Create Your Packing List
It’s time to go on a family road trip! Break out the packing list!
Wait a minute! What? A packing list? When it comes to using a packing list for family road trips, many different reactions can follow…
Why do you need a packing list to go on a road trip? Aren’t road trips supposed to be spontaneous and fun? Just throw stuff in the car, make sure you have all your people and go!
I would love to make a packing list for our road trip! But it seems like such an enormous task. I get overwhelmed just thinking about where to begin. So, I end up winging it every time – and forgetting things we need every time! I’m so frustrated! I don’t know where to start!
I use a packing list and it makes things easier! But I still manage to forget some of the things I need. Plus, I have to make a new list for every trip and that gets tough!
Do any of these sound like you? I’ll admit it! That third reaction was me for years! But here’s the truth: Packing lists are the secret weapon to planning and preparing for a successful family road trip! It’s very possible to have a fun, relaxing, and successful family road trip without losing your marbles. Even a road trip that covers 300, 600, or 1300 miles one-way.
Want to know how I can be so confident about this? Because I’ve lived it! My family loves to travel and we have extended family all over the eastern United States. On top of that, it makes more sense for all 7 of us to drive to our destination than to fly. Throughout the past decade of taking long road trips with children (and even our dog!), I’ve figured out a process that has served me well each and every time we take a road trip. This process is exactly what I’m going to share with you in this 3 part mini-series.
What are we waiting for? Here’s how to plan a family road trip without losing your mind:
PHASE ONE :: PREPARING
Before you pull out the first bag to pack, before you gas up your vehicle, before anything else, you need to stop and do a little planning. Wait, planning for a vacation? Aren’t vacations supposed to be fun and spontaneous? While it may feel counter-intuitive to plan for a vacation, putting in some effort here will save you so much time and frustration down the road!
But where do you start? For a family road trip, you start with your destination.
Step One :: Know Your Destination
Just like you wouldn’t go to the airport without having your seat reserved on a specific flight, you don’t want to start out on a road trip without knowing your destination. Especially a road trip with children! So, your very first step is to know where you’re going and where you’re staying. Here are some questions to help you pinpoint these details:
- Where is your destination?
- How far away is it? Is it a 4-hour drive? An all day drive? A multiple day drive?
- Where are you staying? Are you staying with family? Are you renting a large house with family or friends? Are you staying in a hotel? Are you renting an apartment or a cabin?
Once you know where you’re going and how long it will take you to get there, you can begin to plan out your trip. Not just what you’ll do once you arrive, but planning out the details for getting there in the first place.
Step Two :: Reset Your Mindset
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking vacation starts when you arrive at your destination. But what if you changed your mindset? What if your road trip vacation started the moment you pulled out of the driveway? What if you look at the entire time, travel included, as a grand adventure to be enjoyed?
You see, the travel is part of your road trip. That’s the reason it’s called a ‘road trip.’ It’s not a ‘once you arrive trip.’ It’s not all about getting to your destination as quickly as possible so your vacation can start once you arrive. It’s about enjoying the journey to get there. Now, this one can be a challenge! And it isn’t just a one time deal to set your mindset. This is something you’ll continually need to do all throughout your road trip.
But when you start looking at the entire trip – from pulling out of your driveway to pulling back into your driveway – as an epic adventure, you start looking at the traveling portion in a new light. It changes from something to be endured to an adventure to be enjoyed. It stops being a piece of vacation to dread and it becomes a time to make memories.
PHASE TWO :: PLANNING
The planning phase can be the most intimidating step of any vacation. Oh, it’s fun to pick the destination and make the reservations. It’s fun to actually start getting to your destination. But who wants to think about all the things you’ll need to bring? All the details to get you from here to there?
Do you want to know the secret weapon? The single most effective tool for a successful road trip? Make a list!
It’s true! Now, it may sound intimidating. It may sound odd to think through so many details before you even pull out the first bag to pack – particularly if you’re not a natural planner. But I’m telling you, there’s no better tool for making sure you have everything you need. Making sure you have everything you want. And making sure you don’t have to spend extra money on all those things you need, but forgot back at home!
But, where do you start? How do you even begin to come up with a list like this? I’ve got you covered, my Friend! I created the Family Road Trip Packing List Set from the very same lists I’ve been using and improving for years to plan and pack for my family’s road trips. And the best part of all? This Packing List Set is all yours, completely free. Put your name and your email into the form just below and the Family Road Trip Packing List Set will be on its way to your inbox even as you continue reading.
We’re going to talk through this list piece by piece so you’ll know the exact steps you need to take to make your next trip a raving success. Again, you can grab your Family Road Trip Packing List Set here or there will be another opportunity to claim your free copy at the end of this post. Either way, don’t leave before you claim your Free Family Road Trip Packing List Set!
Step One :: Start Your List
When you are planning a family road trip, there are so many details involved! There are so many things you need to remember and it becomes extremely difficult to remember everything on the day you pack. By creating a list, or building off the ones in the Family Road Trip Packing List Set, you allow yourself time to think through all the details before you even pull out the first bag. Then, when it’s time to actually pack it all up, you have a guided map to help you remember everything.
But where do you start? What do you put on your list? Well, let’s start at the very beginning of your road trip: The Ride.
A quick side note: Everything we’re going to talk through can be found in the Family Road Trip Packing List Set. These Packing Lists are a guide for you to not only get you started, but to allow you to customize it to your trip. Also, if you’re a planner (like me!), try printing off your list a month or two in advance. That way, when you think of something you want to bring on your trip, you simply add it to your master list instead of trying to remember it for months!
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for more details.
Step Two :: Entertainment for the Ride
The first part of your road trip is going to be the ride. But what do you do on the ride? Oh, it’s easy for the driver: They have to drive! But how do you set your kids up to be entertained as they ride? How do you make sure the chorus of ‘Are we there yet?’ doesn’t begin the second you pull out of the driveway? (Or, preferably, doesn’t begin at all!)
The Answer: Create a backpack full of things for them to do! This backpack will ride with them and (when done right) will give them hours of entertainment that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.
Don’t get me wrong, having a vehicle equipped with a DVD player or having a portable DVD player is incredibly helpful. Bringing along the iPad or tablet is useful, but road trips are to be enjoyed by the whole family. Including doing activities that encourage interaction with each other as you ride. Road trips are an adventure!
Okay, so what do you put in each backpack to make the trip an adventure?
- Clipboard :: Not just any clipboard, through, a colorful, plastic clipboard that has a hinged space to hold papers! That’s right! You can put extra drawing paper, puzzles, mazes, and more into this storage spot in the clipboard and not only keep the papers contained but also keep them flat, which takes up less room.
- Something to Draw :: This could be loose drawing paper (held in the clipboard), a sketch pad, coloring pages (in the clipboard), coloring books or a combination of all of the above.
- Puzzles and Games :: There are plenty of car- friendly puzzles and games you can choose from! More on this in a moment.
- Something to Write With :: What good is a sketch pad or a coloring book if you have nothing to write with or color with? Pencils and pens travel very well in a cloth pouch or a pencil bag. Don’t forget to sharpen the pencils and colored pencils before you leave and bring a sharpener along, too!
- Books to Read :: Bring Books to read!! If you’re looking for some suggestion, check out this blog post or this list of 10 children’s books you should read.
- Something to Cuddle :: Make sure your child has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to cuddle with should they decide to take a nap.
- Neck Pillow :: This simple addition is rarely thought of until it’s needed. A neck pillow can loop on the outside of your child’s backpack and provide a soft and stable place to rest their head when taking that nap on the road.
There are countless options for puzzles and games to bring along on a road trip. From the Sudoku books you can find at the Dollar Store to Activity Books and more. Here are a few of our favorite road trip puzzles and games:
- Magnetic Board Games :: Did you know that board games can be found in miniature, magnetic form? Checkers, Chess, Othello and more can all be found in portable sizes with magnetic pieces so they stay in place as you drive.
- Highlights PuzzleMania Books:: These books are filled with puzzles, mazes, word searches, picture hunts and more. You can even choose the book that will best fit your child, their age and their interests.
- Printable Mazes and Kidoku Puzzles :: Check out KrazyDad.com for hundreds of printable puzzles to keep you and your child entertained for hours. You can download one of his kids mazes books here or download a Kidoku (think Sudoku for kids) book here.
Here’s an Extra Tip: Consider leaving the markers and crayons behind and only bringing colored pencils. From time to time, whatever your child is writing with will drop to the floor as you drive. And the truth of the matter is, that writing tool might be lost for a while, rolling around on the floor of your vehicle. While crayons can melt and markers can leak, colored pencils simply wait to be found. This lends a peace of mind to you knowing your vehicle will not be ruined by a pencil hanging out on the floor for a while.
Traveling with Infants and Toddlers
If you are traveling with infants or toddlers, don’t discount this idea of packing them a backpack! Simply adjust the list to fit what they can do. Pack some soft toys for your infant to hold and play with. Pack some board books for your 9 month old to look at. Pack a variety of toys for them to play with. Pack a coloring book or clipboard for your 18 month old to color (okay, scribble). Take this idea of packing a backpack for your child and make it fit where your child is right now.
If you are traveling with a baby, make sure you have a set of plastic links to attach their toys to their carseat. This gives them the opportunity to get their toy back if it falls off their lap! Then, each time you stop, swap out the toys hooked to the links. This gives them something new and different to play with as you continue driving down the road.
Step Three :: Snacks for the Ride
Food and snacks can be one of the biggest expenses on a vacation. But they don’t have to be! With a little planning and preparation, you can drastically lower your vacation food bill. Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not! You can make this happen!
One of the easiest ways to slash your vacation food bill is to bring your own snacks for the ride! Super simple. Super effective. And absolutely money-saving!
Here are some questions to think through:
- What type of snacks do you want to bring?
- Do you care about the mess the snacks might make? For example, if you’d rather not have melted chocolate all over your vehicle, you might want to skip the chocolate covered pretzels and go for plain pretzels!
- Do you have a certain snack food that always show up on your road trips?
- Do you want to bring healthy snacks?
Some of our favorite go-to travel snacks are pretzels, goldfish, trail mix, cheese-its, and fruit snacks. Occasionally we’ll add in fruit, but I’ve find that eating fruit (even apple slices) in the car can get sticky, so we save the stickier snacks for our rest stops!
Now, before you go out and get all of these snacks in the convenient, pre-packaged bags, do a little price comparison. Remember, you’re already saving money by bringing your own snacks, but did you know you can save money even as you buy the snacks you’ll bring?
Consider this for example: You have a favorite type of snack cracker. If you buy them pre-packaged in individual bags, they cost $0.56 per ounce. Yet, if you buy the same snack crackers in a large bag, they cost $0.32 per ounce. If you will save money by buying your snacks in a large bag, do it! It’s not worth wasting money for convenience on this one! On the other hand, if the price is the same whether you purchase your snack in individual bags or in a large bag, get the individual bags and save yourself a little time.
But if you get the big bag of snack crackers, what do you do? Do you just bring the big bag on your road trip and hope there are no fights over them? Not at all! Grab yourself a box of snack-size zip top baggies and create your own individual snack bags! Now you have the convenience of single serving bags filled with your favorite snack crackers, and you saved money in the process!
If you’re looking for more easy and cost-effective ways to plan, prepare, and pack your food for your road trip (snacks included), don’t miss part 2 of this road trip mini series where we dive into all things dealing with vacation food! Click here to read Part 2: Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy.
Step Four :: Drinks for the Ride
Now you have your snacks covered, but what will you do for drinks? Let’s face it, buying a drink for each person at each rest stop can get expensive quick! And, while you may need to spring for that cup of hot coffee, you can cut down on the number of other beverages you purchase.
How? By bringing along water bottles! Make sure each member of your family has their own water bottle. And here’s a big key: Make sure their water bottle fits into their cupholder! Start out your trip with each water bottle full. (And give strict instructions to make sure no one guzzles their water as you dive!)
But what do you do when the water bottles run out? Well, before you leave, take an empty juice bottle or any type of plastic gallon-sized bottle with a lid that fits tightly. Clean out the bottle, then fill it up with cold water. Depending on the size of your family and how far away your destination is, you might want to bring 2 bottles. Having these water bottles riding in a cooler bag allows you to refill individual water bottles when they get low and saves you from having to find a clean drinking fountain at every stop.
Step Five :: Clothes to Pack
No road trip packing would be complete without bringing clothes along. But what kind of clothes should you bring? And how many clothes should you bring? Part of this question will be answered by knowing how long you will be gone and whether you’ll have access to a washer and dryer at your destination.
Now, this might seem a little redundant, but giving each person in your family their own packing list is an indispensable tool. It sets the expectation for what to bring, eliminates the chance of your child forgetting their swimsuit on your beach vacation, and more. In short, it gives each person a guide for what they need to pack and highlights the most important things that must make it into their suitcase! And it does all this without you standing over your child telling them what to pack!
If the thought of creating a list like this for each person in your family feels overwhelming, don’t despair! There is a packing list for each person included in the Family Road Trip Packing List Set. If you haven’t claimed your free copy yet, you can grab it here or at the end of this post.
Here are some thing to consider as you think through what clothes you’ll need:
- How long will you be gone?
- Will you need socks and shoes for this vacation or will sandals and flip flops suffice?
- Will you need a swimsuit?
- Is there any event you’ll need to dress up for? Do you have all the items you need to dress up? (Shoes, jewelry, the correct color socks, etc.)
- Are you going to the mountains where you’ll need hiking boots and clothes for hiking?
- Are you going to the beach where you’ll need multiple bathing suits and beach cover-ups?
As you think through these questions and the scope of your vacation, figure out how many of each item you’ll need. For example, if you are going to the mountains for a week and you have access to a washer and dryer each person should bring 6 pair of socks. On the other hand, if you do not have access to a washer and dryer, you might want to make that 10 pairs of socks! Once you figure out this number, simply write it into the correct packing list from your Packing List Set.
Above all, don’t let the thought of creating a list for each person scare you from even starting!
Step Six :: The Extras Things
Now that you know what clothes each person will be bringing, what about those extra things? What about the toys and games, the beach towels and beach chairs, the cameras and charging cords? While the extras things will be different depending on your specific destination, here are some questions to think through to make sure you have all the extra things you’ll need:
- What electronics will you be bringing? Laptops, cell phones, cameras, iPads, portable DVD players, etc. Do you have charging cables for each one? If you’re planning on transferring photos from your camera to your laptop or another device, do you have the correct cable? Do you have any battery operated devices? Do you have extra batteries or the charging dock for rechargeable batteries?
- Will you need to bring games or toys to enjoy at your destination? What will you bring? Puzzles? Remote control cars? Board games? Card games? DVDs? Sports equipment?
- Will you allow your child’s favorite toys to come with you? Or will you leave the favorite toys at home so you know you won’t lose them?
- Are you going to the beach? What extra beach gear will you need? Beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, beach bags, sand toys, sunscreen, etc.?
- Are you going to the mountains or the woods? Are you planning on doing any hiking? What extra items will you need? Backpacks, water bottles, hiking boots, bug spray, etc.?
- Will you need sleeping bags or pillows, extra blankets or air mattresses?
- Are you going somewhere cold? Will you need extra coats, gloves, or hats?
As you think of these things, add them to your Family Road Trip Packing List. Or, if there’s something on the list you won’t need, cross it out! Remember, this list set is a guide to get you started. There will be items on this list that you won’t need for every road trip. And there will be things you’ll need to add or details you’ll want to write in as you think through the specifics of each trip.
Step Seven :: Food for Meals
Hold up a minute! We already talked about food! What more needs to be said about food? Well, we covered the snacks for the drive, but what about the food you need at your destination? Particularly if you’re renting a cabin or a house with a full kitchen.
Figuring out how to plan, prepare, and pack the food you need for a road trip can feel very confusing and intimidating at first. But I have good news for you: I am going to walk you through a simple step by step process to figure out all these details in Step Two :: Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy.
Wrapping It All Up
Wow! You’ve covered a lot of details putting your packing list together! Congratulations! Now, here’s what you do next:
First, if you haven’t already, claim your Family Road Trip Packing List Set in the form just below.
Second (once you’ve claimed your packing list set), click this link to come over to part 2 of this 3-part mini series where we’ll dive into how you can plan, prepare, and pack all the food you’ll need for vacation!
I’ll see you in Part Two: Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy!
- How to Plan a Family Road Trip without Losing Your Mind, Part 2: Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy
- How to Plan a Family Road Trip without Losing Your Mind, Part 3: Pack It Up!
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Looking for some of the books or materials mentioned on this page? Click on the photo below to purchase your own copy today.
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.