Road trip game-changer: the hotel suitcase.

A cross-country road trip with four small children is no small feat. I used to say, “it’s so hard!” But, the more I harness each experience as an opportunity to improve, the hardness just melts away.

Each little “problem” that makes ________ (fill in the blank) hard 9 times out of 10, has a real solution.

Here’s my number one road trip game-changer: the hotel suitcase.

Making a 2-3 day road trip means: we will be stopping at a hotel overnight once or twice even. The last thing I want to do when I make that stop is unload the whole van.

You’ve probably put in a long day 8, 10, or 12 hours worth of driving. You want to get out, eat, stretch, walk around, settle into a room. Or, if the day hasn’t gone as planned…it’s 1am and you’re just beat. Half glad you made it and the other half…barely awake.

Pack a small carry-on bag that has your hotel essentials, leave the rest packed. 

Here’s my hotel suitcase for a family of 6. Rather than unpacking 6 people’s individual suitcases, just grab one that you’re all packed in.

Here’s a closer look and I’ll explain the plastic bag system.

I explained the plastic bag system in my blog post Kids Vacation Clothes, but I’ll touch on it again.

I use a plastic grocery bag and fill it with one complete outfit for each kid, for each day. I fold the outfit pieces into one and stack them vertically.

DAY 1:

Kid #1: Shorts, shirt, diaper and socks

Kid #2: Romper, panties

Kid #3: Pants, t-shirt, panties, socks

Kid #4: Shorts, shirt, panties

All of this is in one grocery sack. I fold vertical so I can see it and pull it out like a file in a filing cabinet. It doesn’t disturb the other items to fold vertical and is most visible. Same for Day 2.


Simply, one pair of pjs per kid, a diaper for baby brother folded into his pjs and a pull-up for little sister, folded into hers.

I tuck a ziplock with toothbrushes into the PAJAMAS bag.


When the kids get dressed, it leaves an empty plastic bag. Use that now for the laundry. Same with the pjs.

The process sounds like: 

The dirty road trip clothes go into the bag the pjs were in when everyone gets ready for bed. It goes right back into the suitcase in the spot the pjs were previously.
When the pjs come off in the morning, they go right into the bag Day 1 clothes were in. Day 1 clothes go on. At the end of that day, the pjs come out of the bag, get put on and Day 1 dirty clothes go there.

When the morning comes, pjs go into Day 2 clothes bag and Day 2 clothes get put on.

Do you see how simple this is? I love doing this and it makes it easy for me and saves us time since we plan on being in and out quickly.

A few extra tips for light packing: 

Same shoes: I have the kids use the same pair of shoes from the start of the road trip until the finish.

Slip on shoes: I much prefer shoes that can be slipped on and off. As soon as I get comfy and have slipped my shoes off, we will be stopping for a little one that has to go potty and I’ll be rushing to slip my shoes back on. Right? 

No sock policy: Also, no matter how much I try, if somebody is wearing tennis shoes, dirty socks will come off and be scattered all over my van and searching for socks at every stop will get old.

Reuse: For myself, I usually reuse an article of clothes. For example: I’m wearing jeans on the start of the trip. I’ll wear them tomorrow, so my Day 1 looks like- an extra shirt and clean panties. Done! 

For us, a road trip hotel stop isn’t a vacation, it’s just a little pit stop for rest. I typically even wash my hair before we go and the hotel “pit stop” shower doesn’t mean completely redoing my hair style. I even keep my makeup bag in my personal tote at my seat and do makeup once we get on the road. Especially helpful if you’re in a hurry! 

So, here you have it: my number one road trip game-changer. Pack all in one suitcase for your road trip overnight stops.

What other problems are you solving to make family trips memorable and less stressful? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear. 

Click here to see my full post on Kids Vacation Clothes

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