So how do we get 10 people and all their clothes, food, trip info, and amusement for a three week adventure into one full size van? Well, I’m certainly not going to give away all our tricks (because you probably don’t want to know, lol) but there are things we’ve found out along the way about how to pack more efficiently. It helps that we’ve some pretty amazing packers who fill every nook and cranny with stuff (and then can find what we need without unpacking every last thing), but I think I can share a few things that could be used with (almost) any vehicle.
#1 Ditch the suitcases. Really! They’re terrible space hogs and don’t fit very neatly into most cargo spaces. Mostly we pack in boxes, since they stack nicely, but for the little spaces duffle bags are nice. What boxes do we use? Paper boxes, mostly (since we have access to them) but any kind of efficient, easy-to-get-ahold-of cardboard box should work (try wholesale clubs; they usually offer free empty boxes to shoppers).
#2 Ditch the boxes. I just said we packed in boxes, right? Well, I’m not talking about that kind of box. Food is often packaged in boxes with a fair amount of wasted space. Take macaroni and cheese as an example: open up the box, and there’s a couple inches of air between the macaroni and the top of the box, right? So if you pour all that macaroni and cheese into a bag (say, a sandwich bag or a bag that once held bread) you can save yourself all that extra air space. Other products – like most breakfast cereal – have bags inside the boxes, saving you the trouble of pouring the contents into another container. (You can put oatmeal in a Zip-loc bag, or many small Zip-locs, even spicing them up like I suggest here!) Maybe it’s not a lot of difference for one box of macaroni or corn flakes, but when you’re packing for 10 people for 3 weeks, that’s a lot of saved space. We ditch the boxes on all kinds of foods, including crackers, cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta (including spaghetti – I recommend breaking the spaghetti in half first), and granola bars (do you know how many granola bars you can stuff into the nooks and crannies in a box between other things?)
#3 Don’t roll the sleeping bags. I think we gave that up after one night of camping. Trying to get those sleeping bags rolled in such a fashion that they fit in those tiny stuff bags is no fun, especially if you’re in a hurry. Not to mention that the rolls aren’t square and therefore don’t pack very compactly in the vehicle. Over the years we’ve done different things depending on the vehicle and space restraints, but generally we lay them flat or fold them in half widthwise and place them on top of the shelving unit in the van. Of course, you won’t want to try this if you’re out on a backpacking trip 🙂
#4 Make a custom shelving unit for the back of your vehicle. I’ve seen these made for everything from compact cars to full-size vans. The basic idea is that you want shelves for your gear so you can pull out whatever you want without having to unload the entire back of the vehicle (or be screaming, “Where’s I put…!!!”) It doesn’t necessarily save space, but it certainly is more efficient, especially on long trips.
#5 If the boxes won’t last the trip, pack in plastic containers. After having yet another book box collapse half way through the trip (and with library books in danger of falling out the door – again), we stopped at Walmart and purchased a small plastic laundry basket. Nine years and counting! Same with the box of toys, although I think we’re on our second one of those.
#6 If you can purchase it along the way, consider not packing it. I don’t recommend this for things like clothing, but some food items are easy to pick up along the way (we can get away with only one cooler since we buy things like milk and hot dogs along the way – and milk probably wouldn’t last three weeks anyway). We also purchase sandwich bread and any other items we run out of (usually crackers).
#7 Roll the clothes. How many years have mothers told their children to roll their clothes while packing? Too many to count, but it does save space (especially if you don’t mind looking unironed – I suppose the mule deer won’t mind).
#8 Use e-maps and e-books. If you take a tablet or other electronic device, you could use e-maps and e-books instead of traditional maps and paper books for road travel. I wouldn’t try that on the trail, though.
#9 Stuff stuff. If you have something large and bulky you simply have to take, try stuffing other items inside it. For example, how much stuff can you cram into a backpack until you are ready to use it? How about some more daypacks, the first aid kit, bear spray, and extra water bottles?
#10 Buy a Back Seat Organizer. These aren’t expensive (for a very minimal one, you might be able to pick one up for around $5). They can hold all the necessities you need while driving. Ours has pens, pencils, hand cleaner, sunglasses, Tums (for the kids when they feel a little carsick), cough drops, hand lotion, a screw driver (for some reason unknown to me), a small sewing kit, and small games that the children like to play (but that would get crushed or lose pieces if they were in the regular toy box under the kids feet). After over 10 years with a backseat organizer we’d picked up at Walmart (or was it Aldi?), we bought a new one just before our last trip – and it worked great! I love the big zipper pocket. Check it out here (affiliate link).
So, what do you do to pack more efficiently?
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