How to Organize Your Car for a Family Road Trip

On the road again! Growing up it was tradition to spend our summers at my grandparents’ cottage in Gaspe, Quebec. Thus, every year shortly after school let out, my mom, siblings, and I would load up the car and head out on a three day road trip. (side note: by “we” I mean largely my mom. To this day, no one packs a car more efficiently than she does. She could give a TED talk about it.)

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As an engineer, mom understands that any good project begins with a solid plan. The same is true when planning for a family road trip. Here are our best strategies for how to pack and organize your car so you can start your family vacation on a stress free note:

Packing the Car

Before you put a single bag in, think through your itinerary. The clothes, accessories, and gear that will be used at your destination should be packed towards the back or on the bottom. If it’s a multi-day road trip, pack one “en route” suitcase or bag with outfits, toiletries, and daily medications for each family member and place this on top. This way you’re not unpacking multiple bags or suitcases at every stop on the way to your destination. Emergency and first aid kits should also be stored on top so they are easy to access.

Snacks. Put the snack kit in an easy to access location so the person in the passenger seat can distribute as necessary. If you’re driving solo like my mom was, pack a gallon size Ziplock for each child that you can refill at the end of the day with snacks from the larger snack kit. The snack kit is an exception to the “less is more” rule. Pack MORE than you think you’ll need. A “hangry” kid (or adult for that matter) is no fun.

Activities. For captain seats, a basket for each child to corral shoes, sunglasses, blanket, stuffed animal, tablet, coloring books, etc. is best. With row seating, you can create a barrier between passengers by putting the bin in the middle.

Other Essentials. I can’t remember the last time a wipe wasn’t needed in the first five minutes of a road trip. I use a small bin to hold wipes, tissues, hand sanitizer, chapstick, gum, and my sunglasses upright in my center console. It’s so handy that I keep it in my car year-round. The second most needed item? Plastic bags for trash, car sickness, soiled clothes, etc. You can fit two dozen in an empty tissue box.

Road Trip Habits

You’re all in this together. Literally. You’re all together in the car for hours at a time so, setting clear expectations before pulling out of the driveway is key.

Reset at rest stops. Before you all jump out to stretch your legs, put away all personal items, even if they are going to be used again on the next leg of the trip. Have you had a child cry for hours because a beloved stuffed animal fell out of the car at a rest stop? You only make this mistake once.

Throw out the trash at every stop. Space is already tight. It helps to keep it tidy.

Check the list. Make sure everyone has everything they took with them at the rest stop i.e., sunglasses, jacket, purse, etc. Having a physical checklist (on your phone or printed) can help make this task easier.

While an organized car won’t stop your kids from asking “Are we there yet?”, it will create space, keep things tidy, and make the journey more comfortable for everyone.