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How We Simplified Our Packing for Our 14-Day Road Trip

Simplified Packing System

Welcome to my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip where I share our adventures along the way, how we’re doing this on a budget, honest reviews of attractions & restaurants we visit, and money-saving tips and ideas.

We had initially planned to go back to South Africa as a family this year, but we couldn’t figure out a two-week block of time when we could go (and have time to prep and recover) that also worked out with our South African friends’ schedules.

Instead of going to South Africa, we had decided we were going to go to London, but then our kids felt unsafe going because of the terrorist attacks there. So we all put our heads together and decided to go on a two-week road trip instead.

We all love to travel and our kids want to hit all 50 states before they turn 18, so we decided to plan a trip to a few of our favorite places + to hit a bunch of new states and places we’ve never visited before. We’ve never done a two-week family road trip before, but we decided it would be fun to try it and see how it goes… and maybe make this a summer tradition if it goes well!

packed clothes in bags

Since we were going to be gone for 14 days and were going to be staying in a lot of different places, I wanted to come up with a system for packing that would keep things simple, would encourage us to pack minimally, and would take up less space.

So I decided on 5 big bags that each had a ziptop bag in them with one complete outfit for each of us. Then, we’d just plan to do laundry every 5 days and then repeat the outfits.

We also have a bathroom bag (with all of our hygiene stuff, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair stuff, makeup, deodorant, etc.) and an extras bag (with sweatshirts, PJs, and flip flops).

This way, we only have to bring in one bag + the bathroom bag + the PJ bag for our overnight stays, instead of lugging in a suitcase for each of us.

packed clothing lined upclose-up of packed clothing in bags

My Thoughts On This System So Far

1. We Should Have Gotten Smaller Bags

I ran into Target the night before we left and looked for bags that would work for this idea. They only had the Jumbo Big bags so that’s what I grabbed. They are way too big for what we need and it’s hard to get the air pressed out of them since they are twice as big as what we need.

Next time around, I would choose the Ziploc Big Bags as I think those would be the perfect size and would make this idea work much better. You could also use tubs, but I felt like those would take up too much room.

Note: Packing this way also means that you don’t have to invest in suitcases so it can be a money-saver, too. However, it would only work for road trips, not plane trips. That said, you could pack the bags into a large suitcase for a plane trip.

2. You Need to Clearly Mark the Bags

It was kind of an after thought for us to mark Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 on the bags. Next time around, I would do this in very bold lettering or use a bright label, because it’s kind of hard to see our writing on the bags late at night when we’re unloading the car.

packed clothing ready for a road trip

3. It Does Take Up a LOT Less Space

Our car was so much less packed for a 14-day road trip than it usually is for a 5-day road trip! That made it so nice for us to travel for hours without being cramped!

4. It Has Really Simplified Things

It was so much easier to only worry about packing for 5 days. It made packing a breeze for all of us! Plus, it has meant you only have one outfit choice each day so it eliminates decision fatigue.

5. It Has Kept Our Hotel Room Cleaner

This has been one big plus! We always seem to be able to wreck a hotel room in nothing flat! 5 people in a small space with all their stuff that they brought on the trip just equals a mess very quickly!

But since we are only bringing up one bag + the extras bag + the bathroom bag, it’s meant that it’s much easier to keep our hotel rooms clean!

welcome to Virginia sign

Day 1 Travel Update:

We left around 1 p.m. and drove to Blacksburg, VA. There was a lot of rain and a few accidents that slowed us down, so we didn’t make it to our destination until around 11 p.m.

The kids did really well in the car. We had purchased a few fun surprises from Dollar Tree for them to do while we traveled, they played the license plate game, I read aloud to them, and they listened to Adventures in Odyssey.

close-up photo of God's Whisper in a Mother's Chaos book close-up photo of The Praying Pond book

I got some blogging work done (it’s so fantastic that I have a job where I can work anywhere!), read aloud to the kids, and finished two books:God’s Whispers in a Mother’s Chaos and The Praying Pond (written by a reader).

True confession: I didn’t pack minimally when it came to books because I usually read 1-2 books/day on vacation and I’m old-fashioned and don’t have a Kindle because I adore real books. So I did bring a small suitcase packed with 20+ books. Yes, I did. (And that was my pared down stack. I may have issues… or an addiction to books! The first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem, right?? ;))

To be continued…

Want to follow along with our trip in real-time? Follow my personal Instagram account here where I’ll be sharing a daily recap + videos and photos via Instagram Stories.

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57 Comments

  • lyss says:

    Sounds so fun! That’s awesome you can read so much on the road. Unfortunately, motion sickness keeps me from reading in the car. My son is the same way. : (
    But my kids LOVE Odyssey! They’re actually listening to it right now. : )

  • Deanna says:

    This sounds like such a fun trip!!! D.C. and the East coast is on my someday list. We are in Oklahoma so it’s going to be a bit of a trek to get there. Figure we’ll wait until the kids are a little older. (6, 4, and 1 currently.)

    I can only read little bits in the car, so it’s awesome that you can get through so many books. I grew up listening to Adventures in Odyssey on long trips and I love that my kids enjoy them now.

    • I didn’t go to DC until I was 19. I think it would be hard to do with young kids, but is so fun to do when they are older!

    • They might get more out of a DC trip when they are older but last year we did take out 5.5 year old and 2 year old. It was fabulous!!!! Our kids travel often and regularly go to museums. 🙂 Biggest regret of our DC trip was a hotel that didn’t have a refrigerator or a microwave! Our two year old has feeding issues and we had to take most of her food. It was a major pain not having a fridge. We had to ice down our cooler 2x a day! Besides that the trip was a blast. I think we stayed 4 days in DC. next time we will for sure be staying at a hotel with a fridge!

  • Patty says:

    That packing system is beyond brilliant.

  • Molly says:

    What are the states you’re hitting?! I hit 43 a few weeks ago, and I’ve got loose plans for the rest (although I am far over 18). 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    Road trip are the best! My parents took us on cross country trips for 3 weeks during the summer for a number of years. Our cross country trips are some of the best memories I have. I want to do it with my 2 kids, taking them to some of the places I visited as a kid, Grand Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Rocky Mountains, Mount Rushmore, etc… Make sure to stop at Jamestown while your in VA!! We were there 3 years ago and loved it!!

  • Emma K says:

    Great tips! That is similar to what I ended up doing for our road trip this summer. We have three lands end duffel bags that pack well. Each bag got 2-3 outfits for each person plus pajamas. The longest we were at one location was two nights. We also had one bag with toiletries. It made going into hotels and friends houses so much easier!
    I also have a stop at B&N on my list. The kids can fill out their summer reading log and get a new book while we are traveling.

  • I love your system. Usually there are only three of us and we can wreck a motel room in no time flat too. We will have to try this! So you just put the dirty clothes right back in the bag? Glad you are having a great time.

  • This is an amazing idea for packing! I always hate dragging a big bag in somewhere if we are only staying for one night. eBags has some flat luggage bags in different sizes they call “packing cubes” that might work well for this too. We have a small one and usually pack all the shoes in it.

  • Anna says:

    We ditched suitcases too! Instead I use a big reusable bag per person, and an empty one for dirty clothes (this acts like a hamper). Undies go in a gallon ziploc, jammies in another, these go in the reusable bag with the person’s books, sketchpads, toys, and outfits.

    They might get all jumbled up inside the reusable bag but they look neat and tidy in the hotel room, especially the ones that can be zipped up.

  • Stephanie says:

    We live 5 minutes from Blacksburg. Welcome to Virginia! I hope you enjoyed your visit.

  • Joanna says:

    Just finished an audiobook while I was driving through VA/WV that you and your family might enjoy-Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. It’s only $3.95 on Audible right now. It’s ten+ hours of pure listening enjoyment!

  • Elizabeth says:

    You should check out packing cubes! It’s a similar idea to what you did except using reusable nylon “cubes” We did a 14 day road trip last summer with our four kids and the packing cubes were awesome. We did a similar set up to you and would bring one into the hotel with us each night packed with pjs and clothes for the next day. We rotated between camping for a few nights and one night hotel stays so in between hotels, each member of the family had a packing cube with their clothes in it. The morning that we’d leave camp, I’d pack our hotel cube and we’d be set. Make sure you buy packing cubes with handles, it makes it much easier to take in and out of the hotel room. Enjoy your trip!

  • Janell says:

    How on earth do you manage to read a whole book or two on vacation? Speed reading?

    • I’m a fast reader and I just love reading, so I look for opportunities to fit it in during the cracks of the day. Today, I read before my family was up and while we were on the metro.

      • Janell says:

        Are you able to read a whole book in a day? I’m trying to figure out how to increase my reading, but with a houseful of kids…I often read in the car during trips, but then feel guilty that I’m not reading to my kids or doing something with them!

  • Joanna says:

    Excited for you all. We did a road trip in May to DC, Virginia, and NC. It was only for a week but what worked for us was each kid had a backpack (they could carry into hotel on their own). We had one backpack with everyone’s bathroom things and pjs. Made it easy, peasy.

  • Mary says:

    I do something similar when packing, but use packing cubes from e-bags. The large size would work well for the number of plastic bags you are using, you can get various colors so that helps with your labeling issue, they have mesh sides for ventilation and they have handles on the side so easy to carry. You could use a medium for your PJ bag and a medium or small for your bathroom bag and even pack them inside a large, so only one bag to carry in. Once you are home, they fold flat for storage (I store all mine, including a shoe bag from their collection, inside a large).

  • JH says:

    We had great road trip experiences when my kids were younger! It was wonderful to have the freedom to stop and take a break or explore whenever we wanted. We packed like you did, except we already had a lot of small-ish duffel bags, so we used those. We also listened to a TON of audiobooks – some checked out from the library – which kept everyone entertained. We once even sat in the driveway for 15 minutes after we got home from a long trip so that we could listen to the tail end of a book lol. Hope you get to enjoy more road trips in the future!

  • Laura says:

    Interesting ideas on packing! I have been contemplating our plan for a 7-day plane/road trip in Aug. I bought the jumbo Ziploc bags for our last trip and loved them! I had always avoided plastic because years ago, on a hot bus, part of a plastic ziploc had melted onto a pair of pants. Those pants still had to be worn the rest of the trip!

    I will have both kids bring their own suitcases because they are older teens who need to know how to pack their own bag. My son is going to New York with a school group next month. They practice packing their own bags when they go to Grandma’s. I just have to make sure Grandma doesn’t rescue them. They are quick learners. One pair of socks for the whole trip? No problem! ; )

    Figuring out where to do laundry is my next challenge. I have learned to pack quarters (lots more than you think!!) and a baggie of soap. Never request a hotel room next to the laundromat. It is very loud. Nearby on the same floor is nice.

    We may go to VA/DC next year! Such incredible history! I’m excited to hear how your trip goes!

    • We have had our kids pack their own clothes for trips for the past 3-4 years. It’s been SO nice and they rarely forget anything. This time around, I had them pack their baggies and put their toothpaste, etc. together and then I put them in the big bags.

      I still check their packing on long trips just to make they didn’t forget anything or pack clothes for the wrong season (which has happened before!)

  • Mel says:

    I thought I’d give you an update. We got the surprise ride boxes yesterday from when you posted the deal.

  • Kellie says:

    Love the packing idea! We’re currently on a month -long trip, which involved flying across the country, and then a major road trip. My biggest packing challenge was that we’d be in such a variety of weather… temps from the 50s to 100! We pretty much needed 5-7 days of outfits for any one climate. I guess you could do two sets of bags? How do you deal with shorts and jeans that can be worn for more than one day? Or did you just decide to wear each thing only once?

    • If you don’t need to bring coats, then I think you could do it pretty easily. I’d probably just do 3 outfits for colder weather and 3 outfits for warmer weather and then mark the bags as such. And then just make sure everyone has a hoodie or sweater or two that they can easily access for layering.

      Because we are going to be doing so much walking almost ever day (i.e. lots of sun & sweating), I decided that we’ll be washing everything instead of trying to re-wear some items. If we were going to be inside more/in the car more, I probably would have done it differently.

  • Melissa says:

    I’m curious if anyone has tips for staying at hotels with 5 people. I often find that according to “fire codes” there are only 4 people allowed per room. We certainly can’t afford two rooms. Do you have to stay somewhere with a suite? How do you get good deals in a situation with 5 people?

    • We’ve found that some hotels allow it and some don’t. We looked up hotels on Hotels.com and put in that we had 2 adults and 3 children and then we booked at the hotels through there that allowed 5 people per room. (We had earned hotels.com gift cards + they were running a special!)

    • JH says:

      Melissa, many hotels like Embassy Suites or Comfort Inn (I think) have rooms with two beds and a sleeper sofa that are perfect for 5 people. They can be a little bit pricier but still cheaper than two rooms. If you have older kids, places like Homewood Suites that have a small kitchen and living room and separate bedrooms are nice because having two bathrooms makes a world of difference. When none of those options were available, we packed a cot and sleeping bag in the car (although I can’t promise that this was always within bounds). I agree that most places aren’t set up for families of 5!

  • NaDell says:

    We like to play car games together like MadLibs and alphabet games (1st person says alligator, next one has to say an animal that starts with B) or an alphabet train game (1st person says cheese, next person’s word has to start with the letter E.)
    Love Road Trips. We also pay our kids for good behavior and they use the money they earn for their extra snacks and souvenirs. I explained it here: http://www.mypinstrositylife.com/2014/05/show-and-tell-saturday-road-trips-with.html

  • Kara Mayfield says:

    Love the packing idea however it would be so wasted in my house. My husband insists on taking every piece of luggage from the car into our hotel every night. He doesn’t like to leave a thing for possible thiefs.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’m looking forward to following your road trip for ideas. We are taking a 4-6 week cross country road trip in September. Are you using hotels.com for all of your lodging for the best prices? And did you book all of your sleeping accommodations before you left for your entire trip or are you booking it from an app as you go?

    • We’re booking it as we go. We had enough Hyatt points for one night so we used that the first night and then we had Amazon gift cards which we used to buy Hotels.com gift cards which we’ve used for the next few nights. We have a few other options we’re going to tap into and try to get the rest of the hotels either really inexpensively or free. We decided to only book a few nights at a time to give us more flexibility!

  • Flo says:

    Part of our routine while traveling with 4 kids was laundry evening!! Dave would take the kids to play putt-putt and I had the pleasure of sitting in the laundromat with a good book and no one interrupting me for almost 90 minutes!! We all looked forward to laundry night!

    • What a fun system! Thank you for sharing! This is our first trip to bring a lot fewer clothes than we’ll need. I think I’m going to love this system, even though using a laundromat is a new thing for us!

  • Diana says:

    I don’t think a book addiction is anything you need to recover from 😉 Way to go! I’m a slow reader and can’t read in vehicles, but I still bring books on vacation to read before bed. I do have a Kindle Paperwhite (one-handed page turning while nursing a baby! plus no internet and the screen is much easier on the eyes) but real books are definitely the best.

    Great system! Thanks for sharing–looking forward to seeing how it ends up working out for you!

  • Julie says:

    Potential downside: it is very common for vehicles in hotel parking lots to be broken into and the more stuff you leave in your vehicle, the more enticing it is. And thieves WILL take luggage since people hide valuables in luggage. We take a 2 week road trip every year, and I would rather haul several suitcases into the hotel than risk getting everything stolen. I have a different system that allows us to do that, keeps everything neat in the hotel, and still leaves us enough room to pack a stroller, portable high chair and pack and play.

    • Yes, this is definitely one downside — which is why we chose to go with bags not luggage to keep our clothes. In addition, because we only brought 5 outfits per person, it mostly looks like our car is cleaned out when we go inside.

    • Tracie says:

      What is your system to keep the hotel room neat?

  • Rebecca says:

    This is so great!! We leave the 24th for buffalo, Niagara falls,C anada side, Pennsylvania, Manhattan, new Jersey, Rhode island, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, new hampshire the back to buffalo to fly home.
    I am just starting to read this trip blog and I’m excited to see what I can learn from you.

  • Sally Baur says:

    I resisted Kindle/nooks for a time, but got one of each and LOVE them because I can read in bed(backlight) , can carry one item instead of tons of heavy ones and it’s possible to change the brightness and font size. Try reading using one for a while and you may rethink your packing 30 lbs. of books on a trip.
    ALSO instead of clear plastic bags, why not get some of ebags packing bags? They come in different colors and aren’t expensive when you realize it’s a one time buy that will last for years (I have a few sets of them and no, I’m not connected to them). You could use a simple tag to show what day of bag it is. They are cute and durable.

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