Road Tripping, Part 4 of 5: Take the Stress out of Packing

When you think about packing, not only for you, but for your kid(s), do you have images similar to this, cart upon cart of bags (!!):


So far in this series, we’ve talked about how to plan for success, keeping your kids occupied and happy, and educating your kids on the sly, while still having fun. In this installment, we’re going to discuss some ways to streamline and organize your packing, and by doing so, reduce YOUR stress levels as a parent. If you are a seasoned traveler, this article may not be of much use to you. Or, perhaps you’ve already figured out how to streamline your packing. But, if you are like me, and the idea of packing for a really big trip intimidates you, you may get some ideas to apply towards your next big trip. When I was preparing for our epic trip, the idea of packing “day bags,” vs. bags for individuals was revolutionary to me. It may be old news to you, however!

Note that these tips are really for extended trips; for those weekend trips to visit family (in one place), you probably already do as I do, pack everyone’s stuff in one giant suitcase. One giant suitcase doesn’t really cut it for a longer period of time, with multiple people. Unless of course, you enjoy lugging a very hefty suitcase in and out of hotels, up and down stairs, etc etc.  As for me – I don’t!

Included in our items for stress free packing:

  • Dollar General $1.00 bags
  • One medium-sized toiletry bag
  • Portable pod detergent
  • Plenty of quarters for laundry

The tips I’m about to share won’t work if you’re the type of traveler that takes everything but the kitchen sink! Packing for an extended trip means streamlining your items and taking only what is necessary and comfortable. If your trip involves a lot of stops, that requires a lot of walking, you probably want to leave your dress shoes at home. If you’re planning on laundering clothes while on the road, definitely leave the dry-clean only clothes in the closet.

You’ll need one or two pairs of really comfortable shoes that you can wear anywhere. I always take a pair of sneakers and a pair of “sport casual” shoes. We don’t do a lot of extreme hiking, and I have found these shoes do well for the casual hiker that’s only doing a mile or so of not-so-extreme terrain. You may opt differently, but I only allow the kids to take sneakers. Not only are closed-toe shoes safer, but they are more comfortable for walking in. If you are the type that regularly goes extreme hiking, mountain climbing, obviously by all means take whatever shoes you need to be safe.

You’ll also need climate-appropriate clothing. If it’s the middle of summer and in the midst of a record-setting heat wave, you probably want to avoid dark colors. Tank tops and light-weight t-shirts take up minimal space. You may be a bit more fashion-conscious than I am, though! Our first trip, I had a mix of colors, and several pairs of denim shorts. My experience was that, come laundry time, I couldn’t wash everything together, and that wound up taking longer and costing more. After that, I started trying to pack more “like” items that I could wash together. Just something for you to consider.

I also suggest taking one bag of “backup” clothes for everyone. For us, it’s always extra socks and underwear, a light jacket or sweatshirt, and a pair of jeans for everyone. Oh, and how could I forget the swimsuits?!


One day’s worth of clothes for everyone, including pajamas

Now that we’ve talked about “what” to pack, let’s discuss how MUCH of it to pack. For our trips, I’ve only packed 4-5 days’ worth of clothes, for everyone. Why? It saves on space and it’s easier to manage vs. a full week’s worth of clothes (ie 7 days). From there, I suggest making piles for each day. Complete day outfits for every person (to include underclothes), plus pajamas all go in one pile. You may find, as I have, that your kids will really enjoy putting together “their stuff.” While putting together our bags, I’ll send the kids off to get “4 day outfits,” then “x-number of underwear,” and so on until we have everything we need. I’ve found this gives them a sense of ownership over the trip, and they enjoy the responsibility.


This bag contains one day’s worth of clothes for 3 people. If you have a 4th, there is still room!

Once I have all the piles assembled for each day, I put each pile into one bag. Each bag will then have a FULL days’ worth of clothing, to include pajamas for the night, for every person. You may already have a ton of tote bags or reusable shopping bags to use for this purpose. Or, like me, you may not have anything! I found some great bags at Dollar General for $1.00 a bag that work great. Note! They work great for summer clothing that isn’t very bulky. If you are planning a big trip that requires sweaters, ski pants, and the like…well, I hate to say but these bags may not work for you; however, I am sure there are some larger bags on the market that would be of service.

One bag of clothes, one toiletry bag is all you'll need for the hotel

One bag of clothes, one toiletry bag is all you’ll need for the hotel

So, now we have 4 or 5 days’ worth of clothes, all separated out into individual bags. Now what? Now we’ll need to think about what sorts of toiletry items to take. In my prior professional life, I traveled a lot. Enough so that I was trying to keep the act of packing down to as little time as possible. So, I kept a duplicate set of toiletry items in a travel bag, so I didn’t have to pack and unpack every time I went anywhere. I’ve kept that habit going with having a toiletry bag that stays packed and stocked with everything we need. Everyone has different needs, but my biggest tip here is this: have ONE bag for everyone’s stuff.


Lots of detergent and plenty of quarters make for smooth sailing in the laundry room.

At this point, when you get to your hotel, you’ll just need your ONE bag of clothing and ONE toiletry bag, and not have to lug a heavy suitcase up and down stairs.

Since you’re only taking 4-5 days’ worth of clothes, you’ll need to plan on washing at some point. Most – not all – hotels offer on-site laundry rooms. I recommend taking a few rolls of quarters, and having a large bag of  pod detergent (don’t count on the machines in the laundry rooms, more often than not they’re empty). In our 6-week trip, I only had to use a public laundromat once; fortunately it wasn’t crowded at the time. Along these lines – a side note: if you are staying in a hotel in a larger city, plan on trying to check in earlier so you can attend to the laundry. We were staying in a hotel in Denver with a laundry room; at 9:00 pm the laundry room was backed up! I learned a lesson that the early bird gets the washer & dryer!

What packing tips work for you and your family?


Roadtripping Part 1:  Planning for Success

Roadtripping Part 2:  Keeping Kids Occupied, Connected, and Happy

Roadtripping Part 3: Educating Kids On the Sly

Roadtripping Part 4: Take the Stress Out of Packing

Roadtripping Part 5:  Be Prepared


©2015 Stacy De Smet

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