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You know the saying:
If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
Well, I have a slightly different version:
Like it or not, SAHMs are the family axles that turn the wheels of our homes. How much more so when planning and packing for a family trip. To a large degree, we determine if it's going to be a smooth or bumpy ride.
The number one thing that makes traveling with kids easier and more manageable -- especially for larger-than-average families -- is to have a plan or system in place. Not all of these suggestions will work for every family. Find something that does. It might take a little trial and error; adjust these ideas to suit your own needs.
Have the Kids Help
Let me preface this point by saying that having the kids help only works if Mom has a plan in place that guides the packing. Otherwise, it just adds to the chaos.
I've seen this work out in a number of different ways. Here are my top 3 favorites:
Each child is responsible for picking out the appropriate clothing and (if necessary) sending it to the laundry room to make sure it's washed before packing day. They bring their piles of clothes to me for approval before they are packed. (Young children have an older packing buddy who is responsible for helping them find the items on the list.)
Shawna picks out her own outfits for each day, laying them on top of the numbers. I love how Haley is teaching Shawna from a young age how to be involved in the packing process. This spills over into every other area of their lives; as she involves Shawna in all of her day-to-day activities, this sweet young mama is teaching her little girl how to run a household!
>> Related: Teaching Our Children to Work
One Bag Per Person
I cannot tell you how much this has tamed the travel chaos for us! I found these awesome Land's End backpacks (this is not an affiliate link…I just love these backpacks) at 60% off as part of an after-school sale. They hold so much stuff and they are incredibly durable.
With one backpack per person, there is no more digging around in suitcases trying to find everyone's PJs in the hotel room late at night. (And no more finding all my carefully folded clothing tossed about like it had been thrown in a blender!)
Perhaps my favorite thing about this idea is personal responsibility. With the one-backpack-per-person system, each person is responsible for his or her own backpack, so we're far less likely to leave something behind in the hotel room. They aren't cumbersome, we're more careful about how much we pack, and they can even be stowed under our bench seating in our 12-passenger van (leaving room in the back for a cooler and other things).
Pack with the End in Mind
Let's face it, one of the worst things about vacation is coming home when it's over. Maybe this has happened to you:
The fun is over. Time to get back to "real life." We stumble in the door late at night after an entire day (or two) of traveling in the car with cranky kids. Did messy gnomes visit us while we were gone or did we really make this big of a mess trying to get out the door when we left? The "to do" list that awaits me tomorrow suddenly comes to the forefront of my mind (along with the memory of a completely empty fridge) and, to top it all off, there is a mountain of laundry to wash for 9 people from the last 7 days! Yikes!
Here's what I do to try to reduce the risk of coming down with a severe case of post-trip crankies.
Pack early. Don't wait until the last minute to finish packing! If you have a list or system of organization in place, everything but toiletries can be packed well in advance. Then, the morning of your departure, get up in plenty of time to use and pack toiletries and any other last-minute items.
Once that is finished, take 10 or 15 minutes to do a quick tidy of the house. I like to give each older child a "zone" or area they are responsible for. For younger kids, I might tell them to find 10 things--or 5 if they can't count to 10 ;) -- and put them away.
Pack light. This might mean taking fewer outfits and washing as we go. It's a snap to throw a load of wash in the hotel machine before heading out to the pool and then, while one parent watches the kiddos, the other moves the clothes over to the dryer when they're done.
Sometimes it just means wearing the same clothes two or three times (depending on the person's age and the activity you're doing). Jeans can easily be worn two or three times with a fresh shirt. You can also spot wash something in the hotel sink and hang it up to dry.
For adults, I try to pack a travel capsule wardrobe (basic pieces that can be mixed and matched in a variety of ways for different needs). For toddlers and babies, I go ahead and pack lots of extra outfits and bibs. (It's worth it. Little ones are so messy and their clothes are little enough that they don't take up much room anyway.)
Food prep before leaving. Okay, so technically this has nothing to do with packing. However, I have found this to be a tremendous blessing when returning from a trip. Everyone thinks about emptying the fridge before leaving for a big trip, but we seldom think about having something to eat when we return.
This can be some eggs in the fridge (eggs last for weeks!) and a few cans of fruit; freezer waffles; shelf-stable rice or almond milk and a box of cereal; or freezer-friendly baked oatmeal. Sometimes I will even have a freezer meal waiting for our evening meal if I want to wait until the following day to go grocery shopping so I can tackle the unpacking first.
Of course, finding a system of organization that works for your family is a work in progress and doesn't happen without a little trial and error. There are different seasons of life, too; as your children grow and mature, their ability to help will develop and your organization strategies will need to be adjusted.
Since I'm always looking for better ways to organize, I'd love to hear your stress-free packing tips!
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