The Perfected Family Travel Packing List

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The Perfected Family Travel Packing List

It gets easier to come up with a packing list for a summer-long cross-country road trip when you’ve done it a few times. I have a pretty good idea of what I will actually use, and what will clutter up the car.

Space Maker
The Space Maker really works!

The first time I took the kids on my own across the USA, our super-sized Suburban was loaded with a maximum-sized roof carrier and yet the main compartment was so full I couldn’t see out the back. By the time we arrived at my friend’s home in California, I was ready to give it all away. We ended up donating the big items, including a large cooler, and  shipping half our wardrobe home. And we still had a full vehicle.

The next summer we only packed the bare minimum to scoot across the country with the maximum number of passengers. That was bare bones packing, and meant that we weren’t equipped for many outdoor adventures such as backpacking with kids (one of my all-time favorite ways to experience national parks.) And I was stuck wearing the same two pairs of shoes–all summer long. Now, I’m taking a more relaxed approach to packing.

Packing Cubes
Containing the mess with bags from thinkTank, LL Bean, Patagonia, and Sportsac.

First, Alex and I went through our closets to give away anything that doesn’t fit or which isn’t fit to be worn. He’s thirteen and growing, so hardly anything fits. I put on weight after foot surgery last fall, so hardly anything fits either. But instead of rushing out to fill our wardrobe gaps, I’m just making sure that we have enough outfits to cover us for the next few days since I know we’ll pass excellent shops along the way.

Toiletry Kit
Individual Ziploc Toiletry Kits with travel-sized items reduces morning bickering.

Our car fridge conked out? No problem. Instead of frantically searching for a replacement, I’ll wait until we pass a Love’s truck stop. They carry everything for living out of a car, including a number of items I didn’t even know existed. My tent has “disappeared” from the garage (damn those gremlins!) I’ll wait till we get to REI (a store that’s not found near Albany) so that I can use my dividend rewards on the perfect replacement.

Our final perfected packing list ends up being a work in progress.

Packed Honda CRV
Yes, I can see out the rear view mirror!

Perfected Packing List

Individual Packing List:

  • 1-2 Dressier outfits (include necessary accessories & footwear)
  • 1-2 pair of jeans
  • 1-2 pair of hiking pants (I have a pair of black ISIS Portofino pants that are comfortable and easy to wash & dry by hand, and yet dressy enough for dinner out. Hiking pants that convert to capris or shorts are also handy.)
  • 2-3 shorts and/or skirts
  • 1-2 long-sleeve hiking shirts with UV protection
  • 5+ T-shirts (some cotton T’s, but 2-3 fast-wicking shirts that can be washed & hung dry overnight)
  • Under garments (varies between family members, my collection includes camisoles for wearing under hiking shirts)
  • Toiletries (We each carry our own Ziploc with travel-size cosmetics; here is where we use up our collection of hotel amenities.)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Hiking Socks (3-5 pairs, enough for a 3 day backpacking trip)
  • Tevas or Keenes (water shoes that can also double as sandals & day hiking footwear)
  • Rainbow Sandals (sturdy flip flops that are great to use as slippers, campsite shoes, and for the beach)
  • Sneakers & Socks
  • 3 Bathing Suits (we live at the beach when we get to Southern California)
  • Rain Jacket and Pants
  • Thin fleece jacket and pants
  • Warm hat & gloves
  • Sun hat & sun glasses
  • Beach Towel (cheap, thin towels don’t take up much space and dry quickly)

Car Packing List (some remain in the car year-round):

  • Water bottle (when we get to desert country, I pick up a 2-gallon bottle of water to keep in the car, just in case.)
  • Roadside Emergency Kit (Flares, tire repair kit, AAA card)
  • Blanket
  • Insulated shopping bag
  • Windshield Sun Shade
  • Snow & Ice Scraper
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Emergency Kit & Medications (Most important items: Advil, Albuteral, Benadryl, Moleskin, Neosporin, & Bandaids)
  • Ziplocs (Gallon & Quart size)
  • Kleenex
  • Paper Towels
  • Handy wipes
  • Bear Mace (we have it from our Yellowstone adventure, so might as well take it in case we return to Grizzly country.)
  • Laundry soap (Sample-size individual packets)

Family Camping Packing List (Backpacking & Hiking Gear Too):

  • MSR Whisperlite stove & 1 liter fuel
  • STERIpen water purifier
  • Mess Kit (includes French Press, an essential item!)
  • Bear-proof food cannister
  • Emergency Kit & Medications (Smaller-sized kit for backpacking, same essential items as above.)
  • Small roll of surveyor’s tape & compass
  • Duct Tape
  • CamelBak Hydration System/Nalgene Bottles

Individual Camping Packing List (Backpacking & Hiking Too):

  • Day Pack
  • Backpack
  • 1-Person Tent (My kids prefer to have their own tent, and it’s easier if we each carry our own when backpacking. Otherwise, someone gets stuck carrying a heavier multi-person tent.)
  • Sleeping Bag (I have a North Face Cat’s Meow sleeping bag that’s lightweight & warm enough for summer camping.)
  • Therm-a-rest air mattress
  • Camp Towel (super absorbent & quick drying in a perforated carry pouch)

Mom’s Traveling Office

  • Power strip/surge protector
  • Laptop
  • Ipad
  • Iphone with Mophie Charger/Battery Case
  • Chargers
  • Photography Equipment (2 camera bodies {Nikon D7000 & D90},;3 lenses {all-purpose 18-200, wide-angle, & telephoto}; cleaning kit; tripod; extra batteries & SD cards)
  • Business Cards
  • Milk crate & tote bags filled with ongoing research projects and books

Kid’s Traveling Office

  • Laptop
  • Ipad (if they have one)
  • Iphone
  • Reading light
  • Chargers
  • Summer journal (One of our favorite beginning-of-summer rituals is to select the summer journal.)
  • Books (Required summer reading, as well as fun books.) We also select books to share on audiobook, see Travel Tips for Reading with Kids on Road Trips.)
  • Summer course work (Alex has a tote bag with a math text book, notebook, and pencils.)

Sports Equipment:

  • Skateboard & Helmet (Each kid has their own.)
  • Skimboard (we left both in SoCal, but will bring them home this time)
  • My beach chair (also left in SoCal, may or may not bring home, very handy for watching the kids skimboarding)
  • Frisbee
  • Fencing gear bag
  • Rugby ball & Ski Gear (when Kayla is on board)
  • Rock climbing & Fly Fishing gear (when Dave joins us)
  • Bikes (when I’m willing to deal with annoying bike rack)

Safety Tips for On and Off the Road:

7 thoughts on “The Perfected Family Travel Packing List”

  1. Yes, and no. We only have one emergency kit for all of us, for example. But for the most part, this is the list we each use to pack our own bags. At this point, Alex is pretty good at packing, but he needs a list so as not to forget stuff.

    Thanks for pointing this out! I’ll edit the post so that it’s clearer.

  2. Great list Sandra! I would also add REI convertable pants that can be worn as long pants but then can be sipped off at the knees when it gets too warm hiking. They are quick-dry material and come in sizes from kids to adults. We have purchased several for Alaska since we need to limit the laundry haul.

    • Good addition, Dawn! My husband and kids all own hiking pants that are convertible (although they never seem to make that effort to convert them.) And I have hiking pants that convert to capris with straps that secure the rolled up bottoms.

  3. You certainly seem to be an efficient packer. On my last weekend trip, I packed nearly two weeks worth of clothes. I could barely fit it all in my suitcase- I tried rolling the clothes and using a Space Saver bag. 🙂 I just hate to leave something behind.

    We’re headed to Honduras in less than two weeks and I think what stresses me out the most is figuring out how to pack a week’s worth of clothes and supplies in the one backpack that I’ll be toting.

    • Thanks Tonya! Of course, traveling by car, I have the luxury of much more space than a backpack. I faced that dilema last year when we traveled through India & Nepal for several weeks; that’s when I brought some items that I never really used, but also ended up purchasing clothing for changing climates.

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