Small Space Living - Tips for Surviving Well in Small Spaces

Tips for Surviving Well in Small Spaces

Almost every single kind of travel includes small space living.

Fitting all your clothes into small suitcases.

Fitting all your family into small places. Whether in the car on the way there or a small hotel room when you get there, small spaces WILL be involved in travel.

The tiny carry on bag. The tiny purse for the airplane. The tiny rental car to and from long days at meetings. The long hours in a taxi or plane seat or camping tent.

Lots of people. Lots of stuff. An organizational nightmare.

If you are disorganized, read this.

Make sure you are ready for the chaos. There is a way to survive well in small spaces.

Small Space Living - Tips for Surviving Well in Small Spaces

Preparing well for living in small spaces while traveling requires some thought, a little extra work before you leave and a dose of added patience throughout the experience.

If you plan well, you will survive well. I promise.

How do I know?

I’m living it. Have been living it for the past years and we’ve learned what NOT to do.

I know how to survive in small spaces. And I even think we are surviving well.

How do we do it?

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help you travel and survive well in small spaces.

Tips for Small Space Living

1. Think through your whole stay before you pack. For example, if you have one hotel stay on your drive to Florida, pack 1 small hotel overnight bag for everyone. That way you don’t have to unpack your entire vehicle for one night. Pack that bag with everything you need for just 1 night. Don’t forget swimwear, workout wear, pajamas… those extras will make the travel hotel night seem like part of the vacation instead of a stressful pit stop along the way. Then keep walking through your stay. If you have 3 nights with your aunt and uncle before hitting your week in a condo, pack separately for that. Also think through clothing needs. Cold? Hot? Sandals? Dress clothes? Thinking through the entire stay will really help your whole family deal with small spaces. Not only will you not clutter up your hotel room or your extended family’s house with unnecessary luggage, you will create a more spacious place for your family to stay that isn’t cluttered with extra stuff you won’t use on that stop.

2. Pack light. You really DO NOT need everything you think you need. Most places you go will have laundry. Whether it is staying with family or visiting the laundry mat or finding a hotel with laundry service, you should be able to wash clothing to reuse on the trip. Going away for 10 days? Pack only 7 days of clothing. The benefit of washing clothes on the trip is that you pack less AND you get to bring home CLEAN clothes! In packing light, be sure to choose shoes that go with multiple outfits. Choose bathroom items that the whole family can use instead of everyone bringing their own. Find ways to pack light!

3. Utilize your vehicle! If you are staying in a small space, pack some bags like extra shoes or swimsuits that you don’t need to have with you at each stop. Leave those bags in the car! You can always go get it if you need it. And it will save lots of room in your hotel room or condo or small room at a friend’s house.

4. Think outside the Suitcase. Pack using laundry baskets {I’m a little in love with these or this for travel}, plastic bins or utility bags. It is SOO nice when you are traveling! Why? Because when you arrive where you are going, a bin can become an end table, a bag can be used for the pool, a laundry basket can be used for well… laundry. It is so nice to have options other than big heavy suitcases! Another item I love for the kids “special things” (whatever they want to pack) or underclothes or swim gear is cinch sacs! This set is great for many, many things on the road.

5. Pack only the food essentials. If you are like me, I can pack so much food that I end up bringing most of it back with me because our schedule fit more meals out or meals with friends than I thought. Bring things you know you will need for the kids or for snacks in the car. You can always go to the grocery store if you need a quick meal of sandwiches and chips. Nothing like arriving at your destination with squished broken food and a leaking cooler! Also, there are some GREAT food travel options out there. If the hotel coffee pots don’t cut it for you, get some of the small packs of instant coffee from Starbucks. That will totally make your morning on vacation! Don’t forget the single serve flavored coffee creamer. A must for the travel food bag! With that said, I do pack a soft-sided cooler to have on hand should we buy some groceries or decide on a picnic lunch on the road. It is soft, collapsible and there if I need it!

6. Have a system. When we arrive somewhere, we all know what to bring in, which suitcase is for the hotel or which bags can stay in the van. Planning this and talking it through ahead of time saves so much stress when you are unpacking or arriving at your destination!

7. The 15 Minute Rule. 15 minutes before we arrive –  ANYWHERE – I announce that it is time clean up travel bags (crafts, books, toys, iPods…) so that it is ready to carry in. Put on shoes, grab coats, pack up snacks… everyone needs to be ready to exit the vehicle and help change spaces. I can not tell you how much “arrival” stress this saves your whole family!

8. Designated spots. No matter how small your space is, you can organize well. Bathroom bags in the bathroom. Shoes in the closet. Bags that can be emptied into drawers or shelves organized so everyone knows where things are. When you are living in small spaces, you don’t want to have to dig through things to find socks or flip flops or pajamas or a toothbrush.

9. Cooperation. Most kids (and parents too!) want their own suitcase, their own travel bags, their own bed and so on. When your family is in small spaces that just isn’t possible. My girls pack all in one suitcase. One travel bag. One iPod bag. They know they will sleep with a sister. They know things get organized so that it is best for everyone not just them. Have this discussion before you leave. It will save having to hash it out while traveling. As #1 and #4 already explained, sometimes having 1 bag for 1 night in a hotel is much smarter than 5 bags for 5 people for 1 night in a hotel. Teamwork… remembering you are all on a family adventure and part of that is compromising for the good of the family!

10. Small spaces mean few electrical outlets. Plan for this. Bring extension cords, multiple outlet covers, plenty of charge cords. Scope out the outlets before setting up your small space with suitcases and beds!! In the days of electronics for the whole family, making sure they are charged and working well for everyone is a huge help!

11. The extras. Small spaces usually take some extra things you wouldn’t normally pack. Having plastic bags of various sizes, a few hangers, a small container of laundry soap, a few extra towels or bed linens, plastic cups, travel size dish soap… Call ahead to see what is provided in your room or with your stay and then bring anything you think you might need. Keep it on a small scale… but don’t be afraid to have an “extras” bag!

12. Repacking and Reorganizing. I am always organizing and reorganizing the entire time we are in a small space. For me, that is every day right now. Making sure suitcases aren’t overflowing and mixing dirty clothes with clean clothes. Making sure swimsuits are hung up and ready for the next pool visit. When we leave the room in the morning, I set out what we need when we get back to the room. Pajamas or swimsuits… Remaking beds and picking up trash and putting snacks away and picking up the bathroom REALLY, REALLY makes your stay in a small space go smoothly.

Honestly, each of these tips says one thing.

Plan ahead. Think things through. That day, that trip, that hour… Plan ahead.

Assign jobs to family members to help you. But a little bit of extra time each day to plan ahead will make your family not only survive but survive well while traveling.

A few more resources for family travel…

Find out what our blogging friends have to say about traveling with family and small space living!

I’m A Lazy Mom shares My Newest Lazy Mom Travel Essentials.

Homeschool Encouragement shares Free Travel Printables for Kids!

Katie at Paradise Praises shares Large Family Travel Tips

Word Traveling shares Travel Effect- The Effects Travel Has on Family.

Marcy from Ben and Me shares 10 Tips for Saving Money on Vacation.

Homeschooling IRL shares Traveling With Kids Is Worth All the Effort!

Tonya shares Practical Ways to Save Money on Your Next Road Trip

Susie shares Flying as an Unaccompanied Minor.

Leslie shares Getting Outdoors While Traveling with Kids.

Phyllis shares Do You Travel With Children?

Kathy shares Boredom Busters For Road Trips





  1. This was great Jen! We are living in small spaces in someone else’s home indefinitely so we can relate to much of these tips. Because of the drive to school I tend to stay in town until the big kids are done with everything for the day so that means 12 hour stints living in our van. I pack in bins often!

    1. oh living in a vehicle and someone’s home can be very challenging but so doable! bins are awesome! 🙂 and laundry baskets. and 31 bags. 🙂

  2. This is fantastic! Thanks for participating in our travel month series! I love the tip about the laundry basket becoming a game table! We’ve often used baskets, but never thought of that! You rock! Thanks again!

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