With the Kids

Packing For a Trip with the Kids

Allison, from Petit Elefant, is here today as my guest, sharing some fabulous tips on traveling with kids, how to pack, what to bring, and getting ready for the road.

I’m currently in a mad dash to pack my family for the adventure of a lifetime. We’re road tripping for three weeks down the coast of California, from San Francisco to San Diego. I can’t wait, road trips are the best! We go on them all the time, and we almost always have an amazing time.

Packing for said road trips? Not so much. I invariably spend the day before the vacation pulling my hair out, wondering why I ever thought a road trip was a good idea. Since we do it so often I thought I’d share some of my packing tips; they’ve been hard earned over the years.

First of all, Ziplock bags will be your saving grace. I used to make fun of people who traveled with them, but they are critical for road trips with kids. Headed to a sandy beach? Put a Ziplock in your bag and fill it with whatever treasures your kids find. You won’t be able to smell the decay of ocean smells all the way home, pure magic. Ziplocks are also perfect for toiletries: shampoo bottles, toothpaste, etc. I always double bag the gooey stuff; you never know when you’ll have an explosion on your hands.

Secondly, take a potty. No explanation necessary.

Individual suitcases for the kids. I bought these two from Lillian Vernon a few years ago on clearance, and it was the smartest travel move I’ve ever made. One for him, one for her, no fighting. Whatever fits can come on the trip and if it doesn’t, too bad so sad.

I lay it all out on the carpet so I can see what I’m dealing with. This trip is the longest we’ve ever attempted to go {3 weeks!} but I’m not taking a ton of clothes for the kids, I just plan on doing a lot of laundry.

I have a bunch of stuff for any type of weather: sweaters, jacket + hat, shorts, tees, 2 pair of shoes, pajamas, a blankie. The usual.

Stack of tees for my son. I usually don’t take this many shirts but this boy can go through three outfits in a day, easy. I don’t want to do laundry every night.

My nine-year-old doesn’t require as much stuff, she usually only goes through two outfits a day.

Laundry: come to terms with it, learn to love it. I’m taking $20 in quarters, a bag of OxiClean {aforementioned son requires it}, dryer sheets, Laundry Tree soap nuts and essential oils, and a laundry bag. I just throw the dirties in the bag so it’s consolidated into one place for my late night hotel laundry room jaunts.

The basics for the car include a bag full of bags. I stash a bunch of my old grocery bags and use them along the way for garbage. I’ve never used this many before, but we’ll be gone for three weeks and I don’t want to take any chances. I love traveling in a clean{ish} car, and “taking out the trash” at every rest stop helps.

2 kids + 2 parents + 20 days on the road = 6 pack of air freshener.

DVD player for the car. This one is critical for long distance trips. We’ve gone back and forth as parents about whether or not to use these in the car; we really would rather promote back seat reading and crafting. But when it comes down to it, halfway to Reno I’ll be bowing down to the gods of electronics for inventing these things. We originally had two screens, but one was damaged on one of our trips, and now the kids have to share. Poor deprived things.

And last but not least, I pack a cooler full of drinks. Gas station stops can add up really really fast. I’d rather pay .59 cents at the grocery store for Gatorade than 4 times that on the road. Ditto for the Diet Dr. Pepper.

Those are my essentials for happy travels with kids! Happy trails.

Thanks, Allison. These are going to come in handy this summer as I’m planning a few family trips myself. Love that little potty, I might have to invest in that for my daughter!


  1. This is a great list! I’m researching for my upcoming road trip with toddlers (first time on the road with kids!) and this was really helpful. I had already planned to bring a lot of plastic shopping bags, but I think you’ve also sold me on the Ziplocs!

  2. I know this is an older blog but… we are moving across country and will be in the car with the family for three days (ugh). I wanted to thank you for your awesome post. You named so many things I would have forgotten! Great tips, keep it up!

  3. I like the air freshener idea as well. I laughed about your “bowing to the electronics gods” as I recently had to take my 18 month old on a 9 hr, 3 flight trip to Alaska and back by myself. A passenger on the plane sitting next to me commented on the studies that discourage kids from watching any tv before age 2. My general policy is not to let him watch tv all the time or even most of the time, but when you’re on flights with a toddler, priorities change :). It would have been interesting if I had shut the DVD player off and let the passenger deal with a screaming toddler for 3 hrs straight.

  4. Have you seen the idea of putting bags into an empty baby wipe container to hold them? I do that for my car. I love it and I dont have bags flying around my trunk :)

    1. you probably already do this but just in case, I found it so much easier to take one extra bag with an outfit for each person and whatever else you use for the night, just grab for your one night hotel room. This way your not going through all the bags you worked so hard on trying to fit in your vehicle.

  5. I travel solo with my kids all the time since moving away from my parents. My husband and I talked about it before our big move and at that time we had only one child (now 2) and since I was taking on the role as Stay at home mom he wanted to make sure our kids knew their grandparents. Last year alone I made the 520 mile trek 1 way 6 times, 5 of them just the kids and I. My upcoming trip will be different though because I do have a potty training child. Thanks for the list!!!

  6. I’m so glad you posted this!! My husband and I are taking 3 kids on a 2 week road trip this summer along the coast (No. Cal up thru Oregon and WA). You gave me some great ideas I hadn’t thought of like taking quarters for laundry and packing a cooler of drinks. Thanks for all the helpful info!

  7. We are leaving soon for a 7 week road trip (with some 2 week stops in the meantime) and I cringe at the thought of packing the car for this!

    Handy tips!

  8. when i took my niece on a cruise vacation, we bought postcards @ each stop along the way. She wrote on the back… what she learned there, or what she liked about the place. We then punched a hole in the upper corner of each one, and placed it on a keyring. when we got back, she had apersonalized memento of our trip.

    (this has nothing to do with packing… but it’s a fun thing to do while traveling.)

    1. Thanks for this idea, I was thinking of making a scrap book along the way with my 3 year old but wasn’t sure how to go about it as we don’t have a portable printer, but the postcards idea will work perfectly! Thank you!

  9. Very timely post- I myself am leaving on a 3-week long trip tomorrow- unfortunately we have to fly before we rent a car and drive around for the duration so we have to be pickier on what and how much we can back. Great ideas though!

  10. Give me a big wave when you are though SF! I have now made 6 more ppl addicted to your blog and having their kids do your crafts!

  11. The air fresheners are the best tip! With my family after a few hours in the car and then getting back in I am like geez are we that bad?!!?!

  12. great tips! Even if you don’t have kids a lot of these tips are useful. I will be using them this summer for my family!

  13. air freshers would have been a good thing on our road trip since our 1 year threw up after crying so hard – poor girl got a tooth on the way down to Florida.
    I packed too many clothes – it’s hard when the girls have so many cute summer clothes they haven’t worn yet.

  14. We also do the individual backpacks PLUS each kid has a “car backpack” that they can pack themselves. And like you said if it doesn’t fit, too bad so sad. This way each kiddo has their own workbooks and crayons and pencils and trinkets and toys and they are in charge of putting their stuff in it along the way. If I clean the truck out at the end of the day and that special fast food toy is not in the bag, it might end up in my trash bag!

    Also I pack small dry erase boards, lots of print out maps (did you know McD’s & chick fil a have maps on their websites?!) and I always carry a sharpie (comes in handy – ex: to label the aformentioned fast food toys) and yard gloves (don’t laugh, comes in handy) in my truck.

    My #1 must have – headphones!! For the gameboy, for the tv, for the mp3 player.

  15. We are moving to Wisconsin next month from Georgia and I am going to be taking alot of your suggestions to heart. We have travelled up that way before when the kids were smaller but I think a DVD player might have to be an investment this time around :-)

    Thanks for great tips!

  16. I never thought about taking some air freshner for the car – that’s a great idea! I’m adding it to my summer list. :)

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