How to Pack for a Family Vacation

I got the packing gene from my father. I’m good at organizing stuff into spaces, and quite frankly, my husband sucks at it. So I have become the family packer for our trips. I don’t mind. I’ve got it down to a science now. While I’m packing for our summer travels, I thought I’d share some tips with you (as well as my checklists — scroll to the bottom to download those).


Prepare ahead of time.

Last-minute packing will cause you more stress (running to the store at 10:00 p.m. the night before you leave) and more money (buying overpriced forgotten necessities on vacation). My husband is a last-minute packer, but then he’s only packing his own stuff. I’m packing for the family.

About a week before we leave, I’ll get the suitcases out. I’ll get laundry done and set aside those clothes I know we’re bringing. Piles begin to accumulate around the house: bags of food in the kitchen, a basket of hygiene products in the bathroom, stacks of clothes. It may look chaotic, but it’s my own system, and I have my handy list with me to check things off as they make their way into a pile.


Involve the kids.

Sofie sometimes prefers to choose her clothes. I always ask her to pack a bag of toys and activities for the car ride and the destination. If we’re joining friends or family, this causes Sofie to consider issues such as whether she wants to have her favorite dolls around her baby cousin or how she can bring enough art supplies for sharing. And choosing which stuffed animal (or two) gets to go on the trip is always a momentous decision for her.

Bring your own food.

You’ll save money and eat healthier. Our road trips to see family in Philly always involve a cooler of hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese plus nuts, granola bars and dried fruit for snacking. This holds us over so we’re not tempted by fast food at the rest stops.

For weeklong vacations where we’ll be cooking in our rental, we try to plan ahead for meals and bring essential non-perishables like olive oil, sugar, coffee, tea, cereal, pasta, canned goods, onions and spices. We pour measured amounts into reusable containers to save space. While there are often grocery stores near vacation sites, they are sometimes gourmet shops with limited and pricey selections. And I don’t want to spend much time grocery shopping while on vacation.

When meal planning, consider how one food item can have multiple purposes. For example, one or two boxes of pasta can be both a spaghetti dinner and a lunch pasta salad. Cheese can be a car snack and a sandwich builder.

Think green.

Vacations often involve a lot of disposable-ness, but a little pre-planning makes a difference. Like bringing along reusable containers for leftovers. Because there’s usually more food than you can finish, and why toss it out? Bring the extras home in your cooler. Always bring your reusable water bottles. Bring your digital camera—not those disposable ones—and rechargeable batteries. (If it’s a long trip, don’t forget the charger.) Those mini shampoos and lotions from hotels can come in handy if you reuse the containers for your own hygiene products. It saves you tons of space.

Packing light keeps your car running more efficiently, which helps on gas mileage as well as carbon emissions. Bring fewer clothes and either wear them several times or wash them in the sink at night. (We had to do this in Italy last year as we were determined to only bring one suitcase for a ten-day trip. It worked out just fine.

Make a list with grouped items.

packing-medicine-kitDividing your list into sections keeps you organized on the front end and aids with unloading on the other end. Clothes. Check. Stow in bedroom. Hygiene products. Check. Put in bathroom. Food items. Check. Off to the kitchen. I pack so that related items are grouped together for easy access. For example, a travel medicine kit or a milk crate of outdoor camping supplies (stove fuel, lanterns, flashlights and trash bags).

I don’t know how anybody packs without a list, really. And in case you don’t feel like making your own, I’m giving you mine. Download my general travel packing list and a camping packing list. Hope that helps!


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4 Responses to How to Pack for a Family Vacation

  1. Cinda Myricks says:

    Great tips on how to pack before going on a family vacation. Packing is one herculean task which has to be done carefully and with much patience. Making a list is the best way to avoid any chances of forgetting the most needed things behind!

  2. Erica says:

    I will be trying our your family vacation list for our upcoming Jersey trip. Thanks!

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