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Family vacations mean different things to different people. To some it may mean boarding a cruise ship to others it may mean an at home stay cation. What does a vacation look like to you?
Growing up our family vacations never quite looked the same- some years our vacation was spent visiting grandparents “Up North” which to those who do not live in Michigan that is pretty much anything 2+ hours north of your home. Sometimes our family vacations meant cruises, beaches, Disney, or where ever my sister and I had a dance competition that particular year.
What I have learned over the years is a family vacation basically is the same regardless of its location. It is time spent seeing and doing things we normally don’t have time to do. It is about being intentional and making memories with those we love most-our family. The busyness of life and the overwhelming responsibilities at the work place both steal our time- keeping us from doing the things we so deeply desire.
Whether your able to take that vacation of your dreams or simply enjoy a few days off from the daily grind- I want to encourage you to rejuvenate your spirit, breathe deeply, and embrace the slowness that a vacation has to offer.
Now, raising a family of my own our current form of vacation has taken on an entirely new form- one that consists of long weekends spent away on the lake. Just as raising my small tribe of gluten free kids has taught me a thing or two so has packing for a family of six week after week.
Family Vacations; Packing and Traveling Tips and Tricks From A Mom of Four
I pack 1 summer outfit per kid per day plus an additional 2-3 just in-case. I like to fold the shirts with the pants so that my kids know exactly what shirt and pant sets go together. I have also found rolling them up together works great and saves on packing space.
I let my kids help pack their clothes but I will not leave the final decision solely in their hands.
Since the weather on the lake can be quite unpredictable at times I pack 1/2 the amount of warm clothes (pants, hoodies, and long-sleeve outfits) as I did short sleeve outfits.
I try to see that each of my kids has a minimum of 3 (4 is preferred) suits; one for wearing, one for drying, and one back up because that sand can get out of control.
When we are gone for a long weekend everyone gets one pair of summer shoes (flip flops, Crocs, Tevas, etc.) and one pair of tennis shoes. That is it.
When packing I pack one entire child at a time and promptly place his/her belongings into our extra large zipper duffel bag. We have a duffel bag for the girls, boys, and us depending on the length of stay I can sometimes pack all of the kids clothes together as they are still quite tiny.
If you are boating, camping, or packing food to take along on vacation always pack clothing items on a different day. I typically pack clothes 2 days before we leave, leaving one day for last minute shopping/errands, and a day for food prep.
Since we basically stay at the same place week after week we keep many of our necessity toiletries on the boat. Toilet paper, tooth brushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, first aid supplies, etc. it all stays there- so that is a huge time savor in itself. I pack it once at the beginning of the season and then refill as needed.
Every family member has a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, and basically double of any necessity item. This just makes life a lot easier when it comes to packing. If we are going somewhere whether it is a day, night, or week everyone knows to grab their travel items (which are usually already in small travel sized bag or simply on hand in a different color than the items typically kept at home).
I bring a pack of diapers, pull ups, and wipes and simply leave them aboard. The day-before we head home I do an inventory of necessary items to bring the next time we are out- I keep a running checklist on my phone for a quick reference.
There are a few basics I always keep handy; tea tree oil for those pesky mosquitoes, plenty of band-aids because my kids think they are like stickers, Calendula cream, and a tiny tub of coconut oil.
Since we have so many food allergies and sensitivities in our home from gluten to nightshade intolerance eating out is most readily out of the question. Not to mention if we are on the lake our nearby restaurant and food options are quite limited. So planning food for my crew of six takes some serious planning. Even if your family doesn’t have countless food allergies like ours some of these tips might just save you a few bucks.
First, off I really do use the simple savvy meal planning kit– when it comes to traveling there are a few sheets that come in especially handy; the week at a glance, the grocery store builder, and breakfast/lunch planning sheet just to name a few.
Typically, I will plan an entire days worth of meals at a time (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). I will fill out my week at a glance sheet and then transfer any necessary items to buy onto my grocery list builder. Since we eat many of the same meals on the go (hamburgers, grilled pizza’s, pancakes, chicken salad) I do not need a recipe- I simply, know them by heart and the ingredients needed.
We have fridge, freezer, microwave, toaster, grill, and oven access on the boat so it is hardly roughing it- therefore, I meal plan very similar as I would if I were home. However, our fridge, freezer, and oven space are on a much smaller scale- so, I typically do a bit of pre-prep work in advance; for example-
If we are going to have chicken salad- I will pre-chop cooked chicken and freeze it in a quart freezer ziplock bags until the day of its final assemble.
If we are having shish-kabobs the day before we leave I will pre-cut and add my Greek dressing marinade to a gallon ziplock bag so that it is ready when we are. (be sure to double bag to prevent leaking)
Basically, I try to do as much of the “dirty” work in advance as possible. In my book that means handling raw meat.
When it comes to kids snacks those are all accounted for on my planning sheets so I am never left ill prepared when my little ones are hungry for their normal 10:00AM snack. We reuse snack bowls- every child has a different color and that is theirs for the day.
There are a couple “on the go” cooking tools I truly could never live without- the slow cooker and electric griddle. The slow cooker has so many uses from cooking whole chickens in a hotel room while you are venturing about all day long to an easy chili dog dinner while out on the lake- a slow cooker is worth its weight in gold. An electric griddle is just plain handy, if you have never used one you are missing out. It is the easiest way to make fried eggs for a large crowd or in my case a large family. An electric griddle is also super convenient for grilled sandwiches, pancakes, and of coarse my favorite- it doesn’t take up a ton of storage space.
Are your wheels turning- I hope so- yes, I’m telling you that you should bring your slow cooker on your next road trip it could save you a lot of time and money.
Every child has a Sigg bottle that we use as their travel cup- we refill them as needed with gallons of distillers water. My kids drink a very limited amount of juice but for those special occasions we do bring along juice boxes.
Keep.it.simple. Pinterest is great for a plethora of ideas but lets be real- when it comes to travel and road trips with small children it really is not the time to pull out all the stops with fancy fruit platters. Fruit is fruit and they will be just as happy that you brought some along so don’t stress yourself out.
There is no doubt whether you are heading out on a long road trip, going to be sitting for hours at an airport, or like myself in constant search of that perfect quiet time activity- there are a few items I never leave home without;
coloring books and crayons
Audiobooks (borrow from the library)
Books (plenty of books)
Since, we travel to the same location week after week there are some items that never leave the lake;
A few small trucks
Various Sensory Bin Supplies (a dish tub, mixed beans, rice, etc.) I store all sensory bin materials in a gallon ziplock bag for easy storage.
So, in a nut shell that is how I manage to pack for my crew of six- no matter if we are going to be gone for a long or short period of time- packing is packing. It takes a plan, motivation, and a lot of work but in the end the memories that are made make it all worth it.
What are some of your best kept packing secrets?