What to Pack in a Moving Overnight Bag

What to Pack in a Moving Overnight Bag

Don’t Forget the Essentials!

Have you ever experienced a long-distance move? If you have, then you probably know that whether you’ve hired a professional moving company or rented a moving truck for a DIY move, there are particular possessions to which you’ll need ready access during the trip.

Still, overnight bags are seldom the same from one person to another. So, we’ll use this article to explain, in broad strokes, what you might want to include in an overnight bag that meets your needs during the move.

The Basics of an Essentials Bag, Box, Bin, Etc.

The size bag you’ll need for your essentials depends on the type of move.

For example, a gym bag should suffice if you’re moving across town or another short distance. But for longer or more complex trips, particularly those taking at least a day’s travel, you might need a larger carrier since you’ll have less access to your other belongings.

A moving essentials bag should include what you’re most likely to need on the day of your move and the first few days in your new home. Contrary to the usual moving advice, which dictates that you strip what you bring down to the bare minimum, don’t skimp with your essentials bag.

Essentials Virtually Everyone Needs for Moving

Important Documents
Keep your important documents like Passports and Birth Certificates with you as much as possible during a move.

Start with your wallet, keys, and vital documents.

Then, if you have one, add your smartphone for its many practical functions. If you don’t have one, though, bring a notebook and pens—making sure to write any contact information you might need on the road or at your destination.

Of course, everyone should have at least a few changes of clothing, an extra pair of comfortable walking shoes, and maybe some snacks and drinks for the car. And who doesn’t need basic toiletries like:

  • A toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste?
  • A hairbrush or comb?
  • Nail grooming tools?
  • Shampoo and soap (for the first days in your new home)?

We could go on about necessary toiletries and other items for a moving overnight bag. But we wouldn’t want to delve too far into people’s personal needs and preferences.

Essentials Needed Only by Some

Make-Up Bag

So, let’s look at some categories of essential belongings that vary among people and their situations.

A Makeup Bag

Makeup is a way for people to show their faces to the world. Some use little to none, while others spend hours trying to achieve the perfect look. However, the more of a perfectionist you are, the larger the bag and the more compartmentsOpens in a new tab. you’ll need.

A Bag for Medications and Medical Devices

If you or a family member has one or more health conditions that require special care, you might want to have a bag dedicated exclusively to these needs. Having everything medical in one placeOpens in a new tab. helps ensure that you haven’t forgotten or lost something along the way.

And don’t forget an ice pack and insulated bag for keeping temperature-sensitive meds cold.

A Bag for Electronic Devices, Chargers, etc.

In the third decade of the 21st century, it’s no longer necessary to transport a bulky desktop computer in your vehicle.

Instead, we have smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even smartwatches. But you still need one or more pieces of luggage to hold everything and the paraphernalia that accompanies it.

Separate Bags for Kids and Their Stuff

Letting kids pack their own moving overnight bags is a fantastic way to get them engaged with the moving process. Give them bags to fill and a checklist outlining the necessities. For example:

  • Number of complete daily outfits
  • Toiletries
  • Toys, books, and gadgets
  • Anything else that will still fit

Depending on the children’s ages, they might need some adult help. But don’t let even preschoolers off the hook; packing overnight bags is a helpful lesson in planningOpens in a new tab., organization, and space management.

A Pet Supply Bag (or Bags)

Dog with Suitcases
All packed up and ready to go!

Of course, house pets can’t (and don’t want to) learn to pack moving overnight bags. So, if you have pets traveling in the car with you, they’ll need stashes of stuffOpens in a new tab. dedicated to their needs. These include:

  • Food, canned and dry. Dry food keeps longer, but canned pet food is helpful if, for instance, you need to lure a cat out from under a motel bed.
  • Food and travel-friendly water bowlsOpens in a new tab..
  • Litterboxes for cats and poop bags for dogs.
  • Leashes
  • Spare collars with attached ID tags (make sure they always wear the originals).
  • Any medications.
  • Veterinary records (especially a rabies certificate).
  • A few small soft toys (no catnip) for cats and stuffed or chew toys for dogs.
  • Crates and blankets for the car and any overnight lodging.

And be sure to have a large, insulated bottle of waterOpens in a new tab. available for everyone in the car to hydrate, including the four-legged ones.

A Career Bag

Many people take their jobs on the road with them, even if it’s to move to another place. Various occupations see employees moving up the ladder from their current jobs to ones with better locations, pay, perks, etc.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that such an individual would have a whole moving overnight bag dedicated exclusively to career-related books, records, and other documents.

Will they find time to catch up on all this material while on the road? We doubt it. They will probably be in the car or crashing on a motel bed most of the time! Shh… Don’t let on that you’ve figured that out about them.

Zipping Up the Overnight Bag — and Moving On

Those who have moved any distance at all—whether crossing a state line or the entire country—probably have experience packing moving overnight bags. And if they don’t, it’s because they traveled alone or with one other person and treated the entire vehicle as their overnight bag.

And there are probably types of moving overnight bags that we didn’t even think of when writing this piece. After all, some pretty quirky movers will carry unique personal items over great distances while moving to new locations.

Some might want to pack their entire jewelry collections (and little else). Others can’t part with their old beer cans. Still others have remarkably different pairs of socks to wear each day.

Whatever your preference in moving overnight bags, though… Well, you do you boo.


I've been a college coach for going on 20 years now and that career has led Jen and I on quite the journey. We've lived in 7 different states and have moved a dozen different times. We've learned A LOT over the course of all those moves and we want to pass on our knowledge to help others going through the moving process.

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