A year ago, in July 2022 we packed up our whole house, brought what we needed in our Subaru Forrester and left on a yearlong trip around the country with our three young kids ages 4 and under. We wanted to take advantage of a work sabbatical and our kids being young enough that they are not yet in kindergarten to travel and experience new ways of living. We spent 4 ½ months in various cities and towns in California, 4 months in various cities in Texas, and an additional 2 months along the east coast before heading home.
We are currently towards the very end of our trip, having already made stops in New Hampshire, Maine, California (northern and southern), Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C, New York, and Massachusetts. We are staying in long-term Airbnb’s, with family, and a few hotels along the way.
Packing our Car
Everything we needed we packed with us in our Subaru Forester. We have an old Thule Box on the roof originally meant for skis and a bike rack on the back for the two kids’ bikes. That’s it. We fit everything along with three car seats, three kids, and two adults, and occasionally some room to see out the back.
All in all, we packed quite well. There are very few things that we have purchased along the way, but for the most part we had what we needed. Our purchases since we left fall into three main categories: kitchen items that the Airbnb’s along the way did not have, mattresses pads for better sleep, and a few kids’ toys and arts and crafts (mostly from birthdays and Christmas).
Below is a list of everything that we packed for our year long trip around the country. Further below the list are more details as to what we brought, why, whether or not those things were useful, and what we purchased and discarded during our travels.
If you have been on a long road trip, are interested in planning one, or have any questions at all I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment down below or connect with me on Instagram.
Travel Packing List
- 6 large duffle bags (1 for each person plus 1 winter clothes bag)
- 2 extra travel bags (empty, for weekend trips)
- backpacks for everyone
- 2 medicine bins (1 large, 1 small) (things like Tylenol, Motrin, Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc…)
- first aid kit for the car
- mini allen wrench set with screwdriver heads
- camera and extra lens
- computers, etc.
- 1 chef’s knife
- 1 paring knife
- 1 fabric packing cube with spices
- 4 water bottles, 1 sippy cup
- 2 travel mugs
- 2 family pictures for the fridge
- 1 plastic storage bin with kitchen dishes/accessories for food photography
- 3 backgrounds for food photography
- 3 cookbooks
- 2 pillows for the adults
- 4 pillow cases (adults and kids)
- 4 kids’ blankets (sent 1 home)
- 2 sets of weights (10lbs and 15lbs)
- 3 ukuleles
- 4 tennis rackets (sent home in March)
- 3 pairs of swimming goggles
- 2 kids bikes and 2 helmets
- Deck of cards (never used)
- double stroller
- travel crib
- diaper bag
- Lille baby carrier
- 2 teddy bears
- 3 stuffed animals
- 2 kids books
- sound machine (sent home)
- baby monitor (sent home)
- 1 small fabric packing container with arts and crafts
- 1 small fabric packing container with open ended toys
Purchased along the way
- 2 baking sheets
- 1 square baking dish
- 1 pie dish
- kitchen scale
- spring form pan (left this in San Diego)
- loaf pan (left this in San Diego)
- king sized mattress pad (purchased in San Diego, shipped from San Diego to Texas)
- travel crib mattress
- printer paper for arts and crafts
- kids’ books and activity workbooks
- kids metal drink cups
- toys for birthdays and Christmas
- kids’ clothes (a few things here and there to replace worn items + items in larger sizes set aside and sent by family)
- bike rack: for two kids’ bikes
- kids folding step stool
- travel snack cup for baby
- soccer ball (left in Texas)
- night lights (for kids to find their way to the bathroom at night)
Wish We Had, But Did Not Buy
- water filter (bought one in San Diego, but left it in San Diego)
- heavy duty blanket
Wish We Did Not Take:
- tennis rackets
- extra kids blanket
- crib sheet
- sound machine
- baby monitor
For kids’ clothes, I packed pretty much all the clothes that currently fit them. We do our best to keep to a minimal approach in our day-to-day life at home, so I didn’t need to significantly pair down what we brought for the kids. The one important thing that I did do with regards to kids’ clothes was to set aside two boxes of hand-me downs for our younger two boys in larger sizes.
Our youngest was nine months when we left. I brought 9T and 12T clothes for him. I set aside a box of 18T clothes with family so that if/when we needed, they could bring or ship the box. Our middle child was 2 ½ when we left. I brought only sized 2T clothes for him, and packed a box of 3T clothes also to be shipped/brought with family during the year.
For the kitchen, I packed two kitchen knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife. We cook ALL the time, and we find it so important to have good, high quality, sharp knives. I knew we could not rely on the knives at each Airbnb, so I brought our own. At home we use only three knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. I assumed the bread knives at the Airbnb’s would be fine, so I did not bring a bread knife.
We use a chef’s knife for essentially everything we do in the kitchen. We have a Henkel 6-inch Wusthof Classic knife, which we received as a gift for our wedding. It’s now 10 years old, gets ample daily use and is in excellent condition.
I also brought a paring knife, only because I like to peel apples with a paring knife, and I love to make apple desserts. I haven’t found a peeler that I really like, so I brought the paring knife.
For the kitchen, I also packed all of our spices (tossing any old or expired ones before we left). Spices are some of the most expensive items in a grocery store by weight and it would be very costly to replace them every time we moved to a new Airbnb. So, I packed a small packing cube full of various spices which we take from place to place.
Kids Toys, Books, and Art Supplies, etc.
I packed a small fabric packing container with a few open-ended kitchen toys: plates, bowls, cups, and just a few small things for our initial plane ride to California. I also packed a small fabric packing cube with basic art supplies: two boxes of crayons, washable paint and paint brushes, colored pencils, colored tape, paint sticks, glue, scissors, stickers, etc.
I brought only two kids’ books, but we have purchased several along the way. I buy a few every time we have a long car ride and a move to a new place for each of the kids to read in the car. However, we also heavily use the local libraries. The kids take out new books every week at the local library. One of the first things we do when we get to a new place is to get a library card, using our Airbnb booking confirmation or mail delivered by USPS as proof of address.
Each child has their own blanket and additional stuffed animal. The older two boys also have their own teddy bears, backpacks, and fun pillow cases. I wanted to be able to personalize their bedrooms (and ours as well), so I packed pillow cases for everyone, which has been a nice touch to make us feel “at home”.
We packed our double stroller which we have used the heck out of (and did before this year too), as well as a travel crib, baby backpack carrier and a diaper bag. We have the Lotus Travel crib, which our baby has successfully slept in this entire year. We bought it a few years ago when traveling through Europe when our oldest was a baby. When we left for this trip, we weren’t sure exactly what we would do for baby sleeping arrangements. We thought we might buy a second-hand crib along the way, or see what was supplied at the Airbnbs. Either way we had a travel crib as backup.
The Lotus Travel Crib has been such a huge success that we never had to figure out finding a full-sized crib. We purchased an additional mattress pad (Milliard Tri-Fold Pack N’ Play Mattress – Plus Free Bonus Carry Case) for the crib that packs up nicely, and fits the crib perfectly. I would not have bought this for a younger baby for safety reasons, but it worked well for our almost 1 year old.
Two Critical Items
Two critical items that we brought were two pillows one for each of the adults and two sets of weights. We use these daily and I’m so glad that we packed them. I am very picky when it comes to pillows and sleep, so I packed one pillow for each of the two of us. Our kids are less picky with pillows and often don’t even use them.
We also packed a set of weights for each of use (10lbs for me and 15lbs for Sebastian) that we use almost every day for workouts at home. Fitting in workouts and runs most days has kept us feeling healthy and fit and has been a great way to fit in exercise “on the road”.
Things we Purchased Along the Way
Most of the Airbnbs we stayed at were missing some key kitchen items needed for a long-term stay. The most useful items that we purchased were two baking sheets. We use these all the time, especially for homemade granola and grandma pie pizza. Baking sheets have either not supplied by the Airbnbs, or have been in poor condition.
One of the most important purchases was a king-sized mattress pad for our bed. The beds at the Airbnb’s are mostly very firm, which is I imagine is because the majority of people prefer a firm bed (they probably last longer too), but I have a very hard time sleeping on a firm mattress. Buying a mattress pad (on Labor Day sale) was very worth it. We even shipped it to Texas, where we’ve made use of the king size mattress pad on a queen-sized bed. Another trick if you want a soft bed while traveling is to layer extra duvets or comforters on top of the bed under the fitted sheet.
We bought various kids’ toys, clothes, and books throughout the year, replacing worn out clothes, and switching in new toys and books for birthdays and Christmas. Though in total we haven’t really purchased very many kids’ toys/books, etc at all.
We bought a bike rack, mostly intending to hold the two new bikes we were going to get for ourselves. But we never bought the adult bikes. However, the bike rack has been great for the two kids’ bikes, and hopefully we’ll get lots of use out of it down the road.
We bought a water filter in San Diego but ran out of room in the car and left it there when we drove to Texas. It’s something that I wish we had allocated space for in the car, because it would have been nice to use in Texas as well.
One thing I also wished we had space for in the car was a heavy blanket for our bed. Another surprise to me, was that most of the Airbnb’s did not have enough blankets, and the ones that they had were thin, not very warm nor weighted. I love to sleep in a cool room with a heavy blanket, and this has been hard to replicate on the road.
Winter Gear & Sending Items Home
When we left our house in the Northeast in the middle of the summer, I packed 1 large duffel bag of clothes for each person. I also packed one large duffle bag with winter gear: one winter jacket for each person, a couple extra thick sweaters, winter socks, hats and gloves. We have had some family visit us over the course of the year and so we were able to send back a few things that we either no longer needed, or never actually used. The biggest item that we sent back was our winter bag.
While we thought we might get a day or two of cold weather between Texas and the East Coast in March and April, we expected not to get too many really cold days, and we kept plenty of layers to bundle up if needed. I kept an extra thick sweater/fall jacket for each person.
We also had this nice shiny idea that we would play tennis as a family on the road, which never happened but that’s totally okay. We’ve been super active, but tennis just never made the cut… We sent back the 4 tennis rackets that we brought with visiting family, an extra kids blanket (we had 4, only needed 3), a full-sized crib sheet (only needed travel crib sheets, not full-sized), a sound machine, and a baby monitor all of which we never used.
Packing Success and Minimalism
Now that we are 8 months into our 11-month trip, I’ve found that we were really effective with our packing. We’ve purchased very few things along the way, and some of the things we purchased we never would have fit in the car (like the mattress pad). All in all, it’s been a huge success in terms of packing.
This whole experience has us thinking that when we get home there are so many things that we can get rid of. It has taught us that we really don’t need all that much, just a few high-quality items. We’d love to go through everything we packed away and stored when we left our home, and pair it down, eliminating the things that we do not need or use, embracing an even more minimalist approach. Minimalism is something that we aimed for before this year of traveling, though the trip itself has made it even clearer what we need and what we don’t need.