How to pack clothing and yarn for a cross-country road trip

This summer, my husband and I packed up our trusty 10-year-old Honda Civic and set out on a nearly 10,000-mile journey from New York to the Pacific Northwest and back. A cross-country road trip had been a long-awaited dream of mine, and so I had a lot of time to plan. As it turns out, deciding what to pack was nearly as complex as choosing the route. So, I thought I’d share how I fit 10 weeks’ worth of clothes in a carry-on suitcase — and how I chose which knitting projects to bring.

Black, yellow and blue packing cubes.

These Eagle Creek packing cubes ensured I stayed organized through 10 weeks of living from a suitcase.

Cubes are key

I have been a packing cube convert for a while. Though basic packing cubes are great for maximizing space, I don’t find them ideal for keeping worn and unworn items separate. However, before we left on our trip, I discovered that my favorite luggage brand, Eagle Creek, has clean/dirty cubes with two compartments. This made organization, and laundry, so much easier! I used the larger cube for pants, shorts, skirts and dresses, and the smaller ones for tops and underwear. These fit, along with some warmer layers and my toiletries, in an expanded 22-inch suitcase.

Working together

All the packing advice I’ve read has stressed the idea of bringing items that work together — kind of like a mini capsule wardrobe. Luckily, my clothing tends to be in similar color families, just like I tend to buy a lot of similar colors of yarn! My “color story” was earthy: a lot of orange-y pinks and greens.

Mixing it up

I also decided to play around with layering. This added a different look to pieces that I wore multiple times over 10 weeks. My Jungmaven cropped tank tops were great to layer over my jumpsuit and dresses and make them feel like a new outfit.

Packing list

I needed clothes that I could wear hiking and sightseeing in all sorts of weather (northern Montana and the Pacific Northwest are chilly!) and also that I could wear for more professional events since I spent a few days in Chicago for the h+h americas craft industry trade show. Linen pants worked well in both the cool and hot weather.

Here’s what went into my packing cubes and a separate shoe bag:

Bottoms

Tops

Dresses/jumpsuits

Warm layers

  • One Patagonia flannel
  • One Aliya Wanek sweatshirt
  • Denim jacket (stayed in the car)
  • REI rain jacket (stayed in my backpack)

Shoes

Acquisitions

  • Not Perfect Linen skirt from Dear Golden in Ann Arbor, MI
  • tonlé top and Known Supply pants from Terra Shepherd in Sioux Falls, SD

Picking knitting projects

I’m fortunate that I’m able to knit in the car because I spent a lot of time in the passenger seat (and also behind the wheel, but I don’t knit there!). It has to be the right project, though. Here’s a list of the projects I brought:

  • Graham Hat by Jennifer Adams: A simple hat pattern that I had cast on a while back and finished at the beginning of the trip.
  • Sable Hat by Marion Em Knits: Another simple hat pattern with a folded brim that was a nice, mindless knit. I finished it just after we left the Olympic Peninsula, where I actually could have worn it!
  • Natural Wonders Shawl by Kristen Ashbaugh-Helmreich: I had bound off the shawl a couple of months ago and attached the fringe in the car. It made a seemingly endless process go faster, and I used the little compartment in the door handle to store the fringe!
  • Take the Weather by yamagara: I bought the yarn, Lanivendole’s Aestiva, at Yarn Bar in Billings, MT, and cast on almost right away. While the start of it takes a bit of concentration, once I was working on the body it was perfect summer road trip knitting. The designer, Bernice, also named her pattern after a song she heard over and over on the radio while on a road trip in Australia many years ago, so it was a fitting vacation knit.
  • ADVENTurer Scarf & Wrap by Ambah O’Brien: I’m on the 13th repeat and I still haven’t memorized the pattern, so I didn’t end up working on this.
  • Saven by Meghan Babin: I’m on the second sleeve of this sweater for Mitch, and I just wasn’t feeling cables in worsted-weight yarn in the summer heat.
Bags piled up in the backseat of a car.

The knitting went into a large LL Bean boat bag.

Of course, there were plenty of local yarn shop visits, so I didn’t stress too much about packing yarn and needles. I ended up with just the right amount.

Further reading

Hope this is helpful for your future adventures! If you need more travel knitting tips, check out this related blog post.

Travel knitting tips for airplanes and road trips

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Travel knitting

June gave me a bit of a whirlwind travel schedule, between a road trip to Block Island, a bus trip down to Washington, DC, for TNNA, and flight to Colorado to celebrate a milestone family birthday. If those trips had anything in common, it was that my knitting was a constant companion.

Summer travel is an excellent way to make a dent in your WIP pile. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

Yes, you can bring your needles in your carry-on luggage.

At least when flying within, or out of, the U.S. I have even heard of fellow knitters bringing super pointy Signature Needles along on domestic flights. However, different countries have different rules. When I flew home from Australia in 2013, the pair of small, blunt-tipped children’s scissors I bought just to take on the plane, with a blade shorter than 4 inches, and which got through security in New York, were confiscated.

I’ve never had a problem taking my metal ChiaoGoo RED Lace circular needles even on international flights. However, if you’re worried about your pricey Addis or Sigs being confiscated for whatever reason, take some bamboo circulars to be on the safe side. If you’re really worried, I’ve also heard fellow knitters recommend bringing straight needles or interchangeable tips in a pencil case, and a self-addressed stamped envelope to mail back needles if they’re not allowed in your carry-on luggage. Another common tip is to bring a package of dental floss to cut yarn in place of scissors or a thread cutter (which is always prohibited). And, of course, slip a lifeline into those complicated lace projects. And speaking of lace…

Simpler is better.

When it comes to travel knitting, garter and stockinette are my friends. I’m not sure about you, but there’s nothing like getting frustrated with a pattern when your GPS is acting up in the car, or you’re sitting in a cramped airplane seat next to someone who needs to use the bathroom every 20 minutes and the thimble-sized bag of snack mix just wasn’t enough of a snack and OH MY GOD I AM NOT PAYING $10 FOR CHEESE AND CRACKERS.

Ahem.

I did make an exception to that rule during the trip to Colorado when I started the lace edging of my Flying Fish shawl, but I also made sure to pack my chevron striped scarf, just in case.

You also don’t want a project with a lot of different color changes (think mini skeins) because you will not be happy if one of those roll away, especially on a plane.

Take pictures of your patterns.

I’ve learned the hard way that as much as you think you’ve memorized your pattern, there will be that moment when you need to refer to the PDF and… there’s no cell service or Wi-Fi. When I start a pattern, I make it a habit of taking a screenshot of it on my iPhone (by hitting the home and sleep/power button at the same time) so I can easily refer to it even if I don’t have access to the Internet. Printing the pattern works, too, but getting a screenshot is the best option if you want to go paperless.

I actually sort of look forward to plane rides and long car trips because of the time available to me to knit. Hopefully this will help you prepare for one of your upcoming trips!