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It’s safe to say that our family loves road tripping. Over the last couple of years we have put many miles on our trusty minivan, all without leaving someone on the side of the road or hating each other at the end of it all. That’s saying something after covering over 6,000 miles in 2 weeks.
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However, all our road tripping hasn’t been without frustration. From Pennsylvania to Arizona, from Philadelphia to Chicago, and a whirlwind road trip of New England, we had to plan well and then work out any kinks along the way. I want to save you from that. I’m giving you all my secrets and sharing how to have a family road trip without all the frustration by packing smart.
Smart Packing Tips for Smooth Family Road Trips
Pack a ‘go bag’. We quickly learned that plans often go awry, especially when you log many hours in one day. Unexpected stops, construction, and rush hour all take a toll on a tight schedule. This means we often pull into hotel parking lots really late (or early morning). Having a ‘go bag’ in an easy to grab spot makes that late night so much easier since we often have to haul sleeping children in and don’t feel like unloading the suitcases too. I always repack it when we pull our suitcase out the next day or night.
What to pack in your ‘Go Bag’
- 1 change of clothing per person – wrap them in tight rolls to fit in a backpack
- Any medication people need for morning/night – pack in a pillbox for easy travel
- Necessary toiletries
- Easy snack
- Bottle of water
Good coffee. This mama needs her coffee in the morning. Hotel coffee is lacking and unlike commonly thought, there is not a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on every corner.*GASP* I know from experience. I like to take my French press with me and heat the water in the hotel coffeemaker or get some hot water at the hotel breakfast area. There is nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning. My current brew, Peet’s Coffee – Major Dickason’s Blend deep roast coffee, and the French press definitely go in the snack bag since it’s easy to grab.
What to Pack in the Snack Bag
- Some type of chips, pretzels, or crackers – We are huge fans of tortilla chips and love the TOSTITOS ROLLS and Triscuits are a family staple.
- A mess-free sweet treat – Skittles are a winner!
- Something chewy to relieve head pressure in the mountains/altitude changes – Twizzlers have been part of my long car ride memories all the way back to childhood. Twizzler Bites have just the right chewiness to relieve tension.
- Something to ease upset tummies or ward off bad breath. ALTOIDS Peppermints are the perfect thing to ward off carsickness. It isn’t always the magic cure but the peppermint can help.
- Peanut butter – PB&J makes an easy lunch.
- Chocolate – I’m strategic. When the coffee wears off, this mama turns to chocolate. Buying Dove Dark Chocolate Covered Cranberries means I might get them to myself since every kids KNOWS cranberries are sour. (Who do I think I’m kidding?)
- Shelf stable creamer (for coffee)
Tips for Packing the Vehicle
Pack it in right. How you pack the back or trunk of your vehicle will really depend on the type of road trip you take. In my comprehensive guide to camping, I shared the strategy I follow if we camp on our road trip. If not, packing is even easier. I always make sure the kids’ activity bags are in their reach, the cooler is easily accessible, and the snack bag is easy to grab from the passenger’s seat.
I pack the suitcase in a place that is easy to grab from the back and put the cooler beside it. Then I stack any pillows and blankets on top of them. We tend to bring at least a few of these even when we don’t camp since we sometimes travel late at night. This allows the kids and/or passenger to get rest a little more comfortably.
Pack clothing strategically. I pack things that can be mixed and matched and plot out where I can visit a laundromat mid-trip so I don’t need to pack a full trip’s worth of clothes if we are gone more than a week. Just a tip: hotel machines tend to be expensive and they don’t always dry clothes well, so I use them as a last resort.
Pack food strategically. Will you be staying in hotels with complimentary breakfast? If so, you don’t need to worry about packing breakfast cereals or packing milk in ice. What foods do you want to eat? Will you splurge on a few meals and keep the rest simple? We are huge fans of packing lunch foods for easy on-the-go meals. This serves a two-fold purpose. We can save money on lunches and save time since we aren’t always stopping to grab food. That quick pre-road trip grocery shopping gives invaluable time for fun things on our trip. We’re going on a day trip in just a few days so I ran into Acme to grab some snacks and food. I follow the same road tripping plan since beach trips mean lots of stuff to haul along. Plus we are packing a lunch and need snacks for the day. I’ve found that my kids get extra hungry when they play on the beach.
What to Pack in the Cooler
- Salad – I pack my salad in jars to keep them dry AND chilled. They fit nicely in the cooler and can be dumped into a container/bowl to eat. We usually grab the big package of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix to keep it simple. Then I throw in some chopped veggies, dried fruits, seeds, etc. in the top of the jar. Ready to go!
- Yogurt tubes for the kids
- Baby carrots
- Veggie sticks
- Salad dressing
- Milk (if needed)
What to Pack in Your Suitcase
- Clothes for up to 5 days (Remember: You are wearing an outfit so that makes 6.)
- Extra shoes go in a separate bag so they don’t smell up the clothes
- Toiletries and/or makeup go in one medium sized ‘makeup’ bag
- If there is space, I throw my hairdryer in the suitcase so I don’t need to use low powered hotel hair dryers.
What to Pack in Kids’ Activity Bags
- 1 stuffed animal
- Paper and crayons or pencils
- Water bottle
- Sticker books (optional)
Other Entertainment to Pack
- Car game ideas such as ‘The Alphabet Game’ and The License Plate Game
- DVDs if you have a DVD player – we keep screen time very limited
- Handheld video games (optional)
- Chargers for any technology you take – phone, laptop, camera