Packing & Road Trip Tips!

We made it on family holiday to Colorado and home with one large duffel bag.
This is our family bag! Everything else (like fleece blankets and books) fit inside the Suburban. This trip we had 11 people with our 11 seat belts because uncle Ty hitched a ride.

As a child I grew up traveling. I remember in 5th grade at Saint James Catholic school we were asked what type of food had preservatives in it that we ate often. I raised my hand and exclaimed  airplane food! Mrs Porath scolded me, but then later apologized saying she supposed eating something every 4 to 6 weeks counted as often. I remember feeling so much better that I had not been dumb and also realizing perhaps I flew more often than others. We traveled all the time and my parents said I had to bring whatever I needed in carry on bag. I learned to pack things that dried quickly, matched interchangeably and items of entertainment that could tide me over during long drives or lectures.

All these years later I find the same applies to packing in one large duffel for our family of 10. Some tricks I employ translate to a family of any size!

I pack per day rather than per child. So for our dress clothes I rolled all the boys pants, all the girls dresses and my clothes together in a bundle. I try to have a vague idea of the day to day activities, hiking and swimming for example, and then make a family packet for each day, these can be in a plastic shopping bag. The bags can be reused for wet & dirty items or diaper bags. The kids have "car bags" for their individual entertainment on the long drives.

Kids making canvas "car bags" $1 each at craft store and kids color them with markers. Inside the bags go snacks, sketch books, novels, stickers, games and cards. Whatever they want for their own items for the trip. If it doesn't fit, it stays home. The little ones always make some stuffed animal friends fit:) We did this rather than backpacks because we often have school right when we arrive home and its nice to have a specific bag for car trips.
When we are packing at home the kids are sent off with what to find so I am not running all over. I might say bring me 1 pair of jeans, 2 t shirts and a fleece jacket. I also pack collapsable bins. Ikea and Target both sell them. So when we get to our tent site/hotel/cabin I pop those out and separate out everyones clothes so they are stacked by day in packets. Everyones socks and underwear are separated in individual ziplock bags that are labeled, then the bags go into everyone's pop up bin. I have 10 bins in varying sizes but everyone has one.
Our room in Maine, bins along the floor! Some collapse and some we use to pack in rather than a bag.

Dirty clothes go into into an empty duffel and almost always I sink wash or find a Laundromat in a town we pass. This allows me to pack 1/2 as much! when it works I pack a clothes line, I always wash unders & socks and keeps things from getting musty. Even an hour in the sun at a park stop can freshen things up.

When we camp we have camping pads but not all sleeping bags. So for camping we often have fuzzy fleece blankets and then each child puts their hoodie sweatshirt into a pillow case so their lap blanket and sweatshirt transforms into a bed! We make a mat of sleeping pads so it is softer but those roll up and take up very little space.

I make different kids of bread, easy to transport and slice in the car. Doesn't need to be cooled and holds up well. Sometimes we have peanut butter or cream cheese in the cooler to add to the bread to make it more of a meal.

For snacks I try to pack enough to go 2 days without fast food. Mini bagels pre spreaded with plain and strawberry cream cheese, nut & dried fruit mix, cracker snacks and cut veggies in snack sized bags. Our kids love raw cucumbers with a little garlic salt and the cucumbers hydrate and cut down on car sickness. We also make snack bags of treat cereals like coco puffs or fruit loops for a non sticky treat. For some reason all the kids will eat string cheese on a car trip but not at home! I freeze it first and as it thaws hang them back.

Watching cows at a rest stop in Nebraska, Otis style entertainment!!

Last but not least we keep electronics to a minimum and listen to books on tape. To Maine we listened to Narnia and to Colorado this time we listened to Swiss Family Robinson. We have one ipad that gets passed around 7 ways but usually it ends up charging as the kids get into the story. This trip the kids played a game guessing movies we would pass in vehicles with built in players! It was really funny, and we saw Madagascar a disproportionate amount of times in passing vans.

Now we are home and I am working through the laundry. Not a small feat, but what a wonderful trip. We were able to connect with the children's GREAT grandparents on Sheff's maternal side. Truly priceless.


  1. I love that you played the name-that-movie game! We do that when we're driving and see a car with a built-in DVD player. Do you have any advice on convincing your significant other to travel lighter? I'm with you; I can travel for a week or more with just a carry-on, but my husband thinks we need to take everything but the kitchen sink with us when we go away for a weekend. It drives me crazy!

  2. Oh funny! I think Sheff just is so happy to hand off the chore of packing he does not complain. One idea is to put him in charge of making a list (on his iphone likely:) of what you actually used! For example maybe you don't need fishing gear for the 2 day trip to the cabin but could have used earplugs. Make a list per type of vacation and then go by it, no add ons! We found for our up north trip we never used shorts because it was so buggy but needed 1 pair of jeans per kid and lots of swim suits. It cut out all the track pants and athletic shorts. Also, using the car bags creates a set space limit for "extras" maybe hubby needs a car bag too :)

  3. To Beth!
    Well the jeans go from day to day, so each day has a clean top/unders/socks but re use the jeans or swim suits! I do a lot of spot cleaning knees and backsides. This past trip we lost a pair of jeans to sliding down mountain rocks so that kiddo got to wear PJ bottoms home.

    My light packing totally depends on being able to wash! I also make the older ones add deodorant to their car bags now!! On this last trip I wished I had a bag of winter hats just for cold winter mornings so that goes on the iphone list for next time. I email my self the lists and have a computer file of lists organized by trip!! No creating the wheel for next time.

    We are due for another East Coast tour, cousin play time for sure!!!


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