Sunday, September 27, 2009

6 Easy Steps to Packing for a Kid-Friendly Family Road Trip Vacation

One of the most common reasons people with kids give for not taking a family road trip is the dread you feel just imagining how much work it is going to be to pack the car.  Having taken MANY road trips with our kids, totaling more than 20,000 miles with our own children over the years, I can tell you that it is possible to make sure you have everything you need and not become insane in the process.

Here are 6 Simple Steps to help you  fight that feeling of wanting to run packing, pun intended.

1. PLAN at least six months ahead. You don't need to know the details that far in advance but you should at least have the exact dates blocked out on your calendar when you plan to be away and at least an inkling of a notion of your vacation destination. Afterall, one of the best things about road trips is all the anticipation.

2. ABOUT a month before the actual trip you need to start packing. First, print out this blog to refer to. Then, check to see which items you think you will need that you already have and what you will need to buy. Think about where you are going and what you'll be doing, the weather possibilities along the way to help you plan.  Do any shopping NOW, don't wait till a week before your trip, unless you enjoy being stressed out.

A Family Trip to Gatorland in Orlando, Florida

3. TRAVEL as lightly as possible. Another mistake families make before they have even pulled out of the driveway for a trip is overpacking.  I know you are thinking: I have to bring all this stuff because the kids need extra clothes because they are always getting dirty.  You'd also argue that little ones need lots of equipment when travel such as strollers, car seats, feeding chairs etc.  The truth is, it's really quite simple: bring as few sets of clothes per person as possible and remember that you don't always have to change the kids' shirts if they have a few spots on them. You also should think multi-tasking when you pack. In other words, when it comes to bulky items, like kid equipment, don't bring a stroller AND a feeding chair; why not just bring a foldable umbrella stroller and also let that double as a booster seat for mealtimes?

4.  TODDLERS can help you pack, believe it or not.  About two weeks before, get everyone to pack their own busy bags for the car using either a back pack or tiny sleepover bag.  The only requirement is that it be small enough so they can carry it themselves when it is full.  Encourage children to pack whatever they want to bring in this bag. The general rule is let the kids pack it, if it will fit in their bags, but make sure they understand that mom or dad have editing privileges over everything they are bringing and our decision cannot be challenged by the Supreme Court.

5.  A week before your trip set out the suitcases you will be using and start filling them up as you check the needed items off the packing list.  From now on, wear only clothing that you will not be bringing on the trip, so you are not doing laundry at midnight the night before you leave.  Avoid using hard sided luggage or large and bulky carrying bags which are more costly and heavier. Instead, try to use soft-sided baggage and duffle bags since these collapse more when you are trying to squeeze everything in to your car's trunk and/or interior. These types of bags are lighter too, which makes them easy to lift up and down off the roof if that is where you'll be carrying them. And better yet, the bags will often be light enough for the kids to carry themselves into the motel each night!

6.  A few days before the trip, actually get your car packed with things that will not be affected if it gets extremely cold or hot outside.  Pack solidly and logically, thinking about things you will need the most access to and packing those within reach, while stowing the items you won't much or if at all until till you reach your destination.  I speak from true experience on this last one, because we had to bring CASES of diapers when traveling before our 4 kids (triplets, now 12, and big brother, 13) were potty trained and it didn't take us long to figure out that we only needed to access one case at a time.

If you do all those things, you'll have enough energy the morning of your trip to pack an ice chest with cold drinks and food.  More importantly, you'll be able to give your undivided attention to the inevitable tantrums and sibling fights that will break out before you've even locked your front door. Gotta go, now, I think I hear my two girls warming up for a boxing match.

Coming this week: Another post where I'll give you my handy, original Family Packing List

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