- Less is more: No matter how long our trip is going to be, I’ve learned that it works great to bring just two to three pairs of pants/shorts and three to four shirts per person (four for the child who tends to spill and get dirtier) and plan on doing some laundry somewhere. Most motels have coin-operated washers and driers, and we often stay with people for part of the trip and can use their laundry facilities. The less stuff we’re lugging around, the better. I try to pack things that don’t show much dirt, including denim, medium-darker colors, plaid and other patterns. And if the kids’ clothes are only a little dirty, I spot clean or simply ignore non-obvious, non-smelly dirt. Super clean clothes just aren’t worth the bother on vacations.
- Packing method: I use a big duffle bag to pack all the kids’ clothes together, but I organize the contents by sorting things into smaller bags that fit inside the duffle. Plastic grocery store sacks work fine; loosely tie the handles together to keep things from spilling out. I put all the kids’ underwear (three to four pairs each) and socks (three to four pairs each) together in one bag so I can quickly grab underwear for kids in the shower or bath and socks for all the kids as we head out the door each morning. I put all the kids’ pajamas together in another bag. You often need them so kids can put on their pajamas in the car before they fall asleep and then easily be transferred inside when you arrive. I pack all the swim suits together in another little bag (everyone will likely want their swimsuits at the same time). I sometimes pack all the kids’ shirts and pants together in the duffle and sometimes put each child’s pants and shirts in their own plastic bag to keep them separate and easier to find. I use a sharpie to write on the bags, “underwear,” “Ashton’s clothes,” etc.
- Shoes: I pack a separate bag that contains everyone’s hiking/running/closed-toed shoes if we’ll be needing those. I don’t like dirty shoes mixed in with the other clothes in a bag, and most of the time the kids will be wearing flip-flops or sandals in the car when we travel in the summer so it’s nice to keep the bulkier shoes separate.
- Sweatshirts/jackets: I pack a separate bag with everyone’s sweatshirts and/or rain jackets and keep that bag in the car all the time during our trip. Then, when it gets chilly and everyone wants a sweatshirt, we can easily grab sweatshirts without rifling through everything else.
- Nice clothes: If we’ll need Sunday clothes, I pack everyone’s nice stuff (shoes, socks and clothes) into one shared garment/hang-up bag. Because we all need that stuff at the same time — and likely just once — it’s great to have it all together and put it away all together at the bottom of the pile in the car when we’re done with it for the trip.
- Overall baggage summary: When all seven of us travel, here’s what we bring: a large duffle with all the kids’ clothes (three to four shirts for each child, two to three pairs of pants or shorts each, a bag of underwear and socks, a bag of all the kids’ pajamas, a bag of everyone’s swim suits); a small duffle bag for me and one for my husband (I don’t like anyone else messing with what’s in my bag); and a garment bag with everyone’s Sunday clothes if needed. We often bring sleeping bags for each child as well because we are usually packed into one room at a hotel or a guest room at the home of friends or family, so we need those sleeping bags. We can carry all this into a hotel or wherever we’re staying in one load quite easily. Of course, we used to have a stroller and port-a-crib (or two, thanks to the twins) to bring along and needed to add a couple baby blankets and quite a few diapers in their own plastic bag in the kids’ duffle bag — but, still, we traveled relatively light.
- Checklist: I have a checklist of what needs to be packed and done that I use for every trip. You can make a list and then tweak it after your first road trip. Then every time you’ve got a road trip coming up, you print out your list and follow it, and it’s so simple. Click here to see my list.
- Helpers: I have the kids help me pack. I send one child to get three pair of underwear for each person, another one to get all the socks, someone to get the pajama, etc. When they come back with each item (and I check to be sure it’s the right stuff and pack it into the bag), I cross it off my checklist.
- Where to pack: I do laundry the day before a trip and put the stuff I’ll be packing into piles as I fold the laundry. Then I usually pack in the laundry room so that I can pack the freshly folded laundry for each person right there in one place rather than having to go room-to-room to gather everything needed.
- Prep for dirty clothes: I pack a draw-string laundry bag or trash bag so I can keep dirty clothes in one place, and I check clothes to see if they are actually very dirty before they go in the bag. I really like to minimize laundry. This bag often fits inside the kids’ duffle because clothes from the duffle end up in the laundry bag.
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