When packing for a long-term trip for your family, managing the space is essential. Whether or you’re dealing with baggage allowances for flights or traveling by car, you need to be able to pack everyone’s everything into as small, and sometimes as light, a bag as possible.
For this trip we were planning to be gone a minimum of three months, traveling by car and lodging primarily at long-term airbnb locations, interspersed with the occasional hotel stay and a few overnight camping expeditions. All baggage and supplies needed to fit nicely into the trunk of our Toyota Camry. We had no roof rack or any tow-behinds.
Here’s how we did it.
1) Planning, planning, planning
I am not the best at planning ahead. In fact, the thought of planning for things months in advance nearly causes me to have a fit of anxiety. However, since I am the only adult in our four-pack, all the planning falls solely on me. Needless to say, I’ve had to learn to adjust and take a lot of deep calming breaths. I also make a lot of lists. A lot.
Since this was the first-time we were traveling by road for an extended period of time and for long distances, I knew that I needed to be prepared for anything that may happen when traveling this way. We were also going to parts of the world that none of us have been to before, so I needed to know what we were in for.
I researched items that are needed for a vehicle emergency kit, backpack items for day trips with a family, camping essentials, and expected climate at each location.
We’ve camped and hiked before, but we always had a trunk full of space to use, and even more than one vehicle at times, so packing didn’t need to be as concise. This time around, I needed to know what was essential and what we could live without.
All this research, of course, went into lists.
For a month prior to leaving on this trip my bedroom, and eventually the entryway to the house, became a loading zone. Piles of things where put together based on their purpose and organized by person and activity. Then as the planning progressed and the items were purchased/gathered, bags and supplies were organized by how they were going to be packed.
I knew that I needed all of our clothes for the entirety of the trip to fit into one bag. Luckily we had a large duffle bag already that had a huge inner section and eight good-sized outer pockets. It even has a handle and wheels so, inevitably when you over-pack and it the bag is too heavy to carry, you can tow it along behind. Everyone was allowed to bring one nice outfit, two sets of hiking/outdoor clothes, one sleep/lounge outfit, three city clothes for walking/sightseeing, one athletic set, and then one long-sleeve, one pant, and one jacket.
All the clothes were rolled and put into individual clear vacuum/zipper bags. I purchased the Ziploc storage bags and just pressed the air out. I didn’t want to vacuum them out now and then chance not having the availability of a vacuum when having to repack at each location.
4) Establishing needs versus wants
When planning a trip, I first take stock of what the essentials are for the specific trip and then depending on space, fill-in the remaining space with wants. The most important thing to remember here is that most likely anything that you need or want can be found where you are going. The items that should fall into the essentials list are any medications, special diet items, specialized clothing, or items that would cost too much to have to purchase again.
To keep things organized on the road and prevent us from tearing apart the trunk every time we needed something, I put together a hotel bag. I purchased a small underseat bag that had plenty of interior space plus all kinds of pockets for toiletries and extras. Within the bag I separated everyone’s clothing into clear zipper bags (think: Ziploc) and labeled them. That went into the large main area. Then all the pockets were filled according to use. It worked brilliantly.
I also put together three separate food bags. One for the car, one for the hotel, and one for the first day or so at our first location.
6) Loading up and heading out
I knew that the camping wasn’t going to happen on the first part of our trip, I packed those items in the back of the trunk, using every available inch. This included four sleeping bags, a six-person tent, and all the supplies needed for camping – aside from cookware. That took up half of the trunk space. The other half remained open for the clothing, backpacking supplies, Xbox One (see my Electronics and Traveling Teens post), the hotel bag (see above), and the bags of food needed for the drive, as well as for when we arrived.
Finish it all off with a few items placed on top – for us, it was our hiking shoes and extra sneakers – and voila, ready to roll.
What packing tips and tricks have you come up with in your travels?