A lot of things change when you become a parent: your sleep schedule, your after-work priorities, the food in your fridge. Another change? Whether you can just jump in a car. The days of grabbing your purse and going are on hiatus. In their place is a complicated system of making sure you have everything you and your kids need while you’re away from home, whether you’re heading to a sports game, to the dentist’s office or — gulp — on a long-distance road trip.
When you have a big family, it seems like the list of things you need in order to be prepared is constantly growing. To help, we talked to moms with more than three kids about how they handle packing the car for their big families for every kind of trip.
1. Be prepared for messes
Kids are great, but they also tend to make a heck of a mess. Having supplies to deal with the unexpected mess is crucial. “I always make sure I have paper towels, wet wipes, the portable potty chair and a change of clothes for the ones who sometimes get carsick,” says Megan, 36.
2. Get clever about organizing
If you’ve got a big family, your car may need to go beyond a traditional organizing system. “I use laundry baskets to keep the ‘extras’ contained,” says Rebecca, 33.
If it’s more than just the extras that are turning your car into chaos, consider forgoing suitcases altogether. “I have four kids, and we go to Colorado for at least a month every summer. I use big plastic bins instead of suitcases,” says Kate, 40. “They stack nicely in the back of my minivan and can hold a ton more stuff.”
3. Use one large suitcase for everyone’s clothes
“I used to have a mishmash of suitcases and bags — whatever we could find — when we’d go on vacation, and it would require a whole lot of finagling. Now I have one huge suitcase that fits nicely, and more importantly flatly, into the back of our Honda CR-V, making it easy to stack other things on top,” says Jennifer, 41.
4. Prep an “emergency” stash for peace of mind
“Under the seats, I stash paper towels, grocery bags, Ziplocs (these can be for throw-up or for containing smelly messes like diapers), a nice picnic blanket, extra blankets for when the kids get cold and a small potty with diapers that I stick in to catch the mess and a roll of toilet paper,” says Susan, 37.
5. Store essentials in the car
There’s nothing worse than forgetting something you absolutely need, like a stroller — but if it’s always in the car, you can never forget it. “My trunk always has our stroller and infant carrier,” Falin, 29, says. “And then depending on the day/activity, we bring stuff accordingly.”
6. Pack for surprise activities
If you take a lot of road trips as a family, keep in mind what the kids are always happy to do. “I always bring a gym bag with swimsuits, goggles, flip-flops and flotation devices,” Susan adds. “Many times we stop at a hotel with a pool, and it’s so nice to be able to say yes!”
7. Make kids as comfortable as possible
Cars aren’t necessarily designed with little ones in mind, so making changes to keep them cozy can make a big difference in how long they’re willing to go along for a ride. “My forward-facing kids all have a step stool so they don’t get uncomfortable in the car with their legs dangling,” Susan says.
This post is sponsored by Honda.