The best way to pack for a weekend trip with infants and toddlers is pretty simple. Pack up the entire contents of your house, minus the beds and couch, and load it into your car.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a big enough vehicle for that plan, so we have to go to Plan B.
There Is Never Enough Space
My husband and I always start out thinking we have plenty of room for everything until we actually start packing. Before we know it we’re standing at the door of a jam-packed car with armloads of essentials still to be packed.
This is how we found ourselves carrying our eleven-month-old daughter through a huge aviation museum rather than rolling her along in our we-didn’t-have-room-for-it stroller.
To date, we’ve never taken our kids on a trip lasting more than four days. I determined that the cost of the U-Haul truck we would need for a longer trip with our children makes it cost prohibitive.
There are two main struggles when packing for a family trip. The first is finding room for everything. The second is not forgetting something important. I’ve been burned by this second one a few times.
Don’t Forget Your Underwear
I’ve gotten better about remembering to pack things after the weekend campout where we forgot our pillows. A night sleeping on the ground with no pillows at seven months pregnant makes you realize the importance of making a list of what you’ll need to pack.
My list got even more detailed when not listing specific clothing items resulted in my canoeing weekend with no underwear. My toddler climbed into my canoe seat when I stepped out onto the sloped dock and refused to move when I needed to get back in. When I leaned over to lift her up I lost my footing and landed butt-first in what was thankfully shallow water. Only to discover when we returned to our luggage I had neglected to pack myself any extra underwear. Sigh.
You’ll notice the things I forget tend to be for me. My kids are usually outfitted to perfection. I spend so much time packing their bags and sleeping and feeding gear and equipment, I end up throwing my stuff in a bag last minute and leaving important items behind. This is no way to pack.
A few weekends without pillows and underwear and you too will understand the importance of a good packing system. Here are a few ways I’ve gotten better at remembering what to pack and fitting it all in the car.
How to Pack for Your Trip
1. Make a Checklist
Seriously, if you remember only one thing from this article, make it this one. Start a list of what to pack a few days before your trip. Get a notebook and pen or a phone app and write down everything you’ll need for your kids and yourself on your upcoming trip.
Giving yourself a few days allows time to add to the list as you see and use things at home to make sure you remember everything.
I prefer to make separate lists for each family member. I find a breakdown makes it easier to catch anything missing. And many times the needs of infants and toddlers are so specialized, between portable cribs, bottles, potty seats, formula, etc. You don’t want to leave your toddler’s diapers at home because you checked it off when you packed her baby sister’s.
Check off each item only when it actually goes into the car. Simply being packed is not enough. Plenty of packed bags have been left sitting on the floor at home never making it on the trip.
2. Set Everything By the Door
I choose a designated spot in the house to stack everything I need for an upcoming trip. Any packed bags in that area are ready to go to the car and be checked off the list.
This is another good way to make sure you don’t spend time packing a bag that ends up getting left at home.
3. Consider Your Packing Space
Do you have a small car? The bed of a truck? A camper or trailer? A roof rack? Because different packing strategies will work better for each type of space.
If you’re tucking your gear in a car in between carseats and on the floor, you may want soft-sided bags that can mold and squish into odd sized spaces. I like filling reusable grocery bags with our clothes and food. And anything we may need quick access to that I don’t want to be buried in a suitcase.
If you’re filling up the bed of a truck or a trailer, storage tubs with lids can be a great way to make the most of your space. Cooking supplies, food, bedding, and lots of other things fit into tubs and are protected from the weather if needed. You can also use hard-sided suitcases and tubs that stack more easily in a truck or trailer than they would in a smaller car.
Before you load anything into your vehicle, it’s a good idea to figure out what your absolute must haves are for the trip. Put these in the car first. Once you have all the essentials in your car, you can start adding the things you’d like to have but can live without. This way you know exactly how much space you have for non-essential items.
5. Scout Out the Destination
All of the planning in the world isn’t a guarantee against an unexpected need or forgotten item. If you’ve ever left for a trip packed for sunshine only to drive into a torrential downpour or had an unexpected injury a first-aid kit can’t quite handle you know the value of knowing where to find help at your vacation destination.
Where is the nearest store? Is there a grocery or convenience store you can hit up if you realize you forgot something you need? Because knowing these things in advance can save a lot of time and frustration on your trip.
As an additional part of trip planning, I also like to know where the nearest urgent care and pharmacy is. Always hoping I won’t need it of course.
That’s it, folks! Get packed, get ready, and take off! I hope you packed everything for your trip!
What are some of your best tips for packing with little ones? Any great tips I left out?