Taking Life One Step At A Time

Taking Life One Step At  A Time

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Suitcase Organization

Often when I research things about large families, I come across tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied

If your family is planning a trip that will have you on the road for several days at a time, it really pays to be organized in your packing. Our most recent trip included up to 8 days on the road at a time - with 7 family members and no laundry service. My husband didn't want to haul in every suitcase to each hotel, so I devised a system that allowed us to stay organized and be sure to have adequate clothing for everyone.

We packed our clothing in smaller suitcases. This allowed us to fit exactly two days worth of clothes in each suitcase. The second day's clothes were packed on the bottom of the suitcase like so:

On top of the suitcase divider, we packed the first day's clothes. When repacking the suitcase the next day, I took everything out and put the dirties on the bottom and the clean clothes on the top. It worked beautifully!

Another vital trick was to label each suitcase by day. I simply used laminated index cards with the name of the days listed on the card. These were tied to each suitcase and it was a sinch for hubby to pull out the right suitcase each night as we unloaded the van.

It would have been impossible for us to fit two days of 7 sets of clothes PLUS PJs in each suitcase. Instead, I used a separate bag for all PJs. My kids tend to get things dirty quickly, so I packed 1 pair of PJs for every two days. For the baby, I packed a few extras just in case. Mom and Dad needed less, but we were still able to fit all PJs in one bag to be brought in each night. As the PJs became dirty, we simply shifted them to the bottom of the bag and put fresh ones on top for the next night. And yes, go ahead and label the bag "PJs" so that you know exactly which bag to bring in each night.

We were also planning on attending church while on the road. We used another bag to only hold fancy clothes. Of course, they needed ironing the night before use, but it was easy to find them. Our last labeled bag of clothing was for seasonal items. Because we were going from winter weather to summer and back again, we had to pack sweatshirts AND shorts. These items went in a separate bag so we knew where to find them when needed, but they didn't have to be pulled out of the van at every stop.

It is important absolutely necessary to keep a separate bag of one change of clean clothes for everyone somewhere accessible in the van. These should not be counted as actual travel clothes, but rather an extra set for emergencies. Having dealt with throw up, pee, and lot of spills I can tell you that this bag is essential to happy travel!! Pack extras for babies who may have a blow out and for toddlers who are more likely to spill. Even if you are a parent with a stomach of steel, you never know when you'll get gross while traveling with kids. It's important to keep a change of clothes for yourself in this bag as well.

If you're headed to a destination where you can swim (which would include most hotels), you'll want to keep your swim stuff separate so you can grab it quickly and bring it into the hotel. We love using the Large Utility Tote from Thirty One for our swim stuff. In fact, our suits and towels stay in it year round and whenever we're off to have some water fun, we simply grab the bag and know that everything we need is there. If you fold your towels carefully, you can fit up to ten stacked on one side of the bag. In the leftover space, fold the swimsuits and coverups, pack some swim diapers, and don't forget the sunscreen. Thirty One even sells covers for these bags now, so you don't have to worry about stuff falling out. Win win!

(In the top picture, our swim bag is the one on the bottom right with the big flowers.)

The last item you'll need is not a suitcase, but may be even more important than the clothes you pack. Keep a throw up bucket on hand in the car. Be sure it's within reach of Mom and Dad and pack it with a roll of paper towels, some wet wipes, a water bottle and trash bags. The trash bags are essential to have for clean up. And you'll want more than one bag. You may need one for clothes and one for trash. You can either buy a little bucket to be used for this purpose or turn a gallon milk jug into one. Cut around the mouth of the milk jug and halfway down the front, leaving the handle in tact. These are the buckets I grew up traveling with. Free, disposable, and handy.

I can't promise that following these tips will make everything easy on your trip, but it will make packing, unpacking, and repacking each day sooo much easier. Happy travels!


  1. Thanks for the tips! I found you on Pinterest while searching for large family travel tips!

    1. I'm glad they were helpful! I have one more coming up in a few days on keeping the kids occupied while in the car. I think that was what I focused on the most for our recent month-long trip. There are some great ideas out there - especially on pinterest.