Packing for a family vacation is always a bit of a challenge.
You want to be prepared for every place and weather change you may experience.
When we planned our big 10 day California road trip adventure, I was faced with a big packing challenge.
Not only were we packing for 5 (including an infant), but our luggage (and baby gear), had to fit in the back of the Acura MDX we were using to trek around from place to place.
The MDX was the perfect fit for our family of 5. It had ample trunk room and an awesome 3rd row that could be partially folded down for extra trunk space (Oh, hello there baby gear!) and was super easy to for the kids to access – just a touch of a button.
But even with the best scenario for our vehicle, it took some extra planning and Tetris-skills to get us all packed up (don’t forget we were also flying from NY to Cali!).
For a 10 day road trip we packed our family of 5 with:
- 3 duffle bags
- 3 backpacks (one for each kid)
- and minimal baby gear
This will probably be my most braggy-travel story and I plan to tell it often. I can’t help it. I love a good challenge and am so proud and excited to share the packing tips and tricks that we learned from this trip.
How To Pack (the least) For A Family Road Trip
1. Transitional Pieces
Plan out outfits for 1/2 the stay of your trip with pieces you can recycle.
So for example, for our 10 day trip, we packed each family member:
– 1 sweat shirt
– 3 to 4 bottoms.
This ALWAYS means at least one pair of jeans. The rest could be shorts or skirts. Jeans can generally be worn a few times before they need a good washing, so use this to your packing advantage!
– 5 tops MAX
-2 pairs of shoes … Ok, ok 3 for Mom if you have a place you are getting lucky enough to be getting a night on the town sans kids… otherwise, leave the wedges and heels at home.
– Underwear + socks for every day
2. Packing Cubes.
Not kidding you guys, these babies are nothing short of magic.
We’ve tried the “rolling” method of packing and it did seem to save some room, but these packing cubes made our bags UBER organized truly created packing miracles.
I decided to try these on whim when I saw them at check out at our local TJMaxx. They came in sets of 3 (large, medium and small pouches) and turned out to be worth every penny of their $9.99 price tags.
3. On-site laundry. I know, I know– laundry is the LAST thing you want to think about when you are planning a vacation.
TRUST ME, laundry is the bane of my existence and I am willing to go out on a limb and say there isn’t anyone who prays for a laundry fairy more than I do, but when you are traveling with a family it actually may be a life saver and allows you to put a few outfits on repeat, ultimately resulting in less clothes to pack.
For us, we did laundry twice. Once when we stopped to visit family, and another towards the end of the trip at because our suite in the Grand Californian had a washer dryer in the room.
We went home with bags of mostly all clean clothes– which I was VERY thankful.
So when you are scoping out your hotel or stops along a road trip ask yourself if there will be anywhere you can throw in a quick load of clothes
4. Kid Entertainment Bags Pack one carry-on backpack filled with their own snacks, toys, games, etc. It’s easy to let panic get the best of you and want to pack tons of options, but don’t.
Pack things like crayons, coloring books, iPads, iPods and headphones. If it doesn’t fit in the bag, it doesn’t come on the trip. THE END. The older kids were responsible for their own bag.
We even got the baby a mini bag of his own, which was perfect for a few diapers, snacks and pacifier that we could carry with us while waiting on lines in theme parks, restaurants or walking through parks.
5. Baby STUFF. Traveling with a baby is intimidating to many and with many good reasons, one undoubtably being ALL. THE. STUFF. The gear, the food, the diapers… the entertainment and snacks…
When it came to gear there are a few recommendations:
– A great umbrella stroller. For our trip, Summer Infant provided their 3D Lite Convenience Stroller. It had all the essentials we needed in a light weight stroller: a great storage basket, shoulder strap, an extended flip out canopy to shade from the sun, multi position recline *and* it was only 12 lbs!
I did at times wish there were a snap on tray for snacks and things, but truthfully, that may have made it a bit clunky.
– The Ergo baby carrier. Strollers don’t bode well for beaches or lines at amusement parks. The Ergo has great back support and is overall really comfortable for baby and carrier.
So why do I need to bring both of these?
Well, maybe you don’t.
That is something you may need to weigh on a case by case basis. And if you are trying to travel with as little gear as possible, definitely weigh it all out.
For us, we wanted the stroller so the baby could nap in Disney. He did fall asleep in the carrier a few times, but for long stretches that could get a bit sweaty. Also, the stroller had nice storage underneath for diapers and things.
–Car seat travel cart. If you plan on taking a few trips with the carseat- this is a must. You can actually double it as stroller in the airport.
/We used the Brica Roll ‘n Go– $59.99/
If you decide you don’t need a stroller in addition to the carrier? This is super-sweet! You can check it right at the door of the plane– easy peasy.
We used ours as extra hands and attached 2 of our bags.
Alternately, you can usually rent a car seat through your car rental company but again, weigh the pros, cons and prices. For us, this investment has already paid for itself.
– Diapers, Formula, Food…
Plan ahead. Map out where there is a store closest to the airport or look into grocery delivery services OR look into services like Jetset Babies , that help you order and coordinate baby essentials like diapers, wipes, formula, etc to be delivered directly to your hotel.
Then when it comes to packing you will only need to pack for the plane + a 1 or 2 extra *just in case*.
–Planning for sleep
Most hotels have port-a-cribs or pack and plays they can bring to your room (This is what used for our road trip).
However, if you are staying somewhere that does not offer this, or at a family member’s home, I highly recommend the super duper lightweight Journey-bee or Lotus play yard/travel crib. They are essentially like the pack and play but WAY lighter and WAY easier to set up and take down.