Whenever it's time to pack for a trip, something curious happens to my husband. The man who couldn't care less about loading the dishwasher properly suddenly becomes obsessed with ensuring that our cargo space is used in the most efficient manner possible. If I don't stack the suitcases exactly how he would do it, huffy breaths and shuffling of bags are sure to ensue.
Like a tulip that bursts from the soil for a brief but glorious appearance in the spring, trips seem to awaken organizational skills in my husband that lie dormant the rest of the year. I first noticed this phenomenon while packing for our honeymoon when, to my astonishment, he reached into my suitcase, told me I was "doing it all wrong," and proceeded to roll my neatly folded clothes into tightly wadded cylinders.
It's no surprise, then, that my husband has been thinking about packing for our summer road trip since this spring. Our vacation – a combination of camping and sightseeing in New York state – is the longest drive we've done with our children, ages eight and nine, and requires a variety of gear that will take us from wooded trails to city streets. To say we'll be cramped for space is an understatement.
Hoping to live up to my husband's high standards and not look like the Beverly Hillbillies packed our car, I asked some travel experts for their advice on how to stow our gear and keep everyone comfortable on our journey.
Claudia Laroye, Vancouver-based author of The Travelling Mom blog, says it's important to prioritize what goes where in the car. To avoid frustration, we need to think about what gear needs to be easily accessible, so it doesn't end up buried in the trunk.
Normally, we would pack a bag for each of us, but for this trip, Laroye advises planning around our activities. She suggests keeping a bag of city outfits separate from our camping gear, and bringing a laundry bag for dirty clothes that can be left in the car once we reach New York City. She also suggests calling ahead to request storage space for our bikes at the hotel.
While we're driving, anything we don't need readily available that day should be stowed in the cargo container, says Brett Dybdal, owner of the Road Trip in Canada travel website in Victoria. He recommends compression bags to make our bedding more compact, and stackable containers instead of suitcases, which take up extra space.
"I'm so organized. I utilize every cubic inch of my van," Dybdal says. "Everything has a place and everything's in its place."
He sounds like someone my husband would relate to.
"Is that a guy thing?" I ask.
"It probably is, yes," he laughs.
Dybdal recommends bringing two coolers, a big one for the trunk and a smaller one for snacks and drinks in the car.
Separate, small snack containers for the kids will avoid fights over who ate what, Laroye says. She suggests using packing lists to make sure nothing is forgotten, and recommends letting the kids help, within reason.
"You want to make sure they have some independence in their packing but you want to help them figure out what is good to bring along so they don't fill a suitcase with things they can't wear, like toys."
Pillows, blankets and games are a must in the backseat for the kids, she adds.
Medications, travel papers and a first-aid kit should go inside the car. And don't forget some old-fashioned paper maps, Laroye says. "They can augment GPS services, which are not always up to date."
Dybdal recommends a tool kit for the cargo container, including a socket set, wrenches, pliers, a hammer, tape, jumper cables, a hydraulic jack, gloves, rags and hand cleaner.
Even more important than a well-organized car is getting out of it, says Laroye. Plan to stop regularly for breaks and special treats, she says. "My mini-mantra is: A gelato a day keeps the tantrums away. It works for adults, as well."
If that's true, I'd better pick up a couple of tubs of gelato and get ready to pack up the car.
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