If there is anything my parents taught me about traveling, it is definitely how to pack.
There is a real art to packing that is learned.
If the need arose, I would be able to pack very little in a very little space (backpacking, for example). But really, I don’t have the need for that. Most of my packing in a tight space takes place in a carry-on suitcase. That’s a post for another day.
This post is about road trips!
Road trips are one of my favorite kinds of trips to pack for — and also one of the most involved!
Not only do you have to pack clothes for everyone, but there are also snacks and activities that are involved, too!
For this trip, we were going to California for my cousin’s wedding, and my parents were coming in the car with us, too. Normally, one of the benefits of driving for us is that we can pretty much bring everything and the kitchen sink. But this wasn’t true this time, because we had to put up the back row of seats in our van, making our packing space much more limited!
One of the most important aspects of a road trip for my family is the food. My dad was a chef, my mom was a pastry chef, and I’m pretty much a professional eater…we eat. We think about eating. We plan around eating. We pack for good eating.
I’m not above a little bag of chips snagged on the way out of the gas station bathroom (not like stolen…c’mon now! I mean like an impulse buy!), but for the most part, I would so much rather pack my own food. I want it to be good food, and I want to know what I’m putting in my kids’ bodies. Also, if I get a hankerin’ (yeah, I know…keep reading…) for something, I don’t really want to have to wait until the next gas station!
So here was the packing list for the food that we brought.
The stars meant the things I had to make ahead of time…pasta salad, etc.
Also on the list, wipes, paper towels, paper plates and bowls, and plastic utensils.
I also packed each of us our own stay-cold cups and straws.
Here’s all the dry food. It all went into a bag with all of the plates, etc.
A cooler had all of the food and drinks that needed to be refrigerated.
Next came all of the activities. We have a DVD player in the van, but we try not to let that rule the road trip. It’s a fun activity, but it’s important to us that it’s not the only activity for the whole time.
One of my favorite ideas that I’ve used was a Dollar Store cookie sheet with walled sides.
The kids use it as a tray for plates, a place to put a coloring book and keep the crayons in place, a good thing to hold magnets, or a place to fill with stickers so that they don’t end up all over my car. I don’t remember where I got this idea, but it’s been so amazing!
So we brought coloring, stickers, tattoos, workbooks, and action figures. Each pencil box had colored pencils and crayons in it.
The boys each have a backpack where all of their activities are, and their backpacks sit at their feet so that they can reach them whenever they’d like.
I have no idea which kid put Captain America and Spiderman like this, but they’re too funny!
Next came the clothes!
Here’s the list for packing the boys’ stuff and my stuff.
Ty picks his clothes out and then knows better than to pack it himself. I have a method.
Don’t mess with the method.
Here are a ton of miscellaneous items laid out on the floor. The week or so leading up to leaving, I start throwing things in the corner of our room as I think of it so that I don’t forget them. If something comes through the laundry that I know I want to bring, I throw it in the corner so the kids don’t wear it.
As I’m pulling things out of drawers, I lay things out in outfits — shoes, jewelry, and all. That way I know I haven’t missed anything. No mismatching shoes here! Depending on how much space I have, though, I do try to multi-task some of the shoes.
I have a whole other post to write about how to actually fit everything into a suitcase (and bonus — how to make it all less than 50 pounds if you’re flying!).
There’s also another post about how to play “Suitcase Tetris — Packing the Van” that will someday be written, but now is not that time. I mean, we can only take so much, am I right?
So I will just give you some glimpses into the van.
This is how I score some extra leg-room: I put the food and cooler where my feet would normally go so that I can stretch out on top. I would much rather travel with my feet up than have them hanging down. I am constantly sitting with my legs curled up on the seat, or “criss-cross applesauce” (seriously, is there a better way to say that?). This is a good way to stretch out my legs.
See? I load up our foot space. As of right now, this is a great place for storage, because the boys don’t need that space, either!
Grandpa drove for a while, and Nonni and I split kid duty. I had Noah in the back with me, and my mom sat with Aidan. It was so helpful to have extra people on the trip! If every road trip could come with grandparents, not much else would matter.
This is us looking for letters for the Alphabet Game. When kids are involved, we play nice and work as a team to find the letters, but if it’s just the adults, it gets pretty serious. Each man for himself, and if a letter is used, it’s out of commission. Gotta keep it interesting on the interstate!
One last quick tip that has served me well in pretty much all of my traveling with children…buy them their own suitcases.
The boys each got to pick which one they wanted, and they don’t get to play with them as toys. They are strictly for traveling. That way the novelty hasn’t worn off and they get excited when they get to use them. They ask if they can pull their own suitcase.
Um…yes. Yes, you can.
If you’re flying, they can carry them on to the airplane, and it cuts down on the weight in your own suitcases so you won’t have to pay for an overweight bag. When we drive, I put them at the kids’ feet, so there’s no extra space taken up by them in the trunk of the car.
Traveling with our kids is so important to us, and the more we do it, the better we all get at it. The boys have learned that car rides are great times to sleep, and will eat pretty much anything, so I make sure to pack really healthy snacks. They’re captive and hungry…they’re like putty in my hands!
We take road trips of various lengths. Ty’s brother is about 3 ½ hours, our regular trips to Colorado take about 15 hours (with excessive stopping…less if we can hustle), and our family in California is about 6 hours away. We’ve also taken road trips after flying other places.
We make sure to stop about every three hours to let the boys get some energy out. We make it a gas stop and potty break, too. This way, the gas never gets too low, and we don’t make extra stops for someone to go to the bathroom. If the kids are doing well, they usually get to pick a special gum or small treat during one of the stops, so they like that, too!
I hope that you make it a point to explore with your kids. Road trips are an inexpensive way to see things that aren’t even that far from you! It’s good family time, and it’s an amazing learning experience!
Do you travel with your kids? Do you have any special activities, snacks, games or tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you about what makes your road trips go smoothly — leave me a comment!