As a veteran of 15 summer vacations with kids, I believe the time has come to pass along some wisdom to the next generation of parents. Here is a 10-point guide to packing the car—a foolproof method devised over a decade and a half of some trial, plenty of error, but mostly profanity.
1. Let’s begin with a statement that’s super sexist. Are you ready to fire off a heated tweet that uses the word “mansplain”? Good, because here goes: Packing the trunk or hatch for a family vacation is generally the job of the dad. There is a reason for this. This reason is: Women are smart. For decades, they have slyly convinced their husbands that packing the vehicle is a rite of manly passage. This is savvy on their part, because there is no scenario under which the person who loads the car does not begin the vacation drive sweating like a pig and loathing every member of the family.
2. Big items first. Then smaller items. Then the other big items you forgot to pack initially. Then start over. Actually, don’t worry too much about what you place in the car first. Doesn’t matter what it is: You’re going to need it about an hour and a half after you leave the driveway. Baby formula, a pair of sunglasses, a bowling ball—it makes no difference. Fate shall ordain a requirement for the item that is hardest to retrieve. Just accept it and steel yourself for the always harrowing Roadside Unpacking Ritual. Nothing says “relaxing vacation” like getting blown sideways by passing transport trucks.
3. A mathematician will tell you there is a finite amount of space within your trunk or hatch. Wrong, idiot. Sure, there may not be enough room for your duffle bag—but magically there is enough room if you remove each item of clothing from the bag and shove it, piece by piece, into any available crevice. A pair of socks here, a couple of T-shirts there. Then lean hard on the door until it latches shut. You’re not truly a dad until you pop open the hatch at a highway rest stop and sprint around the parking lot in pursuit of your underpants.
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4. We have two teenagers, so a key patch of Usable Packing Area (UPA) is the space between them in the backseat. I like to cram a lot of junk in there. The downside for them is that it’s uncomfortable and they hate it. The upside for me is those same two things.
5. There are some useful packing tricks I learned from my father. For instance, it helps to put your hands on your hips and stare into the trunk for, like, 10 minutes. Muttering about one’s wife and “her huge stupid suitcase” is also apparently quite helpful. And finally, this clever tip: If the kids are young enough, they may not be aware that not every child drives four hours to the cottage while sitting on a case of Molson Ex.
6. Do not allow children to participate in the packing of the car. Kids think an automobile’s interior space is like a Tardis. Turn your back for a moment and they’ll be strolling out to the car carrying a guitar case, a rock tumbler and three different sombreros.
7. On its face, a roof rack appears to provide additional space—but this never turns out to be true. Why? Because luggage expands to fill all available cargo room. This theory can be expressed as the equation x (a+b) = yz, where yz is me loudly asking whether we really need to bring this tote bag filled with 17 novels, a set of bocce balls and the kids’ elementary report cards.
8. Important: Unless you hear a clicking sound, the roof rack isn’t firmly closed. I learned this the hard way, as did the motorists who drove over our Cheetos.
9. There is a specific set of steps you should follow when telling a family member their stuff won’t fit. Step one: Don’t tell them. Wait until you get there, then find a way to blame them. You’re off the hook until you get home and they discover you stuffed their pouch of medication in the mudroom closet. My bad, Grandma.
10. There’s always more room. You may think the car is full, but it’s not. It’s not even close to being full. Can you hear your children complain about how full the car is? Then there’s still room in front of their mouths.
There, you’re done. Sweet mercy, you’re done! Good job, hero. Now close up that hatch and bask in your victory—until you discover that three new bags are waiting to be packed.