We have created a bit of a summer tradition of heading down to Florida as a family to celebrate the final days of summer break. My in-laws have a place near the beach and it has become our favorite vacation destination and a trip that we all look forward to each and every year.

We will fly if airfare deals pop up, however, we typically opt to drive the whopping 24-hour route. We enjoy the scenery, the downtime in the car, the cost savings and having our own vehicle for the twelve days we are roaming around the Gulf Coast. The trip continues to get easier and easier, so today I thought I would share a few of our favorite tips for taking a family road trip.

I am sure it is no surprise that my number one tip is to make a list and check it twice. I have a ridiculously bad memory so I rely heavily on lists. And forgetting to do something or to bring something can definitely put a damper on the trip. I have offered a travel checklist in my Etsy shop for years, and recently updated the printable to a fillable and savable version. Being able to type in my list and save the contents to reuse is so convenient. And I really love that I can store it online and access it on my tablet/phone anytime.

The list is broken down into categories that keep track of all of the tasks we need to do to prep the house and plan for the trip (put our mail on hold, put together instructions for the housesitter, take the car in for an oil change, etc…) and also has packing categories. The categories include Clothing, Toiletries, Accessories, Technology, Carry-On Bag and two sections titled Miscellaneous, which I use for our snacks and meals and also our beach bag. I put together the list to include the entire family and just add a ( 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 ) after the items that apply to everyone. And because I can save it and use it for different occasions, it works well for both flying and automobile trips.

A minimum of two of our trip days is spent in the car because we drive straight through each way. The better I can be about packing snacks and activities, the fewer stops we have to make and the more relaxed the trip is in general. I try to bring enough food to feed our family of five for dinner, breakfast, and snacks in-between. Anything that we don’t eat during the drive just transfers into our beach bag and cooler when we arrive in Florida.

For our dry foods, I use a latched and lidded bin and fill it with snack size bags of popcorn, pretzels, seeds, crackers, granola bars and fruit pouches.

I found reusable food containers at the dollar store and they couldn’t be more perfect for organizing the contents inside of our cooler. We start by portioning out veggies, fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks, dips, and sandwiches/wraps.

We find that wraps keep well and are a great size to fit two per person inside of one container. We make them right before we leave; wrapping them up in deli paper and marking them with washi tape. #professionalsandwichartists

The cooler is always placed in the far back seat next to one of the boys and they are the ones responsible for grabbing the items and handing them out. In the past, it would become a slushy mess as the ice melted and the contents were rummaged. The small bins protect the contents so nothing becomes soggy or squooshed, and this time I decided to use freezer bags to divide up the ice. That one small idea was AMAZING and completely changed how we will forever pack our cooler.

All of our beverages are stored at the bottom of the cooler, as well as the smaller container of snacks. Once the lid was added, I stacked the remaining lidded food bins.

A ten-pound bag of ice fit nicely into 5 gallon-sized freezer bags. My ultimate goal was to keep the cooler cold but dry, and I figured that when the ice melted, it would be easy to change it out at a gas station by just removing and refilling the bags. So I added three of the bags on each side of the stack of bins…

And the final two bags on top.

This truly couldn’t have worked out any better! We used this method throughout the entire trip and everything stayed wonderfully cold and there was never a mess inside of the cooler. In the past when one thing was pulled out of the cooler, the ice would cave in and things couldn’t be put back easily and digging through the ice was hard on the hands. Who knew simple ice packs would be so exciting?! I seriously was giddy over this light bulb moment.

When we arrive back home after our trip, we wash out all of the bags and bins and keep them stored inside of the cooler until next time.

The majority of the items we eat are basic finger foods, but there are a few things that require utensils. Those were all placed inside of a lightweight bin along with wipes for hands and the car.

I had a leftover stack of party treat bags and they worked really great for corralling the utensils and straws.

Awhile back I realized that craft cases work beautifully for assembling a good first aid kit. I stocked ours with bandages, cleanser, cotton pads, a thermometer, pain reliever/fever reducers, vitamins, and medications. With three boys and a clumsy mom, this is always a helpful kit to keep on hand and was used a few times while we were away.

And we always have a bin filled with change and small bills in the center console of the car to prepare for any road tolls.

We each pack a small backpack or weekender bag for clothing and a second small tote for personal items and travel activities.

Each boy brings a grade appropriate workbook, a reading book and a journal, along with fine tip markers for writing and coloring. They also use a hard-sided pencil box to hold their headphones and charging cords for their tablets/phones. A few small travel games round out the contents of their drawstring backpacks.

Every bit of space matters, and we have been able to reduce the bulk of our sleeping linens by using standard-sized throw blankets and 14×20″ pillow inserts. The smaller pillows work just as well as standard sizes, but take up about half of the space in each seat. And when we get back home, they are easily vacuum sealed and stored inside of a suitcase until our next adventure.

If you have younger kiddos, I have found these inexpensive trays from IKEA to be huge car trip sanity savers. They work great for meals and small activities, are easy to clean, and fit under most seats. Another road trip helper for littles are these free activity printables I created a few years ago.

download road trip activity printables FREE here

These are just a few of the ways we prep, make room in our car, drive long distances with content kids, organize our snacks and meals, and stay cozy along the way! I wish I could say that our entire trip went off without a hitch, but it just wouldn’t be a Jones family vacation without a few hiccups, adventures and stories to tell. All the organizing in the world doesn’t prevent you from unknowingly filling up the car with bad gas (and then breaking down for a full day because of it), but just imagine the jokes a car full of boys made out of that experience… Ha!


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