Our family of four recently went on a six day road trip to the Twin Cities, MN. Preparation had taken days, and was more stressful than it needed to be (thanks to my type A intensity when it comes to planning). On the morning of the trip, Jason and I were both rushing around gathering our final items to be packed and loaded into the car. While that was going on, I swear the kids could feel the tension building, so each was putting up their own road blocks to make it take as long as humanly possible. LG wasn’t content to play independently with her toys, LB wanted to dismantle all of the packing we had done, and I was starting to lose my patience. By the end of the planning, packing, and loading phase, I was questioning whether the vacation was even a good idea. But we persevered, and I’m pleased to say that once we were on the road things calmed down a bit.
One of the benefits to traveling by car with your family is not being limited by the size of your suitcase. If you’re looking for a “traveling light with an infant and a toddler” post, this ain’t it (although due to the ability to customize, it could still work for you). No, this post is for that family who likes to pack the entire world into their minivan, even if it’s just so the kids have something to keep them busy at all times (which may allow you to sit down once in a while).
The first tip of this post is that you can save space in the car by packing clothing, blankets, and towels into Space Bag Vacuum Seal Bags and stacking them in a large laundry basket. We also packed some of our items in a regular sized laundry basket, so we would have it for giving LG (6 months old) a bath in the hotel tub (she’s a bit too big for the sink). If we had been flying, I would have packed a lot less and purchased some items at our destination (and probably would have planned to do laundry for the kiddos instead of packing so many outfits).
I initially created a spreadsheet for us to use on our recent Twin Cities road trip (spreadsheets are honestly super fun for me to create). But since it worked so well, I decided to make some modifications and offer it as a free download for our readers. I realize this is a massive list, and nobody could possibly need everything on it, but I wanted to be thorough enough to catch most things families could need (while also leaving room for customization).
There are 11 categories on the list, because small children sometimes require a lot of “stuff” and I didn’t want to forget anything. There are a few items that show up in more than one category, because they are relevant to those categories. I’ve made a few notes throughout to help you get started.
- In The Car – The longer the trip, the more you’ll need when traveling with kids. Trust me. I’ve listed out everything I could think of from activities and snacks to jumper cables and flashlights. Some of these things may already be in your car, and if your kids ride in car seats, you’ll need those as well. Our LB is prone to car sickness, so we’ve included an item on the list called “car sickness kit”. If you would like to put one together, check out our post on the topic here.
- At The Hotel – What you need here may depend on where you are staying, how much free time you’ll have, and whether you plan to do laundry while you’re away. It also depends on how much effort you want to put into keeping your kids occupied while in the hotel room. In our case, with a toddler who wanted to play with the buttons on the phone, the alarm clocks, and the tv remote, all the doors, the closets, the refrigerator, and light switches, we still brought more stuff than we actually used (but we were glad to have options to try and distract our LB). Ultimately, we were resolved to keeping the TV on Disney Junior at all times (something we don’t do at home). Hey, it’s vacation.
- Dining/Feeding – Wow. There are so many variables here. Babies and toddlers may need different things at different ages, and big kids don’t need much at all. Hopefully, this list covers it for you.
- Bedtime – Pajamas and such. We tried something new for our Twin Cities trip, and opted to purchase a bed rail so LB wouldn’t fall out of the hotel bed. Other options to keep littles tucked safely in bed may include pool noodles or a rolled up towel tucked under the fitted sheet, but we haven’t tried those methods (so can’t attest to their effectiveness or safety). Our son also sleeps with a white noise machine at home (he’s a light sleeper), and since we’ve gone without in hotels in the past (with sleepless results), we made sure to bring it this time. If you like sleep, I recommend you bring whatever items your child normally sleeps with at home. Unless you travel all the time, sleeping in a strange environment can already be an adjustment for kids. Heck, it’s even an adjustment for me, and I’m forty-two.
- Swimming – Our hotel had an indoor pool, so we made sure to pack what we needed for swimming. You wouldn’t necessarily need to pack your own towels, since hotel pools typically have towels for guests to use. I, however, have a thing for larger towels, so in the spirit of packing our entire life into the car, I always pack them when we drive somewhere (but leave them at home when we fly).
- Daytime Clothing – Here you can modify the quantities for each person, and take notes if there are specific outfits you want to pack. For adults and big kids, this part is easy. Some things can be worn more than once and doing laundry is always an option, so you can pack fewer outfits. For babies, who may need several changes of clothing per day, you need to make that judgment call for yourself. You know how many outfits your littles go through at home, so expect the same on vacation. With babies, toddlers who are potty learning, and kids who are prone to car sickness, this rule can also apply to anyone who’ll be holding the child (so mom and dad, or older siblings, may also need more clothing than what you would normally pack).
- Potty/Diapering – Whether you have kids who are in diapers, potty learning, or somewhere in between, this section should have the things you’ll need. Modify quantities for each child, as needed.
- Bath/Shower/Health – Here you can take notes for each person’s toiletry items, because I wasn’t about to assume what every person on the planet packs for a trip. If you are traveling with a baby, I recommend using a laundry basket instead of a suitcase to pack some of your clothing items, so you have it for giving baby a bath. Just place the laundry basket in a regular sized tub, place a small towel in the bottom of the laundry basket to reduce slipping, and fill the tub with a few inches of water. You’ll still need to support your baby’s head with one hand, but at least you’re not trying to bathe a slippery baby in a large, slippery bathtub. Still, always use caution around water with your little ones and never walk away when they are in the tub. Babies and small children can drown in less than an inch of water, and it only takes a minute.
- Excursions – Are you going to a wedding, to the zoo, to a water park? You may need different things depending on what you plan to do, and what the weather will be. If you normally pack snacks, extra diapers, and a change of clothes when you take the kids to the park, you’ll probably want to do the same thing while you’re out on the road. Plan ahead. Be prepared.
- Just For Baby – If you have a baby, you may need some things that were not covered in the other sections. Babies are adaptable, and you can certainly improvise, but bringing some comforts of home does make travel a little nicer.
- Other – Electronics, travel documents, and anything else that I may have missed. Put it here.
You will need at least a basic knowledge of Microsoft Excel to use this spreadsheet. Cells that are highlighted in yellow (with blue font) are the only cells you can modify in this spreadsheet. In the first section, there are three pieces of information to fill in:
- Add the dates of your trip in cells B2 and C2.
- Add your destination in cell B6, or however you want to name your trip. Your printed list will use this for the title, so if you type in “Twin Cities” the title of your list will be “Trip to Twin Cities”.
- Type in the names of travelers/family members for whom you are packing in cells E2-E7. There is enough space for 6 individuals here (assuming the first two are adults, and the rest are children). The names you fill in will be shown separately in various sections of the list.
Here is what this first section looked like for our recent Twin Cities road trip.
And these are examples of how your traveler/family member names will impact other parts of the spreadsheet.
Next, you’ll want to review each section of the list to determine which items you’ll need (and which you don’t). In column C, each item is currently defaulting to “Yes”. For each item you don’t need, change the selection to “No” in column C (on the row of the item you don’t need). This will automatically strike through the item, indicating you don’t need to pack that item. (At the end, there’s a final step to hide all of the “no” rows.)
For items that require a quantity, type the number in column C. In each section, you may add your own items by typing over the yellow highlighted items listed as “other” in column D. You may add notes to any item on the list by typing in column E.
When you are finished, you can either print the list with the “No” items stricken through, or you can modify the filter by clicking on the funnel icon shown in cell B14 and making sure that the filter is set to “Yes” to make those lines disappear. You may have to click “Yes” twice to get this step to work properly.
Viola! And there you have it, a totally free family road trip packing list download. Click the link below for your copy.