A lot of questions are coming up about packing for a long road trip. Here are the first 10 steps to take for any major road trip with kids.
1. Empty Your Car
We all drive our kids back and forth to school, activities and sports. I can guarantee you there are things in your car you don’t actually want to find but should. We are crossing into the U.S. which means I need to make sure our car is empty (particularly since we store bear spray for hiking in the trunk). Even if you aren’t crossing a border, you should start by removing the car seats, looking in the under-seat storage and taking everything out of the car. Once the car is empty, set up the seats as you want them for the road trip. It will give you the best idea of how much space you are working with.
One of the worst mistakes I ever made was that I left Toronto in the dead of winter and drove to Miami not knowing there was a frozen bottle of formula in the car. On the second day in Miami, the valet that went to get the car actually threw up after he gave me the keys. Let’s just say it was very embarrassing. The cost to remove the smell was around $200 for fabric cleaning and interior detailing.
2. Make a List
Once you know the amount of space available, make a list of the items that are necessary, nice but not needed, and not needed. Make the same list for each of your children and anyone else coming on the trip. Your list may seem small enough but add three more lists and you’ll realize you need to cut it down to the necessary items.
3. Decide If and When You Will Do Laundry
When I am planning out any trip, I try and figure out which hotels we are staying will have onsite guest laundry or an economically feasible laundry service. I also figure every major city we visit will have a wash and fold service where I can drop clothes off to and pick them up at the end of the day. Once I have figured out where these places are I can calculate the maximum amount of time I need to go without laundry. I highly suggest never packing more than 7 days of clothes. You will not need them. You also don’t need heels or jewelry unless you are going to a wedding. Only you will notice. I try to stick to packing 5 days of clothes for each of us and two pairs of pajamas.
4. Decide How You Are Going to Pack
On flights, suitcases usually make sense. They roll nicely and are easy to get in and out of the airport. On an extended road trip, you most likely will not be staying in one spot. Bringing a large suitcase tends to be a bad idea. You do not want to bring all of your clothes in each night to just grab pajamas for the kids.
I prefer to use trunk organizers instead of suitcases. Ranging from $20 to around $60, the trunk organizers fold flat and have several compartments. I bring along a tote so I can grab what we need for each stop. I also pack a toiletries tote that I can just throw in the larger tote each night. If you are camping, you might want to consider a waterproof bin instead of tote.
I have also purchased a folding laundry basket that we can drop off at laundromats while we explore various cities. When not in use, it lies flat and hardly takes up any space.
5. Pack Twice
The first time you pack, everything seems a little more important than the second time. I never pack directly into a suitcase. Instead, I make three separate piles of everything we need. One for each of us. Once I start packing the piles into actual bags or in this case cubbies, I realize there are quite a few things we do not actually need.
6. Make Activity Bins and Electronic Bins
Driving young kids any distance requires a little bit of planning. I like to stick to our rules about electronics and limit their screen time even in the car. Some of our favorite activities include playing road trip Bingo, looking for an amusement park or ice cream billboards and listening to music.
I always make separate activity and electronic bins for the simple reason that when it is not electronics time, I can put the bin away. Also, I do not leave electronics in the car overnight but could easily replace coloring books etc. in the event of a break-in and don’t want to bring them into
a hotel each night. With a separate electronic tote, I highly recommend getting one big enough that you can store all your chargers with the devices but small enough to store somewhere out of sight when you are out exploring.
7. Pack a Small Bag of Cups and Bowls with Lids.
It’s hard to drink anything while someone else is driving. Make it easy for your kids and there will be less crying over spilled milk.
8. Invest in a Small Power Cooler
Cars get extremely hot in summer. The last thing you want to do is run around looking for ice all day. Decide how much you have in your car that really needs to stay cold and invest in a small power cooler. It will also save you money to buy larger containers of juice and water and share them over buying individual bottles. I’m also really careful to not drink or give the kids water out of bottles that have been in a hot car. Just seems like a bad idea.
9. Pick a Mode of Transportation
Most kids including mine enjoy riding bikes, riding scooters and even rollerblading. You really don’t need to be able to do it all. Pick whatever method will be easiest for your kids to get out and explore more. We decided on scooters this year because they fold flat and don’t take up a lot of space. Check out this guide to the best folding kick scooters for kids before you head off on your next adventure.
10. Don’t Stress
You are bound to need something you didn’t pack or forget something you might have wanted. Go back to your list and double check that you have the essentials. Things like money, cell phones, sunglasses and a bathing suit. After that, you can always buy a cheap replacement of what you forgot to get you through the trip. The less you pack, the less stressed you will be in the end. Trust me.