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Thread: Family packing for car trip?

  1. #1
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    Family packing for car trip?

    So, we just got back from a week-long car trip, and it got me thinking about how to be more effective in my packing, even when baggage weight is not an issue. While we are not the usual road warriors or outdoor adventurers that I typically associate with Bihn, I think TB can still help us travel better! We have one more week-long car trip coming up, and although I will likely not get an order together in time to use Bihn bags for that trip, I thought it was worthwhile thinking through how we travel as a family, in preparation for future trips. Maybe I can test-drive some configurations (with "proxy" bags) before I place an order. I would love to hear your experiences and suggestions for streamlined packing.

    (I asked about some of this on Rav, then figured I'd come straight to the source! )

    We are a family of four:

    DH- 510, M shirts
    Me - 5 even, S/M or size 4 tops
    DD - 52 inches/130 cm, size 8/10 (age 9)
    DS - 43 inches/110 cm, size 5) (age 5)

    My main issue is keeping things organized when we get to our destination, especially when we are moving every couple of days. We tend to have one big suitcase and one rollaboard-sized one, and unload the small bag for overnight stays, the bigger one for multi-day stops. I refill the small bag with what we need for the next stop, before we move on. Right now while the kids are younger this seems to work better for us than each person having a bag. I thought maybe having a different color of packing cube backpack for each person would help keep stuff together. And maybe the backpack space limitation will help us pack less, too!

    I also find that we tend to use the (shared) bath sequentially, so things get misplaced in between the bedroom and bathroom (soap/shampoo/toothpaste etc). Was thinking about having a 3D mesh organizer cube (stands up on its own better than a pouch; also has a hook for hanging on doorknob), again color-coded for each person - e.g. toothbrush and hair brush. Would the mesh get too ooky over time (toothpaste, etc.)? Maybe a small travel stuff sack would be better? I thought about a clear org pouch - medium - but those don't stand up well on a counter. And for the shared toiletries, perhaps one 3D clear org cube (or quarter clear pack cube? more capacity).

    (Next year, the big guy willing and the creek don't rise, we are planning a trip to Europe for a family event. In that case I thought we could have two PCBPs each in a rollaboard - so, two people's clothes per suitcase - so that we still don't have to check anything. Or the kids could each carry their PCBP, and perhaps DH and I will have a bigger carry-on - Aeronaut or WF/TS-size. But that's a decision for another day. For now, I'm just thinking that the PCBPs will be functional for different kinds of trips.)

    Bonus question: what must-haves do you have inside the car for long drives? Food, electronics, books on tape? Knitting for the passenger? What do you put them in, and where in the car do they go - up front, by your feet? In back with the kids? (We currently have a four-door sedan, packed to the gills for road trips.)

    Would love to hear how you pack for your family - any tips and tricks most welcome!!

  2. #2
    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
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    This is a series of really great questions, and I think between all of us, you should get some answers (though I have no doubts some will conflict).

    I think that with car trips of a week or less, you can definitely get most if not all of what you'll need into PCBPs. Your whole family are of moderate size, so don't be surprised if you can pack fairly amply into each one. If money was no object, here is what I'd suggest, under the assumption of a) moderate temperatures; b) a trip of 5 days by car; c) no laptops or electronics to pack in your luggage bags. I'm also assuming you can dump extra shoes and the like in the car.

    For kids: one TB Western Flyer with PCBP for each kid. Pack one in each main compartment. Little bits and bobs can go in the front zippered pockets and water bottle pocket. If it's not too heavy, your daughter should be able to carry it with help of the backpack straps.

    For you/husband: one TB Tri-Star with a PCBP for each of you. Pack PCBPs in the front and rear compartments. Use the middle compartment for all of the family's toiletries. NB: you will now only be bringing up two bags for your whole family, plus maybe a cooler, so you can bring everything to your room with you each night.

    Toiletries: I'd suggest getting a clear 3-D packing cube for each family member, perhaps in colors that coordinate with the PCBPs. These wipe out pretty easily and you don't need to worry so much about, erm, ook. For joint toiletries, I'd still suggest trying to decant large bottles of shampoo, etc., into smaller bottles so you minimize weight and bulk. I think either of the possibilities you mentioned would work, but it really depends on what you consider toiletry necessities.

    Laundry management: I think a great deal about these things, so forgive me. I'd say that as you begin to accumulate laundry, you can re-fold it and pack it behind the PCBPs. Once you get enough, designate one PCBP the laundry pack and (say) re-pack the kids into one PCBP. By the end of your trip, ideally, all PCBPs will be full of nothing but laundry, since you planned well and did not bring extraneous "just-in-case" items.

    Road trip take-alongs: I bring snacks that are minimally messy, so things like trail mix sans chocolate, jerky, dried fruit, granola/Clif bars, etc. I haven't really done the audiobook thing; I prefer to download a few new albums and make them the soundtrack for the drive. I realize that doesn't work for everyone. When I had a 4-door sedan, the most important thing to me was easy cooler access. I'd suggest getting a small drinks cooler and keeping it between the kids. With the streamlined clothes packing, I think you'll find you have loads of room in the boot for everything.

    Good luck, and let us know if you end up going to Europe! We'll be super helpful in order to hide our raging jealousy.
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    Awesome!! LOVE all the suggestions. My head is now spinning with all the possibilities. Going to mull these over and come back with more questions/comments. Thank you!!

    (and keep the suggestions coming, I am sure every family packs differently!)
    Last edited by haraya; 08-01-2013 at 12:26 PM.

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    For kids: one TB Western Flyer with PCBP for each kid.

    For you/husband: one TB Tri-Star with a PCBP for each of you.
    OK, so just one PCBP per person? I was also thinking about a travel stuff sack for each, to corral smaller items (socks, unmentionables). But maybe the PCBPs are a small enough space that things won't get lost.

    Toiletries: I'd suggest getting a clear 3-D packing cube for each family member
    I am really liking this idea. For the shared toiletries: we have a few things in travel containers, I just need to go ahead and do this for all the things. I don't know if I can get everything into just the 3DCOC, though. Anyone have a pic of the 3D clear cube and the quarter packing cube together?

    Laundry management: I think a great deal about these things, so forgive me.
    This is important stuff! I totally get the extensive thought. We actually have nylon laundry bags (not mesh - the slippery fabric kind) that I take on all trips. They pack down small but keep the funky stuff separate from the clean stuff till I can do laundry. I have also taken a door hook - Christmas tree wreath hook that hangs over the top of a door, cheap enough to lose, light enough for car travel - so I can put all the (color-coded) laundry bags there and we don't forget stuff when we leave, because they're hanging in plain sight. But if the clean stuff is in PCBPs then I probably won't need the laundry bags.

    Road trip take-alongs: I bring snacks that are minimally messy... audiobooks..
    I should rethink what we take inside the car. For some reason, I always have a bunch of bags at my feet when we drive (DH being the primary driver). One bag for snacks and water, my purse, knitting (that I don't want to stick in the trunk - too hot/I might knit as we drive sometimes), and often some electronics as backup entertainment for the kids. This is in addition to the water bottles each child has in their cup holder, and entertainment in their own small packs back there. Plus there's always a few things I don't want to stick in the hot trunk: various meds, food we're going to use when we arrive. But I also dislike having heavy/hard things loose in the cabin, as it were. I was toying with the idea of leashing a small Shop Bag in between the front seats (balance on the hump, attach key straps) but then the contents might fly around in the event of sudden braking.

    Good luck, and let us know if you end up going to Europe! We'll be super helpful in order to hide our raging jealousy.
    Haha, I am keeping fingers crossed!! It's for a family member's big birthday. DD has flown abroad, DS has never been. It's going to be an interesting challenge! (packing/portability/entertainment en route/food-wise)

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    Registered User itsablur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    I am really liking this idea. For the shared toiletries: we have a few things in travel containers, I just need to go ahead and do this for all the things. I don't know if I can get everything into just the 3DCOC, though. Anyone have a pic of the 3D clear cube and the quarter packing cube together?
    I say try to restrict yourself to what each person can fit into their respective 3D clear organizer. Consider it practice for the flight to Europe next year where you wouldn't have the option of carrying larger toiletry items anyway; each person is restricted to one 3-1-1 bag.
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    This is a test reply...having trouble ....

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    Good point! But (at least for international/plane trips) - I am thinking the kids don't need their own toiletries anyway, right? I imagine between DH and I we should be able to bring enough soap/shampoo/floss for all four of us, and if we run out we can always buy more.

    For car trips - my thought was that as each person gets cleaned up, they can hand off the shared bath stuff to the next person. And I wanted each person to have their own after-bath tote (toothbrush/brush/deodorant, say), because those activities can be performed outside the bath/at the sink, thus freeing up the shower/tub for the next round. Otherwise if everything is in one bag, there's a bottleneck when the toiletries are trapped inside the bathroom; or if each person is carrying individual toiletries, there is extra weight and redundancy in packing. How do you all work the bed and bath traffic jam when on vacation? I just find that without a central container we end up having loose bottles floating around the room, and so things get left behind or there is the comedy routine of finding the conditioner, toothpaste etc. every night.

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    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    OK, so just one PCBP per person? I was also thinking about a travel stuff sack for each, to corral smaller items (socks, unmentionables). But maybe the PCBPs are a small enough space that things won't get lost.
    Well, also don't forget the extra space in the bags themselves. The Tri-Star has three outer zipped pockets and the WF has two; each also has a water bottle pocket. Socks and smalls can go in there, or can be packed flat in each PCBP. If you want to go the stuff sack route, there's probably room in the middle pocket of the TS for that. Personally, I can get all my undergarments and socks into my PCBP. Flat packing is the key.

    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    We actually have nylon laundry bags (not mesh - the slippery fabric kind) that I take on all trips. They pack down small but keep the funky stuff separate from the clean stuff till I can do laundry.
    The PCBP does a pretty good job of segregating clean from dirty, but if the laundry bags work for you, no reason not to keep doing it.

    Quote Originally Posted by haraya View Post
    I should rethink what we take inside the car. For some reason, I always have a bunch of bags at my feet when we drive (DH being the primary driver). One bag for snacks and water, my purse, knitting (that I don't want to stick in the trunk - too hot/I might knit as we drive sometimes), and often some electronics as backup entertainment for the kids. This is in addition to the water bottles each child has in their cup holder, and entertainment in their own small packs back there. Plus there's always a few things I don't want to stick in the hot trunk: various meds, food we're going to use when we arrive. But I also dislike having heavy/hard things loose in the cabin, as it were. I was toying with the idea of leashing a small Shop Bag in between the front seats (balance on the hump, attach key straps) but then the contents might fly around in the event of sudden braking.
    I don't have children, but I think I'll risk sounding like a horse's ass and say it anyway: make the kids in charge of their own backseat entertainment, from selecting what they will bring (you can vet, of course), to packing it, to keeping electronics charged. This responsibility would turn them more into co-travelers and you into less of a sherpa. I'd say also put one kid in charge of the family's snacks. Those could go in a bag on the floor between them if you don't like the idea of a cooler back there (which makes sense; cooler = projectile). You may find that with only two luggage bags, you could keep an ice-filled cooler in your trunk to contain food. If possible, pack meds into daily-dose pillboxes, which take up only a tiny bit of room. It may also be worth investing in a travel purse/bag like the Little Swift, which could hold your knitting in a yarn sack and also your normal purse-y stuff. Upon arrival, you can then just take your knitting out.

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    Registered User monkeylady's Avatar
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    Okay, it worked. Wow, car travel with kids. Our two grandsons, ages 5 and 7, live with us. When we car travel, my husband and I each pack/carry a 22" roller bag, hlf of which is clothing for one of the boys. We carry a large stuff sack for everyone's laundry and don't repack bags en route. That way, the laundry bag makes it to the laundry room when we arrive home and I don't have to tackle unpacking just yet...until I'm ready. Other than that, one large container for ALL toiletries (this is car packing) that never leaves the bathroom until it's time to move on. You could also have a girls' bin and a boys' bin. This doesn't have to fit in roller bag unless there is room later in trip (due to dirty laundry migrating to stuff sack(s); it gets tossed into trunk. My husband and I each carry travel trays for our bits and pieces: glasses, hearing aids, flashlights, chargers, meds. We are thinking the boys might be able to use their own as well so their charging nintendos, beloved action figures, etc., have a place to "sleep" each night. They can just be slipped into their backpacks, which they are responsible for. We do a small cooler between them filled with water and their snacks. Its placement also keeps territorial disputes to a minimum. In my Imago in front seat, I carry camera, phone, flashlight, petzl, maps, wallet, sunglasses, travel tray, etc. and snacks, of course.

    Our 5 yro, who is same size as yours, could not manage a western flyer. Our 7ro, who is the size of a 10-11 yro, could easily manage a Synapse 19 if not overpacked.
    But they both manage their school backpacks well in addition to their stuff. For a long trip, we take nintendos and chargers and games, colored pencils and crayons, notebooks and drawing pads, flashlights, kids' binoculars, legos, small cars and beloved action figures. We also buy several small gifts for them ahead of time and wrap them in festive paper. These come out as surprises during an especially taxing and long car day, of which we try to not have too many.

    Hope this helps. Monkeylady

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    Registered User monkeylady's Avatar
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    Oh, and another thought...I find it helpful to carry my printed packing list; that way I can easily inventory our belongings. Also it provides a place to make notes on what worked and didn't work with regard to clothing choices, what you didn't wear, what you needed more of; this also includes non-clothing items. This then gets worked into the next travel list as appropriate. My husband and I actually do a mini review on the way home, one of our many end-of-trip conversations; anything about the travel experience is game for review.

    Monkeylady
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    Registered User monkeylady's Avatar
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    Just saw your post about the bathroom traffic jam. Brushes/combs could go in travel trays. Toothbrushes and little toothpastes into little zip lock bags.

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    Registered User monkeylady's Avatar
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    Or separate bins for stuff needed inside the bathing room and for near the sink.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Badger View Post
    Well, also don't forget the extra space in the bags themselves. The Tri-Star has three outer zipped pockets and the WF has two; each also has a water bottle pocket.
    I think we might soon get an Aeronaut for DH to pack himself/be a gym bag/be a carry-on for the proposed Europe trip. It's a bit unwieldy to only have the choice of rollaboard or giant suitcase when we travel! But I might have to wait a bit before investing in a WF or TS for myself.

    Good point about putting an ice-filled cooler in the trunk. I'll have to play with that concept. We had two days on this past trip where we drove over ten hours, and on one of those we did not stop in a place where we could replenish the cold packs, so the medication would have been history in the trunk (hot day). But a great idea for 'shorter' drives of four hours or so.

    You mentioned putting the kids in charge of their own entertainment. They do have food and water next to them, at least to start with. I'll just have to be more disciplined about the extra stuff I put back there (move into smaller travel containers, insist on smaller toys).

    As for stuff at their feet - right now their arms are too short to reach bags that are on the floor in front of them, when they are buckled in. I take advantage of that by putting stuff like an air mattress in the footwell (well, with better packing that can fit in the trunk). But, again for this trip we just got back from, we also had DH's work computer on the floor, plus extra electronics. We have enough devices that sometimes it's easier to just keep multiples charged up rather than try to recharge while driving. (only one port in the car, and it's slower than plugging into a wall outlet) So there's some traffic between the front and back seats that's unavoidable. But you are right, there's some advance planning that helps cut down on the bulk (e.g. downloading the audiobooks we borrowed from the library). That said -

    pack meds into daily-dose pillboxes, which take up only a tiny bit of room.
    Amusingly enough, before this trip I bought a bigger pill box because the old one simply couldn't fit everything! It was a weird size that stuck up out of the tote I had it in. I'll have to try with the small Shop Bag on our upcoming trip, maybe the pillbox will fit sideways in that one.

    It may also be worth investing in a travel purse/bag like the Little Swift, which could hold your knitting in a yarn sack
    I do often have my yarn stuff sack in my regular purse, for my everyday carry, but for the trip I thought I'd bring a bigger WIP (baby blanket) which has been languishing. So then I ended up with no room at my feet. Clearly I am hopeless at making tradeoffs!

    Thank you for all the insights!
    Last edited by haraya; 08-01-2013 at 04:31 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by monkeylady View Post
    car travel with kids. Our two grandsons, ages 5 and 7, live with us.
    I love your overview of how you travel with the boys. It sounds similar to what we do. I have been going back and forth about travel trays for everyone: I think DH could probably use one, but the kids don't seem to have a lot of small personal items. Usually they're bigger, like stuffed toys and books, which are easier to spot when packing. But good idea for the future!

    I have done packing lists many times both before and after trips, but they seem to disappear in between trips! Also I find that I change up the contents of the suitcase a lot, depending on our destination, so the lists don't always apply. (E.g. multiple swim suits for the beach; more entertainment - books, puzzles - for multi-day stops, and less for places where we will be sightseeing or meeting friends.) My mom swears by her lists, though! (and she travels much more than I do) Instead I just make a note of things that I missed greatly on the most recent trip (Band-Aids, flashlight) and try to put them in the suitcase as soon as we get back.

    And the gift idea is the best!! I often buy new books or toys before a trip, but you are right, the aspect of surprise, and even gift-wrapping, adds an extra level of distraction. I'm going to do that for our upcoming drive!! Thanks!!
    Last edited by haraya; 08-01-2013 at 04:45 PM.

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    Registered User monkeylady's Avatar
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    It sounds like you do way more travel with your kids than we do, and we could probably learn a thing or two from you as well. Packing lists only work if they work. It sounds like you have a system that works for you...making note of the things that were greatly missed on your last trip and packing them up as soon as you return. Packing lists work for my husband and myself when we're traveling alone without kids. We usually travel to hot, humid climates in the dead of winter and we are always fine-tuning what we pack/what we think we need. My daughter also sometimes just packs a smallish laundry basket in her trunk and dirty clothes go right in it. This would only work if say you were traveling to the beach and staying in one place for a week.

    I envy you the fun you'll have problem-solving your upcoming European trip. For me, at least, this planning part is as much fun as the actual travel, figuring out the bags, the clothes, the thises and thatses. Keep us posted on your next trip--what worked for you and what didn't and I'll promise to do the same. We are traveling to the Oregon coast for a week with the comanches and their parental units, but we'll be staying in a house with laundry facilities...it makes sooooo much difference, doesn't it?

    Monkeylady
    Last edited by monkeylady; 08-01-2013 at 05:20 PM.
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