Packers win! Travel packers, that is

We do a lot of packing around here. With family spread across the Midwest, it’s not unusual for us to take 5-7 weekend trips and one looong road trip a year. Not to mention our annual vacation and the occasional night spent in a hotel to appease our “hotel-loving” children.

A lot of parents stress over the road trip preparation and packing, but, truthfully, I don’t mind it. We’ve worked out our little system and I hardly give it a second thought anymore. First, the kids are 5 and 7-years-old now. The responsibility for packing their own bags falls on them. It may sound weird; however, with some guidelines and structure, they can handle it. Trust me on this.

So here’s how we do it:

1) Go Minimalist

It’s our nature to over pack. To over think. To over everything. But, truly I tell you, every crazy scenario you imagine in your sweet crazy little head can be addressed by a trip to Walgreens. Children’s tylenol? Ace bandage? Wonder bread when your kid has refused all other food?  Walgreens. That’s your answer.

I wasn’t always this way, in fact, I still think about all the crazy @#% I packed up when the kids were babies. Did I not realize that baby tylenol was also available in other cities? I was in overkill mode, as most young mothers are, and it showed. Don’t even talk to me about the time I brought the baby bathtub… to my in-laws. Cuz that makes sense?!?

2) Plan to wash clothes once.

We often stay with family or friends when we travel. They own laundry machines. Most hotels also have a laundry facility. We don’t have to pack an outfit for every day we are gone, but most of us get in the habit of doing so. If I go in with the mindset that I will wash 1-2 loads while I’m gone, the packing gets far simpler. And, remember, you will likely end up washing a load anyway. A disastrous ice cream sundae situation, a muddy exploration at the botanical garden, a diaper explosion. Children are mess magnets. Let’s embrace this and just plan on washing our clothes while we’re gone, okay?

You will be worn twice. And we are at peace with that.

3) A list will be provided

My daughter can read. My son cannot. However, they both get a list of items to pack in their backpack. It just looks a little different for each of them. Anna’s list is written out clearly: 2 shirts, 2 pants, 3 underwear, etc. Abe’s list is a drawing. Yes, I draw out his list myself.

Not exactly museum quality sketches, but it works!

4) One backpack

The kids know they need to pack all their stuff in one backpack. One. If it’s a weekend trip, they pack everything in there (clothes, books, etc.). If it’s a long road trip, they share one small suitcase and they pack all their personal items in the backpack. I’ve shared their back pack contents for a nine-day road trip last year (below). It’s not much. Clothes for both children were packed separately in one small carry-on suitcase. See below for each child’s (ages 4 and 6) packing items.

5) Snacks

This is one area where I tend to go all out. We have some dietary restrictions that prevent us from simply stopping at a gas station and loading up when we are hungry. In addition, I’m slightly picky about what my kids eat and I’d rather not get them in the habit of grabbing junk food. Don’t get me wrong, we indulge on vacation the same way everyone does, but our road trips work better when we pack plenty of healthy snacks that the kids can quickly grab themselves.

Trader Joe’s is your friend.

6) Car entertainment

I wish I could say that we survived last year’s 9-hour road trip to visit my mother with only a few crayons and our imaginations. We did not. We use a DVD system and headphones. And I don’t apologize for that. I do, however, try to break it up a little. We have car games like Road Bingo and my kids really like playing 20 questions. My husband has made some killer mix CDs for the kids and we rock out to them regularly. We also utilize audiobooks (oh I could write an entire post on audiobooks and stories). And then when we need to, we turn on the DVD system. And we don’t feel guilty, and we don’t overthink it. It’s vacation. Nuff said.

These are the road trip tips and tricks that work for us. Truthfully, the struggle to quickly unload, wash and put away is far more stressful to this family. What are your secrets? What’s your favorite road trip? Do tell!


Maggie Roth
Maggie Roth

Maggie is a stay at home mom with two children in the western suburbs of Chicago. She began traveling as a college student while studying abroad in Ireland and has always dreamed of traveling with her husband and children one day. Whether it’s taking road trips or major vacations, encouraging curiosity about the world and other cultures is a top priority. Maggie believes that traveling doesn’t just mean hopping on a plane – wonderful exploration can still be found in our own backyards.

Find me on: Web

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *