10 Simple Steps: How to Pack for Vacation with a Big Family

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Getting ready for a family vacation has become much more of an ordeal as our family has grown. When you are trying to mobilize a family of 9 for an extensive amount of time, it can get really easy to lose track if you have packed enough underwear (or any!!) for each child. We tried having the kids pack for themselves, and then the suffer the natural consequences when they didn’t pack right, but that really just added to misery for all of us when the child forgot their swimsuit or jacket and was uncomfortable or unable to join in the fun.

But, I believe packing is an important skill I want my children to learn. So this is the way we do it:

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  1. Three days before the trip- Wash Everything In the House:

I start at least 3 days before we need to leave for our trip and wash every clothing item in my house. Each of my children has a basket for their clean laundry in our laundry hall way (more on that here), so they have to have everything that often hangs out in the basket, folded and put away. This cuts back on trying to remember what you still want to wash and pack for the trip when it is currently dirty.

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2. Two days before the trip- Kids Packing List:

Then two days before we leave, the kids grab their packing list (click here for a free printable), and fill up their clean laundry basket with the items they want to bring on the trip. Now instead of just throwing it in a suitcase at this point, I do a check through of their items. It saves me a lot of time to have them gather and run around retrieving things on their list. But there are often times they will show up with all shorts when we are headed to freezing weather, of they are bringing their rattiest pair of sweats for the wedding reception.

3. Master Packing List

As I go through the clothes baskets, I check off the items that I have on my master list, and make a list of items they still need to get for me or maybe swap out for a better choice.

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4. Individual Bags for a 1 or 2 Night Stop

A big part of our travel is that we have very long car drives. We live in Texas and it takes quite awhile to drive to our family members in the West or to either of the coasts if we’re doing a big family tour like our New York (to see travel details click here for NYC, Statue of Liberty or Philadelphia), San Francisco, or Church History tours (Kirtland, Nauvoo, Salt Lake City, Harmony). Because of this, we often have multiple nights we’re at different hotels. If that is the case, I will pack individual bags for the different nights we’re in different places so we don’t have to empty out the entire car for 1 or 2 nights. I will also label the bags so every one can see what bag is coming in which night. For example if we are stopping in New Mexico, or Las Vegas, I’ll have tags on the bags with those names, so we don’t have to bring in everything in the car.

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5. Clean House Before We Go

The day before the trip the packing is mostly finished, and the house cleaning begins. All my kids know that I hate coming home to a crazy house. It’s just too much in combination with all the trip clean up and exhaustion from being away. So every body pitches in and we go to town on it.

6. Travel Snacks and Food

Depending on what time of day we are leaving on our trip- I may get the travel food ready the night before, or wait for the day we leave. If we are driving, I always bring a cooler, cutting board, dish towel and small knife for prepping lunches. This saves us a ton of money while we’re traveling and helps us eat so much healthier. It’s also nice to have food prepped and ready the second someone says they are starving. No need to drive around looking for fast food with a bunch of hungry, tired kids.

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7. Activity Bags

The one part of the packing that I don’t check on, is the kids cinch sack or backpack of car/plane entertainment. Depending on how much room we have, depends on which type of bag they are using. For instance, when we went on our Disney Cruise and were flying, I didn’t want to keep track of 7 back packs for one night at the hotel, on the plane and then find somewhere to try to stow them on the cruise boat. So we used cinch sacks or had the kids share one or two main activity bags on that type of a trip.

8. Medicine

There have been a few must have things that I pack now that have been game changers once we are on the trip. One of them is a basket (or bag) with medications in it. This includes things that aren’t regular prescriptions like Tylenol or Benadryl. We have had so many trips where a child has come down with something in the night and it is so exhausting to have to drive around an unknown city looking for an open pharmacy. This has really saved us on some trips.

9. Laundry Detergent

Another thing I make sure I always bring is laundry detergent. You can usually buy this in hotels, but it is usually really expensive and sometimes not a brand you care for. I always bring a little bag of tide pods and a bottle of Woolite or other detergent I could use to wash something out with in the bathroom sink. There have been multiple trips we’ve been on where something got bodily fluids on it that we needed or didn’t want sitting nasty in the car or plane for a week until we brought it home. We also have a bag of quarters we bring in case we need the hotel laundry machines.

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10. Tidy Trunk Basket

The last thing- that is a must have for me- is my tidy trunk basket. I fill it up with the kids pillows and blankets while we’re driving, and then fill it up with our dirty laundry while we’re at the destination. It just keeps everything so much tidier when you have so much stuff you are trying to handle.

I hope these tips have given you some great ideas to get ready for your next family trip. Where are you headed next?? Tell us in the comments!!

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Hillary HessComment