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We went on 1,378 road trips while we lived in rural Nebraska. Okay, I don’t know the actual amount, but we spent many hours in the car while we lived there. You see, if you live in rural Nebraska, you will go on a mini-road trip just to go to Target, do airport pickups, or to see a high school volleyball game. We also went on one wild family road trip adventure through six states and to California, and we frequently drove 8 hours to visit family. All that travel gave us an opportunity to appreciate the beauty in every place we visit, and to draw closer together as a family.
Over the years, we’ve added thousands of miles to our car, and clocked hundreds of hours of family togetherness. All of the preparing and packing for our many family road trips turned me into a regular packing ninja. (At least a ninja who very frequently forgets to pack her own toothbrush.👊)
Anyway, here are my hacks. These tips will SAVE YOU.
1. Label your bags.
I highly recommend each person have an easily identifiable bag. I used duct tape and a sharpie to label each duffle bag. (You’re welcome. I’m classy like that!) This made it easier for me to keep track of our stuff once we got to our destination. You also could be cool and order luggage tags, if that’s more your style. We recently bought everyone a medium sized Ripcord bag from Cabelas because they have so many different color options. It makes it so much easier when each family member has a distinguishable color.
2. Reusable grocery bags are your best friends.
Pack several very large reusable grocery bags in your bag. The ones you get at TJMaxx for $1 work fantastic! You could also use mesh laundry bags, but I like the reusable shopping bags because they stand up on their own. You will use these as your laundry bags when you get to your destination. The kids like this because while they’re at Grandma’s house, they’ll know where to put their dirty clothes. (Okay, just kidding, the kids DON’T care. Not one bit. I care. I’m the only one who cares even one tiny iota.) Anyway, these little bags will make laundry and sorting clothes so much easier. Travel means laundry, so be prepared for it.
3. Pack an overnight bag.
If you’re going to be traveling for several days on the road before you reach your destination, and especially if you’ll be arriving late at night, put one pajama and one daytime outfit per person plus all the toiletries you’ll need for one night into an overnight bag. Take out your sharpie and your classy duct tape and label this bag “overnight bag” and be sure to keep this bag near the top of the luggage so it can easily be reached. If you’re traveling with your husband, he will make out with you like you just met for not having to drag all the bags in.
4. Prep your car.
This is your mini-home for the next however many days, so you’ve got to be a bit strategic about how you use the space. You need:
Trash bags: I pack several grocery bags to use for trash and I always keep one looped over the the arm rest of the front seat. (Pull it to the back so that it is actually hanging out in the back seat.) It’s also a good idea to bring a couple gallon sized zip locked bags, just in case there’s any puking or anything else gross that you need to keep all sealed up.
Paper towels and/or baby wipes: I should not need to explain this one if you are a mother who has ever spent any time with children ever.
Entertainment: Don’t pack too many toys and stuff. They usually don’t get used and just end up making a huge mess in the van. I let each kid bring one or two small things. (A notebook and a pen, a comfort item, and a small lap blanket or pillow pet.) We bring tablets, chargers and have a DVD player in the van because we travel so much. We also make sure we’ve downloaded some good audiobooks or podcasts, so we are good to go.
Drinks: Okay, this is critical. I’ve tried just about everything for this one. We’ve done capri suns, juice boxes, store-bought water bottles and more. These are all fine options, but my favorite way to travel is for each kid to have their own reusable water bottle. I buy a gallon of Spring Water and I refill their water bottles when we stop. Here’s why it’s great. There is WAY LESS mess in the car. Let’s say you have 4 kids. If each one needs 3-4 drinks throughout a trip, then you are talking 12-16 pieces of extra garbage in your vehicle. That’s a lot of trash that can fall into the nooks and crannies of your car. Using water bottles is just the best way to simplify things. It’s healthier, cheaper, and better for the environment. DONE. I’ve linked to some cuties:
Snacks: Family road trips can quickly become a time to over indulge on snacky foods, and nothing makes everyone more irritable than a day full of eating junk. I once let my kids pick out a bag of chips from a gas station, and my 5 year old quietly ate a whole bag of Cheetos. (The large one, not the snack size!) Let’s just say they did not sit well with her. I have LEARNED my lesson! We have some treats on road trips, but I try to pack a lot of healthier stuff, so the kids aren’t running on empty carbohydrates. (AKA, cranky calories!)
I pack a large soft cooler with a freezer ice pack. Add cheese sticks, gogurt (freeze them first), and some produce such as carrots, sugar snap peas, mandarin oranges, grapes and apples. I also pack a sippy of milk for my toddler.
I put this cooler under the baby’s car seat. (Not sure where it will go once she needs leg room!)
Anyway, as for dry snack foods, we eat a lot of popcorn, cashews, peanuts and pistachios. I also throw in some cheese and graham crackers. I put all these in a reusable shopping bag.
Usually somewhere near the end of our destination, we might pick out some candy or stop for some ice cream. If the kids had been eating oreos all day, this just wouldn’t even be a treat.
5. Plan for the unexpected.
Most of all, plan for things to go awry. You will be traveling with little messy, unpredictable humans. You can also be cranky and unpredictable. (Well, I don’t know about you, but I certainly can be.) Do your best to be prepared, but let things go when things get crazy. In the end, an easy-going, make-the-best-of-it attitude will be the most helpful thing you bring along.
Remember, traveling with your kids creates unforgettable memories and bonds you in a very special way. It will be so worth it!