Pack Up and Hit the Road

Once upon a time, our family spent hours packing up our car for a tent camping trip. There was stuff in every nook and cranny of the vehicle, and more stuff was lashed to the roof. We looked like the Clampetts as they loaded up their jalopy to head to Beverly Hills. When we stopped for groceries, I realized I had forgotten one very important item: my purse!

Over the years since that catastrophe, we have perfected our packing and unpacking routines. Here are my top five tips for packing up and hitting the road:

1. Make a Master Packing List

Create a master list of all the items you may need for an RV vacation. While many of these items can permanently stay in the RV, some items need to be periodically replenished or have to be loaded each time. Use your master packing list to double-check your RV before each trip. You can find our packing list here: Travels with Birdy Hit-the-Road List. All of these items don’t go with us on every trip, but I want my master list to have everything we might need.

At the end of the camping season, you will need to clear any items out of the RV that you don’t want to store in it over the winter. The master packing list is useful in the spring when you reload the RV for a new camping season.

Hit the Road20140606-01 (1)2. Make a Separate Packing List for the Kids

“Hey Mom, you forgot my belt. Hey Dad, I can’t find my charger.” After hearing statements like these from my kids (and being blamed for the forgotten items), I realized I needed to put my kids in charge of their own stuff, so I created a separate packing list for them. Making children accountable for their items teaches them responsibility.

You can make the complexity of the packing list match your children’s ages. For younger children, you might create a page of photos or clip art images of the items they are responsible for. For example, you might show a ball, goggles, and books…some simple items the children can easily find and add to the packing pile. Since our boys are older, they are responsible for gathering almost everything they will take on a trip. They bring everything to our packing pile from their list, and I double-check it before we load our trailer.

3. Pack Everything; However, Don’t Pack Too Much

When heading out, it is a good idea to pack everything you might need. On past trips, we mistakenly assumed we could go to a store for anything we were lacking. We soon discovered we occasionally had trouble finding the necessary items on the road, and sometimes, there wasn’t any place to shop close to our campground. On our first trip, I think my husband spent more time driving back and forth to the store than he did at our campsite. Now, we pack plenty of the “can’t-live-without” items and replenish everything else on the road.

Despite my suggestion to pack everything, you also want to avoid packing too much. Be sure to consider the GVW (gross vehicle weight) of your rig and the towing capacity of your vehicle. When in doubt, find a truck scale to see if you are within your limits when the RV is fully loaded.

Your RV has limited space, and it is more comfortable if it is not packed to the gills. Be critical about which non-essential items you tote along. We stop and ask ourselves: Will we really use this, and will we use it enough to make it worth hauling?

4. Use Bins and Bags to Organize

Surviving in a small space for many days can be nerve-wracking for some of us. For me, cutting the clutter is essential to my sanity. Inside each of our cabinets, we use bins and bags to keep things organized. There’s a tub for office supplies, one for toiletries, one for medicines, et cetera.

Use bins that stack nicely, sort your items into sensible categories, and label the bins, as needed. I live by this motto: “There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Having meaningful storage solutions helps everyone in the family learn where things are and where they belong.

Hit the Road20150802-02

5. Find Routines to Make Unpacking More Pleasant

When we arrive home after a long trip, our family is usually reluctant to begin the chore of unpacking the RV. To make this less of a burden, don’t feel obligated to unpack everything as soon as you park. Pull out the essential items (such as groceries, toiletries, and pillows) and leave the rest for later. Once everyone is feeling refreshed, set up a family assembly line to move items from the RV to the house. I usually stay inside our trailer deciding what stays in and what goes out, while the rest of the family carries stuff in.

Unpacking the camper upon your return home is less stressful if you don’t have to haul in a pile of dirty laundry. As we head home from longer road trips, we find an RV park with good laundry facilities. I toss in several loads as we relax around the campground. Even though this is costlier than doing it at home, this money is well spent if it makes you feel better about unpacking.

Packing and unpacking are not the most glamorous part of your RV adventure; however, doing them well can make your trip more efficient and comfortable. I hope my five tips help your family the next time you pack up to hit the road!


Kerri Cox writes about her family and RV travel at You can also follow their adventures on Twitter (@travelwithbirdy) and Instagram (@travelswithbirdy).

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