Jul 13 2011

Packing for a Family Road Trip

9 nights of luggage for 6 people

Vacation time is almost here, and while for my husband vacation means throwing a few clothes into suitcases and getting behind the wheel, for me it means a lot of time spent planning and packing.  Over the years, I’ve become more adept at it so that it’s less of a last-minute panic session and more of a slow-and-steady endeavor.  Here’s how I do it; maybe some of these tips will work for you.

  • Make your lists . . . and check them twice. 2-3 weeks before we leave, I start jotting things down on a notepad on my desk.  I know we won’t forget the basics like clothes, but any little odds and ends that I want to have along go on the list.  Camera battery charger, Bananagrams, ice cream bucket and towel (for just in case) all go on the list so I don’t forget them.
  • Let the kids help. Once they start reading (sooner if siblings will help), my kids choose their own vacation clothes.  I give them each a list like this:  10 shorts, 10 short-sleeve shirts, 2 pajamas, 10 underwear, 1 pants, 1 sweatshirt.  They each put their own clothes in a laundry basket, and then I set to pairing up the clothes so that they match reasonably well.
  • Watch the forecast. 10-day forecasts are marvelous, and I begin packing in earnest as soon as most of our trip fits into that window.  The forecast can give me a decent idea of whether we’ll be wearing shorts or sweatshirts or needing umbrellas for most of our trip.
  • It’s a vacation, not a beauty contest. When we hit the road, I operate under the assumption that most of the people we meet will never see us again.  While I want my family to be clean and well-groomed, vacation for us is not the time to break out our fanciest clothes.  Unless we have a special occasion like a wedding to attend, each person is restricted to one pair of comfortable walking shoes (plus flip-flops for the pool).  Clothes must be comfortable and pack well, because I don’t iron, especially when on vacation.  We keep accessories to a minimum.  I really don’t think the museum docents or park rangers will notice if we’re dressed in just the basics.
  • Pack by the day, not by the person. If each of us packed our own suitcase, we’d lug six big suitcases plus a laptop bag into each and every hotel.  Instead, I pack smaller bags for each stop along the way.  A small pilot case can hold two nights’ worth of clothes for the six of us; we use duffel bags for one-night stays.  The things we need every night, like pajamas and toiletries, go into another suitcase, and I pack one bag with extras: a change of clothes in case someone gets sick or filthy, plus something for just in case the weather changes.  For this trip, the forecast is upper 80′s and 90′s for the whole week, so our primary clothes are shorts and t-shirts, but we each have a pair of pants and a sweatshirt in the extras bag.  I mark the bags with small tags that indicate the day and city we’ll be in, so each night we just have to grab the right bag, the pajama bag, and the laptop and swimsuits if we’ll be needing them.
  • Have a bag of toiletries packed at all times. I used to forget the simple things, like my toothbrush or hairspray.  A few years ago, I bought a hanging toiletry bag and I just keep an extra set of everything in there.  Combs, shampoo, makeup basics, etc. stay in this bag at all times.  If I want to add extra things, I can, but at least the basics are always covered.  This has also come in handy when we’ve had unexpected hospital stays.
  • Pile it up. Much to my husband’s chagrin, the last week before vacation involves piles of stuff somewhere in the house.  I find a clear spot in our bedroom or the living room and start stashing everything that’s ready to go.  Bags with snacks for the car, laptop case, and swimsuits can be packed several days ahead of time.  Suitcases go in the same location when they’re packed.  When we load up the car, we know we have everything when that spot is clear.
  • Let the kids choose their entertainment. With the exception of their “vacation books,” which I labor over because the kids request them for each trip, I let my kids decide what to bring along in the car.  To avoid bringing the entire menagerie of stuffed animals or the dolls and all their accessories, each child is limited to a small briefcase which they can fill with whatever they want, plus a binder that includes their vacation books, paper, crayons, markers, and pencils.  In addition, I’ve loaded up my iPod with audio books, and I always have a deck of cards along for in case we have an unexpected wait somewhere.
  • Charging cables stay in the car. After trips where I’ve forgotten a charging cable of some sort, I now keep car chargers for each type of connection in each of our vehicles.  Now all of our nooks, phones, iPods, and other devices can be charged on the go no matter which vehicle we’re traveling in.

So, that’s it.  The pressure of packing and remembering everything for a family of six used to make my pre-vacation days miserable, but now that I have things organized, I do a bit each day so that it goes smoothly when it’s time to pack up the car.

Do you have any roadtrip packing tips you’d like to share?

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8 comments so far

8 Comments to “Packing for a Family Road Trip”

  1. Cheryl Basile on 13 Jul 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I love the idea of “packing by the day” and putting the day’s clothes for all family members in one bag. In the past I’ve packed my kids’ bags so that each day’s wardrobe was in a large Ziplock bag, with the idea that they didn’t have to dig around in the suitcase and mess up the clothes while looking for socks, underwear, etc. for that day. But we still had to carry all those bags into every hotel, etc. With your system, I could still use the Ziplock bags (each person would have one), but we would only have to carry one bag into the hotel each evening.

    Great ideas; thank you for sharing!

  2. minnemom on 14 Jul 2011 at 8:55 am

    Cheryl, the ziplock bags are a great idea for keeping everyone’s clothes organized. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Erin on 14 Jul 2011 at 10:47 am

    Packing by the day is the best advice! On our last trip I had a journey suitcase and a destination suitcase, plus the toiletries bag that went in every night.

    I also like to have handy a bag with a basic change of clothes for EVERYONE (esp if you are getting to the destination after only one day of driving). You never know who will have a bathroom emergency when you just can’t stop or who might get sick or sit on a mayo pkg at Chick-Fil-A or fall in a mud puddle at a rest stop or who might be collateral damage. If you have a baby, at least 3 handy shirt changes for mom, too!

    And as for kids getting carsick, my kids don’t get sick very often, but when they do, it’s only when I’m unprepared. So I keep a couple large plastic containers with lids (those large opaque margarine tubs are great) close to the front seat for quick distribution. Much better than a bag. And I take a ton of disposable plastic bags, too, with a roll of paper towels and a gallon jug of tap water.

  4. Diana on 14 Jul 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Checklists are definitely the way to go. I often have to pack for camping and you can imagine there are even more “essentials” that you need to bring. A list is indispensable and eliminates that gnawing “did I forget something” feeling.

  5. Daisy@My Costume Express on 25 Jul 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Wow! That’s a lot of baggage! But i admit, your tips are helpful to get everything one needs in a roadtrip. I also suggest to pack the toiletries separately for these to be easily found when needed. This is to avoid the hassle of looking for the toothbrush in each bag.

  6. Lea on 03 Aug 2011 at 10:27 am

    Hi Linda – great post! I’m packing for a trip right now, so found these tips very useful. Was wondering if you had any favorite kids’ audiobooks? My 5-year-old would LOVE these since we can’t always read to her while driving… makes me carsick!

  7. minnemom on 03 Aug 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Lea, we like to listen to audiobooks on car trips as well. I actually asked friends for advice before our latest trip, and was told that anything by E.B. White (read by the author himself) is very good; also Anne of Green Gables. When my daughter was 5, she liked the Boxcar Children and Betsy-Tacy. If you’re a part of a library system that loans out e-books with the Overdrive system, audiobooks are usually able to be checked out as well.

    Another option is Tales2Go, a subscription iPhone app that has a wide variety of children’s books available for listening. It would be another avenue worth considering.

    And then there are regular library CD’s and cassettes, depending on your vehicle’s capabilities.

    Enjoy your trip, and happy listening!

  8. [...] admit it, and you may find this crazy, but for a big trip, I’ll start packing 3-4 weeks in advance.  As I think of little things we may need on the trip, but not necessarily [...]

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