I think we can all agree that packing for a trip is the worst. Add in the fact that there are six of us and that four of them are Tiny Humans™ and it makes it that much more “fun”. I’ve found that in order for me to not be stressed to the max that I need to start organizing our stuff and making lists a few weeks beforehand. It’s a process, honestly. I’ll break down the prep below. None of these systems happened all at once, so if it’s overwhelming to do it all, just pick a few to try. A sampling, if you will, a little like a wine tasting.
It’s hard for me not to over pack. I don’t know why, I feel like I need to BRING ALL THE THINGS. One way that we’ve curbed that through the years is a good list. We started it when we used to camp, because we traveled with other people (you know who you are!) and we didn’t want to bring duplicates of stuff.
I start my lists 2-3 weeks before we leave, that way as I remember things I add it. I use the Notes App on my iPhone, I haven’t found an awesome list app that lets me do what I want yet, still looking. I keep one master list with a few sub categories. Usually it’s broken down by general stuff, clothing, and food. If it needs to go in the car, it goes on the list. Even if you think it’s dumb and you don’t think you’ll forget it, because we’ve all seen Home Alone, right? Also, checking easy things off the list feels good and can fool me into feeling like I’m accomplishing something when I’m not.
I also have a white board in the kitchen I use the week we leave for all the tasks around the house that need to get done before we leave. Things like sweeping the kitchen, emptying the garbage, mowing the lawn, holding the mail, watering the flowers. These are usually things I expect the whole family to help with. Through the week I often have the bigger kids pick a task off the list.
Set a Staging Area
This sounds really weird, right? This has been one of the biggest things to help me. For us, it usually end up being in the hallway upstairs. About a week and a half to two weeks before we leave, I start setting things aside I know we’re not going to need before we go. It looks different depending on the time of year, for example, in the winter snow gear would be put in space bags in this area, or any clothing items/shoes you know you’re not going to use before you go and specific travel items such as your Pack N Play (with sheets!), sleeping bags, etc. Not only does this make sure you’re not running around looking for your crap the night before you leave, but it checks things off your list. If you can live without it for a week, put it in the pile. I often use big blue Ikea bags for this or laundry baskets.
As it gets closer to go time, this area starts to evolve. 3-4 days before we leave I start to pack clothes. Things I know we’re not going to use. Sometimes this means I’m going to have to do laundry a little more frequently so we have clean clothes, but that also means I’ll be keeping ahead of laundry before we go. (Which is another post altogether!) I also put a laundry basket in the hall for things that you’re going to want to take, but will need to be washed before we go. For example, the Favorite T-shirt. We almost go minimalist for the few days before we go.
This is also a good time to sneak away some of your toddlers favorite toys. Those quiet ones that keep them busy for more than 2.5 seconds.
The day or so before we leave, I set out everyone’s outfits for travel. I don’t want to have to think about anything more than I have to at 5am when we have a million other things to worry about.
Eventually, this staging area all gets loaded in the car. Everything you need should go here, so again, you’re not running around gathering things at the last minute.
Delegate and Let it Go
This part is hard for me, I’ll admit. Nothing messes with my organization like other people “helping”. Recently we’ve had the big kids be more in charge of their stuff. Zoe gets a list of what clothes to pack and does her own, the bigger three pack their backpacks with books, toys, and activities. I still double check the their bags. Mainly because last trip Oliver tried to bring 11 rocks. Seriously dude, rocks? Somehow the last trip he also snuck a pair of kid scissors in his bag, for those urgent, car cutting needs. Zoe also helps pack Isabel’s car bag, because she’s the one entertaining her. (More on that later, in another post.)
Letting the rest of the family do some of million-six tasks frees me up to fine tune things more. Just having to double check and refold the clothes in the suitcase is faster than having to locate certain items. And let’s face it, being able to refold everything, feeds my soul. It’s better to just embrace your (my) crazy.
Giving the kids things to do keeps them out from under my feet while I am trying to pack. It’s hard for me to concentrate when they’re circling me like sharks at feeding time, repeating my name until my ears bleed. Even if they don’t do it “right” it’s better than me having to do everything.
The Last Minute Details
I often get the the point where there isn’t anything left for me to do before hand. That’s when I know I’m doing it right. There are always things you just can’t do before hand. The last load of laundry, washing the last of the cloth diapers, packing the cooler, loading the car.
Inevitably we are still in a flurry, getting little stuff done the night before, but good prep makes it easier/smoother. I’m not going to lie, it’s still absolutely nuts, but recently I feel like everyone (except that baby. She does what she wants.) knows the routine. Last trip, we were all ready to go by 8:30pm, that’s only an hour past kid bedtime.
My biggest tip for the last minute stuff is to do everything you can the night before if you want to get on the road first thing in the morning. The only things we do in the morning is pack the cooler, make the coffee and get in the car. This means water cups are pre-filled, everyone’s things they need for the car are in their spots, etc. no thinking at 5am the day you’re leaving. Because I am NOT a morning person. In the morning we wake the kids up right before we are ready to walk out the door and make them use the bathroom and get dressed. Then, onward!
Have a travel tip? Post it in the comments!