Traveling Light w/ Kids: Part 1

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Road trips are one of our favorite summer activities. Every year, we load up the car with our gear and pets and head west to visit my family. This year, however, is our very first year road-tripping with kids.

I must admit I’m a bit mortified. We are lucky that our first experience traveling with kids is with older kids (pre-teens), but they are still kids, nevertheless. They are also kids with a past, so they surprise us everyday with new behaviors we’ve never seen before. Who knows what could happen when we’re all stuck in a car together for 12 hours?(!)

So, I’ve been doing lots of research. We have a Jeep that we’re planning on taking, but with two big dogs in the back and kids taking up the backseat, we are limited on space for all our stuff. My husband borrowed a carrier designed for the top of cars such as ours, but that hasn’t stopped me from my obsessiveness with minimalist packing. My goal is to pack one duffle bag with everyone’s clothes. Everyone will also be allowed one small bag for toiletries and underwear (that’s mainly for our daughter’s privacy as “the lady” has shown up and it’s really none of her brother’s business).

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I know some of you more experienced parents out there are thinking that I’m totally bonkers for wanting a minimalist packing list, but I know it can be done because lots of other people out in cyberspace have tried it successfully. I also have realized that dragging that extra stuff along has never made long trips less stressful. In fact, all that stuff has had the opposite effect.

So here’s my game plan based on my own traveling experiences (my husband and I successfully refused to check any bags on our way to Europe last fall, we’ve moved a lot, and we take this road trip every year) and the research I’ve done preparing for this particular road trip. This is part 1, because this is before the trip. Be on the lookout for Part 2 to find out what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully it will help others get their traveling game on!

1) Plan ahead.

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I think I’ve read this on a dozen blogs and in a dozen different journals so far. Everyone starts with planning. Fortunately, I’m a natural planner, so this one was easy. I planned ahead by doing my research on what products are out there that will make our family trip easier, how to pack and what to pack, types of snack foods to bring and how to avoid eating out, etc. Once I had finished my research, I started making lists of the things I thought we’d need on our trip. I adjusted those lists several times by choosing to make some sacrifices. For instance, I really don’t need a sweater and a sweatshirt and a jacket. I chose the sweater and the jacket, but will be leaving my Porto University sweatshirt at home. For one, it’s super bulky. For another, it’s special, so I don’t want to risk losing it on the trip. I decided that my son also doesn’t need 8 pairs of underwear. We’ll have access to washing machines! On this trip, we will also be taking a three-day camping excursion, so we need to pack our tent, camp chairs, and air mattresses. This is honestly the bulkiest bit of our packing, and had we not been planning on camping with my brothers for this trip, I dare say we could leave that ugly luggage carrier off of the top of our Jeep.


2) Invest in the right products.

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During my research, I discovered Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. I haven’t tried it yet, but apparently it has 18 different uses, from shampoo to dishes to laundry. It comes in different scents — I chose peppermint because I know that’s a smell my whole family can agree on — and comes in big family size bottles so I only had to buy one to fill everyone’s body wash, shampoo, and shave cream (for Hubby) travel-size bottles. It’s not difficult to find in stores, either. I picked mine up from the local Target in the organic soaps/ cosmetics aisle. It was near the Burt’s Bees products. Extra bonus: it’s fair trade and organic, which makes me doubly happy about my purchase and it was totally affordable. The large bottle only cost about $15. I filled 9 travel-size bottles with it and still have some left. That’s a lot cheaper than taking everyone’s individual shampoos and body washes to fill the travel bottles with. Also, the castile soap is concentrated, so it should go a really long way…as long as I can convince my kids that they don’t need as much as they think…but I digress. On my shopping trip, I also bought space-saver ziplock bags for clothes, travel toothbrushes that are full size but fold in half, travel-size toothpaste (one for each of us…again, this was a decision I made to preemptively stop fights between the kids), and mini deodorant for everyone (my son can really stink when he’s sweaty…). Below is a list of some other things that are necessary for traveling (specifically road-travel) with kids:

  1. Full-size first aid kit. I decided to skip the travel-size kit because it lacks some necessary components, such as tylenol and Neosporin. Now I won’t have to bring big bottles of that along.
  2. Snack-size ziplock bags. For all the snacks I got at the grocery store. A couple days before the trip, I’ll be preparing everyone’s “snack packs” so that the temptation to buy those sugary treats at the truck stops won’t be so hard to conquer. This is also inevitably healthier than eating at fast food places.
  3. Movie-theater candy boxes. Currently, King Soopers (Kroger) is having a sale on movie-theater candy (10 for $10). I got everyone four boxes of candy and labeled them by name so there are no arguments about who gets what. This will save us tons of money on the road.
  4. Our family’s favorite fizzy drinks and water bottles. We like Kirkland’s (Costco-brand) flavored waters because they are carbonated, taste great, and aren’t full of crap like most sodas. They are sugar and aspartame-free, and the only bad ingredients are food dyes. I’ll definitely take that over truck stop fountain drinks. We plan to freeze most of the water bottles so that they work as ice packs for our perishable foods, but as they start to thaw, they will make nice refreshing drinks as well!


3) Pack efficiently.
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As mentioned above, I plan on only taking one duffle bag of clothes for the whole family. Because we’ll be visiting family, this works out well because we’ll have access to washing machines, so, I really only need to bring one week’s worth of clothes for a two-and-a-half week trip. I also spent a lot of time researching how to pack clothes, with folding tips, and color-coordinating. Some of the best advice I saw was to color-coordinate everyone’s clothes and to keep it neutral. The last thing I need while on vacation is to have to do 30 loads of laundry. If everyone’s clothes are color-neutral, such as grays and blacks, I can wash the clothes all together. If I pack my son’s favorite red shirt, along with my daughter’s favorite white shirt, however, I will be forcing myself to do at least two loads of laundry. Why do that to myself? It’s a vacation, after all. Also, color-coordinating everyone means that our family pictures will look that much nicer. Anyone with kids knows that getting that nice picture is a lot harder than it should be.


4) Dress for the occasion.

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This probably works better for air-travel, but having everyone wear their bulkiest clothing items during travel-time will save a lot of packing space. I’ve also been told (though I admit I don’t take this advice often because I want to be comfortable) that wearing closed-toed shoes such as sneakers or hiking boots is best in case the worst should happen and I suddenly find myself traveling on foot.


5) Plan the route ahead of time.

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When we finally are on the road, I know of at least one place my husband and I always stop for a special tradition/ road-trip treat: Little America. That place is great. Best bathrooms ever. Cheap ice cream cones. By planning out our route efficiently, we can make time and room in our budget for this special tradition. On the flip side, we also happen to know that fuel prices at Little America are super high. So, using apps like GasBuddy (or to navigate our fuel stops, we won’t get caught also needing fuel at our favorite roadside stop.


6) Keep your kids entertained for less.

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There are so many different products available for keeping kids entertained. One of the pieces of advice I’ve come across is surprising your kids with new toys that they can play with in the car (not expensive toys, but things you can find at the dollar store). Some people take the time to wrap these like presents. Personally, I don’t have time for that, nor do I want to deal with the trash, but I think the kids will appreciate it anyway. For my kiddos, I got sketch pads with new colored pencils for both, a fidget toy for my son, and a fashion designer coloring book for my daughter. I also grabbed some new books (I wanted to get these from the thrift store, but they didn’t have the ones I was looking for, so I ended up buying some on sale at Target), and they both have portable dvd players they can use. One of those dvd players was borrowed from a family friend. The other we had to buy, but Amazon has some really good deals, so don’t overspend on things like that if you don’t have to. We thought about downloading movies onto our iPad, but decided that portable dvd players only allow the user to do one thing, where as the iPad has some other things like games and documents that we don’t want our kids messing with. We also typically limit their screen time, so eliminating the temptation to do anything but watch a movie was worth the investment.


7) Clean the house before you leave.

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There’s nothing like a clean house, clean sheets, and clean bathrooms. There’s also nothing like coming home after being away for a while to a messy house. I think the last thing I want to do when I get home is have to worry about cleaning. So, that’ll be taken care of before leaving so that when we all get home and get to enjoy our own sheets for a change, they’ll be fresh and ready to accept us.

So, now it’s off to finishing the packing and prepping the food! Our trip is in t-minus three days. I will let you know (probably when I get back from vacationing it up), how it all went in “Traveling Light w/ Kids: Part 2.”

As always, thanks for reading!



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