5 Easy Steps to Pack for a Stress-Free Family Vacation
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Fall is in full swing at my house! I made this incredible creamy pumpkin soup for dinner this week and it was everything fall should be. There was the perfect balance of savory onion, sweet pumpkin, cream, and bacon… ahhhh BRB Going to heat up leftovers right now!
I love fall for so many reasons: the sweaters, the boots, the food, the cinnamon, the coffee, the leaves, the Christmas, the giant fluffy duvet I get to put back on my bed… Sigh… that list seriously doesn’t end.
But even though I love fall and yearned for it since the first day of summer, I still can’t help reminiscing about the amazing vacation I took this year with my family in September. The warm sun and turquoise water are still on my mind and I can’t seem to shake it.
We spent a week near the old Venetian port town of Chania (pronounced HAN-yia), on the west end of Crete, and I’m pretty sure this is the closest thing to a Mediterranean paradise as it gets. If olives and wine and beaches are your thing, Greece is where you need to be!
(Also, if olives and wine and beaches are NOT your thing, you may leave this blog forever and never come back. We cannot be friends.)
Ahhh Crete. It was our first real family vacation since A was born in January and a whole new level of travel logistics. With two kids under 4, I knew right away I would have to have a system to pack efficiently and keep track of all our stuff! Because holycrap, kids = stuff.
And you’re always bound to forget SOMETHING, right??
In my last two posts, I shared with you my tips and tricks on how to plan and prepare for your big vacation. So I thought this is a perfect time to share with you how I PACK for a trip and how to make it as stress-free as possible.
I’ll say it right now – packing is my least favorite part of traveling. But I’m also a super-competitive person and try to out-pack myself every time. Don’t ask, it’s weird.
My system is actually quite simple: it’s all about lists. But more importantly, it’s about keeping your lists organized. The scope of the list-system goes from big to small. I first list out the TOTAL ITEMS that I am bringing and work down to lists for individual people and tasks.
There are a couple ways to use this system.
– Personally, I am a visual and tactile learner so I prefer handwritten lists on paper. At any given time in my life, I have an everything-notebook going (or three). This is where I put my shopping lists, my daily to-do lists, everything. It’s a less-formal, less-structured form of bullet journaling, I suppose. Anyway, I just use my everything-notebook for this purpose. I write one list per page so I don’t run out of space. Plus, you can doodle.
– If you like to make your plans digital, an Excel spreadsheet is also a great way to keep track of your lists. Just like you would use one page per list in a notebook, use one tab per list in your spreadsheet. I do love Excel (did I just lose friends by saying that). I think it’s a really powerful program and you can do SO many things with it. So if you feel comfortable, this is a great option for you.
Ok, so lists seem like a super simple concept and why did you spend time writing about it, Mary? Because the key to good listing is management. If you set your lists up right, they will make packing SO much easier. If not, they’ll only create more chaos. And my eye is starting to twitch over here…
The thing I want you to remember: ONLY CROSS AN ITEM OFF YOUR LIST ONCE IT IS SECURELY IN YOUR SUITCASE. And if you have to take it out for any reason, put it back on the list. This ensures everything on your list actually makes it on your trip.
In my example, I am packing a family of four (including an infant) traveling to a beach for a week, renting a car, and staying in an Airbnb. When you build your lists, carefully consider your own family’s situation. Consider climate, transportation, activities, what amenities you will have available, stuff like that.
OK LET’S HIT IT!
STEP 1: MAKE YOUR LISTS
The first list I make is the TOTAL ITEMS list. This is where you explicitly spell out what total items you will check, and what total items you will carry on the plane.
TOTAL ITEMS to CHECK
2 medium suitcases – weight limit 23kg each
Big Car Seat (in bag)
Infant Car Seat (in bag)
Diaper bag backpack
Next, I make a new page for every person in the family: Mom, Dad, M, and A. And then seriously list everything each person needs and the quantity.
I also indicate if an item needs to go in the carry-on with a *.
Beach flip flops
Underwear & bras
Lounge clothes / PJs
Book* (psh! Yeah right! Like mom is gonna have time to read on this trip…)
Beach flip flops
Lounge clothes / PJs
Leapfrog Leap Pad Thing*
Favorite stuffed animal*
Diapers* (1 day worth in carry-on, the rest in checked bag)
Food/Formula* (1 day worth in carry-on, the rest in checked bag)
Ergo baby carrier*
The next page that I make is the FAMILY list. These are items that are whole-family specific.
Cell phones & chargers*
IPad (charged and loaded)*
Water bottles (all)
Auxiliary cord & car charger
Sometimes, I make other lists too depending on what I may need.
Stuff to Buy on Arrival
Stuff to Load onto iPad
STEP 2: PREPARE YOUR BAGS
Alright, got your lists? Time to pull your suitcase out of the closet! Set out ALL the bags and suitcases you listed in TOTAL ITEMS and set them out in a line.
We all have our favorite pieces of luggage, but I like to use a combination of a soft duffel bag and hard-backed suitcases.
Soft rolling duffel: I put all my clothes and soft items in the duffel… things I which I don’t mind being crushed. I use a soft duffel for this because the shape can stretch and change with what you pack it with. My favorite is this one from L.L. Bean.
Hard-backed suitcase: I save my hard-back suitcase for items like toiletries, hats, and other things I don’t want to be smooshed. We have this Samsonite set and I can’t tell you how many glorious miles they’ve flown with us.
STEP 3: COLLECT THE THINGS
First, I go through my lists, pull out everything I will be taking on my trip, and put it on my bed. This helps me pack big to small.
DO NOT CROSS ANYTHING OFF YOUR LIST YET!
Pro tip: I also like to use this activity to get my 3-year-old involved in the packing! I treat it like a scavenger hunt. Go find three pairs of shorts! Bring me your favorite hat! (Note: supervision required #lessonlearned)
Once everything is laid out, it may seem like a giant mess, but it helps me visualize the items I am bringing. I’m finally ready to start putting THINGS into BAGS! Woohoo!
STEP 4: PUT THE THINGS IN THE BAGS
You can cross an item off your list ONLY ONCE IT GOES INTO A BAG.
Begin with the bulky items. Again, work big to small. I tend to bundle my clothes into rolls to put in my suitcase. I find it takes up a bit less room… do what works best for you.
– Large liquids (more than 3oz) and aerosol cans need to be placed in your checked luggage
– Stuff shoes with small items such as socks, underwear, belts, etc
– Weigh your bags with a hand scale periodically to make sure you don’t go over the limit. Trust me, you don’t want to pay overweight luggage fees.
I normally do my checked bags first and finish with my carry-ons. It’s just how I organize things in my brain.
STEP 5: PREPARE FOR THE MORNING
There will be some things you will not be able to pack until the day you travel: phones, chargers, toothbrushes, etc. Things you will use up until the morning of.
This is why when I think I’m all done packing (usually the night before I travel), I make one final list. This is my THINGS TO DO IN THE MORNING list. This list includes last minute tasks and items to pack.
THINGS TO DO IN THE MORNING
Toiletries & makeup bags
Phones & chargers
IPad & charger
Kids toys/books not yet packed
Baby food from fridge
Set house alarm
Whew, you’re finally done! Hopefully, by this point, you feel more accomplished than stressed. Time to get a good night’s sleep, traveling is tiresome!
Don’t these people look like they’re having a good time??
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