11-Day Road Trip: Packing for a Family of 4

Do you consider yourself an expert packer? I’m somewhere in the middle of an expert and a novice.

Like many, I have mixed emotions when it comes to packing for a trip.  On the one hand, having to pack means we are about to embark on an exciting adventure! But on the other hand, it takes a lot of work to decide what we need, organize all those essentials, and fit it all into bags and suitcases.  I worry about over-packing and forgetting necessary items all at the same time.

Last month, when it came time to start getting ready for our Oregon-California road trip, I agonized about getting it right.  We had 6 different overnight destinations.  Thus, I wanted to make sure that we had a system that wouldn’t leave our car looking like a tornado blew through.  I didn’t want to waste a lot of precious adventure and family time trying to figure out where something was located.

Packing for a Road Trip | WildTalesof.com

We packed our Subaru Forester (with added rooftop cargo box) with the following:


  • 1 duffel bag per person

Duffel bags squish and can change shape depending on where you put them allowing for easier and more compact packing.  Getting dressed and ready for each day was more streamlined because each family member had a designated spot for their personal items.

  • Miscellaneous bag

One large duffel bag held larger items like coats and our diaper supply as well as general items that didn’t belong to one person in particular.

  • Toy/Entertainment bag

Books, toys for Bergen (3.5 years), Kindle, and other items for amusement went in a reusable grocery bag, and was kept up front with me for easy access.

  • Food Bag

Snacks of all sorts from jelly beans to cheese crackers to granola bars were housed in yet another reusable grocery bag.  This bag was kept just behind my seat.

  • Backpack/Diaper bag

We use a backpack as our diaper bag, which is loaded with diapers, wipes, change of clothes for both kids, more snacks, nursing cover, and all the other usual and necessary items for young children.

  • Computer bag

For air travel, I’m usually able to house my laptop in the backpack/diaper bag, but since were on the road and getting out so often, I needed a dedicated space for the computer.  Not so fun to lug around the extra weight just for a lunch break.

Other packed essentials

  • Balance bike + helmet

I’m so happy that we brought along Bergen’s balance bike.  He used it a ton & the experiences that he had riding it were the highlights of the whole trip for him!

Many of our destinations had cribs (one spot even purchased one for their location just for us), but we still ended up using our travel crib quite a bit.

  • Laundry bag

A laundry bag is essential for me as a way to keep track of our clothes, but it’s something I always seem to forget! For this trip we ended up using a large trash bag–not so glamorous, but it works!

  • Small Cooler

We brought this “just in case”, and we didn’t actually end up using it as a proper cooler.  The space ended up being a place to house souvenirs as we traveled.

  • Small tote bag for baby

Essentials that I didn’t want to get lost in the larger toy bag like pacifiers, baby toys, emergency formula & bottles went in a small tote for Georgia (3.5 months).

Pros of Packing System:

  • Everything had it’s place!
  • We knew where to find things.
  • We knew where to put things away.
  • Lots of bags meant each individual bag was lighter, making it easier to pack and unpack, especially when loading the car topper.

Cons of Packing System: 

  • That’s a lot of bags!
  • We needed an entire hotel luggage cart to haul it all.
  • Somewhat of a pain, especially at hotels, to lug all the bags up to our room.

Would we pack this way again for a multiple destination road trip? Yes. The ease of unpacking, and the built-in organization of this system far outweighs the pain of having to deal with multiple bags. In fact, we plan to put the system back into action this summer with a road trip through Idaho and Montana!

What are your thoughts on packing for road trips? What do you see as the most important items to bring along?

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2 thoughts on “11-Day Road Trip: Packing for a Family of 4

  1. Pingback: Packing for Family Travel: 5 Steps for a Successful Trip | Wild Tales of...

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