Family road trip: Packing for a month

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Summer camping setup 2021

An epic family road trip: A month of popup camping. One traveling family of four. Camping, adventuring, kayaking, romping, and wandering across five states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

How in the world do we prepare for all of that… and still have room in the car?

For some vagabonding souls, a month of family travel can seem pretty tame. For a lot of folks, though, especially parents, a solid month of traveling can seem like a terrifying prospect. We are writing this one week in to our big four-week Summer Family Road Trip, and we wanted to share a few things we did to prepare for our trip… and how things are going so far.

Learned

…To pack for a family popup camping road trip…
…How to still have room in the car and camper…
…Either we have it, we can get it, or we don’t need it…

Made

…Certain we could pack 2 inflatable kayaks…
…Room in the car for books and activities…
…Better systems so we can pack and unpack better…

The big idea

Jodie at Massacre Rocks, Southeast Idaho
Family road trip… side trip! Stopping at Massacre Rocks, Southeast Idaho, for a little Oregon Trail history break.

Like a lot of folks in the time of COVID, 2021 means it’s been nearly two years since we’ve seen many of our relatives. Anthony’s dad came to visit in May, and we went on a wee trip to Portland’s Columbia River Gorge area. For Jodie’s family, we worked out a meetup with them in Colorado.

And how better to get there? We figured, let’s take an epic family road trip… with our popup camper in tow!

As of when we’re writing this, we just finished up about a week in Idaho, including Boise, Twin Falls, and the Gem-State’s-hidden-treasure of Southeast Idaho, in particular the Bear Lake area. (Anthony’s actually writing this post from southwestern Wyoming, while the kids get soaked at a playground splash pad and Jodie takes care of a grocery run.)

Family road trip video

Packing the popup camper for a month of travel

Snapshot: What we packed and how we’re using it so far on our family road trip

Family road trip: Camp kitchen
Our combo table setup helps us use space well.

We try to keep a good balance of packing. However, we knew we had to be flexible and make sure we were prepared for a range of weather conditions and activity ideas.

Raining? Books and plenty of board games for the camper.

Long days on the road? A basket full of books, activities, and art supplies, plus smartphones full of family road trip playlists and kid-friendly podcasts (such as the fabulous Eleanor Amplified, which also bundles each of its four seasons into full-season “road trip edition” long episodes).

Near water? Bust out the two inflatable kayaks.

A week into our four-week road trip, below is a wee snapshot of what we packed and how we’re using our gear so far. We hope it gives you ideas, confidence, and inspiration for your own family road trip plans, whether you’re going for a few days, a few weeks, or more!

Eureka camp stove with 11-gal dedicated propane tank

Instead of using the camper’s on-board propane tank, we actually got a separate tank for our Eureka camp stove. The extra portability has come in really handy… and we definitely don’t have to worry about propane.

Best part? We don’t have to constantly replace those little green 1-pound propane bottles. They’re expensive, can be hard to come by during 2021, and run out too quickly. Larger tank equals peace of mind plus cheaper propane fills.

Breakfasts

As much as we love pancakes and sausages on a camping breakfast, that’s not something we wanted to do for a month.

Aster usually likes a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, and Connor prefers cereal, but we decided to different breakfasts that would be easier to manage at camp. Camping breakfasts for the kids are usually toast and fruit, maybe some scrambled eggs too. Jodie and Anthony typically breakfast on sautéed veggies and scrambled eggs.

Juice and water always available

Summer. Hills and mountains and mesas. High deserts. So far we’ve been doing well keeping everyone hydrated, hatted, and sunscreen. For the kids, we always keep some juice concentrate in the cooler. Water and juice are always on offer, and we all have water bottles so we can keep hydrated.

Tea and coffee

We roll with pourover coffees at camp. It’s easy for us to make our coffee in travel mugs, and we can extend our coffee supplies well. We also usually keep a few tea bags in the camper, such as green tea and peppermint tea, for when we want a wee tea fix. When stocking up on coffee, we also usually try to get a roast from a local company.

Lots and lots of watermelon and other fresh produce

Watermelon is this camping boy's happy place.
Watermelon is this camping boy’s happy place.

Fresh produce is a winner in so many ways. Strawberries, cherries, grapes, and watermelon are easy ways not only to fill bellies, but to keep hydration up. Plus, watermelon on a hot summer day is about as gratifying as summer noshing gets.

Along with fresh fruit, we stay stocked up on easy-snack veggies too, such as sweet bell peppers and baby carrots. They travel well and are so easy to work into snacks and meals.

Simple lunches and dinners

We usually try to bulk up on a good-sized breakfast, so we can keep high energy levels longer during the early part of the day. Since we also have lots of travel days, we also might eat lunch on the go. Or, if we’re packing lunch, we usually do a simple picnic-style lunch. It usually includes some combo of produce, dried fruit, beef jerky, cheese, pickles, bread, tinned fish, crackers, and a wee treat.

Dinner can be similar. We usually have a light dinner at camp, such as grilled corn and sausages, or maybe a bit of pasta with chicken and veggies. When getting meats for camp, we’ve been getting pre-cooked meats: It’s made prep much easier, and we have less worries about potential spoilage.

Activities at camp and on the road

Anthony knows that look. Aster's about to bag this game of Sleeping Queens.
Anthony knows that look. Aster’s about to bag this game of Sleeping Queens.

When it comes to thing to do while at camp or in the car going from place to place, we like to keep a range of activities for the kids:

  • Board games in the camper: chess, checkers, Dragonwood, Sleeping Queens, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Outfoxed are current favorites
  • Laser Tag: Great for evening get-your-energy-out romps around camp!
  • Journaling: The kids are getting more into creating their own journals and memories. Plus, the two of us make time to get down our memories too.
  • Reading: Jodie and Anthony have their e-readers, and the kids have an array of books.
  • Scooters: We usually take scooters camping for the kids, but we actually wound up not taking the scooters this time. A lot of the places we’re camping don’t have paved roads and paths, so we figured it’d be better to save the space. So far, it’s been fine not having them.
  • Working: This isn’t just a family vacation. We’re working too. Plus, we want to travel more, so we also saw this trip as an opportunity to figure out different ways we can work from the road. Sometimes we take some time at camp. Some days we roll in to a coffee shop and get a bunch done.
  • Music practice… without violins! Connor and Aster are both well over 1,000 days in a row of violin practice. But a hot summer is no place for violins. Whether in the car or the camper, it wouldn’t take long for summer heat to wreck our instruments. So we left the violins at home—and freed up space—by having road trip practice focus on note reading (from a handy book Jodie has) and some fun music games.

Activities away from camp

We choose our camping spots pretty deliberately. In southeast Idaho, Paris Springs Campground also had a short trail to a great spring. It was also not far from Bear Lake and from Minnetonka Cave, the largest known cave in Idaho.

In Wyoming, we marveled Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the monument rocks surrounding our high desert campsite at Firehole Canyon Campground. We spent a lot of time at camp—because, well, a view like this is something you want to spend a lot of time enjoying.

When this is the view, you can just spend the entire day at camp. Monument rocks galore at Wyoming's Firehole Canyon Campground, Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
When this is the view, you can just spend the entire day at camp. Monument rocks galore at Wyoming’s Firehole Canyon Campground, Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

When we pick a spot though, we definitely have activities in mind, especially so we can make the most out of our travel time, such as:

  • Hiking: We look for short, family friendly hikes, generally less than an hour’s drive from camp.
  • Kayaking: Flatwater paddles are our jam. At Idaho’s Bear Lake, for example, we brought one of our inflatable kayaks so we could get in some float time.
  • Sightseeing scenic drives: For us, the drive is part of the joy, especially when we get to see such different landscapes from western Oregon’s big forests. Roads such as US 20 through eastern Oregon, US 89 through northeastern Utah, and US 30 through southwestern Wyoming brought us eye-popping views of the stark beauty of the sagebrush hills, horizon-to-horizon plains and fields, and the spires and monuments of the region.

Power

Remote work? Now that's a mobile office with a view.
Remote work? Now that’s a mobile office with a view.

Camera batteries. Smartphones. Laptops (we’re working too, after all). And, above all, Jodie’s computerized prosthetic leg.

But how we are going to charge our gear?

For starters, while we could add some sort of power setup to the camper, we weren’t interested in trying to size a system and install equipment. So we figured out something else.

Our Jackery Explorer 300 Portable Power Station gives us amazing on-the-go charging. It’s about the size of a lunch box, and has a handle for easy carrying. We can take the Jackery into the camper for charging, or keep it in the back of the Outback. Plus, while we drive, we can plug the Jackery into the car’s power system, and charge up the charger.

This has been a simple, low-footprint way for us to know we have power and keep our devices charged.

Organizing

Ready to drive, film, write, and enjoy.
Ready to drive, film, write, and enjoy.

When you’re traveling for a month, stopping here and there, packing and unpacking, good systems are key to helping you keep things organized. Here are some things that are helping us:

  • 4 new Turkish towels: really big and absorbent, they can be used anything from towels to sarongs to blankets. Plus, they roll up really compact and are easy to store in a small basket.
  • Hanging wire shelves: One hanging shelf holds our games and our bag of swim suits; another holds drying dishes
  • Jacket hanger by the door: New for this trip, we hung two hooks from the ceiling next to the camper door. When we pop up the camper, we hang a wire rack on the hooks, and use it as a jacket hanger for our fleeces.
  • Kid clothes and effects: Packed in their backpacks. We’re working with the kids on understanding that they need to keep their space tidy. Clean clothes and other items stay in the pack unless they’re getting used. Dirty clothes go in a collapsible hamper on the counter.
  • Parent clothes and effects: We picked up a 6-pack of packing cubes. Jodie and Anthony pack their clothes in two large cubes. One medium cube holds some of Jodie’s other effects, and the other stores swimsuits. The two small cubes hold toiletries.
  • Field bag: Anthony’s Eagle Creek Wayfinder backpack is a multi-use bag. Tripod, snacks, computer, camera gear, you name it. If we need to have a field bag, it’s Anthony’s Eagle Creek Wayfinder backpack.
  • Camera and accessories have a dedicated bag, and our GoPros and accessories have their own case.
  • Collapsible mesh bin: One mesh bin in the camper holds all dirty laundry, from clothes to napkins. A second mesh bin is stored outside the camper, by the door, and holds our shoes.

Saving time, saving space, and making room for memories, experiences, and together time

Does our family have clutter and messes? Are there times where we struggle to find where we put something? Of course. But it doesn’t happen very often, and that’s the key.

By trying to be really conscious about what we pack and how we organize our gear, we typically can find what we need, pack up well, and not have to spend tons of time shifting gear or trying to reorganize. It inspires and empowers us to spend more time exploring where we are and enjoying each other’s company.

After all, working together as a family helps make a trip better. When we work as a team to organize the camper and our gear, we know we have what we need and can be confident we haven’t overpacked or underpacked. Instead of our stuff getting in the way of what we want to do, it helps us have better experiences.

The best part? We make room for the best things: Wonder. A sense of adventure. An intention to be mindful and appreciate the small things. We remember that with every day, every mile, and every moment, we are making room for the most important thing of all: Memories of an epic family road trip, that will last our and our kids’ lifetimes.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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