Family Packing Hacks for Camping and Road Tripping

People often ask me how I fit everything into the car for camping road trips, so I decided to move away from haikus for a day and provide some tips and videos. Our recent trip had six people (five teens and me) and a dog, and yes, we did tent camping and cycling, as well as paddle boarding with our own paddle board!

First, we have an 8-passenger Honda Pilot, my favorite car ever. It has so many hidden spaces within to fit things like bread and a million cup holders. On top, we bought the largest version of Yakima’s cargo toppers. We would never be able to fit everything otherwise. And for this recent trip, rather than having a giant hard-sided cooler take up an entire seat, I bought a soft-sided cooler from Costco to fit in the middle row, on the floor.

 I also have a very strict packing list for each person and allow duffel bags only, plus one small backpack or personal bag.

That is truly the only way you can fit six bags, a camp stove, a camp bag, and a tent behind the back row of a Pilot.

Let’s talk about the camp bag. Many people use bins, but that would never fit if I want all three rows available for seating. These IKEA bags are indispensable. You can easily move the bag into different shapes, and it holds all you’ll need for cooking for a weekend or two weeks.

Cooking. Freeze-dried food and oatmeal is the way to go for at least half your meals, especially on a long road trip. They’re compact and can fit into a small canvas bag, with tea and coffee, that goes into the topper.

Buy the right brands: either Mountain House or Backpackers’ Pantry. My picky eaters refuse any other kind!

Now, the topper. Camping chairs are a necessary luxury. I make two of six be these tiny REI backpacking chairs. They’re pricey, but just like everything that’s pricey, they’re worth their weight in gold. We even brought them in our carryon luggage to Spain for a summer and used them every day!

In addition to these chairs, we have four “luxury” camping chairs, an inflatable paddle board, six sleeping pads, and six sleeping bags!

If you buy backpacking pads and bags, you could make this work!

Now my favorite part: bikes. I finally sucked it up and bought a five-bike rack. Then, if six of us go somewhere, we only have to rent one bike which can fit in the back of the car, still allowing six people to fit.

Ok, if I’ve held your attention so far, you either think I’m crazy or a genius for trying to cram all this into a car.

The equipment is expensive and some needs updating each year, but to me, the glory of being outdoors with family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

And you can get creative with your other meals. Did you know that you can fit seven hard-boiled eggs or sixteen uncooked eggs in a Nalgene?

We’ve cooked everything from fajitas to steak to quesadillas on our stove!

And everything fits. Even the dog.

Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.