Today is the day that we are leaving for vacation! We are loading up and heading to the Smokey Mountains in East Tennessee with some dear friends of ours, and we’re in for an adventure. We have a chalet in the woods calling our name, hot tub and all! Since Zoey has been born, we have been on 6 trips, and every single one comes with its own anxieties when it comes to packing her and making sure I won’t need to buy anything extra on the trip. I’m that person who makes a spreadsheet just to go out of town for a weekend. I am always so worried about forgetting something that I feel this intense need to start the list digitally and then print it out right before the trip so I can get started. The list typically includes everything that each of us needs individually, but also things we need to do before we leave, like preparations for the pets, cleaning, getting the car ready, etc.
I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned along the way as we’ve traveled with Zoey. We make a point to do something every year – sometimes we get to go on a couple mini vacations, sometimes we do one big one – but each trip comes with its own set of needs and “I better not forget that.” Spreadsheet in hand, this is what I typically keep in mind:
1. Travel Present
Starting last year when Zoey was 3, we began a tradition of putting together a “travel present” for her. What I’ve started doing is packing a special tote bag willed with new coloring books, a new toy, sometimes a new special cup for the car. It’s nothing big or expensive, just something to make her feel special and extra excited about the trip. For this trip, I got her a little Sofia the First magnetic toy where she can switch out Sofia’s dresses and set a scene using various little magnets. It’s something simple, but I know she’ll enjoy playing with it for a while. Crayola Color Wonder products are GREAT for traveling, because the markers only work on Color Wonder paper, so you don’t have worry about the ink getting all over your car. Plus, they have a handy little travel kit you can buy and it’s convenient.
I am a firm supporter of car DVD players, ya’ll. It is the best decision we ever made, and we took the plunge when Zoey was just 18 months old. I had to travel to Chattanooga by myself, which is a good 3.5-hour drive… with a feisty 18-month-old, it can feel like 8 hours. I invested in a dual monitor DVD player and it was the right decision. Since then, it has served us very well on our trips. The travel present ends up including a new DVD for the trip, sometimes just a $5 special from Walmart, but it gives the DVD player something new to keep her entertained for a good 90-120 minutes.
3. Travel Snacks
I always get Zoey some special little single serving snacks that she can enjoy in the car (Target’s $1 bin can be a gold mine for these types of things!). If you guys are anything like me, I have to eat on a road trip… there is just something about it. Kids are no different, so I always put some fun little snacks in Zoey’s travel present bag. This trip’s bag includes a couple single-serve trail mix packets, a small packet of peanuts, a bag of dried apricots, a small bag of strawberry licorice, 4 juice boxes, all natural fruit leathers, and a tootsie roll pop. This gives her a nice mix of sweet and salty, healthy protein and treats.
4. Pack Extra Clothes
This totally varies based on age. When Zoey was a baby, I always packed 2 outfits for each day, plus 2 extra as backup. When she was a toddler, I’d pack 1 for each day, plus 2 extra. Now that she is a big kid (wah!), I just pack 1 for each day plus 1 extra. I may also pack a casual dress in case we go somewhere a little on the nicer side, but I don’t have to pack nearly as much as I once did. As long as she is covered for one extra day and 1 nicer meal out, we’re good.
5. Pack Extra Diapers (if applicable)
When Zoey was in disposable diapers, I would pack the max I thought I’d need for each day, plus an entire extra day’s worth of diapers. At 6 months old, this meant I packed 10 per day, plus 10 extra. At 18 months, I packed 8 per day, plus 8 extra. At 2 years, I packed 6 per day, plus 6 extra. As long as I had one entire day on standby, I felt pretty good. I’d also pack an extra pack of wipes. Now that she is much older and has been potty trained for almost 2 years (what?!), we just pack an extra pair (or two) of underwear with her extra outfit. Just in case she has a little leak or doesn’t wipe well… which, let’s face it, four-year-olds are terrible at wiping. Sometimes those little arms just don’t reach back very well… just sayin’…
6. Meal Plan
If your child is formula fed, follow the same rule with the diapers. Pack the max you may need, plus an extra day (or two) worth. You just never know when your baby will hit a growth spurt and suddenly start cluster feeding, especially when in a new environment. Assume this could happen and plan ahead so you’re not looking for formula in a strange town and possibly spending more than you should. If you breastfeed and ever pump, make sure you’re stocked up on pumping supplies. Pack the max number of storage bags, plus an extra day’s worth, just in case. Zoey is beyond these things, so I didn’t have to focus on her as much with our meal planning (we are cooking a lot in the chalet on this trip), but she does have her own snacks for the trip. Otherwise, she just eats everything we eat and whatever we put in front of her (win!).
7. Pack Medicine and First Aid
Unfortunately, with a baby you have to assume the worst can happen at any time. What happens if you’re on vacation somewhere and suddenly your child gets a fever, or worse, vomits? It has happened to Zoey before, in the Smokey Mountains, actually. Turns out she was allergic to rice cereal, but I’ll save that explanation for another post. It’s a good idea to always pack a bottle of Tylenol (or Motrin when your child gets old enough), plus anything you might need for cold/allergies as appropriate. You just never know when something will strike, and sometimes the change in environment can trigger something new in a baby or toddler, making them vulnerable to illness. Keep the First Aid basics with you so you’re ready when something happens. Remember, you won’t be home, so that stock in the bathroom will be useless if you’re in a hotel or cabin somewhere. For us, this means we’ll be packing Motrin and Claritin for sure. The Smokey Mountains may welcome us with open arms and fresh air, but it’ll also welcome us with new species of trees, and new things to trigger allergies and eczema in Zoey.
8. Pack Familiar
Do not forget your child’s favorite sleep toy, pillow or blanket. Those little things give him/her comfort and peace. When a child is in a strange new place, it can be scary. When we went to the beach last year, we even brought Zoey’s pink iPod doc/radio to the condo so she had music, which she’s used to sleeping to every night. We made sure that she had that radio within sight just like she does at home… she had her own pillow and blanket, and one of her favorite sleep toys. We tried to make it as familiar as possible so she was less likely to freak out in the middle of the night, because moms, it does happen. It did happen, but less frequently than we expected, and she calmed down faster because she had her comfort things around her. This trip is no different – since she’ll be sleeping on a little pallet on the floor in our room, we are bringing all the blankets from home.
9. Budget for Souvenirs
Kids are excited when on vacation. They see all kinds of new things and want to buy everything they see. Do you remember going on a trip as a kid and bringing home something to remember your vacation by? I do, and it’s something I intentionally plan for when we take Zoey places. While kids don’t understand how money and budgeting works, they do understand that when you give them something to spend, when it’s gone, it’s gone. We give Zoey her own money to spend and it’s only a certain amount, so then we’re not breaking the bank and she gets her own spending money, which makes her feel like a big girl.
10. Be Flexible
You know that cliche you see everywhere that says “Keep Calm…” followed by something that someone finds clever? Well, this is one of those moments that I’m going to tell you to KEEP CALM. Be flexible because anything can happen… that is probably the best advice I can give. Your child might need to stop for potty breaks more than planned, or cry more than you had hoped, or have an accident in the car seat, or spill an entire cup of orange juice all over the seat. Whatever the case, be flexible, stay calm, and remember: you’re blessed enough to have a child that you get to have this vacation with. Honor every moment, even the crappy ones.
HAVE FUN! Yes, your child will complain. Yes, your child will be unpredictable (which is actually pretty predictable). Yes, your child will miss naps and probably cry in the middle of a restaurant because of sleep deprivation. Yes, your child will need to use the restroom at the most inconvenient time. You’re on vacation! Enjoy the time you have before you return to your normal life and find yourself longing to be on vacation again. 😉
What about you? Do you have any additional suggestions I might want to think about next time we travel with Zoey?