Is there any easy way to pack for a trip of more than a night or two with a kid, or even better, two kids? In my experience(s), the answer is a resounding NO! Whether it be just one child, as it was for three years, or two, as it’s been for two months, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle trying to get the car ready to roll.
Our car is a compact SUV with ample room for storage in the back and behind the driver and passenger seats. Honestly, there is practically no place in the car I won’t try to store or stash something for the road trip ahead. There are layers upon layers of items in the way back but there is an art, at least for me.
If you’re familiar with geology and metamorphic rocks, chances are you’re a good car packer. Why metamorphic? Simple, these rocks are constantly transformed by temperature and pressure from layers above it/them. Basically, everything on the bottom had better be stable otherwise your rectangular duffel bag (or mine in this case) will wind up looking like a rectangular pancake after a few hours on the road. Everything you pack is basically a metamorphic rock.
Here’s my artistic interpretation of how to pack a car:
The bottom layer, or inner core for you geology junkies, ranges from a Pack ‘n Play to the bag of clothes I packed for myself (which usually gets flattened) to Nolan’s little cot to a box of diapers if we had to stop to get some, as we did on our most recent excursion. Most of the time, the majority of this layer will remain intact. Except for my bag, but who really cares, it’s got two pairs of shorts, a few pairs (maybe) of underwear, socks, t-shirts, maybe a pair of jeans, toothpaste (not necessarily a toothbrush), deodorant, a pair of sneakers, and maybe a polo and/or pair of jeans.
The second layer — the outer core — contains such items as the kids’ bags packed with all their tiny human clothes and a folded up stroller. This layer remains (most of the time) one of the few constants in packing a car.
On top of that we have the third layer, the mantle, and this is where you ideally want to put the things you may need should one (or both) kids start screaming and/or you need to stop at a rest area. Maybe a lunchbox for the kids. Oh, and the Wifester’s stuff, so it maintains it’s shape (not her request, rather my decision). Oh, and the breast pump + bag combo, we CANNOT forget that liquid gold-producing contraption. The beach bag also goes here but can be used in the lower crust since it’s towels that will easily change into the shape of anything you place on top not to mention adding a nice soft layer for fragile items.
Once you’ve loaded the car with the “necessities,” it’s time to throw in the (mostly) random crap you forgot to pack and are scrambling to get together since you’ve already strapped the kids in the car and convinced your wife that everything is packed and you did not forget anything. This is what’s known as the crust — or the “oh crap” — layer. Stray diapers, wipes, the kids beach pail, a pair of flip-flops for the beach, a backpack with things you might “need” but will never even take out of the car, water bottles, and snacks.
Anything you can’t fit in the trunk-area, just throw it behind your seat. Also, make sure a baggy of snacks is readily available up front, a stash that will be for bribery or for us to secretly snack on while the kid(s) stare out the window, cry, sing to themselves, and/or ask you 1,273 questions.
Oh, and if you’re going somewhere formal, the garment bag goes all the way on top, above even the crust, in the perfect spot to block your view out the rear view mirror. I’ll refer to it as the block layer.