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What we were glad we brought, didn’t need, wish we had

Living life on the road as a family of six was a brand new concept to us. What do you pack? What kitchen gadgets are essential? How many shoes do you need? What about books and toys and camping gear?

Honestly, we packed a bit blindly. We’ve camped before, so we knew generally what types of things to bring along, but we’ve never lived everyday life on the road – cooking and laundering, playing and working – so that was all a big guess.

We, perhaps like you, are used to our big suburban house with plenty of storage space and the convenience of Amazon Prime free shipping and a Target a few minutes away if we ever need anything.  For this summer, however, there would be no quick shipping (no address!) or space for all the excess we’ve grown accustomed to. Our hope was to pack only what we needed and nothing unnecessary that would take up valuable space. But also, when we pulled away from our house our goal was to not smack ourselves on the forehead having forgot something totally obvious.

As it turns out, we did a pretty good job packing and preparing for this big adventure.

I thought it would be fun – and perhaps interesting to you? – to share the random things we’re glad we brought along, what we have not needed and what we wish made it onto our packing list. The following items are the little things of everyday life that have found their place in one of three of the categories.


Let’s start with the things we’re GLAD WE BROUGHT:

This acrylic tray and wood bowl were brought along without a main purpose in mind, but they have become hard workers around the trailer.

bowlandflowersWe’ve used the clear tray (no longer available from Target, but this is a similar one) for corralling papers, pens, magazines and miscellaneous items on the table, for serving snacks or cut up watermelon and for keeping the dice all in one place when the kids are playing Tenzi. It has little rubber feet on it which keeps it from sliding around, I love how it doesn’t add any visual clutter since it is clear and it works to keep us just a little bit more organized.

The same goes for the wood bowl. Ryan grabbed this one (also from Target) to use on the shelf next to his bed and when we found that it didn’t fit we ended up keeping it thinking we could use it for something else. I’m so glad we did. You know all those random things that get dropped by your front door? Mail, keys, sunglasses, receipts, spare change, lip balm – that is what this bowl has become for us.

On a whim, I grabbed a few of my office essentials and used a drawer organizer that fit perfectly on the floor and slides under a kitchen cabinet to store them in.

officesuppliesThis has become our junk drawer and we’ve probably used something from it every day of the trip. Tape, scissors, string, pens and pencils, washi tape, little note cards + envelopes, a pencil sharpener, tags and postage stamps. So glad we brought these things along.

Ryan’s pick for what he’s happiest we brought with us is a Car Console Lockbox. It fits perfectly inside the console area between the driver and passenger seats of our Ford Expedition and gives us a place to store any valuables while we’re away from the car. I had never heard of such a thing before and I agree with Ryan in saying we’re glad we brought this along. Even after the trip, we’ll leave it in the car.

One more random thing we’re glad we chose to bring: Starbucks Via instant coffee.

coffee(This is not a picture of via coffee. This is a delicious latte we had at Ashley + Chris’ house in Oklahoma. But it goes along with the coffee theme :) )

Since Ryan is the only morning coffee drinker in our family (I know, call me crazy. I’m more of an afternoon decaf latte drinker), we debated about bringing a big coffee maker if only he was going to drink the coffee. At home, it’s no big deal since we have plenty of counter space; in the trailer kitchen, counter space is at a premium. We ultimately decided on bringing Via packets for his morning cup of coffee and he’s been totally happy with it. This one decision saved us tons of space and makes for super easy cleanup.


Now on to a few things we PACKED BUT HAVEN’T NEEDED:

First thing is this collapsible dish rack. I was all excited about it because it smushes up and fits under the sink when it isn’t in use. What I’ve found, though, is that it’s just as easy to lay out a towel on the counter and let the dishes air dry without the bulky drying rack. We probably could have skipped it altogether.

dishesI do, however, love our plates and bowls.

Another kitchen item we really didn’t need was our tea kettle. When we’re camping, we always bring along the tea kettle for boiling water for coffee or hot cocoa or oatmeal. As it turns out, the hot water tank in our airstream is very good at its job and the tap water puts out very hot water. It works great for morning coffee (see above) and instant oatmeal in the mornings and saves a bunch of time instead of always heating up water in the kettle. We definitely could have left it behind.

We brought along the kids’ scooters and that was a big waste of space. They rode them once in Oregon and Audrey hopped on one just the other day, but otherwise, they have been sitting in the back of our car taking up valuable space. We didn’t need them.

Note: if we were just hanging out at the campsites, I could see how they might be fun. Or we would want bikes. But that isn’t really how this trip is shaping up to be. We basically use the campsite as a place to sleep in between busy days out sight-seeing. When we are at the campsite, we are either swimming in the pool or hanging out in the trailer so those scooters just haven’t been necessary.

This last one surprises me … we brought too many cameras.

emtakingphotoWe packed our newer good Canon slr, our older canon, an old waterproof video camera, a GoPro, our son’s little digital camera and both of our phones. Plus the tripod and a few lenses. We’ve pretty much only used the good camera, our phone cameras and occasionally the go pro. We could have left all of the others behind.


And finally, WHAT WE WISH WE BROUGHT:

It shocks me to no end to say this, but I wish we brought legos. Just a few. Mainly the lego guys.

We have four million legos at home and I was pretty happy to get away from them. We figured we would be out and about doing fun activities and there wouldn’t be time or the storage space for bring along toys, so other than a few games and Audrey’s beloved stuffed dog, we left home without a single toy.

boyslegosOur stops with friends in Oklahoma (where this photo was taken) and in San Antonio gave the boys a chance to rekindle their love of legos and most recently, our 8 year old has been begging us for just a few lego guys to play with. Poor kid. He just wanted two guys!

The good thing about living on the road is that there are plenty of places to stop to pick up whatever you forgot. In this case, yesterday was a happy day for the boys as we finally bought them each a little set of legos to play with. They are in heaven and it is actually really great to see them so excited about so few toys.


Part of this experience for us has been pulling ourselves out of our comfort zones and deliberately choosing to live minimally.  We fill our home with so much non-essential stuff and these past few months living in a teensy trailer has reminded us that we truly need very little. Maybe even less than what we brought along with us.

I am not sure how this will translate once we get home – will it change us? will we go back to life as usual? – but I am forever grateful for this crazy chance we took to see who we were as a family away from all the things that distract us at home.

45 thoughts on “What we were glad we brought, didn’t need, wish we had”

  1. Oh thank you Emily, for that great post. I totally understand what you mean. ghe same here, when you’re at home, you realize everyday that you have too many miscellaneous things around your house, and all those things from the past you just can’t let go, hoping that this is what makes you happy, and defines you, but than on the other hand, just like you, traveling you see what you really need, and what you don’t. What makes you happy is the experience for itself. I started once with “simplifying your life” and failed, but I just need to start it again. I wonder, how this can be, everyone is mourning about not enough money, but he same people are mourning about their cluttered space. So. We should really focus on what we are experiencing not on what we own. But we’re just humans ;)
    I wish you a great time on the trip!

    Greetings from Germany!

  2. Hey Emily! I’m loving these posts – and this is a great one. I can totally relate. We’re a military family, and six months ago we moved to Europe. We were basically on the road for three months, visiting family before we left and then living in a two bedroom hotel suite with a teeeensy kitchen (kinda like the trailer!) for two months. I can’t believe how little we had with us during that time – basically one bag each of clothing and a couple boxes we shipped to the hotel with some essentials. It was awesome, and it really did shape how we approach everyday life! We’re now living in an apartment in Germany for the next couple of years. It’s half the size of our last home in the States. Half of our belongings are in storage in the US. Honestly, I can’t imagine what we ever did with all of it. This experience has totally changed how I pack, what I consider necessary in our home, and more. I think you’ll find you’re going to get home and think “what IS all of this stuff?” So inspired by your trip – what an adventure. xoxo

  3. Hi Emily,
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I am finding many places that I want to add to my list of places to visit.
    I wanted to let you know that the link for the car console lockbox takes you to a picture and not the link where you can purchase it. It sounds like a brilliant piece to add to any vehicle, especially my son while he is at college this fall.
    I hope you continue to enjoy your trip. Safe travels!

  4. Our family is moving next weekend from a large 4 bedroom house into my mom’s house where we will have two bedrooms that aren’t even empty of her things. It’s a temporary move, but it’s been so eye-opening to be able to pack up 90% of our belongings and put them in storage. I like my “stuff” but I’m kind of looking forward to shedding some of the excess and living without it for awhile. It’s been so freeing to let things go! But like you, I’m trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind…the Lego are definitely coming with us!

  5. We too have spent some time on the road,( Minimal compared to what you all are doing) I have also found that without all of the distractions of the things of life(excess) we really enjoy each other more. I’ve also found to be more at peace without it all. Now to only mimic that in our home, proves to be more of a challenge.

  6. We are getting ready to move from CO to WA and are in a crash course to list the house. Every year I’ve done purges in the book/movie/clothes and toy departments because you outgrow them. We done a lot of work on our home the last two years, which has also resulted in getting rid of stuff. We’ve had long-term guests, and I cleaned out closets, shelves and the proverbial in-used guest room (aka storage room), to make room for them. We did a massive purge last week for a garage sale – and pulled out all unwanted furniture – at least a whole rooms worth! It was so much work that it felt like we were getting rid of so much! Then the morning of the sale I looked at all the stuff in our yard and driveway for sale, walked back in the house and realized it was a drop in the bucket. And what’s left still has to be packed and moved. I now understand why the pioneers dumped their belongings along the way as they moved west. You don’t realize how much you have until you have to pack and move it al. Sigh. Americans really do have too much stuff. We will be living with friends for a bit, so our things will be in storage for a whine. I too am not sure/wondering how this experience will impact our future “at home” lifestyle!

  7. I have enjoyed this series more than I’ve thought I would! Any chance you will share about the $$ portion? It seems personal to ask, but would be a good eye opener for budget planning for something like this and knowing a realistic amount to save for. Thanks!

    1. At the end we plan to put together an inforgraphic about miles traveled, states visited, gas purchased, etc. I’m not sure we’ll share our exact numbers on the whole thing but we’ll decide when it is all over :)

  8. Just a note on the scooters. If you are planning to visit Washington DC, your kids may like to use their scooters to get around the Mall area. Otherwise, it is a lot of walking for the little ones:)

  9. Hello Emily
    The trend right now is to minimalism ! So I think that’s a good thing to live in a small place and see what is essential and that ine is not!
    But once at home it is more difficult because we are attached to our objects , they sometimes come from our family or we long to save for … we offer ! I think it is good anyway to regularly sorting and separating of unused items!
    I planned to do the sorting this summer and I think it’s a mental as physical work !!
    Good end to trip !
    http://mariemaguelonecreations.com

  10. Emily, i’m not sure how i came to your blog, BUT following your adventure has been so much fun. Your posts have been informative and helpful; reading about how you and your family have learned about and then visited so many different sites has made me long for a road trip. I also really appreciate the diversity of our country and the versatility of your family!. You and your husband are courageous and adventurous parents for sure. Thank you so much for documenting your experiences, for sharing amazing photos and for inspiring your readers! good luck on the remainder of your journey.

  11. I’m curious if you guys brought any electronics for your kiddos while on the road ( iPads, phones,iPods, etc). We travel every July with our three boys in our pop up camper and I always struggle with the amount of screen time they get. I’d like to say none and remove all of it from our lives completely. But alas, here we are on our trip now and the boys were just arguing about who got to be on daddy’s phone and who got the iPad. We only have this issue while driving because one we reach each destination, they are too busy playing, exploring, etc. So, just looking for some thoughts/ ideas. Love following your trip! God bless as you make your way back home.

    1. We brought along a device for each of them. We thought we’d try to limit use, but as it turns out we’ve just let them go for it on drive days. They watch movies, play games, listen to music. THE ENTIRE DRIVE. And we’re okay with it. We’re doing so much exploring and have kept such a fast pace that we are fine with them having down time/screen time on the drives.

  12. Your family road trip posts are so timely! We are almost done with an 11 day road trip which included 7 states a minivan, 3 kids, grandma and many different hotel rooms. I agree it’s always good to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and to document it for next time! Our goal was to pack everyone’s clothing together in 2 suitcases for everyone per hubby’s request and use one for the first part of the trip and the other for the second half. Theoretically and practically it made sense but it ended up being confusing. We learned how important personal space and belongings are on a long trip! Thanks for your great outfit ideas, I loved them!

  13. Great series. We’re getting ready to move our family to Germany and are having many of the same conversations. We’re shipping out our belongings in an ocean container, but what do we really need and what can/should we do without? It’s an interesting process.
    I have a question about your plates and bowls: I’m somewhat of a dinnerware hoarder and want to use this experience to get rid of all of my current collections and streamline to one simple set that is durable and more lightweight than porcelain or ceramic. I’ve been eyeing the dishes you have but am concerned about staining. A couple reviews have eluded to them looking stained and dirty after a while. What has been your experience with them?

  14. We did a similar trip last summer and two weeks into our almost three month journey I bought my boys Legos. They saved us on some of the longer stretches of road, for sure!

  15. As all others reading your posts this summer have immensely enjoyed every one of them plus excellent photos. Two weeks ago we went on short trip, was thinking of all of you as we traveled to San Diego from Grand Junction, CO area. Then after few days went over to Tucson to see best friend. Only had day we got there and Tuesday but enjoyed anyway, Wed. we had to head home to return rental car and relieve pet sitters.
    Been long time since we had vacation so scenery going down 15 to S.D. was gorgeous. Would have been happier if we’d been able to pull our little trailer but don’ t have vehicle any longer that can pull even our small trailer. Sold older one few years ago and I miss it.. Used to have an old 89 Suburban we towed old trailer with few times. Was a dependable old work horse, loved that old truck.
    Trip from Tucson to Co was lot longer going thru some pretty desolate desert but was still very enjoyable, beautiful country in it’s own way, all way up..
    It is amazing what we learn to live without when living in reduced convenience and room. Even coming from Kentucky to CO we stayed in trailer, one time stayed for 3 days at truck stop in Ogalala due to winds. They found spot for us to have electricity, didn’t even charge us. We went antiquing around area to spend time til we could get on road again.
    Have lived in old trailer, 24 ft.self contained, several times waiting to buy house, living for 10 months in G.J. rv park looking for place to live and before that at KOA in Bowling Green for few months waiting to find house, get mtg. Living in trailer got to be preferred way of life for me, think am part gypsy.
    Luckily we have lived in semi truck for weeks, sometimes months, when I would become professional passenger with hubs, loved it. Have to admit I miss traveling, hubs retired from trucking in Feb. 2004.
    Enuf about our travels, yours is even better for what you’re giving your kids, they will not forget their adventures this summer. Agree with commentor about turning photos, etc into book.. Would be great winter project.
    So glad you have shared your summer with us, am enjoying hearing, seeing about it so much. Have great week.

  16. I have loved watching “Tiny Homes” on HGTV, makes me realize we all live with so much excess. Glad to see you are enjoying a paired down lifestyle!
    Love being a part of your journey through the blog!!

  17. I am so enjoying “sharing” your trip with you. I feel very appreciative that you are documenting this on your blog. Thank you so much! What a wonderful family! Wishing you many fun times ahead!

  18. Aren’t those dishes the best??? I got the salad plates and smaller bowls instead of cheap plastic ones for my kids a couple years ago and went back to get the dinner plates because we used them as plates for outside during the summer. They are in constant rotation at our house

  19. If you haven’t already thought of this, you really need to put all of this blog (pictures, advice, etc) into a book, a hardback book. I feel like a lot of families would be able to benefit from your advice and I think you’d inspire people to do what you’re doing. You have a way of making camping and traveling in a trailer look classy and easy, two things I do not associate with what you are doing.

    1. I actually make blog books for a living if you ever wanted a hard copy of your adventure! I’ve been helping families free their photos from their phones and computers for almost nine years and you’d be surprised how much you can get into one 8×10 album! I make can make 2000 photos and all the blog text that goes with it fit in 440 pages and still allow the show stopping images shine. http://www.yourblogtobook.blogspot.com

  20. It does change you. When my husband and I sold all of our furniture, car, and other big items and stored our important valuables (wedding albums, high school year books, photos, artwork, and my stamp collection!) in storage, we moved to Argentina. It was an amazing experience. When we returned to the U.S., it was a shock to be re-introduced to the American lifestyle. Five years later, we live a great life, but it’s in a small, one-bedroom, a few blocks from the beach. We would never have been able to do it, had we not left everything behind and lived in a small studio abroad. We only own one car and it’s just part of our lifestyle… Is it hard, yes. But it’s a dichotomy because it’s also easier. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, I was complaining to my husband that our closet is too small and that we need a bigger house! Complaining? Okay, yelling. (hahaha) Then I went to said closet, and took out all my clothes. Turns out a lot of it didn’t fit because it was too big (benefit of buying a bicycle instead of a second car!) and other clothes I just didn’t wear anymore. Once I put my clothes back, I had room for new items, and it feels great. So my guess is that yes, it will change you, and you and your family will be happier for it… xo

  21. Thank you for posting! SUPER HELPFUL…I think we live with way more than we need…but with traveling and sightseeing being your main activity it makes sense to not need as much…but when you get home it changes with the ‘activities’ right??? It will be interesting to see :)

  22. We all “need” about 95% of what we own. If that. We downsized last year and sold half of our furniture and “stuff”, which turned out to be way more than I realized we even owned. ;) Now I am thinking we need to half it again. I love hearing about what you have learned along the way. Happy travels.

  23. Curious about Tenzi. The link took me to a Canon camera on Amazon :/
    PS kudos for a great job capturing your adventures on the blog! I’ve enjoyed vicariously traveling along.

    1. Tenzi is fantastic! its a dice game. My kids love it. if you live in the Bonney Lake area you can grab it at Ben Franklin. Otherwise, it is most definitely online. :)

  24. We are set to leave on our 4 week RV vacation on Tuesday and I have been enjoying and learning from your road trip experience. We will be hitting some of the same spots as you and your family and am feeling better prepared even if only keeping your experience in the back of my mind for how to better sight-see i.e. hanging at the end of the tour group to get people freeish shots and am grateful for this. This is yet one more enjoyable and educational post. Thank you for bringing us all along for the ride.

  25. Emily, I concur with everyone else here. Your posts about your trip are compelling, as is your photography. So glad all of you are enjoying the journey, and that your preparations by-and-large have worked so beautifully. Cheers, Ardith

  26. Great post and really curious to see how this translates once you’re back home! I can’t wait to see what you do with some of the amazing images you’ve captured on this adventure. Have you thought about doing a watercolor essentials like you do on Adventure//Camping//Maps? Perhaps you already have and I’ve missed it, but just excited to see what new art this trip births out from all these new adventures and experiences.

  27. I’ve loved this series so much. I’m so curious how it will impact your reentry this Fall. Safe travels!

    p.s. What about donating the scooters and just considering it a blessing to others? I’ve begun doing more and more of that and its so liberating and less stressful than holding on or trying to sell.

  28. Thank you so much for taking us all along on your incredible road trip! I love your insights and tips like this, as we are getting ready for just an 11 day expedition out west and back. It’s helping me embrace the adventure of the trip and let go of the travel anxieties I often carry along. I’m so impressed with your ability to enjoy all these moments and still be able to share things on such a timely basis. As I read this post, I was thinking again how it will be interesting to watch the changes in you and your family once you return home. I’m starting to try to rid our home of some of our “excess” and you are inspiring as always. Thanks for sharing these glimpses with us and many blessings to you as your trek continues!

  29. I always enjoy hearing how other families make the transition to living minimally in a mobile home. Our family has been living on the road for the past 4 years (currently up in your PNW neck of the woods for an extended stay). When we first discussed what to do upon selling our house, touring the country quickly became our top option. One motorhome purchase later, we set off to focus on civics and US history. I giggled as you mentioned LEGO ~ my boys’ only ‘must bring’ was their entire LEGO collection which they managed to fit into two large totes. We too started with wheels (bikes rarely ridden and now in storage), thick pads for dishes (I just purchased a sturdy expandable rack so the stove can be easily accessed while dishes dry) and a few beloved multi-tasker pieces that have withstood all of the miles. You and your family are making such a quick and amazing transition to mobile life! The time will pass so swiftly, but the memories and positive impact on your family will endure. I look forward to reading more of your adventures!

  30. I love this road trip series. I get excited when I see a new post in my blog queue. Bookmarking you itinerary for when my kids are big enough to appreciate this kind of cross country adventure!

  31. I am so enjoying this series! We are headed on a similar trip next year and I would love it if you would share a list of all the campgrounds and places you stayed along the way. :)

  32. Oh my goodness Legos!! We bought a box and a container last year when we traveled Oregon and seriously…best decision ever! We did the same thing a few ago when we traveled around Wyoming. It made hotels and the times we crashed in my parents camper so peaceful with the boys!

  33. Love hearing about your tales from the road during this cross-country adventure…and the pictures too! I am enjoying all the posts in order to get a better idea of your day to day life in these unique conditions and what you are learning and loving. Look forward to more of your travels as you head back west and see where you travels take you :)

  34. What an amazing adventure you are having! I’ve been enjoying reading your blog…as always…and am sure you are making family memories to last a lifetime! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.
    P.S.
    Why not just ship those scooters home?

  35. I really liked this post. I’m not really what you’d call materialistic (well, my husband might beg to differ ha), but I am very much into possessions and homes – what people gather and use and set up and treasure in their lives. I just find it interesting. So this was right up my alley.

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