For many of us, the holidays often bring road trips of varying lengths and the probability of living out of a suitcase for several days. Now that we have two children to pack for, not to mention ourselves, it can easily seem like we've packed everything AND the kitchen sink. While I'm nowhere near perfecting how to pack for 4 while using the least space possible, I have learned a few tricks in recent months. After all, the simple fact of the matter is: the more you take, the more you have to keep up with and in turn, the more likely you are to leave something behind.
1 - If you're staying somewhere with a washer and dryer, use it (if the host doesn't mind, of course). Pack only enough for about 2 days and don't be afraid to wash your clothes while you're there. This can go a very long way in managing the volume of things you pack. I've found that taking a pair of jeans and a pair of khakis or similar type pants is usually enough to get me through a 4-7 day stay somewhere. Unless you get pooed on (for those of us with kids under 12 months, this is a very feasible possibility), chances are those pants will remain quite clean throughout the entirety of your visit.
2 - Take as many consumable products as possible. What I mean here is - take bags of goldfish, cereal, cheese sticks, crackers... you get the idea. Don't take much that requires tupperwares or coolers. This will make packing easier and will allow more space in the car. Sure, if you have small children, you probably do need to take a cooler to store their milk or whatever in, but you might be taking a small cooler rather than one that takes up 1/2 your trunk space.
3 - Toys... oh, the toys... how they seem to multiply when you're in the car! We almost always tend to over-pack in this area, but over the weekend, we took a day trip just a few hours away to see my grandparents, uncles, and aunts. I experimented with taking only the kiddos' personalized blankets and their bears. You know what? They didn't need anything else! There was enough going on that they were completely content without their insane volume of toys. Sure, if you're going on more than just a day trip, you'll need more, but you probably need less than you think.
4 - Diaper bags are bulky and, in my mind, unnecessary once your children reach a certain age. Once my kids reach about 6 months, I stop carrying a diaper bag. If it can't fit in my purse (a mid-size one), we don't need it. I can fit a sippy cup, a bottle, a very small toy or two, 2 diapers and wipes in my purse while still having room for my planner/wallet, some lip balm, and keys. Yes, the purse is crowded, but I have what I need in a very small space.
5- Pillows, blankets and the like. It's amazing how much space these things can take up! My rule of thumb is one pillow per person over 5. If you're under 5, you probably don't need it. We pack blankets for the kids and that's it. If we get cold in the car, we turn up the heat.
6 - Manage your trash as you go. On our next trip, we will keep a small handfull of plastic bags in the car to use as our trash bin. Each time we stop or as necessary, we will toss the bag. We drink a lot of soda and such on our trips (we usually travel at night for long trips, so this is practically a staple), and this creates a lot of rubbish. Toss it. I hate traveling in a cluttered, messy car.
7 - When you arrive at your destination, take as little in as possible. Do you really need to bring all that junk in?! Doubtful. We tend to leave snacks, sodas, books, cds, etc. in the car. The less you bring in, the less you are likely to forget.
8 - Multimedia can be a huge blessing to have on a trip, but my tendency is to overpack in that department as well. This year for our trip to Michigan, I will take my iPod, one book on CD (to listen to while I'm driving) and my journal. We will take our cameras. Daniel may take his laptop. Daniel will probably also take a book on CD. For the kids, we'll pack a small pile of books and some DVDs to watch during our stay (I often try to put 2-3 dvds/case just to minimize the space they take up). This should be more than enough.
Those are my travel tips. If you have any, please feel free to add them. Just remember, you rarely need 1/2 of what you pack, so just try to think through the necessities, and pack only those. :)