Before I share my pre-vacation strategies with you, I have a confession. The night before we left for our recent beach vacation, I posted this on Facebook: “It never fails…no matter how I try to plan ahead, I end up wishing we were NOT going on vacation the night before vacation. Thankful that tomorrow we’ll actually be on vacation and all this packing and cleaning will be behind me!”
That said, I know these strategies work because the one time I haven’t felt that way was before our trip to Disney last fall. I was so prepared and organized that when we woke up to 5″ of snow on the ground — and it was still falling — we were able to walk out the door hours earlier than we had planned!
The key? Starting early.
I don’t mean start stressing earlier, because that wouldn’t be any fun. But start gathering your thoughts — creating packing lists, making notes about things you need to remember to take or do, etc. — as well as the actual things you need to pack a week or two in advance.
Here are the rest of my no-fail packing strategies:
Create a Packing Zone
I typically designate the kitchen counter or guest bed as a “packing zone”, but any flat surface will do. The idea behind a packing zone is that you can start adding things as part of your daily routine so that there’s no big mad dash to gather everything from across the whole house.
Start by adding activities, snacks and other items that you’ve purchased especially for your trip. Then add the items that you can live without for a week or so.
I typically do laundry at the beginning of the week and immediately move outfits to the packing zone. Even if we have to wear some of our clothes twice in the week before we leave for vacation, it’s worth it to me to know that the clothes are ready to go!
Make a Brain Dump List
While you’ll need a master packing list (here’s a printable packing list just for you!), I also recommend keeping a notepad or piece of scrap paper somewhere that everyone can get to it. Add every little thing that pops in your head to this list so that you can double check to make sure nothing gets forgotten.
We include items we need to pack as well as things we need to do (like cracking our dishwasher open so it doesn’t get mildewy while we’re gone) on this list, as well as things that are missing from the items we’ve already packed like “pink leggings for the baby” or “extra sweater for Mandi”.
Everyone in the family adds to it as we remember things that need to be packed or done, even those things that seem obvious.
The last time I skipped this step, we walked out without theme park tickets that we’d purchased ahead of time, and we had to buy a second set when we arrived. Not cool.
How to Pack
My husband has been known to pack everything he needs in one giant trash bag, but honestly, that makes me just nuts!
It really is a lot easier to unpack — both at your destination and when you get home — if you pack more carefully. For example, I pack the girls’ clothes either in piles by child or by day, depending on whether we can unpack when we reach our destination or will be living out of a bag. I then use separate open totes for activities and snacks, and toiletries get their own bag as well (which can sometimes be put inside the clothing bag if there’s room).
Unpacking is actually my favorite part of vacation — I know, it’s a strange thing to enjoy — and there’s no doubt that packing carefully makes it an enjoyable rather than stressful process!
Using a packing zone to gather the things you need ahead of time makes packing this way a lot easier, because you can wait until you have everything in front of you before you decide which bags to use.
Things to Take
Use this printable packing list to organize everything you want to take, but here are the things I always end up giving extra attention to as well:
- Activities for the car/plane
- Travel snacks
- Activities for the destination
- Cash (if using a cash budget, which I highly recommend for vacation so that you don’t go overboard)
- Natural sunscreen
- Phone/computer/device chargers
- A laundry bag for dirty clothes
- Tickets or confirmation letters (I pay extra attention to these now!)
I’ve talked about vacation planning before, so you may also be interested in these posts:
- Things to Do in Your Kitchen Before You Leave
- Planning a Vacation Budget
- Printable Travel Itinerary (if you’re flying)
- Printable Travel Activities for Kids
How do you prepare for vacation or going out of town?