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Secrets to Packing for a Family Vacation

Flickr user erikrasmussen, CC Licensed.

The three most challenging experiences I’ve had as a parent so far have been grappling with tantrums, combing hair (I’ve got two daughters) and talking with my wife about (her) breastfeeding. A close No. 4: Packing for our family vacations.

It’s not like I’m out of practice; we take at least two (and sometimes as many as four) trips a month, so you’d think every one of us Villanos would have this thing down to a science. Instead, our getaways present a relentless series of packing pratfalls—issues that never fail to vex both of the grownups leading the charge.

This week, after helping Powerwoman pack for a solo getaway with the girls, I made a list of trip preparations that usually trip us up, and how we could overcome our weaknesses down the road.

The problem: Pulling clothes
What we do: Without exception, my wife and I start pulling clothes for the girls at least 24 hours in advance. We lay them out on the guest bed; L gets one half, R gets the other. Inevitably, however, one of us (moi) usually gets stuck doing last-minute laundry and even more last-minute folding of clean clothes.
What we could do better: Get the bags packed 48 hours in advance to minimize the rush.

The problem: Remembering toiletries
What we do: In order to use mission-critical toiletries on the morning of departure, we leave a bag with all of their stuff open on the counter in their bathroom. In theory, this enables us to remember everything we need. In practice, however, at least one key item (hairbrush, hair ties, toothpaste) always is left behind.
What we could do better: Purchase duplicates of everything and have a travel bag ready to go at all times.

The problem: Selecting toys and books
What we do: We limit ourselves to one mid-sized carry-on bag for toys and books, and stock it with stuff that the girls have been playing with that week. Because we often catch mid-day flights (it takes us 2.5 hours just to get to a major airport), the toys usually are the last things we round up before we leave the house.
What we could do better: Even if it means forcing the girls to play with other toys on the morning we leave, there’s no reason why we can’t pack this bag the night before.

The problem: Loading the car
What we do: The stroller (and, sometimes, the DOUBLE stroller) is still part of our vacation caches, so we usually load the car (on the morning of departure) around that. Generally speaking, this leaves very little room for stuff in the back of my truck. Inevitably the grown-up in the passenger seat has at least one or two bags on his or her lap. It makes for a long ride out of Dodge.
What we could do better: Renting a stroller at our destinations likely would make packing a cinch; it also would eliminate the threat of airlines ruining our stuff (which has happened).

What are some of your strategies for packing before a family vacation? Leave a comment and let us know.