So you are planning a road trip with the family. Yay for you and your family! I've taken two huge road trips with my 2 girls and I've learned a thing or two along the way. One of the things that had me nervous before our first trip was how in the heck to pack the car with everything we needed and what exactly did we need for our trip. I'm going to show you what we have done to pack for our trips as well as what we find to be essentials for a road trip with the family.
Before our first road, I sought the advice of a few friends and bloggers on how to have a successful road trip. What did we NEED to take, what should we leave behind? It was a little nerve-wracking to think about doing such a long trip, just me and my kids. I wanted to make sure we had enough stuff, but also didn't want to pack a ton of extra stuff because…well it would just be more stuff and when you have limited car space, more stuff is not a good thing.
Now that we have taken two successful road trips, I know what works and what doesn't. I also have a pretty good idea of what we need and what is not essential. It is all part of my planning now and is included in my Real Organized Road Trip Planner.
I've done two kinds of trips. I packed the same way for both. It worked well for both.
One type of trip was driving across country and then staying in one location for a few weeks. The other trip was on the road for the majority of the trip along with a flight to another location for a portion of the trip.
The basic essence of how I pack for our trips is to pack overnight bags for each person on the trip and then use plastic bins to hold all of the extra clothes and shoes. Then every 4 or 5 nights I bring the plastic bins into the hotel and we change out clothes and shoes in the overnight bags.
I bought two plastic bins(affiliate link – this links to the exact bins I bought, though that price is ridiculous) at Target (affiliate link). I didn't have things labeled like I did for this pictures. I did that just for you. 🙂
In one of the large bins, I pack all of our extra clothes. Each of us packs about 10 outfits plus we needed 1 dress for a nicer occasion. On our second trip, we also needed all kinds of things for a trip to the beach with family and celebrating a 50th Anniversary. It made the large bin quite full with all the extra things we needed.
In the second large bin, I pack all of the shoes and other additional items(like a big box of tampons…you know the essentials) we would need on our trip. For us, we seem to always end up packing too many shoes. Not sure that will be the thing you overpack, but keep things simple and pack less than you think you need. If you really find something you need, you will be able to find a store along the way to get what you need.
Both years, we kept a pair of tennis shoes that just stayed outside of the shoe box and a pair of flip-flops on our feet. The tennis shoes were needed for some of our activity stops during the day and it was just easier to have them out and easy to access.
The suitcase in the middle held all of our toiletries. For 3 girls(and I'm a product hound).
When packing for a road trip, I don't pack anything in smaller sized containers. I figure for 4-5 weeks, we need the full-size containers. If your road trip is shorter, you may not need as much space for your family toiletries bag.
The family toiletries bag goes into the hotel every night along with our overnight bags.
Before we move on from this area, my car (a 2002 Toyota Highlander) has these bumped out areas. They are the perfect to put some of the things we need but don't need access to. It also ended up being home to some of the Starbucks mugs for states and cities I bought along the way, which you can see if you look way back in my Instagram feed.
If your car has some space like this, use it for things you don't need access to all the time.
For a road trip, you will want to pack some extra supplies that you hope you don't need, but it is smart to have just in case.
I recommend that you pack extra trash bags, plastic gloves, rags, a roll of paper towels, extra plastic shopping bags as well as zipper bags of various sizes. The zipper bags came in really handy for all different kinds of uses.
Most of the above items are just for any of those you never know scenarios. If one of the kids get sick, you have everything you need to clean it all up.
Thankfully the only time I ever needed any of these supplies was when we ate in the car once and my daughter spilled almost the entire container of Macaroni and Cheese from Panera Bread. I'll take it. I'm so glad there was nothing disgusting to clean up. These are very much so better safe than sorry types of things to take.
You will also want a first aid kit. We fill our first aid kit with plenty of band-aids in all different sizes and shapes, Neosporin, Benadryl spray, Dramamine, ice packs(the kind that you break and they get cold), gauze, non-stick pads, and cloth or fabric tape. I also just added a little set that has tweezers, scissors, and a mini flashlight.
Thankfully, we have needed very little of these things on our trips. We do go through band-aids like water because of bug bites and scratches, but those are easily replaced on the road.
I also recommend keeping extra napkins, plastic silverware, and two boxes of tissue. I'll show you where I kept those in a couple of pictures.
Next up in my layers of packing, comes the overnight bags.
As I mentioned, we pack clothes for about 4 days at a time in these overnight bags. The girls also had a stuffed animal that fit in this area as well as a blanket for when the car was cold(you know when one person is baking in the sun and the other is freezing in the shade). It worked out really well because they could just reach over their seat to get what they needed.
The basket you can see contained my vitamins and also went into the hotel each night. Again, for 5 weeks, I figured just taking the containers was better than trying to use THAT many plastic bags and pre-pack the vitamins for each day.
I also had an overnight bag, which is the black backpack(affiliate link). In addition to my clothes, it held my computer and my tablet as I needed to keep up with work on the road trip.
In the next layer of packing, as I mentioned, I needed to work on the road, so I created an office in a box. If you don't need a place for work items and you have someone sitting in the front passenger seat, just put those things here instead.
For my work items, I pared down to just the minimum things I needed and put it all in one box for easy storage and easy access. In the center is my camera bag. I ended up with it in the front seat on the trip home. That way I could snap a few shots of the beautiful scenery without having to pull over. Not necessarily the best shots, but it worked.
We also travel with this small, flat ice chest (affiliate link). If you can make the room work, it is really handy to have a small ice chest with you. If you stay at hotels that have the little mini-fridges in them, it makes it easy to keep a few things you like to have with you.
For us, I have a peanut allergy and I like having a piece of toast with Sunflower Seed Butter (it is good protein) for breakfast. In order to have that, I have to take it with me. The ice chest was great to take some yogurt for snacks and pick up grapes for snacks as well. I just re-filled zipper bags with ice at the hotel each morning before we left. We usually found a hotel room that at least had a mini fridge. I also learned along the way that you can request a mini-fridge for medical reasons. I was told that by a hotel employee when I mentioned that I needed the fridge for my Sunflower Seed Butter due to my allergy. He told me just to request one for medical reasons. I never actually did that, but maybe it can help you.
Oh, and by the way, the ice chest works well to hold a bottle of wine with a screw top lid as well….possibly a trick to helping a parent traveling with two kids stay sane. Lol! 😉
This big pink bin comes in super handy along the road. Start with it empty or nearly empty. As you shop and/or buy a few things along the way you now have a place to keep them.
I also like to keep things easy to access and somewhat organized, so this bin became my catch-all area. It was handy.
Finally, since I was the only person in the front seat, I used the passenger seat for additional storage of things I needed handy while driving. If you have a passenger in this seat, just use the space where I had my office in a box. You may need to plan ahead a little more in terms of snacks so you don't have to stop to get those, but that should be do-able.
I had another bin on the floor with snacks in it. Since I'm 5'8″, reaching these things is a snap for me. This bin also held a container with CDs and a container with DVDs. It was VERY handy to have the snack sized bags to give out snacks. I know you could buy snacks along the way, but that will add to costs very quickly, so I suggest that you buy snacks at Target (affiliate link) or the grocery store and just split them up into individual sizes.
This is where you also want to keep those extra napkins and plastic silverware. You will find that they come in very handy.
In my car, I can fit two boxes of tissue in the space I have under this middle console. If you don't have a space like that, I highly recommend that you find a place to keep tissue handy in the car. It just seems to be another thing that is great to have easy access to when the need arises.
Now the “real” pictures versus the staged pictures for showing you the specifics of how we pack.
Above is the morning we headed out on our first trip. You can see this full portion of our trip in my post about our adventure west.
This is the morning we were leaving Arizona to head back to the East Coast on our first trip. As you can see, things are a bit more packed….not too bad, but still more stuff. Good thing we started with room to spare. You can see our whole journey East and all the fun places we found to stop in my post about our journey.
This is the morning we left on our 7,000 mile 5.5-week long road trip. Things are packed essentially the same. I've got 5 posts about that trip. You can read them here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, and Week 5.
Looks like on our second trip, we did even better with how much we bought. Not nearly as full as our first trip…which is kind of amazing since we did SO much more on this trip.
Finally, our last road trip was a short one. That included staying in one place for a week, so we packed somewhat similar but slightly different since we were only on the road for 2 days on this trip.