Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tips For Family Road Trips -- Part One

Once again, I am getting ready to pack up for a week-long road trip. With all the car travel we do, I have had lots of practice finding efficient methods of surviving and actually enjoying the ride. I thought this would be a good time to share my experience! Since I have numerous tips for several different aspects of car travel, I’m going to write a series of 4 posts to share them all. The first one will cover packing. If you are planning on traveling with your children any time soon and would like some great tips, read on!

Packing for the Car—Clothes

This is a biggie for us, just because there are so many of us! We drive an SUV with a small area behind the 3rd row seat for luggage, as well as a hard-sided carrier on top—our version of a slightly less-accessible trunk. I found early on that I could fit much more into our vehicle if I pack many smaller bags, instead of a few giant suitcases. With 8 people in an 8-seater vehicle, I’ve become quite the pro at fitting everything into all the nooks and crannies! My very best tip I received from a friend when we were packing to move to NYC—if you’re traveling with overnight stops along the way, pack a single bag (I use a small, soft sided bag or one of those large zip-lock storage bags) with everything you will need (clothing-wise) for one night/next day:
  • 1 set of pajamas for each person
  • 1 set of clothes for each person for the next day (top, bottoms, socks, undies, etc.)
  • any diapers, pull-ups, good-nights, etc. you will need (unless you pack a separate diaper bag for this—I prefer to not take in my entire trip’s diaper stash every night of a multi-day trip)
  • Label the bag so you know at a glance which to take in which night (“Day one”, “Tuesday”, “Boston”, etc.)
  • If you are traveling with even more people, or have bulky clothes you could pack two bags per overnight stay—just make sure they are both labeled appropriately so you know which ones to take in.

I pack a separate small bag with toiletries, and another small bag with medical stuff. (These could be combined for most people, but we travel with a nebulizer for asthma, so it and it’s accompanying meds get their own bag) When we get to our hotel or where ever we are staying for the night, we only have to take in the one clothing bag, the toiletries bag, and the medicine bag. The next morning after everyone is dressed, all the dirties go back into that bag, then back in the car. Easy peasy!

Since we do have several littles in diapers or training pants, we have diapers and wipes, as well as a separate change of clothes for each small child, someplace easily accessible in the vehicle for daytime changes as well.

One thing to note: Although we do have to put bags in the floorboards of the middle seat to fit everything in, I try to make sure that they are soft (like clothes or diapers) and as well-secured as possible. We don’t want anything flying around and hurting someone in the event of a sudden stop or accident!

Packing for the Car—Activities

One of the challenges to several days on the road is keeping everybody occupied while not trashing the car at the same time! Our boys would take everything they owned if we let them, but after several very messy trips, we now do this:
  • Each child (except the babies) can pack one small backpack that has to fit next to them or at their feet in the vehicle.
  • Mom or Dad has to approve the contents BEFORE we leave the house—trust me, there are MANY things you do not want your children playing with in the back of your car—our no-no list includes such favorites as markers, scissors, and play dough…enough said!
  • We encourage each of them to bring a few books, and things that don’t have too many small pieces. If a piece of something falls to the floor, we do not want them getting out of their seatbelts to retrieve it—especially those still in car seats.
  • I keep a bag at my feet with activities/school work to pass out, as well as a small bag with things for me to do, which usually includes a Sudoku book and my current crochet project.

Packing for the Car—Food

  • When we still had an empty seat, we would sometimes put a cooler in that seat and secure it with the seatbelt. Then we could take things like milk or sandwich fixings that would otherwise go bad without refrigeration. We still take one in the back of the car on longer trips, but it's harder to access now.
  • A small, hard-sided container (think Tupperware or the like) is great for snacks like crackers, cookies, whole fruit, etc.—things that don’t need refrigeration but will end up crushed if they’re not protected.

Packing for the Car—Using a List

Anther thing I always do is pack with a detailed checklist. I’ve always been a list maker anyway, but I find that I rarely forget anything important when I pack this way. The few times I haven’t used a list, well, let’s just say those trips included stops along the way at Walmart to purchase things I already had at home! I have a list for each person’s clothing, for toiletries, for meds, for school, activities, and food, and for extras that I might forget such as the travel crib, battery chargers for camera and cell phones, etc. As it gets packed, it gets checked off the list. That list is the last thing I check before we walk out the door! I use a spiral notebook, because I’m still stuck in the physically-writing-on-paper-age, but making a list on the computer and then printing it out to check off would work just as well. And then you’d have the added benefit of being able to use it over and over again. Hey, I really should do that after all! It would save me lots of time.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series:
Part 2--Great travel activities for children
Part 3--Eating on the road (while keeping costs and messes down!)
Part 4--Adapting home schooling for car schooling

For those of you that take long road trips from time to time, what are YOUR best tips for packing? Please share them with us!


Sarah said...

What perfect timing! We're leaving on a road trip soon and can always use new suggestions!

Jenny said...

Thanks, Sarah! I'd love to hear any of yours as well!

Linda said...

I love your tips. You are an awesome mom and planner!

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