Needed: Life Hacks for Trips

Updated on June 26, 2014
A.B. asks from Pittsburgh, PA
21 answers

Hello everyone,

I would love to hear some tips from those of you who travel frequently with kids. I feel like most of our attempts to leave for any trips are crazy, despite making lists and trying to pack a bit at a time. On average, it takes us about 3 hours to get out the door! Inevitably, by that time we're stressed, the kids are exhausted from waiting around (they do help though), and we're frustrated that we can't seem to do better.

So, I guess what I need to know is: is this just how it is w/traveling w/kids? If it is, then we'll just adjust our expectations and start sooner if we can. But if you have any tips that help you streamline the process, I'd love to hear them.

ETA: I'm specifically referring to overnight trips - camping, beach, etc.

Thanks for sharing!

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answers from Chicago on

Last time we took a trip by car, I forced hubby to pack everything but an overnight bag the night before. This was heaven!!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Do everything ahead of time. Have a list. I always had everything completely finished before I went to bed. Morning was the usual. Up, dressed breakfast and out. I always pack car night before.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Cleveland on

I have one kid but the way I do everything is I pack everything the night before and sit it by the door the stuff that can't be packed like tooth brushes gets used first thing then packed away. If we are taking an iced chest make sure the ice is ready and ice chest ready and everything in it ready and load it up them cover In ice a half hour before we leave. Everyone goes potty right before we leave and them I'm loading the car and getting my daughter's stuff beside her seat. Her blanket leap pad and depending on the length of the drive set the dvd player up and then we load up and go. It takes us 45 minutes at most to go. But my main thing I do as much as possible the night before

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

I use lists. I pack our suitcases days before we go. I like to pack the van at night before I go to bed, then I just have the coolers left to pack in the morning. Despite all that I manage to forget something every single trip!

ETA: We always pack new toiletries for travelling so we don't have to worry about packing the ones from home. I have our travel toiletries packed for the summer.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

We have a "staging area" for things that can be packed ahead of time. It can be near the door but usually it's easier if it's in an unused area, such as by the fireplace. I pack according to how I'm going to use things at the destination. For example, if we're going to a motel with a kitchenette and little storage space, I pack nonperishables in milk crates which can be stacked in the car and turned on their sides and stacked like shelves in the motel. They are also good for toys, books & games - instant toy area in an easily-viewable arrangement.

Set out the clothes each person will wear including shoes - there is no debate on vacation day. You wear what's been predetermined. Put a light jacket or sweater for each child right on the back seat of the car. If it's an issue, pre-determine who is sitting where on the first leg of the trip, and put a sticky note on the seat with each kid's name. There will be no arguing about position on the day of!

I pack suitcases ahead of time. We just wear the clothes and pajamas we aren't going to need with us for the 2 days before. I put a tote bag in each bedroom for last-minute stuff (favorite stuffed animals, special security blanket, the hairdryer, etc.). Just toss in as you get ready, and put in any nook or cranny of the car.

I often have extra toothbrushes and travel size toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, bandaids, etc.) already packed. Sometimes I buy travel samples, sometimes I buy the empty bottles and refill with my own products. So nothing from the bathroom on "the big morning" needs to be packed except maybe a hairdryer. I also pack an extension cord (never know where the outlets will be in a motel). Also a laundry bag or two, and some plastic bags if there will be wet bathing suits on the return.

Totes are collapsible of course, so on the way home when we've used up other things, their storage space can be re-used on the way home. For example, as you go through toiletries and groceries, use those milk crates for dirty clothes or the hairdryer etc., and collapse the tote bags.

Prepack a car activity bag for snacks and travel-size toys - I'd use new things (from the store or from garage sales, or even stuff you've squirreled away for a while) and put them in the car where you can reach them but the kids can't. Have one thing set aside for each child to play with while you are getting out the door, to keep them occupied and out of your way. As they get bored or hungry in the car, bring out something fun. If you have a small cooler for drinks or perishables, put that by the fridge with a list on top of it so you can pack quickly. I often pre-mark things in the fridge - use a neon sticky note so it's obvious.

We have a routine with assigned jobs: one person checks the windows and faucets and lights and coffee maker, the other does kitchen trash (so it doesn't stink up the house for the week you are gone). There's a check list taped to the door (with a pencil hanging on a string) that everyone checks off as they do stuff. We have a neighbor pick up the mail and newspapers, and arrange that a week before. We put lights on timers 2 days before but let the neighbor know to come in with her key if there's a power failure and things are coming back on at 4 AM.

Once the kids go to bed, pack the whole car - put everything in the garage or driveway, and load the big & heavy stuff first. Make sure you can close the trunk or tailgate. Leave room in the back seat and next to your feet for the snacks, activity bag and cooler.

if you are doing something like a bike rack, as soon as the car is packed, put the bikes on. From then on, there is no debate by the kids on what else has to be packed into the car.

Day of: pre-make breakfast with bowls of cereal covered with plastic wrap or small plastic containers with fruit or cheese cubes or hardboiled eggs or whatever all set on the table or in the front of the fridge. No short order cook duties on the day of departure - no pancakes, no eggs, no bagels with cream cheese, etc. While the kids are eating, load the rest of the car. Send everyone to the bathroom, put the kids in the carseats and open up one new
toy to keep them occupied while you shut off lights, set the alarm, dump the kitchen trash, etc.

Get in the car, smile at each other, yell "We're on vacation, yay!" and drive away!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Pack the car the night before; put your kids to sleep in the clothes you intend them to wear on the way; lay out your cereal bowls & spoons, cereal on the table; load their toothbrushes with toothpaste as soon as they awaken...

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

When the kids were little I did all the packing myself. Usually a few days out I would start to put clothes straight from the laundry into our suitcases. When they got bigger they packed their own toiletries but I found it easier when they were younger to keep a large Ziploc ready to go with all their stuff (travel toothbrushes/paste, brush, sunscreen, etc.) I just grabbed it and packed it alongside my own toiletries. My husband packed himself.
Put your bags in the car the night before so there's nothing to do in the morning but get up and go!
Also try to keep certain bags stocked. For example, we went to the beach and pool a lot, so I always kept a large bag either in the garage or back of the car with clean beach towels, sweatshirts and sunscreen. The umbrella and folding chairs were nearby too.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

We typically leave in the evening. The van gets packed way before. If we're leaving in the morning it's packed before dinner the night before.

All that's needed is to grab purses and fresh food in a cooler and people.

Take new toothbrushes, sample shampoo and bathing products, and other things like that. This way you don't have to pack anything after your meal or when getting ready.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

I pack the day before a trip, so all I have to do before we leave is grab the toiletries and such.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I guess I'm not sure I understand your question... is it taking 3 hours to pack your car?

Are you talking about overnight trips, or just getting kids/etc. in the car for trips to the grocery store?

Anyway, for weekend/vacation trips, pack the suitcases the day before. If you are getting up early to leave, pack the car, then get the kids up and in the car. When our kids were little, we would leave very early in the morning, so they would also sleep some in the car. We would get them up, have them go to the bathroom (or change diaper if needed), and just put them in the car, pj's and all... give them a pillow and a blanket and they would sleep another hour or so... then, the first stop down the road would be a breakfast stop. (This was for a basic 12 hour trip from Texas to Kansas to visit relatives.)

Have bags/backpack packed for each kid for travel activities, and a bag/tote with snacks and drinks if you want. Just have that ready and by the door ready to go.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Are you possible over thinking things which leads to the extra time involved? How old and how many children?

We travel a lot, usually by air. Our daughter is now 19 but when she was younger, she packed her own carry on.

I have always packed and loaded suitcases the day before and all I need to do when we leave is put toiletries in the bags. As for other prep for the house/pet sitter... it is done ahead of time. The night before we leave, I have all dishes washed and put away so the dishwasher is ready for the sitter, I take out all trash and about 3 days before, I make sure the guest room is ready for the sitter.

We live about 45 minutes in good traffic from either airport. We get up 1 hour before we plan to leave and are in the car ready to go in that hour or a little before.

If you are talking about road trips, you can still pack the car the night before and on the morning you plan to leave, just put all the incidentals in that you need. We have neighbors with 3 girls now 8, 10, 12 and they have done road trips since those girls were babies. The spend a lot of the day preparing the car then about bedtime, they pack up and leave and the girls would sleep through a good part of the trip.

Good luck to you.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

We keep gear for activities tucked away together. The beach bag contains towels flip flops sunscreen hats sand toys. Everything gets put back in the beach bag after it's washed/ cleaned. Same is true for our ice skating gear, our ski gear etc. that part is brainless. We pack one set of clothes per day per person plus one extra set. Kid is allowed two toys, one for each hand. Toiletries are also packed and at the ready in a sack, also we pack a handful of meds( Tylenol, antacid, Benadryl etc). Just enough to make sure we aren't scrambling for some at 3 am. We get breakfast on the road and put a bag of pretzels and carrot sticks in the car too.

It takes us 15 minutes to get out the door.

We are never really in the middle of no where. Anything we forgot, and it isn't much can be gotten in a pinch. No need to stress.

F. B.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Keep everything separated and stored.

We have a large bin with a lid in the garage that has all our camping gear - walking sticks, flashlights, batteries, fire sticks, s'mores sticks, pots and pans, camping dishes and mugs - anything we need to go camping other than our clothes and food, that is specifically just for camping, not for every day household use. I make sure to replenish anything we use up as soon as I get home and go grocery shopping. That way, if we decide to go camping, all I really have to pack are the clothes and food (which usually goes in the cooler).

Same thing for going to the beach or pool - we have an oversized beach bag of towels, goggles, sunscreen, water shoes and sand toys always ready to go.

As for longer overnight trips or any trip that requires extended travel time (road trip, plane trip), I have a bag of entertainment for my son already packed, of things he can't play with unless we go on a trip. It always has a case of video games for his DS (games he only plays on vacations), his DS car charger, wooden and metal mindbender puzzles, a notebook and crayons/markers, activity books like Sudoku - stuff to keep him busy. I also throw in a new chapter book to read in it as a surprise for him.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I start packing a few days before and have a pile which my kid is not allowed to touch or mess with. Mine is older (7) and can understand 'if you take it out of the pile, it doesn't come with us'. If you have a spare room/study, that might be the place to do that sort of staging.

In two weeks we go on our big family camping trip. I do a lot of the prep cooking (potato/mac salads, etc) the day before, which means I do most of the shopping two days before. This time we are taking three salads so I'll make those and get them into containers; often I'll put a grocery bag in the fridge which all the cold camping stuff goes into the day before (condiments, milk, eggs, etc) and so all of it just gets put in the cooler a bit before leaving.

I'm a little type-A in how I organize this stuff, but I also have a camping 'kitchen' kit, a plastic hinged box with a handle that can hold my knives, a cup of silverware, salt/pepper, teas/cocoa, a small bottle of olive oil, smaller cutting boards-- any of the things we need to make the trip good. This can also be packed ahead.

We also have small milk crates for packing camping gear, which it lives in on our basement shelves when not in use. Citronella candles, small trench shovel, extra propane canisters, rope, all of that stays together.

Diane B has some similar strategies as I do regarding packing clothes. We have a small travel toiletries kit and keep things simple when camping. I always pack a few dollars of quarters in that set, as some park showers take coins to operate. Old towels are perfect for trips because we aren't precious with them.

I generally do all the packing (except for husbs. clothes) and my guy takes care of the car maintenance inspection a couple hours before we hit the road. (He does one a few days earlier as well). I also do the research on nearby attractions a week or so beforehand. That's probably my best suggestion: find out what's going on in the towns/places you want to go to beforehand. Last year we visited a small coastal town only to find they were having a festival; it was packed, parking/driving was atrocious, and the wait at the restaurant we wanted to go to was long. Wish I'd checked and we'd gone to another place!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

over the years I have built a master list for what we need for vacay. Pretty much it is the same list and I adapt it to the new trip. Since we camp every year the camping one stays the same and if we need something we add to it. Our camping stuff is mostly in 2 big rubbermaid bins.

We pack our things at least the night before and start to pack the car if we can.

For any things that are last minute I use an expo marker to make a list on my bathroom mirror (I often forget toothbrushes when we travel and my mirror list helps).

I also have a toiletry bag that is always packed. When I return from a trip I restock and I rotate out old stuff before I head out if needed. Its handy too as I always have a small back up of some supplies if I just cant make it to the store and I need something.

I can pack my 2 kids in about 15 minutes. I make sure the laundry is clean and I tell them: Go get me 2 outfits. Go get me 1 set of jammies. Get me 3 undies. 3 pairs of sox. and so on based on the needs of the trip. I check it based on my master list and how many days we will be gone. I have trained my kids to be very self reliant. They could probably almost pack themselves now but I just want to make sure. I'd rather spend money on vacay not things we have at home and forgot (although if we HAVE to then we have to.) My bro never went on vacay with his shoes and always got new shoes on vacay (we often left in the middle of the night). And I always have my kids pick out what they are wearing the night before. We dont always do that but when we travel we do.

I think most of it is just thinking ahead. Decide what time you need to leave and plan your morning/departure backward. If you leave at 7am will you eat first or on the road? Will you bring it or buy it on the road? If you bring it is it ready? what does it need to be ready? How much time do you need to get it ready?

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We too pack ahead of time. I have found that leaving my "pile" in the garage keeps kiddos out of it. The night before it is COMPLETELY packed. Ready to grab and go.

Each kiddo has their own dobb kit. I check it every time we return from somewhere and refill items as needed, it gets stored in my bathroom. I just used some soft pencil cases, filled each one for each kiddo - toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, travel body soap and shampoo for each kiddo. For my son, his allergy meds are included. For my daughter, she has a snack ziplock bag with hair stuff. When we are going on a trip, whether a weeklong vacation or overnight with meemaw, that stuff is ready to go.

We also limit the stuff the kids can bring. Crayons get dropped and lost and eventually become a melted mess. Books are never read (car sick). So we have limited things. They can bring a pillow and blanket and lovie. Movies for the dvd player (we have a small DVD case filled with movies both kiddos like all ready to go.). And each kiddo can bring one electronic toy. My son usually brings his Kindle and my daughter has been choosing her DS. That's it. No losing things. No searching around. No "I forgot". Done. Now if we are headed to the beach or camping and need toys for when we get there, that is added to the "pile" in the garage.

When packing a cooler. I have it all ready to go on the same shelf in the fridge. In the morning, it takes no time at all to dump and go. We freeze half of our drinks to keep things cold.

We camp regularly, so we have a camp box. After each trip we refill it as needed. When we are going camping, it is ready for us with all of our camping gear.

And we also have a first aid kit of sorts that we take everywhere. Basically, it's full of samples of a variety of medicines. Band aides. Ear plugs, etc. If we wind up having to buy something "medical" on a trip, that item becomes a new staple.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I have a basket w our traveling toiletries; toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair products etc. I also have in a ziplock, tums, advil, bug spray, etc. Ziplock should be your best friend.

I pack for 5 people; husband, kids 10, 8, 7 and myself. Each kid has their own small bag for car, filled w their road trip stuff like book, stuffed animal, iPods, sweater etc. I pack everyones clothes the night before and load the car. Right before we leave, we fill the cooler.

I typically don't get much sleep because I am cleaning and organizing. I let the kids sleep together and make sure all rooms are clean, garbage goes out and dishes are done, cause I like to come home to a clean house.

I also like to put a couple bins in the van to keep it organized. I will have a bin for the kids w crayons, drawing paper, school work, etc. And another bin for stuff we need; maps, paperwork, pen, paper, etc.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I pack as light as possible.
I took my daughter to Disney for a week when she was five. I packed in one suitcase:
One shirt per day for each of us, plus one spare each
4 pairs of shorts apiece (wore each pair twice)
One change of underwear each per day, plus one spare each
Two sets of pajamas each (wore the same ones several nights in a row)
One beach towel each for the hotel pool (hung them on the shower rod to dry between uses)
Basic toiletries (toothbrush/paste, hairbrush, deodorant)

In a carry-on tote bag, I packed a book for each of us to read on the plane and in bed and durable foods for breakfasts and snacks:
Jar of peanut butter
Loaf of bread
Granola bars
Beef jerky
Juice boxes

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Huntington on

1- lists. I always keep a list to hurry and check off right before we leave so I can make sure we got all the last minute items.
2- Pack ahead of time. We gather up as much as we can and keep it in the front room by the door. This includes unrefrigerated food items.
3- Definitely shop ahead of time. All the food for the trip is kept in bags on a specific shelf on the fridge. My master list reminds me "get bags from fridge and freezer". It makes it fast to pack the cooler because we do not have to decide what is going.
4- The hardest part: keeping the house clean the week before we go. I hate and refuse to leave on a trip with the house being gross. The last thing I want to do upon return from camping is deal with a smelly house because we neglected to be on top of the dishes, or have a ton of backed up laundry on top of what we used camping. So we do work double time on the cleaning leading up to the trip.

Usually it takes us:
1 hour for me to shower and get ready and pack my toiletries (I do have a pre-packed toiletry bag but I still need to throw in last minute items that I use every day and cannot pre-pack, like makeup).
30 minutes for breakfast and last minute clean up (dishes, counters)
40 minutes to pack car, grab last minute items, make sure everyone used bathroom, make sure all the windows and doors are locked

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

My son is now almost 2 an a half years old. The worst was when we went to the beach when he was almost 6 months and we needed the jumper and bouncer, and all our stuff, but we still managed to get out pretty quickly. We pack our bags over a week and have everything loaded in the car the night/ day before depending what time of day we are leaving. Things that we can't live without go in the car right before we leave/as we are piling in the car. Hope this helps. E.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I always keep everybodies toiletries packed in a special case so I just have to grab it and go. I used to just keep it in the suitcase but we used so many different bags that I just keep it in the cupboard now.

I tried to find disposable items that are perfect for travel but I would not really use on a daily basis. Huggies came out with durable but disposable washcloths that came with soap already on them. These were wonderful, especially for camping.

I also have an activities box that I keep stocked and would always grab one or two items from there before any trip so that there was always a back up activity.

Huge beach bag for all pool items. Big box of camping supplies including paper plates, flashlights, etc.

But the biggest thing I learned is to teach them how to pack young (like start at 2 yr. old). Have them pack up all their items in one bag (I found a backpack is easiest) and check it when they're done. The first couple times will be almost comical in what they deem as necessities, but they will catch on. Tell them how many days and how many outfits and what kind of weather to prepare for. This not only helps you, it is an awesome life skill for them to have.

1 mom found this helpful
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