A Framework for Family Packing

Packing for a multi-week family trip is arguably the toughest part of the journey – but truth be told, we love it. We make lists and spreadsheets. We lay out piles of clothes and equipment all over our front room. We stock up on every travel-sized toiletry we can find. (I mean, WHAT IF WE RUN OUT OF TOOTHPASTE?!?!) Then, about 48 hours prior to departure, we panic about how to jam everything into two rolling duffle bags.

We rely on packing cubes to keep us organized on the road (click here to see why). After dozens of trips over the years, we’ve arrived at a framework for how we typically distribute gear into each cube. Having a general idea of where things go before you start packing – and how many cubes will fit comfortably in your bags – will make the process considerably easier.

packing cubes with numbers

1) Clothes – Each person gets one packing cube for their clothes. Harsh you say? How can you get all your wearables for a three week trip in one cube you say? Oh, I hear you. But it’s possible – actually mandatory if you are married to a packing freak like my husband Don. (That said, my packing cube always looks like it is about to have a baby…) We ID each person’s bag with a colored band so everyone knows whose is whose.

2) Outerwear – We pack rain ponchos, gloves, hats, or any other specialized clothing in one cube since we’ll all need it on the same day anyway.

3) Tech Gear – This cube holds chargers, headlamps, extra camera batteries, selfie sticks, adapters, mini tripods, and so on.

4) Toiletries – We combine the products we need to take to the bathroom/shower every day into one bag.

5) Ad Hoc Toiletries – Here’s where we combine the seemingly endless supply of sunscreen, bug repellent, moisturizing lotions and other large bottles we bring along. We also bring a small bottle of laundry detergent and a line to hang to dry clothes, just in case.

6) Medicine Cabinet – All the prescriptions, vitamins and over-the-counter pain relievers get put in this cube.

7) First Aid – This cube is a small one to slip into day packs for hikes.

8) Kitchen Sink – We always end up with a bag-worth of food/drink-prep items such as Swiss Army knives, corkscrews, Ziploc bags of various sizes, napkins, spoons. It is an easy one to throw in the daypack for a picnic or pull out for a dinner in. (Click here to read our recommendations for family vacation “hacks to pack.”)

9) Library – For some reason, we always tend to bring too many guidebooks, journals, reading books, tablets, puzzle books and pens/pencils. This stuff gets combined here.

10) Dirty Laundry – A larger empty stuff sack becomes the laundry bag.

We allow a few items to “ROAM” free – for example, extra pairs of shoes wrapped in plastic bags – to fill nooks and crannies between cubes. And of course, the system breaks down a bit after you hit the road.

Taking the time to figure out a packing framework that works for your family helps everyone get packed and stay organized until the real tough part starts: unpacking.

by Maryann Jones Thompson, February 2015

Want more family trip ideas? Read more ROAM
Got feedback or more ideas on this story? Email ROAM
Want to write about your family trip? Contribute to ROAM

© ROAM Family Travel 2015 – All rights reserved

Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, packing, family vacation packing


Don’t miss a single trip! Enter your email address in the box below to subscribe to ROAM and receive notifications of new posts by email. Check your inbox for an email to confirm your subscription, click the link and you’re ready to ROAM!