Packing for a road trip with kids can be tricky! How to stay organized and save space are important. Keeping kids busy on a road trip is on the top of the list too so you don’t lose your sanity! Here are tips and tricks when planning your first long road trip from a family who have a road trip blog and love it!
If you are packing for a road trip you will definitely be short on room and need to be as organized as possible. If you have kids you know what I mean, they want to bring everything! We have gone on so many family road trips over the years that my kids have learned to condense and bring just what fits in “their bag” but it took many trips to figure out what works best! I wish I had found an article like this one 6 years ago when we took our first trip together in the car so I didn’t overpack and knew how to save space, but that’s why I created this article…to help you! I hope these packing for a road trip tips help you on your journey and if you’re looking for more information about where we’ve been and how we travel so often (and many times for free) check out our road trip blog too! 😉 (originally published 5/13 – at the beginning of it all – revised in 2018)
- Pack Wisely – Before you even leave the house, make sure you’ve made your lists and checked them twice. Think of clothing that you wouldn’t need where you are now, but might need once you reach your destination. We once took a week long trip to New York and although it was beautiful in Ca. it rained for most of our stay there and had I not brought our rain jackets and water resistant shoes, we would have been miserable! When traveling in a car though you will have limited space so instead of a rain jacket choose flat rubber ponchos from the store for “just in case” if you think you might need them at your destination.
- Determine how much space you have early on and how many filled bags will fit in your car. Your best bet is to use soft pliable duffle bags vs. hard suitcases – saves a lot of room! I ordered these in different colors, one for everyone years ago and whatever fits inside with it zipping is what they can bring.
- Don’t forget room under the seats.
- If you’re camping you will have more things to pack vs. if you’re staying in a hotel or renting a home – here’s how to find the best vacation properties (highly recommended with kids) so you may need a roof storage bag.
- Bring extra items you may misplace and not be able to replace once you’re in a tent or cabin away from stores (stash those free toothbrushes from the dentist / travel shampoos from hotels just in case). To ensure you have enough clothing, and streamline changing of clothes each day, put a days clothing for each person in a large ziploc freezer bags with their name on the outside (picture at the bottom of this post). That way each morning you can throw everyone a bag, change, and go have fun without fussing over a missing sock.
- Bring a large black trash bag to use for dirty clothing that cannot be worn again (make use of jeans atleast twice unless really soiled to save on packing space). That way at the end of the trip you can just tie it up, throw it in the car and take it directly to the laundry room when you get home…..no question of “did he wear this?”
- Give everyone “their bag” – this is something I learned to do on our 2nd really long road trip (8 hrs of driving a day is typical for us). Everyone gets their OWN bag, this is key! I bought a bag like this one for them to keep with them in the car (we have used last year’s backpacks too for this) and when they were little I packed it myself with things like this:
- Small cars – get them a few new ones, they’re more exciting – girls like them too
- A small notebook and pencil
- Handheld Etch A Sketch
- Snacks and treats – suckers are great and last a while, don’t worry about super “healthy” eating on the trip
- A book
- iPad or small tablet for them to listen to music or watch movies you downloaded before you leave
- Here are more busy bag ideas
- Let them help you pack – pick a bag for each child’s clothing, everyone gets their OWN bag remember (not counting infants, but age 5 and above this is important). Months before your trip make a basket in your laundry room with clothing that still fits them but you won’t mind if they ruin them, a pair of shoes too. These will be your “dirty clothes”, especially important if you are camping! Let your kids choose out of that basket which clothing they want to bring, but it must all fit in that bag and zip closed.
- If it doesn’t fit in the bag it doesn’t come!
- Don’t worry about their clothes matching…let them be in control of this part of the trip, it will save your sanity!
- Only pack their clothing and maybe an extra pair of shoes in this bag, you handle the toiletries in your bag.
- Bring a comfort item – especially if this is your first road trip let your child bring their favorite blanket or animal with them in “their bag” that will be next to them in their seat (not their clothing bag).
When packing for a road trip include items you will probably never need but would make your trip incredibly uncomfortable if you couldn’t get them like:
- Comb / Brush
- Shampoo / Conditioner
- Soap / Face wash
- Hand sanitizer – keep in your purse and glove compartment
- Toothbrush / Toothpaste / Floss
- Shaving cream
- Glasses / Contact lens supplies
- Nail Clippers
- Feminine products
- Aspirin / Pain reliever
- Cold medicine
- Credit / Debit cards / Cash
- First aid kit (travel size) – keep in your glove compartment
- Camera / Video camera / Charger
- Lip balm – keep one in every bag imaginable
- Pillow case
- Umbrella / Poncho
- Everyday bag (small backpack is best)
- Travel alarm / Watch
- Laundry bag (trash bag)
- Cell phone / Charger
- Laptop / Charger (suggest leaving work at home though)
- Extra Items
- Bathing Suits
- Rain jacket – flat ponchos to save space
- Extra underwear
- Extra shoes (flip flops/hiking shoes)
- Sand toys (beach trips)
- Cooler – we bought one that plugs into our car and it’s a lifesaver
I know, it looks overwhelming but it isn’t once you do it once or twice. We have been road tripping with our kids for the past 6 years now and it is just second nature to us now. The best vacation spots for kids are really those where everyone has a good time and enjoys each other so the destination isn’t so important. Start with something short and work up from there to visit somewhere amazing like Zion National Park.
We love visiting gorgeous destinations like this and share how to get free admission to National Parks here so you too can plan a cheap vacation….or learn how we travel for free often with these tricks!
Don’t forget to keep your kids busy on your road trip which doesn’t really require a lot of packing of items, many fun things are singing and playing games as we share in our road trip games for kids post.
Where are you headed to now???
Original photos from 2013. 😉