass by leaving a 10cm gap between the glass and your gear. Also, don’t forget to leave plenty of room so you can see through your windows and through your rear-view mirror.

Finally, make any changes your car needs to handle the heavy load, especially if you have a hitch mounted rack or trailer. Check your car’s specs carefully and see if you need to adjust your tire pressure to accommodate the extra weight. You can find all this information in your car manual.

Keeping all your goods and gear in place (and yourself too) will make your road trip a safe one, so you arrive at your destination healthy, happy and ready to enjoy a well-deserved summer vacation.