So You Want to Pack for Vacation

Recently my little family went on vacation for eight days to the cottage. It’s a rented cottage that we share with my parents, but packing two adults and two children and ensure that it wouldn’t swallow us up in the car was challenging.

I want to share with you how I managed to pack us all without overdoing it, without having to do all the laundry and grocery shop half way in, and still remember that favorite toy.

I had been thinking about packing for this trip for a long time. It started just after I went on maternity leave in February, in fact. Fortunately, I had a Google doc from the trip last year that I started with and revised with our changing needs. Here is my approach:

– I broke my doc down by person and function. So for my daughter I would have categories like “Bed time”, “Bath”, “Grooming”, “Clothes”, “Swimming” etc, and would list what she needed packed.

– Once I covered each person, I moved on to general categories like “Outdoors”, “Electronics”, “First Aid” and “Misc” and listed what I felt we would use while away.

– Next, I filled out a meal plan for the food I was responsible for during the trip and generated a shopping list from that. Yes, this is extremely anal-retentive, but it made packing and grocery shopping SO much easier!

After completing my list, I walked away from it for a few days. Then I would revisit and edit as I saw fit. Once I was happy, and the time to pack arrived, I printed each list and put it on the fridge.

Note: when it came to clothes, I wrote down outfit ideas for myself but no one else. I basically tried to create outfits and pick multi-use items from my lack-luster wardrobe.

Prep Work
Don’t get this confused with planning, because in my over-organized mind, there is a difference. Give these ideas a try.

– In the weeks leading up to doing actual packing, I put boxes down our main hallway. When I saw or bought something for the trip, I would toss it into a box. Additionally, I would make a tick on my packing list to know that it was accounted for.

– The week before we left, we took a calendar and planned on each day what we needed to get done. This ranged from cleaning the house, last-minute laundry, grocery shopping, and gassing up the car.

Note: I actually found that the best way to start packing was to clean the house and do all the laundry first. It is so efficient when all your things are in their place for you to find!

Ok, now that you’re so organized that you don’t want anyone to ruin your system, you’re ready to pack! Here is what we did.

– Designate a space to put all bags/bins that are full and ready to go. I did this in my front hall that we barely use. Here’s what it looked like in progress


– Use similar shaped bins, boxes and bags so that they stack cleaner. I used bins for toys, and for items like citronella coils, shoes and extension cords, boxes for pantry food and bags for linens and odd items. Reusable bags are nice because they are sturdy and can stow away compactly once you’ve unpacked.

– As I packed, I would check off the item from my packing list. I didn’t strike it off because I brought my list with me for when we came home so I didn’t forget anything.

– Grouping items to be packed is a big life saver when arriving at your destination. In addition to the toy/book bin and second “lifestyle” items, I grouped bed linens and towels, fans, electronics, DVDs, blankets and pillows. Toiletries, and a first aid kit with medicines all went into a carry-on sized suitcase and all clothes went into a large suitcase.

Tip: if you haven’t discovered the amazing power that rolling your clothes when packing holds, you need to do it! It saves tons of space!

A note on laundry: I did loads each day leading up to packing. As I folded, I would put aside clothes I wanted to pack so they wouldn’t get worn. This wasn’t completely avoidable, so I did a final two loads the day before and morning of the day we left.

We still had things that didn’t go in a box because it either didn’t fit, like a fishing rod and tackle box, or because it was in its own case, like a tent. This is ok by me because they can fit in the inevitable gaps when loading the car.

Finally, cold food went into a cooler and all other food went into two stackable boxes. We decided to pick up bread and eggs once we arrived so they didn’t get squished en route.

Car Tetris
It’s now time to load up! We have a Dodge Journey so there is lots of packing space and then also purchased a roof top carrier which added 18 cubic feet of extra storage.

Since my husband packed the car, I am going to try my best to describe the highlights.

– First, he filled the roof carrier with bins and loose items so they weren’t able to roll around in the car.

– In the trunk, he packed the suitcases, food and more fragile items to keep secure.

– a few items ended up in the back seat with the kids, but were stowed safely. Since we are traveling with an infant and toddler, we didn’t want anything sliding around them to pose a potential danger. We ended up putting the pillows, a soccer ball and a small bag on the floor in the back seat.

Ready to Hit the Road

You’re ready to leave! If you’re lucky (read: over-prepared) like me, you’ll have time to clean. Yes, I cleaned my house before leaving. You will appreciate it when you arrive home after your trip and see a tidy home instead of the mess you left behind.

Check the widows and doors, turn down the thermostat, turn on a hallway light and get in the car.

Enjoy your vacation!

Let me know if any of these tips helped you or share with me your own tips for my next trip out of town!


4 thoughts on “So You Want to Pack for Vacation

  1. LOVE this! I agree that planning is a very important part of a vacation. And cleaning before I leave is absolutely essential. I’m glad someone else agrees! Thanks for the great tips =)

  2. I love this!! Thank you so much! You don’t by chance have a link to your actual packing list–do you? I would LOVE to see how you categorized everything! thanks again~Amy

    1. Hi there, I can definitely work on perhaps a blank template. I will need to update this article because my kids are now older, we have a different car and a third child!

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