Unpacking after a road trip with kids can be overwhelming, and downright dreadful. Honestly, I think the thought of all the work that goes into unpacking can keep us from traveling in the first place. Almost. Looking back on our year so far, we’ve logged a lot of travel miles with our kids, but only one of those numerous trips has been on the plane!
Consequently, I feel a lot better these days because I know exactly how to tackle the best of gear and luggage that ends up in our trusty Subaru. Maybe it’ll all change when we return from camping on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula (our next trip on the calendar) but when we got back from our quick trip last weekend to the Methow Valley, I thought we had a pretty good system and wanted to pass along our tips.
Unpacking After a Road Trip with Kids
Yes, it all starts with being organized in the first place. It’s personal as to what makes the most sense for you and your family (and depends on size!), but I like that we know where each person’s belongings are located. For most of our trips, each person has their own bag. then when we get home, each bag can go in it’s respective room, and get unpacked.
It also means we only pack what we need, and we plan outfits as best we can. I also bring clothing, particularly for the kids, that is easy to wash and quick drying, like their merino wool gear.
Do Laundry on the Trip.
If we stay at a rental (or some other accommodation with laundry facilities), I always take advantage of the washer/dryer, and do at least one load so that we can get ahead. It’s so satisfying to put clothes AWAY when we get home rather than filling up the hamper. For clothes that we don’t get to, I bring along a mesh laundry bag so that the dirty clothes are already separated from the clean clothes. My friend Karen from the blog, “Family Travels on a Budget sorts her family’s laundry into darks and whites, prepares (checks pockets, turns right-side out, etc.) all the clothes, and then places them in their luggage so it’s ready to go directly into the washer once they get home. And for even more inspiration, visit my fellow family travel blogger, Nicole from “Arrows Sent Forth”–she often does ALL the laundry before returning home.
Manage Trash Along the Way.
When we return home, we mostly just want to focus on putting things away, rather than cleaning out a messy car, so along the way, we do our best to throw away trash and tidy up at rest areas and other pit stops. I’ve also seen other travelers keep a cleaner car by using a mini-trash can or just having a garbage bag handy. My friend Kim over at “Stuffed Suitcase” has a great post on maintaining a clean and organized car for road trips.
Organize Food Beforehand.
Many of our road trips involve bringing a packed cooler and bag of food along so that we can cook at our destination (rental houses, cabins, etc.). Having that cooler and food bag organized (don’t just throw it all in there and hope for the best!) before heading home makes a huge difference when it’s time to unpack back at the house. If everything is neat and tidy, you most likely won’t have to worry about spills, items leaking, or smashed food. Instead, you can unload items from the cooler right into the fridge, and items from the food bag right into the pantry.
It feels SO good to know what you are going to have for your next meal, in most cases it’s dinner for us, when you return from a big (or small) trip! Whether it’s an easy frozen dinner like Lasagna from Trader Joe’s, a home cooked meal that we’ve frozen ourselves (our Mac & Cheese is the best), or just something quick that we can whip up (like our Beef Rice Mexicali, it’s best to have a plan. Leftovers work really well too, and yes, there’s always take-out, but usually by the end of a road trip, we’re tired of that sort of food, and also don’t want to spend more money!
Have a Plan & Get Your Mind Set!
Before we arrive back home, Slaed and I always have a chat about how to best tackle the unpacking. Usually I unload the kids and get them settled while Slaed unloads the car, and puts bags in the room that most of their contents belongs in.
…what about the kids?
Now that Bergen (almost 5 years) is older, he can actually help us! We have him deliver items, that aren’t too terribly heavy, to places around the house, and also have him put away the toys and books that he brought on the road trip. Georgia (18 months) is a little trickier, but the good thing about leaving the house and traveling for a few days is that the kids get excited about their toys again, and usually really want to play! Also if the timing is right, Georgia might even be due for a nap—that works out very well!
Eat that Frog.
I recently learned about this concept that originated from the following quote by Mark Twain, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” I take that to say, JUST GET IT OVER WITH! We don’t sit down, we don’t go through mail, we don’t check our email or catch up on our saved shows on the DVR…we just get right to the business of unpacking, and then it’s out of the way, and we can then really relax.
What’s your unpacking style? Do you tend to tackle it all at once, take it bit by bit, or “eat the frog”? More on packing for road trips here. You might also find our road trip packing list helpful!
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