Organized Traveling with Totes

Over the summer as I was packing for our family vacation, I thought about how my packing has improved over the years since we moved far away from our families.

I thought the ideas here may be helpful to some of you! :)

We drive a long distance every year to visit family and friends and usually stay a night or two at a hotel on the way there and back.  After arriving at the hotel, I used to stand at the back of our van and point out to my husband which suitcases and bags needed to come into the room and which ones needed to stay.  It was such a pain (literally for my hubby!) to lug all of that luggage into the room and back to the van the next morning.  And, it was a huge job for me to re-pack the van every time we stopped.

Finally, a great idea dawned on me.  And this summer that idea was improved upon by a suggestion from my friend.

When we visit our family, we generally stay with some for a few nights, then with others for a few more.  Sometimes, we visit another location for a few more nights.  Inevitably, we don’t wind up staying in the same place for more than a few nights.

So, instead of packing a suitcase or bag for each of my four children, my husband and myself, I now pack the entire family’s clothes together according to how many nights we are staying.  I also pack one toiletry bag for the whole family.

Here is how I do it:

  1. Count the total number of days you will be gone.  Put the clothes for the entire family on a table (or the floor).  You should see our living room when I’m packing for summer vacation!
  2. Decide how many outfits you will need for your first destination.  Separate that amount of clothes for each person into one pile.  That will give you an indication of how large of a bag or container (more on that in a minute!) you will need.
  3. Continue separating the clothes until all clothes are distributed for each destination.

I used to put all of the clothes in a large suitcase or bag until my friend gave me the best packing suggestion ever – use a tote!  They are sturdy, water/mess proof, stack well and are excellent laundry baskets for dirty clothes, and unused clean clothes.

Now, I just pack the family’s clothes for each destination in a tote.  You can adjust the size of the tote, just like you would a suitcase or bag.

We recently took a weekend vacation where we stayed at different places for two nights and three days.  I packed one tote for each location.  The toiletry bag comes with us everywhere.

Now when we stop at a hotel, I just tell my husband which tote to bring in.  When we stay for a few nights at a time, we still only need one tote.  It’s amazing how many clothes can fit (especially when packing summer clothes)!

I put the clean clothes in a dresser (if there is one) and we fill the tote with the dirty clothes as we wear them.  It’s great when we arrive home to take the tote to the laundry room.  No sorting through bags/suitcases for dirty and clean clothes all mixed together!

This is what the van looked like for a weekend away for six people (including food for snacks and lunches, a computer, cameras and two air mattresses):



  1. cynthia says

    NICE!!! Those are some great tips! I made a packing list, actually a few—one for winter trips with winter activities, one for the beach, one for camping. It’s a huge timesaver…I pull up the file…look it over and make addition and print. Thanks for the great tote idea.

  2. Heather says

    You have many good ideas, Ginny! Thank you for sharing!

    I came up with an idea that really works well for our family and thought someone else might benefit, too.

    While I still pack clothes in a suitcase/duffle bag for each person, each day’s clothes are separated into its own bag. As each of the kids are headed to the bathroom to change, all they do is grab a bag and go. This way, they have their pants/shirt/undies/socks/hair accessories together and we don’t end up with a polka-dot shirt with the plaid leggings! It saves time for my husband and I, too. No more digging for the sock that lost its mate!

    • Kerrie Jayne says

      I do that too! I always did it for my daughters when they visited family and marked the bag with the day so all they did was pull out the bag for the day and dress the little ones! Was perfect and like you say, no miss matched clothes when you or someone else has put the wrong things together :)

  3. Jody says

    We discovered this when we went to Disney World as a large family trip – 13 of us. We decided to pull a trailer for luggage so our cars would be less crowded for the 16+ hour drive time. That’s when we decided that totes would stack nicely in the trailer. Since then, it’s the way we pack for anything more than an overnight.

  4. Julie says

    I found you on Pinterest and I LOVE this idea! Those TOTES!!! Who would have thought? We don’t travel often but this coming April we will be heading to the beach for 6 days. We also have 6 people in our family and I do believe I will be stealing this idea for our trip! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Ashley says

    I LOVE packing in totes! I also bundle a days worth of clothes for each child in a grocery sack…each day i just pull one sack out of the tote and all children can be dressed quickly. Also, the grocery sacks come in handy while on a trip! I am glad I stumbled upon you blog!

  6. Samantha says

    I love tips for traveling like this! It seems like we are always stuffed to the gills any time we travel for more than a day or two at a time. Can I ask–what kind of van do you have that fits all 6 of you with this kind of cargo room? Trying desperately not to be green with envy! :-)

  7. Joanna says

    Several years ago I discovered an easy way to pack for my toddler girl who was extremely determined to pick out her clothes. When we were home it was not so much a concern , but when we traveled, it mattered more that the outfits stayed together-she might be a future fashion designer, but the world at large wasn’t ready for her particular brand of flair yet. I discovered gallon sized zip lock baggies! I put all the pieces of an outfit together in a baggie and sealed it up. Each day I would let her choose from the appropriate baggies then toss one in the diaper bag for a spare. It made packing so much easier. I found that if I used the gallon freezer bags they were sturdy enough for years of service as sisters came along. When I had more than one child to pack for, I put each child’s assortment of bagged clothes in a separate shopping or cloth drawstring laundry bag in the family suitcase. Wish I had found your tote idea sooner, we used a similar system with duffle bags, but totes would stack better. Thanks !

  8. Mindy says

    I love the tote idea,I have a family of five and my mini van looks like a blast zone on day two of our trip. I hate forgeting something and having duplicates when I get home. This will help in the prep for the trip as well . This helps my brain on so many levels. The baggie idea was good too.Thank you for sharing.

  9. Laura says

    I just came across your blog on facebook and love all of your ideas. Thank you so much!! This post has some great ideas as well as we do a lot of traveling to see family and have three kids (and one on the way). What a great idea with the totes! I was wondering…where did you find the striped baskets that you had pictured? Those would be great for my girls. Thanks again!

    • says

      You’re welcome, Laura. I’m glad you’ve found some helpful ideas here. I got the striped baskets at Walmart last year. They are WONDERFUL! They collapse flat when not in use and are made of a durable fabric. And the best part is – I think they were only 7 or 8 bucks! Not sure if they still sell them, but I highly recommend them if you can find them.

  10. Meghan says

    Love the way the bins fit so neatly in the back of the van. I will be trying this out come spring when we pack up for a month long trip. I have heard of the baggies too and planned to do that as well. They should fit nicely in the bins, possibly vertically for easy searching?
    I pack each child a small backpack for the ride with books and activities, clipboard and markers/crayons etc. If we are stopping anywhere for the night along the way, I pack pjs and a set of clothes in there as well. When we stop they bring in their bags and have everything they need for the night.

  11. Sheila says

    Have used the bin idea and it worked very well. When my kids were young I also had a “magic” bag. It contained car games, pictures, movies (to use with a portable DVD player), treats and snacks, small gifts, books, puzzle books, etc. Each child had a turn picking from the magic bag and playing with/sharing their “magic” items. Recently we did a weekend trip with our now older kids (16, 20 and 21) and they appreciated the visit from the “magic” bag again! :)

    • says

      To the above poster, we call that the Bag o’ Fun! I think I have just as much fun packing it as the girls do with opening it.

      This year, our Bag o’ Fun will include downloading some new books, movies and apps on the Kindle Fire eReader. Less to bring but every bit as much fun.

  12. Aimee says

    I just found your blog through pinterest and I’m convinced you are a genius! So far I’ve repinned this post and the medicine cabinet one. I will definitely be doing that one ASAP! If we ever get to take a vacation again (who knows when that might be) I’m definitely using the bin idea. Thanks a bunch!!

    • says

      Haha, Aimee! I don’t know about “genius”, but I’m glad you’re enjoying my tips. :) Thanks for the repin. I hope you get a vacation soon!

  13. says

    Aha! Brilliant! (I think I keep saying that for everything I see on your site! :) ) We’ll be taking an long-distance trip later this year, and I’m definitely going to incorporate these ideas. Thank you!

  14. Kasey says

    What a wonderful idea! I also have four children, and whenever we visit my husband’s parents it involves a 25 hour drive. Keeping the car organized is a huge task, but your method seems perfect for reigning in the mess! I will definitely try this on our next trip. Thank you for sharing such wonderful ideas…it’s my first visit to your blog and I will definitely be back!

  15. Yvonne says

    Thank you for sharing this, I will have to try this the next time we go away. It looks a lot better then use a lot of different suitcases. Plus it looks like it would be easier to found cloths to wear.

  16. Karen says

    This is a great idea! It makes me want to go somewhere! Or two or 3 places!!!! <3
    Actually this is a great IDEA I wish I would have known about before our trip to La Grande, Oregon. We stayed in a hotel on the way UP there and brought INTO the hotel ALL of our luggage (5 of us-including an infant) and then we packed ALL 5 luggage back into the car. Then on the way home we stayed at another hotel and had to PACK INTO THE HOTEL luggage for all 5 of us! CRAZY!
    The car wasn't the same as I had first packed it when we left for our trip. I am a very ORGANIZED person so this is going to help with our NEXT trip!

  17. Robin Nace says

    Since both sets of grandparents live a few hours from us we do quite a bit of weekend travelling. Sometimes last minute. I have a few things I keep pre-packed. Each of the children have a backpack with a travel toothbrush inside. For myself, I keep my toiletries and make-up kits stocked and ready to go. Then I just grab them and throw them in my bag. I don’t usually forget any of the “necessities” that way.

  18. says

    I am inspired! My minivan for one toddler and myself is often filled to the brim with disorganization, for even a short trip to see the grandparents overnight. Thanks for modelling such great practices and ideas!

  19. Marina St.Cyr says

    I am full of JOY. I am getting ready to leave TODAY!! Although our bags are packed for our family of 6, I will pull out some totes now. We have 4 stops on our 8 day vacation and it is a DRAG with 6 suitcases in a small room or two sorting through what you need for that day. Especially when 2 of our stops are for one night only. I can’t believe I haven’t though of this before. I did have 2 suitcases for each kid planned one for first half and one for 2nd so we could “drop off” the first as we will pass by home for 2nd part of our trip. Plus the back of the van will now look as beautiful as this pic!!

  20. Jen C says

    I have been packing in totes for awhile now but just pulled a tote for night #1 as we will be staying someplace different! Thanks for the tips!

  21. Kristine says

    Maybe I missed it but did you ever post/ show your family toiletry bag? I’ve been searching for some ideas for the family but just can’t figure it out. I’d love to see your system! Love the tote idea too!

  22. Ramona says

    We too have been packing in totes for family vacation. We usually stay in condos for our family of 5 so we also take food in totes. At least the food we are not sure we can get in our destination. We have a child that has food allergies so I always pack all of his food. And the totes stack so well on the hotel valet carts.

  23. Rebecca says

    Oh how I wish I would have looked into organizing for trips long ago. Thanks for the great idea! I am packing for NINE. ugghhh! 7 kids, two adults.

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