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How to Pack Your Car for Family Vacation

"Mommy, where’s my blankie?" "I’m hungry!" "Who brought the maps?" "Oops!"

If these comments sound familiar, you’ve surely taken a family road trip. And as everyone who has traveled with the family knows, packing the car is often the most stressful part of a vacation. Dad has one way of doing it, Mom another, and if Grandma and Grandpa come along they’ll have a tried-and-true method, too.

Fret no more. Packing doesn’t have to be stress-inducing. If you follow a few simple rules, you’ll be able to fit in everything you need.

Pack "on the way" items separately. The most important thing about packing a car is to pack what you’ll need on the way to your destination separate from what you’ll need once you get there. This way, you won’t have to unload the whole trunk each time you stop en route.

Co-pack. Most kids – and more than a few adults – feel compelled to have their "own bag," but try to pack in communal bags as much as possible.

Last in, first out. Especially for the kids, pack swim suits, pajamas, fresh underwear, and other important items right inside the "getting-there" bags. Keep handy whatever they will need to settle down fast at the end of a long drive.

Use mesh or large zip-lock bags. The big bags can hold pants, shorts, tops, underwear, and socks for each day. With everything together, you’ll spare yourself endless rummaging for the missing parts of your wardrobe. Mesh and zip-lock bags are easy to pull out of the suitcase and a great way to separate dirty clothes from clean ones.

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Pay attention to your trunk. Take out that ice scraper from last winter! Get rid of everything you won’t need on your trip. If you have a trunk light, make sure that it works. See that the lock is properly lubricated. Check the air in the spare tire. Don’t bury the emergency kit. Leave it out until after you load all of your bags and then find a corner where it will be easily accessible if needed.

Survey before you pack. Before putting anything into the trunk, lay out everything you think you want to take with you on the driveway. Look at everything and assess what needs to go where. If you have special sports gear that takes up lots of space, think about a roof rack or see if things like boogie boards or beach chairs will fit under the seats.
Pack from back to front. Place "there" bags, packed with clothes and supplies you’ll need when you arrive at your destination, at the back of the trunk or under other bags. "Getting-there" suitcases – clothes for the trip, enough to get you from home to your destination – should be accessible and loaded last.

Plan for spills and quick changes. Put helpful extras inside the car. Have a couple of large T-shirts handy in case someone spills coffee or dribbles ice cream. A quick change and you’re on your way without having to unpack the trunk.

Give the kids plastic containers. Let each child have his or her own square plastic container that can double as a lap desk. Fill it with games, books, music, journals – whatever might entertain them on the road.

Pack a small cooler. A small cooler filled with treats for children and adults will reduce costs and help make car travel fun.

Can it. Take along an empty coffee can for fragile items – shells from the beach or pretty leaves – you’ll want to bring back in one piece.

Extra keys! One last thing. Spare yourself agony and delay. Make sure one of the passengers has an extra set of car keys.

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