Every summer, we travel to Charlestown Beach, Rhode Island to stay in 2 houses next door to each other which our dear family friends own and generously offer to us. My parents and both of my siblings and their families join us. I can barely recall the carefree pre-kid days when we used to toss things into a duffel bag in a leisurely manner, without a care in the world. These days, just planning the things that need to be packed for vacation requires a lot of organization and pre-planning. Here’s how I tackled it this year:
2 weeks out: Lists.
I start making lists in the “Notes” section of my iPhone. The first list I start is “stuff”- beach toys, coolers, beach mats, towels (I love the ones that snap into hooded wearable ones but also can be laid out flat), puddle-jumpers, travel pottys, pack n plays, etc. I start my manic Amazon Prime cart-filling at this point as well. This list serves as my master list of things to confirm whether or not we have, but also as a checklist when we’re packing the car.
1 week out: Food.
We try to pack as much food as possible so that we don’t have to make 100 grocery trips while we’re away (which we inevitably do, anyway). I go to Sam’s club for all of the bulk things for the kids that are non-perishable such as a gallon of Goldfish, applesauce pouches, and water bottles. This year, I created a Note on my iPhone that I shared with my sister and sister-in-law (the best tech invention ever since we could all update the list in real time) and we each “signed up” for specific items for both the kids and adults so that we covered all bases and didn’t miss anything or bring unnecessary duplicates. Three hyper-organized women are better than one, and I felt immediate relief knowing that there were other sets of eyes on the list. I was also excited about sampling their contributions!
Planning vacation food for picky toddlers is challenging in itself, but an added challenge is that I follow the Weight Watchers program. I didn’t want to be unprepared all week long without some solid staple items that I could indulge in guilt-free. I planned a few make-ahead Skinnytaste cold salads in bulk, low-point wraps, fat free greek yogurt, and a huge container of my go-to crockpot salsa chicken. Don’t let me fool you- I totally overindulged anyway- but I had my healthy options to balance out the extra eating, so I wasn’t completely thrown off track.
2 days out: Clothes.
- For the rapidly growing boys, I review their current wardrobes and see what fits. Usually, this means I take items from Gray’s closet and realize they’re too small, and then put them directly in Logan’s dresser before I run to the mall to do some shopping for Gray. I love their current ages because Logan is none the wiser about the perils of wearing hand me downs, and Gray is always excited and grateful for new gear. I pretty much stick to Gap Kids, Old Navy and H&M for the boys, as well as Target’s Cat & Jack line. I make sure they have fitting sneakers as well as water shoes and hats to help protect them from the sun. My guys don’t like wearing sunglasses right now, but if they did, I would for sure get those too because toddlers in sunnies is just about the cutest thing.
- For myself, I learned long ago to stick to a color palette so that I can mix and match items effortlessly. For this trip I wore mostly primary colors with some neutrals mixed in. I’m not one to plan specific outfits in advance, as I always feel that something I planned often doesn’t feel “right” in the moment. One color scheme ensures that I have options that all “go” and nothing random that I pack and end up not wearing at all. I make sure to have one pair of neutral flats and one pair of heels, as well as a large bag and a clutch to match both options. Truth be told, my clutch-carrying moments in life are limited to when I don’t have my kids with me, but just in case there’s impromptu adult time (there wasn’t, haha), I want to be prepared (and not digging through binkys and Daniel Tiger figurines when I’m reaching for my lipgloss). I pack up my jewelry inside the clutch.
The day before: Staging.
If my children were a little more reserved, I wouldn’t have to stage in a safe space, and I could begin to line items up by the door as I gathered them, but the reality that I live in would ensure that that wouldn’t be a good idea. I stage in my bedroom and the garage as much as possible. I start to gather items that we don’t need to use the day before the trip and prep them for the grand packing event. I wash and fold tons of laundry, get all of our suitcases down from the attic, and make a lot of piles that make no sense to anyone else but me. This part is really the calm before the storm, because it makes me feel like I’ve got my shit somewhat together when in reality, I’m about to face the main event, which brings me to my knees every single time.
The morning of: It’s Go Time.
Before the soles of my feet have hit the bedside floor, I’m sprinting a mental marathon, with big dreams in my mind of all my focused pre-planning making this last stage a breeze, and getting on the road before Logan’s nap. But by the time I’ve made it downstairs with both kids in tow, and realize what the task at hand is actually going to encompass, my lofty goals become realistic. The thing is, with two little ones, only one adult is able to be efficient at a given time. We each take turns packing things up, with both kids barking out orders and whining the entire time. I pack up my makeup. He does laundry. The boys tantrum and complain and dump all the food they’re offered all over the couch. I change the litter box. He drives to a neighbors to pick up a beach tent once we realize that ours has disappeared somehow. The day continues to drag at a snail’s pace but finally, it’s early afternoon by the time we hit the road. We’re all exhausted, and Mike and I are patting ourselves on the back for playing a successful game of SUV Jenga (see photo) and managing to fit everything we need for 96 hours away in our car. Some of it is stacked under my feet and piled on my lap, and you can’t see out the back window at all, but we did it. The rest of the trip is spent worrying about the food spoiling in the cooler, and checking items off of a new list- “Things We Just Realized We Forgot”: Mike’s bathing suit. Bottles. Mike’s toothbrush. That beach tent we just borrowed from the neighbor this morning.
It’s impossible to plan perfectly, but as long as where you’re headed has access to shopping, it’s not a tragedy when you realize that. The experience itself is where the joy lies. It’s worth every bit of hassle to watch our children enjoy a family vacation, blissfully unaware of the logistics end of things, as they should be. I’m reminding myself that today, as I vacuum up sand and trail mix from the crevices of the carseat and begin the daunting assembly line process of about 10 loads of laundry. It’s all about the journey!