Planning and Packing Tips for Family Vacation Car Trips

Traveling with kids takes more planning to be successful, but the rewards are tremendous. Showing your children a bit of the world is a great investment in their education. History and geography become real when kids see the Liberty Bell or touch actual wagon train ruts on the Oregon Trail. Even with gasoline at record high prices, the family car trip is still the most popular way to go on a summer vacation.

To help make your summer trip as smooth and enjoyable as possible, Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler (www.smartpacking.com) has shared a few of her expert family vacation planning and packing tips:

Pack Smart:

1. Select versatile, easy care, comfortable clothing items. Darker colors and prints hide dirt and stains; white and light colors are magnets for spots.

2. Choose quick-drying clothes -- leave jeans at home in favor of thinner fabrics. For warmth, polyester fleece is better rather than a bulky cotton sweatshirt as fleece packs small and dries quickly when wet.

3. Pack around laundry stops. If the first opportunity to do laundry is five days into the trip, each person needs five days of underwear and clothing, plus spares in case of emergencies.

4. Include one off-season clothing piece for everyone — long pants in summer or shorts for spring and fall. If the weather changes, everyone will still be comfortable.

5. Pack bags with what is needed first on the top — swimsuits, a change of clothes for dinner, and pajamas, etc.

6. Keep a traveling medicine chest within easy reach inside the car. It should include Band-Aids, anti-bacterial ointment, motion sickness medication, frequently used over-the-counter medications, and all prescriptions used by the family. Pack plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer, too.

Pack Smart Tips for Children:

1. Consolidate — pack younger children’s clothes together into one suitcase to minimize the number of bags and maximize space.

2. Stack a complete outfit together, roll up and tuck into a self-sealing plastic bag. Include top, pants, underwear, socks - everything needed for the day. Dirty items can go back into the plastic bag at the end of the day. Use a different color plastic bag or write the child's name on each bag to keep things separate.

3. Choose color-coordinated separates so if something gets dirty you only have to change part of the outfit not the entire thing.

4. Keep handy what is needed during the day including a change of clothes for each child in case of accidents, sweaters or jackets, rain gear, insect repellent, sunscreen and sun hats. Tuck into a small bag that is easy to reach without rearranging everything.

5. Keep the diaper bag within reach inside the car packed with plenty of wipes, hand sanitizer, spare diapers, a plastic bag for soiled items, (unless you'll be traveling in the outback, plan to buy along the way instead of filling the trunk with diapers). Pack an extra pad or blanket that can be used when rest stops do not provide a changing station.

6. Encourage older kids to choose and pack their own clothes to minimize complaints and to teach travel skills. Double check the packed bags to make sure live pets are not included and underwear is!

7. Remind teenagers that this is only a suitcase, not their closet. Set and enforce a maximum number and size of bag for each teen.

Pack the Car/Van Efficiently:

1. Clean out the car interior and the trunk/cargo area and get rid of everything not needed on this trip. Make sure the trunk or interior rear light works. Check the emergency kit and pack it last.

2. Pack the car/van the night before you leave — it always takes longer than you think it will. This way you can actually leave first thing in the morning before everyone gets cranky.

3. Gather everything you plan to take in the garage and edit to fit. Decide where things should go based on when they are needed. Remember: last in, first out. Tuck in a separate folding luggage cart to haul gear between the car and the motel room.

Place These Items Within Easy Reach:

1. Fill a cooler with snacks and drinks and place within reach of the front seat so you can get to it without stopping. Keep a trash bag in both the front and back seat.

2. Picnic supplies can save parents’ sanity and wallet — just a few picnic meals can cover the increased cost of gas and avoid frustrating restaurant experiences with fussy kids. Picnic breakfast can be cereal in the motel room, lunch might be sandwiches at a rest stop picnic area, and even dinner can be “take out” pizza or chicken in a local park. Pack the right picnic supplies: paper plates/bowls, plastic utensils, napkins, pocketknife, can opener, and a blanket to sit on.

3. Pack plenty of clean-up materials: tissues - travel-size boxes fit into a door pocket, glove compartment or console; paper towels - a partial roll fits into the door pocket; wipes - look for travel-size pop-ups; anti-bacterial hand cleaner; plastic trash bags - store inside the paper towel roll.

4. Help kids feel at home in the car. Pack favorite blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals inside the car so kids feel snuggly for nap time, and comfortable no matter the temperature outside.

5. Have a flashlight handy in the glove compartment or console.

Every family wants a summer vacation filled with memorable moments that are savored for years to come. Smart travelers know that a little advance planning helps to ensure a great family trip. Foster offers more great planning and packing tips for car, bus, plane or train travel in her book Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler and on her web site www.smartpacking.com.

Minimize “Are We There Yet?” Issues:

1. Bring a supply of toys and games, but avoid items with lots of small pieces that may get lost, and liquid or messy things that can spill. A plastic shoebox for each child makes a handy storage container that doubles as a lap desk. Allow each child to fill the box with favorites.

2. Classic family games make the time pass quickly. Look for license plates from different states, count a specific type or color of car, tell jokes — nothing to pack or moving parts to lose!

3. Get kids involved in the trip with assignments appropriate for their ages. For example, one child can keep track of all expenses; another can be the official map-reader.

4. Children’s books on tape and kid's music help to pass the time.

5. Portable DVD players may be the key to your sanity on a long trip. One for each child means less fighting.

6. Stop frequently. Visit local parks or sights or a fast-food restaurant with a playground. Although it adds time to the trip, stopping keeps the trip interesting for kids. A quick stop to burn off energy is often all they need to happily get back in the car.

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