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How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Be Organized When Packing

A few years ago, I stumbled upon the Ziploc bag method of packing for a vacation and it’s revolutionized our organization on trips. It’s so simple that a picture is probably all you need to get how it works, but for those who like specific step-by-step details, here’s how it works for us:

1. Do all the laundry.

Since we only have 6-10 outfits total for each member of our family, if we’re going on a trip longer than a few days, we have to do all the laundry in order to have enough clothes to pack.

2. Lay out an outfit for each child for each day.

As I’m folding the laundry, I make piles of matching outfits for each child for every day that we’ll be gone. I also lay out an extra outfit for each child and a few extra shirts for our child who tends to be messy. 🙂 In addition, I set aside socks and underwear, as well as pajamas.

3. Roll the clothes for each day and put into a labeled bag.

I label a bag for each day of the week we’ll be gone, plus an extras bag, a socks & underwear bag and a PJ bag. If you have more than three children or your children are older, you may need to have individual bags for each child. Since we just have three young children, we can still fit their outfits into one ziptop bag per day.

4. When traveling, set out the bag of clothes for the next day the night before, along with shoes.

Instead of having to rummage through a suitcase for clothes each morning, just set out the appropriate bag, along with socks, shoes and underwear the night before. It makes getting everyone ready a snap in the mornings!

5. Stick the extras bag in the car or diaper bag to have on hand in case it’s needed.

If there’s a diaper blowout or a spill or other accident, you’re prepared with extra outfits for everyone!

6. Save your bags to re-use for the next trip.

We label the ziptop bags with tape so we can re-use them again and again. We store them in our suitcases to be at-the-ready for our next trip.

Coming tomorrow: How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Pack an Emergency Box

How do you stay organized when packing for a trip? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Other posts in the Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children series

  1. How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Be Organized When Packing
  2. How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Pack an Emergency Box
  3. How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Bring Some Good Books & Audios

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  • amy says:

    These are wonderful ideas. Thank you for how much you share it greatly benefits me! I wanted to add too for families to not feel discouraged if trips are not as organized for certain occasions. I know when we go camping….I have to just count on the dressing of the children to be alittle disorganized in our suitcase, otherwise I set unrealistic expectations. We camp in Oregon. It rains and then is sunny. We change our clothes frequently through the day. Add sweatshirt, raincoat and boots…take off sweatshirt add shorts etc. multiply by 5 and gets alittle crazy. I wouldn’t give it up for the experiences we have as a family out camping.

  • Carrie says:

    Do you pack a new pair of pants for every single day of vacation? When I packed my kids for our trip I packed one skirt, one dress and one pants for each girl for 8 days. They could wear each one a few times.

    • Crystal says:

      I typically do. That way, if they spill on them, I don’t have to worry about finding a way to wash them. And it just makes it easier for me. If they were older, I’d probably not do an outfit for each day.

      Your children must be a lot neater than mine!

      • Carrie says:

        Well, we did stay with friends who all had washing machines so I knew I wasn’t taking a big chance. But in general when traveling my MO is more to pick interchangeable tops and bottoms so they can have a number of different outfits with the same few separates. Works for them and for me.

  • Wow! I LOVE this idea of the seperate bags! I’ve never tried it but it sure would make life easier. I usually unpack into the drawers in the hotel – but then pieces get seperated and it gets messy lol! I also think this would work well when I pack my kids for Grandma and Grandpa’s house – I think my mom would love to pull out a pack for the day that included the matching hair bows, socks etc! Great idea!

  • Kristine says:

    I love this idea!

  • Alesha says:

    Here’s my scenario: my hubby and I are going to OBX with his parents and we’re taking my 3 1/2 y.o. and my 16 month old boy. There will be a washing machine at the house we are staying in, so how little can I get by with for all of us? I like to have variety, but I can deal with that…. I just don’t want to have to wait for something to wash. I would like to have just one suitcase for clothes. Also, we will be staying across the beach from the house…. what would you make sure to take?

    • Jessica says:

      For a similiar trip with our 18 month old I packed 4 days worth for her since she is messy, 4 shirts each for us, 2 shorts, and 1 pair of pants. It worked for us for the week since I only had to do laundry once. I find that rolling the clothes even if they are not in a ziplock bag saves room. I fit all of our clothes, swim suits, water shoes, and a jacket/sweatshirt for each of us plus toillitries into a carry on size bag.

    • Sherri says:

      Last time we went to the beach, I packed 3-4 days’ worth of clothes for each of us. I found it easier, however, to do laundry just about every day while I was in the condo with the napping toddler. The washer/dryer were small, so it could only hold that much anyway. I figured if I had to be there for a couple of hours, I might as well accomplish something while I watched tv. It was so wonderful coming home with suitcases full of clean clothes instead of mound of dirty laundry.

  • Tiffany says:

    We have also been using the ziploc method for packing since our daughter was an infant. We love the method. Atleast once a year, we tend to take a road trip that lasts longer then a week or that requires multiple destinations along the way. When we will be staying different places we often pack all the clothes (kids and parents) in one bag for each leg of our journey. That way unpacking and getting settled takes less time. Last year we took three bags with us, the first for our stop along the way at a friends, the second for the cabin we were staying in for three nights, and the third for the hotel trips on the way back home. This way, our clothing was much more manageable and instead of lugging around three bags at each stop we only had one to worry about.

  • Vanette says:

    I have used this idea without the bags. I fold/roll each outfit with underwear & matching socks and stack in the ssuit case. If you pull the clothes out the night before and spray with a little water the wrinkles will be gone by morning.

  • Janette Tobin says:

    To those worried about wrinkling.. I do pack a full outfits in ziplock bags also. I pack 2 hangers (1 reg & 1 w/pant clips) per person in the suitcase. The night before I hang the outfits for the next day on the hangers & lightly mist them with water, no need to douse them. (I pack an empty spray bottle.) I shake the hanger with the clothes on it and let it hang at night. The clothes look GREAT the next morning. (I do this at home all the time.) It usually only take 5 minutes for the wrinkles to relax. After the clothes are hanging I put away the dirty clothes in the dirty clothes bag or hand wash them with a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap & hang to dry. In the morning, the kids jammies go in the dirty laundry bag, I change them into their clean (wrinkle free) clothes hanging up, I throw the toiletries & hangers in the suitcase, and we are good to go. Ziplock bags are the way to go! Before this method I would mix up dirty & clean clothes & at the end of a trip even the clean clothes would smell musty. So this makes for a much better smelling suitcase! 🙂

  • julie says:

    When we are getting ready to go on short trips 2-3 days, I pack “mix-n-match” clothes for my son. All shirts, sweaters, pants, shorts……can be interchanged! I love packing this way for him. Not to mention I KNOW that no matter what I pull out of the bag, he will match!

  • Angie says:

    I hope someone else didn’t say this already. =) Although I haven’t used the plastic-bag packing to it’s fullest extent, when we travel in the winter (which is often b/c grandma and grandpa live up north), I pack all their winter coats, gloves, hats, snowpants and scarves in a big vacuum bag and them vacuum out the air. It saves a ton on space. Even if they don’t play outside, it’s comforting to know they have all their gear in case we have car trouble or something. Unless it’s blizzarding, they can usually handle running to the bathroom without a coat and we don’t have to deal with all that stuff in the front part of the van.

  • Stacey says:

    I have a packing list document saved on my computer so when it’s time to start packing for a trip, I just print it out and check items off as I pack them! This has saved me so much time and I don’t forget the commonly forgotten items such as batteries/charger for camera, medications, sunscreen, etc. No running to the local Walgreens for those items once we arrive at our destination. I love the baggie idea, though….I may try it with grocery bags for my 5 and 8 year old this summer.

    • Crystal says:

      Want to share your document?? 🙂 I’ve been thinking I really need to make one up myself!

    • Sarah in Alaska says:

      Yes. Please share your list. I always forget something and was going to make one this week. …if you share I won’t have to do that. 🙂

  • Tracey says:

    We have traveled with our children since they were small. Our oldest had been in 45 states and Canada by the time he was 5. Our youngest took his first cross country road trip when he was three weeks old. I was recovering from a C-section. We don’t have any problems. I do have a couple of concerns–Aren’t the clothes really wrinkled? As long as the hotel has a good iron and ironing board I guess you would be okay. What about changes in daily weather or even a child’s mood?

  • Rachel says:

    Although I resisted the idea for a long time, we’ve come to the point where each person having their own duffel works better than packing 1 big suitcase with everyone’s things (family of 6). But when we are making a two day drive to our destination, one bag gets designated as the overnight bag with one complete outfit & underthings & swimsuit rolled up per person so we aren’t unloading the whole car for just one night. Of course, this assumes we are staying at a place that seems fairly secure and high value items like the camera are brought in as well.

  • Kelly says:

    I get free samples of detergent all the time. I save them for vacations. The hotels we are staying in almost always have a washer / dryer room somewhere. If we’re going away for a whole week then I only pack enough clothes for 4 days and do laundry once mid-way through. People are always amazed that I can pack for a family of four with one big suitcase. Since many airline charge to check your bags now it saves money to pack less too.
    Just call ahead to make sure where you are staying has some machines. We just did a 7 day Disney Alaska cruise and this worked perfectly.

  • Becky says:

    I love love the Ziploc method! From the time my oldest was a baby I’ve always packed her clothes in ziploc bags for trips – especially overnights to the grandparents. That way everything is ready for them and they don’t have to fuss with finding outfits/socks with a potentially screaming baby in the mix.

    Now that we have 2 little girls I still pack their clothes this way. I also put together similar items – all church clothes/shoes for both girls together in one large bag or all swimsuits, coverups, sunscreen, hats, and swim diapers together so it’s just grab and go!

  • Karla says:

    Can’t wait to try this when we go on a long weekend in a couple of weeks. I always over pack. This should help. Any suggestions about packing food items? My sons have food allergies, so we always travel with food too.

  • Julie J says:

    This method brings back memories. When I was in 4th grade I went on the California Heritage trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento. We were advised to put our clothes in a Ziplock bag. My bag was stored under the bus near the tires. When we went to retrieve our luggage at the end of the day the baggies had melted to my clothes!!! I had to try and peel off the melted plastic but to no avail. It was very embarrassing.

  • Heather says:

    My son actually introduced me to this method of packing. He used it when packing for summer Boy Scouts camp several years ago. Too bad my boys are all too big now and their entire outfits no longer fit into one Ziploc bag no matter how tight we fold them!

    Now I just pack entire outfits together in the suitcase – divide the boy’s suitcase up into three sections and just put each outfit on top of each other in their designated section.

  • Joy says:

    We have 5 children (8, 7, 6, 4, & 2), which means our suitcases get full really fast. To help contain the chaos, I made laminated checklists for the 3 older girls, and 1 for me, DH, and the 2 younger girls.

    The 3 older girls are responsible for their packing, and are completely capable of doing so thanks to the checklist. For long weekends, they put everything in their school backpacks. This way it’s easy for everyone to know whose items are whose. (Which is especially easy for us to confuse with how close in age & size everyone is!)

    When we take longer trips, we pack 3 suitcases – 1 with undergarments, pajamas, toiletries, and shoes for the girls, 1 with clothes for the girls (using ziploc bags), and 1 for DH and I. I also pack 2 pillow cases, 1 white one and 1 colored one. This makes it easy for all of the girls (including the 2 year old!) to know where to put the dirty laundry, and it’s already sorted!

  • Lindsay says:

    I think this is genius! Will be trying it out on our road trip to Disney in 10 days. I think it will work wonderfully. Thank you!

  • Rochelle says:

    I love this idea. We are leaving on vacation Friday. I would love to see a post on good activities for a road trip. I have a 3, almost 4 year old and 19 month old and wondering how to keep them busy besides back to back DVDs.

  • Jennifer says:

    I do something similar when we are traveling and staying in a different location each night. My kids all have small duffle bags of their own. I will pack an outfit, pj’s, underwear and socks for everyone in each bag so that we don’t have to unpack the entire car when we stop. We just grab the one duffle bag we need and our bag with the toiletries in it and we are ready to walk in to the hotel.

  • Frances says:

    I LOVE this idea! I believe I will be stealing it for the two trips we have coming up this month 🙂 Thanks!!

  • Christine M says:

    Great ideas from everyone!!

  • Christine M says:

    Great ideas from everyone!!!

  • Emma K says:

    Love the idea and will try it on our next trip.

    Our last road trip we drove from TN to Calif. I packed a small suitcase with 3-4 days of clothes for each person and we had a larger suitcase with more clothes. We took the smaller suitcase into the hotel and left the larger one in the car. In retrospect I probably didn’t need all the clothes we had packed but I didn’t want to wear the same 4 outfits for a month. But it worked for us. Plus I had to pack a few outfits for colder days, which we actually ended up using since it snowed one day on our trip.

  • peever says:

    This is a good idea, but am I the only one who has kids that are super picky about clothes?! There’s no way I could hand my kids a bag that said “Tuesday” on it and expect them to wear what’s inside. I know they would insist on wearing “Thursday” instead or they’d want the pants from “Monday”, the shirt from “Wednesday”, and the underwear from “Saturday.” They’ve both been picking out their outfits since they were 18 months old because they are so picky about their clothes and I gave up on that battle. As long as it’s weather appropriate, I don’t care. My 3 yr old comes up with some pretty interesting outfits. 😉

    They both have small, rolling suitcases so their things are separate and they just pick out whatever they want to wear. It takes up more room in our van, but it’s a sanity saver for us. 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      Have them put the outfits together, and don’t bother labeling with the days. I put the outfits for my kids together, but I don’t label them, and let them grab the bag they want. It’s still so much better than having them rummage through a suitcase. EVERYTHING ends up wrinkled, and WHERE ARE THE SOCKS?????? 🙂

  • Katkerz says:

    Wow! Amazing idea yet oh so simple! I have two kids under three & will definitely do this for the next trip! Come to think of it, I think I need to do this for my husband and myself- we are quite the disorganized type!

  • Jessica C says:

    This is awesome! I love this idea, we are going camping next weekend and this is perfect. I love the idea of having an “extra” bag. I have a 4 yr old and my youngest will be 2 tomrrow, so I know that there will be accidents. You come up with the best ideas, and they are so simple. Love it!

  • Bobbie says:

    Great tip, I’ve been using ziplock bags since my 4 year old was born. They really help organize a messy diaper bag (mostly for the 1 year old). I have a zip lock bag for every genera; extra clothes, diapers (keeps them dry), drinks, snacks, and first aid. Definitely saves time when I can quickly grab which bag I need in a hurry. I love your blog!

  • Cassy says:

    That is a really great idea! Also, you can put the dirty clothes back into the bags to make packing easier and to keep the dirty clothes form soiling anything else!

  • Katiria says:

    Wow your timing is perfect, We are going on a trip and I was going to label everyones outfits within their own bags but I didn’t think of putting them in bags! That makes it much more convenient and you are right, they come in handy on trips -you never know when someboyd might feel sick and have to throw up -believe me it happens !

  • Mandi Kang says:

    Great idea about the zip lock bags. If you only have 6 sets of clothes, then how in the world do you launder them repeatedly and not have them look worn out? Do you just replace them when they get worn out looking?

  • Amber W. says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m going on a road trip in a few weeks with my 4 young children, and I look forward to trying this method out. I can’t believe I’ve never thought about it before!!!!

  • Melissa says:

    Great idea. I’ve done a similar method, by putting the clothes in pairs with socks and underwear and then roll them together and place in suitcase, just never used the baggies.

  • My Boaz's Ruth says:

    What size of bags are you using there?

  • Andrea says:

    Crystal, Thanks so much for this series of posts. I have three boys age 4 and under. We are planning a trip from Mississippi (our home) to Michigan for my Grandfather’s 90th birthday. Your advice and suggestions couldn’t have come at a better time! I love your blog and have learned so much! Thanks!

  • Stephanie says:

    I used to use this method for keeping my kids’ clothes put away when they were little. I have always been so pressed for time that it was just easier to assign one day to do laundry and create the bags for them as I was folding. I would put undies, socks and hair accessories (for my daughter) into gallon sized ziplock bags, roll the air out zip and put into their drawers. It made life so much easier for me. Especially when they hit that stubborn “I wanna do it myself” phase. I would say “sure!” and the little force of natures would grab whatever bag they wanted to wear that day. This way at least the socks would match!!

  • Tanya says:

    For car trips we bought one of these:,73728_Mountainsmith-Modular-Hauler-4.html

    It’s great for keeping each persons stuff in and there is plenty of room in the kids’ bins to keep extras like a favorite animal and blanket 🙂

  • Sarah haeberle says:

    I typed up a packing list that I saved on the computer and beforeach trip I print it out and check it off as it gets packed. It includes hot and cold weather stuff plus any random “extra” we have ever needed for a trip. After printing I cross off items I won’t be needing that trip. Each boy has a column, as do I, plus one of shared items for the boys, non-clothes items for myself, plus one for the carry-on bag for airplane rides. I never forget items on a trip now!!

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