So, this handy packing advice isn't that well-timed, what with summer about to end and all...but I struck gold in the packing department and wanted to share the wealth.
Remember that really long trip we took? Yeah, that's the one. Packing was tricky.
1. There are a lot of us.
2. We were going to be gone for a long time.
3. We were going to hit a wide variety of temperatures...up to the 90s in New Mexico and down to the 50s in California.
4. We had to fit everything in the trunk of the van.
I decided early on to consolidate all of the kids' clothes into one big suitcase to save space. Emma complained a little about all the younger kids rummaging through her stuff to get to theirs and I realized she was right. No matter how nice and neat I folded and stacked or even rolled up their clothes and organized them all in the suitcase, they would all be constantly digging through to find what they need. Everything was going to end up as a giant swirling mass of messiness. No one would be able to find what they were looking for and I would slowly go crazy.
I had heard of the idea of using gallon-sized ziplock bags--putting one entire outfit in each bag. That was good in theory, but it wouldn't work for us. It didn't make sense to bring a whole new outfit for every day--the trip was too long and the weather too varied. We needed to mix and match and do laundry along the way. Then: inspiration.
Ziplock bags for every category of clothing. Girls' long-sleeves, girls' short-sleeves. Boys' shorts. Ben's pants. Emma's church clothes. Socks and underwear. Etc, etc...whatever fit comfortably into a gallon bag, or a 2.5 gallon bag for some of the older kids' stuff. Squeeze the air out when you close it and it's vacuum sealed! All the clothes for all five kids fit easily into one big suitcase. And when the kids had to rummage through it to find what they were after, no problem. Everything was still tidily in its bag. Organized. And that, friends, went a long way in making our odyssey a success.
Bonus: this was our essentials box that went accessibly under the backseat of the van. It proved valuable over and over again. A handful of trashbags (we had about 1 million grocery bags elsewhere), full container of wipes (great for sticky fingers), full-sized towel just in case (if someone puked, if we got wet in a rainstorm, whatever), paper towels, toilet paper, clorox wipes. Don't leave on a 5300 mile road trip without it.