The Last Thing You Should Do Before You Head Out on a Road Trip

published May 24, 2023
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Family packing up car to go on road trip, camping
Credit: Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

Do you know what’s worse than forgetting to pack underwear or a toothbrush before going on a road trip? Neglecting to clean out your refrigerator and take out the trash. Whether you’re heading out of town for work or pleasure, you’re likely laser-focused on your itinerary, not those leftovers in your fridge. But take it from personal experience: Scan those shelves and toss out any perishable (or soon-to-be perishable) items before you leave — and make sure that trash bag makes it out of your home, too.

Thankfully, it’s been years since that time I forgot to do this. After that fateful trip, I returned to find something resembling a failed elementary school science project in the kitchen garbage, stinking to high heaven. Since then, I’ve done everything I can to avoid a repeat of this mistake. But actually, it doesn’t take much time or energy at all. Here’s my pre-travel routine.

  • I remove the trash bags — including the recycling — from the kitchen and both bathrooms. I give each garbage pail a quick spritz with a sanitizing spray. I won’t replace any of the bags until I come home — this ensures I won’t accidentally throw anything in them before I go. I also usually leave out a small bathroom garbage bag for coffee grounds and any other trash I might accumulate before it’s time to leave. Again, the goal is to leave not a single piece of trash or recycling behind.
  • I toss those smaller bathroom garbage bags into the larger kitchen one. Then, I take that bag and the one for recycling straight to the refrigerator. I search for any food that is expired or is set to expire while I’m away. I focus on things already open, like half-used containers of milk and leftovers. If I’ve got the time, I’ll wipe down the refrigerator shelves. 
  • Next, I take the bags out to the outside pails. This is crucial! Even bags with air fresheners built in will eventually smell if you leave them in your home. And that empty OJ container will not smell as sweet a week later, either. It’s not uncommon to see me with my luggage in one hand and a garbage bag in the other, rolling past the trash bin on my way out.

I know, it stinks to have to worry about emptying the garbage and any other last-minute household chores before you head out on a trip. But not as much as your space will stink later if you’ve forgotten to do it!