Tips for an Organized Family Summer Road Trip

The summer is in full swing and the family is eagerly awaiting the August vacation.  Whether your role as parent is the same -- cooking, cleaning, laundry, managing bickering siblings – but with a better view, or you’re getting a break on your vacation, the secret to a successful trip is planning.  If you have everything you and your brood need at your fingertips, then you can relax and enjoy yourself.  Make lists for packing your bags and for packing the car.  And save them on your computer for next time.  

There are many organizing solutions you can buy to outfit your car. Honestly, I don’t think most of them are necessary.  You can use bags / boxes / crates you already have. But if you are set on tools you can buy a super-organized caddy that hangs over the seat for the kids’ toys, snacks, sippy cups, etc. from the Container Store.

Let’s assume you are taking a road trip because, frankly, with airfares at a premium and more than one child, it’s cheaper to drive and you’ll probably need a car when you get there anyway.  So start with the car.  A cursory cleaning of the car is fine because it will be TRASHED by the time you return.   But it is a good idea to clean out the junk from the car.  Especially the console, cup holders and seat pockets.

The following are suggestions. Pick and choose according to your needs and create the lists.


Packing for the car:

  • An atlas (to see the trip in larger format than a phone screen)
  • Empty plastic bags
  • First aid kit (refill the one already in your car)
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, hand wipes / sanitizer
  • Old towel (you never know)
  • Throw blanket and pillow for each child
  • Bag of toys each for children under 10 (scour Target’s $1 section)
  • DVDs if you have a car DVD player (make sure batteries for remote work)
  • Water, snacks
  • Pen, paper
  • Emergency cleaning supplies (in case of accidents)
  • Entertainment devices and chargers (charged the night before in the KITCHEN so you don’t forget!)

Packing for the family:

Depends on where you are going, what you are doing and if you have easy access to a washer and dryer (bliss!).   For a week at the beach in a rental cottage I pack 3 outfits for each person, for each activity– for the beach, for the daytime / athletic and appropriate for evening (collared shirt or sundress, etc).  

  • Swimsuits / swimshirts / swimmie diapers.  Coverups.
  • Shorts (pants) / t-shirts / collared shirt
  • Sundresses / skirts / t-shirts
  • Flip-flops / sneakers /sandals
  • Socks / underwear / bras
  • Pajamas / nightgowns / bathrobe
  • Sweatshirt / sweater (only if weather necessitates)
  • Toiletries – sunscreen, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush / toothpaste, makeup kit, comb / brush, shaving needs, deodorant, glasses / contact lens solution, baby powder
  • Prescriptions meds, OTC meds for pain, upset stomach, other maladies.
  • Diapers / wipes / diaper genie bags

Be realistic – don’t pack a raincoat unless you really think you will need it.  And don’t pack more than 1 sweatshirt if you are going south in August.  It's a waste of space and it's unlikely you will need it!


Packing for activities:

  • Boogie board, sand toys, surf board, beach chairs
  • Baseball glove / ball.  Tennis racquet, lacrosse stick.  Frisbee.  Bocce set.
  • Scooter, bikes / helmets (check your destination and gauge whether they’ll be used)
  • Books, playing cards, coloring books / crayons  
  • Empty backpack / tote bag for a day trip, etc.  
  • Any special cooking supplies you might need (corkscrew, lobster cracker, etc)
  • Bed / kitchen / beach linens (some rental companies will provide)

Again, make a list and check items off as they are packed.  But be realistic – do you need every piece of sports equipment in the garage?  And lastly, a cooler.  Not absolutely necessary but I love arriving at our destination and having cold drinks, fruit or milk.   Or the ability to carry a picnic.  

Everything into the car --  Heavier things on the bottom.  Also keep things the children might need near the top or at least accessible from the back seat.   


Let’s review:

Tip 1: Get all the unnecessary junk out of the car

Tip 2: Make a master packing list ahead of time and check  things off as you pack

Tip 3: Don’t overpack!  You can make do with less  

Make sure to wear comfortable traveling clothes, wake up at 5 AM and you are OFF!!