Do you hate rummaging through bags trying to find that pair of shorts or socks that you know you packed? If you pack the right way- it is so much easier to be organized while on a family road trip! Here are my best packing tips for a family trip!
Now, if you need help deciding WHAT to pack you'll want to check out my free printable Road Trip Packing List– but if you are trying to figure out HOW to pack it- here are my best tips!
Decision #1: Duffel Bag or Suitcase?
If your kids are old enough that they can carry their own bags- I strongly suggest going with duffle bags for family travel!
Since they are soft-sided, they can expand to fit in more clothes, shoes, and gear- and they can much more easily be stacked and maneuvered to fit into the trunk space of a car!
I love these Gonex duffle bags This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. – and each family member owns the large-sized bag (they come in more than a dozen colors, so each person can even get their own color making it easier to know which bag belongs to which person!). And because they are inexpensive- I don't mind replacing them every few years as they get dirty and worn.
The one downside to packing clothing in duffles is that since there is no structure to the bag- things can get disorganized and wrinkled! My solution?
Packing cubes This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. ! They are the BEST way to keep things organized and neat in your duffle bag! But what to put in each cube? An outfit? A category of clothing (like all shorts)? Keep reading!
Then be sure to check out this list of the Best Travel Games This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. for kids and my list of Road Trip Must Haves This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. over on my Amazon influencer page This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. !
Decision #2: Pack Bags “By Person” or “By Day”?
Well, it depends. Generally, I like to pack our bags so that they contain everything needed for one, two or even three people (depending on the length of the trip, and size of the bag!). For a week-long trip, every family member packs their own duffle bag. And they are responsible for what goes in it, for carrying it in/out of our hotel or rental spot, and packing everything up to return home!
However, if we are going to be spending just one night in a hotel (perhaps on the way to our final destination), then I pack a bag just for that one night, and it holds everything for the entire family.
But I do have one exception to these “rules”- swimsuits! I always pack a separate swim bag for quick and easy access in case we can't get into our room when we arrive. Usually, it's just a packing cube full of swimsuits added to one person's duffle bag- but it is so simple to just open one bag and pull out all of our swimsuits than to hunt through everyone's individual bag!
Decision #3: Pack by Outfit or By Category of Item?
When we are headed to a place where I will be able to unpack all of our items, then I like to pack by category- all tees shirts in one packing cube, all shorts in another, and so on.
But if we won't be able to fully unpack at our destination (like when we are staying with family members in a spare bedroom) and will be pulling things out of suitcases for the entire trip, then I pack by outfit, one in each packing cube.
While on Vacation- Do You Plan to Do Laundry?
For me- this is easy- Hell no! This is a vacation, right? (Okay, unless we are traveling for multiple weeks, and then I really have no choice do I?)
So Then… What To Do With Dirty Clothes?
Well if you are able to unpack everything into dresser drawers and closets- then unpack when you arrive and then throw your dirty clothes back into your empty duffles and/or packing cubes as you wear them. This will certainly make packing up to return home a quick task!
But if you are unable to unpack then I suggest taking along a pop-up hamper This is an affiliate link: MomOf6 earns a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you. .
You can throw everyone's dirty clothes into the hamper as you go along, and once it is filled, then it is time to empty it out into one of the duffel bags (sometimes you have shift items from one clean duffle to the next to make room for this). You can continue in this manner for the entire trip- filling/emptying/shifting, and again, when it is time to pack up and return home- it should be a fairly quick task!
Planning a Family Road Trip?
You might want to check out these other posts that offer tips and advice on planning and packing for road trips:
- Printable Road Trip Planner– a free printable and planning guide to help you plan your next road trip!
- Free Printable Road Trip Packing List
- How to Plan a Great American Road Trip
- Packing for a Road Trip: How to Pack the Inside of Your Car
- The Best Car Coolers for a Family Road Trip
And if you are looking for some cool family road trip destinations:
- 10 Great Things to Do in Atlanta with Kids!
- 10 Great Things to Do In South Dakota with Kids!
- Things to Do in Williamsburg with Kids!
- Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach Florida with Kids!
- 5 Reasons to Visit Mammoth Caves with Kids
- 7 Great Things to Do in Lake Placid with Kids
Georgina Fossey says
When going on a flight, we always make sure that we have some clothes for everybody in each suitcase just incase one goes missing and doesn’t get back to us in time.
A great tip Georgina! Back when we used to fly- we did the same thing…. one outfit for everyone was in the carryon bag with us. Not only in case luggage was lost, but also in the event that there is a mishap in flight (someone spills a drink all over themselves, someone gets sick, etc).
Erica Filpi says
I avoid laundry on vacation like the plague. When we get home I don’t even take the duffel bags out of the car because I head to the laundromat the very next day (it is the best way to wash a ton of laundry for 8 people and I usually grab our blankets to wash too).
I fold my younger kids laundry (pre-vacation) and sort it by day. I fold the shirt, underwear, and socks into the shorts/pants to make it easy. Even if we unpack at motel, their outfits are nice, tidy, and easily grabable in the drawers.
Great idea to head to the laundromat to wash all of the loads quickly after vacation vs having the laundry stretch on and on all day!
Hilda @ From Overwhelmed To Organized says
I actually prefer to do laundry while on vacation because I HATE having a mountain of it to do when I get home (it just un-does all the relaxing I feel from having had a vacation). If I have an option of doing laundry before we head back home without it drastically interfering with our vacationing then I do it (e.g. at a timeshare unit that has laundry in the unit then I just do it throughout the last day and pack clean clothes to take back home).
So funny…. and I just hate using that last vacation day to do anything… even packing I dread. I just want to eek out every last drop of “off-time”!
Kris C. says
I’m probably an odd one, because I’d rather do laundry than try to pack for a trip that’s going to be longer than a week. Well, maybe what makes it so odd, is that I actually LIKE to do laundry on vacation. It’s soothing to me…I enjoy the time alone! 🙂
As a side note, Sharon, our family has started your “High, Low, Hope” game at dinnertime and we all love it! It’s a great way to share about our days without using that cliche question: “So, how was YOUR day?” Thanks for the tip!
Kris- Sometimes when we take the dog with us on vacation, I volunteer to be the one to walk him just so I can squeeze in some alone time. But laundry to me still feels like too much of a chore to do while on vacation! And I LOVE hearing that you guys started doing “High/Low/Hope” at dinner time. It’s funny, when we don’t do it for a few nights- one of my kids always asks if we can do start doing it again. They really like sharing their days this way!