Taking a Vacation with Kids Requires Planning!
I recently took my kids to a cottage for an extended weekend of fun. I made a road trip checklist to help me remember every little detail that I needed to do before we went. Not only did I have to pack up for our stay, but I had to pack for the 5 hour drive (that turned into an 8 hour drive, with stops!), and I had to prepare my home and car for leaving for that length of time.
Using my road trip checklist, I only forgot one important thing!
Road Trip Checklist Part 1: The Car
The first step to preparing for this vacation was to get my car checked out. I took it in to a garage to get the oil changed, the tire pressure topped up, and everything else they do to a car. I also made sure that I had all the required paperwork for traveling, such as updated insurance slips and ownership papers.
Second, my daughter and I cleaned out our van thoroughly. We even took out the seats so we could vacuum every detail. And a car wash took care of the outside. I double checked my first aid kit, my jack, and my battery booster, for safety. I added in a small air pump and tool kit, in the back.
Road Trip Checklist Part 2: The Packing List
Packing for 7 people is a challenge. When one of those 7 people is an infant, well, it’s even more interesting. I divided up my packing lists into sections, so that I didn’t forget anything.
So every person got their own suitcase. We all packed enough clothes for one outfit per day, plus 3 extras. (For the baby, I packed 3 outfits per day, plus a few extras.) I made sure at least one pair of pants was included, in case of cool evenings. We packed enough underwear for 2 a day, and a couple of pairs of socks. I packed clothes for church and for swimming in separate bags, so that I made sure I didn’t forget someone’s swimsuit.
I packed a separate bag for shoes, jackets and hats. Besides the shoes each child wore, I made sure to pack an alternative (either sandals or running shoes), and their church shoes. We also brought light sweaters with hoods, and sunhats or visors.
I purchased mesh zippered bags from our local dollar store, and packed individual toiletries for each person. And I got mini size shampoo and conditioner, body wash and toothpaste. I also bought new loofahs and toothbrushes for the trip. For those of my children using them, I included their deodorants, and then I added in some color coded elastics for hair. (Next time, I’ll also buy new brushes for each child, since packing them last minute created some difficulties!).
The mesh bags had handles, and were ideal for carrying to and from a shower facility. I wasn’t sure if our cottage had a shower included in it, or if we would be using the campground showers, so I packed for all possibilities. It turned out that we had a shower inside our cottage, but it was cramped, so having the mesh bags made hygiene easy. The bags got packed into each suitcase.
We were told we needed to bring our own bedding, so I made sure we had sleeping bags for everyone. I had to buy a few more, but sleeping bags made things easy, even if they were a bit bulky. For the baby, I had to get a playpen, since cribs or cots weren’t included in our cottage. We took one pillow from every bed, and I had “car pillows” — pillows that strapped around a seatbelt for sleeping children — that we could also use. And for the trip, I allowed each child to take a “cuddle blanket”, so they could nap in the van on the way there and back. Of course, they each took their special stuffie. They rode in the car with the kids.
Since I wasn’t sure if we would have cooler weather, I packed some fans for sleeping. My baby girl is used to sleeping with a fan for white noise, so I didn’t want to change that. Our cottage was surprisingly outfitted with an air conditioner, but I was glad of the fans anyway, as it wasn’t super warm. We just needed some air movement for sleep.
I knew beforehand that our cottage had dishes and pots and pans, so I didn’t have to bring those. However, I wish we had brought a hot plate of some kind, as the cottage had more of a kitchenette than a kitchen, with only a microwave and a toaster oven. There was a barbecue available, but it needed a tank to use (and I wasn’t going to buy a tank just for the few days we were there!)
I also wish I had brought a can opener. We were able to borrow but having one would have made life easier.
For the baby, I brought our booster chair that strapped onto a chair. It was also easily set on the floor or on a table. And I brought her spoons and bowls, along with her baby food, since she’s not quite ready for table food as meals.
For the trip itself, I packed each child a snack bag and their refillable water bottle. I also stuck a case of water bottles in the back of my van. Snacks were ziploc bags of vegetables, crackers and cheese, some cookies, a piece of fruit, and pretzels. On our way back, we were given a huge box of Fruit Roll Ups, so the kids enjoyed those too.
I planned to buy groceries when we got there, so I didn’t bring a cooler or ice.
While I already had a first aid kit in the van, I knew I wanted to stock up on bandaids. I also created a little medicine kit, that I added calamine lotion, anti nausea meds, pain killers, and antihistamine. I made sure I had something for every age group, including the baby. Thankfully we didn’t need anything more than a few bandaids.
Of course we needed sunscreen and bug spray. I took 4 bottles of sunscreen and we came home with 1/2 a bottle left. I took 3 different kinds of bug spray — one that I could use on my one-year-old, one that had DEET in it, to use around the cottage, and one that was more natural and DEET free. Surprisingly, the natural one was the most effective! It lasted almost 12 hours with no reapplication.
I also took candles and flashlights. My candles were citronella, so they did double duty. My one important item that I forgot was a lighter or matches! (Don’t forget this!)
We took life jackets as well, both for swimming and for boating. And we took helmets, knee and elbow pads for our bikes.
Since we were going to a cottage, I brought my kids’ bikes. They loved having a private campground with very little traffic to race around on their bikes. I also brought their sand toys for the beach and the playground. And we brought some board games, in case of a rainy day or a super hot day where we needed to stay inside. We also took our lawn chairs and camp stools. And I, in hope, took along marshmallow roasting sticks, even though our chances of having a campfire were small, due to fire bans. We didn’t end up using them, but we hoped anyway.
For the trip up and back, I bought small activity books for the kids. I also got them coloring books and their own set of markers. And I got them brand new small toys they could play with, as a surprise.
My van has a DVD player, so I grabbed a few DVDs that I could tolerate listening to for a while. And my older girls brought their tablets as well.
Road Trip Checklist Part 3: The House
Packing for the trip and preparing the car is only part of what you have to do when you’re going on vacation. You also have to make sure your house is left in order, so that you don’t come home to moldy bread and sour milk, or worse, a fire or a break in.
So first we cleaned out anything that would spoil before we left. I tried to use up what we could, but I wasn’t planning on bringing anything with us, except the snacks for the trip. So we disposed of leftovers in the compost, and secured the garbage in the garage.
Next, I made sure that we didn’t leave a cluttered entrance when we left. That way, when we got back, we could unpack quickly, without having to clean up just to get in.
I also did all the laundry, so that none of the clothes would get mildew-y and stinky while we were gone. And so that my laundry when I returned would be just the clothes and bedding from camping.
It was our garbage pickup day the day we left, so we left the recycling bins and garbage cans out by the curb. I made sure that every single trash can in the house was emptied before we left.
We have a cat, so I cleaned out her kitty litter, and made sure she had access to all the food and water she needed for the time we were gone. We weren’t going to be gone for a week, so I didn’t get a cat sitter, but if we were going to be longer, I would have gotten someone to check on her.
We tidied up outside as well as inside. All the outside toys we weren’t taking were put inside the garage, out of sight. I made sure nothing was left that would tempt anyone to come explore our yards while we weren’t there.
I also set a notification with our local post office to hold the mail, so it wouldn’t build up. No need to advertise the fact that we weren’t home, even if only for a few days. It’s a free service online, so it wasn’t a huge deal.
And finally we double checked that all the appliances were unplugged, any electronics that we weren’t taking were put away out of sight, and the windows and doors were closed and locked before we left. We didn’t put on any outdoor lights, since I only put them on when we’re gone for the day. I also let my neighbours know that we were going, so they could keep an eye on the house for us.
Having a Road Trip Checklist Made Getting Ready Easy
When you’re taking a trip with kids, it can be challenging to think of every little detail. Having a checklist to refer to makes it easy, and fun. It’s less stressful when you know you aren’t going to forget anything, like leaving the oven on. You can take care of everything by crossing it off or checking it off the list.
Get your printable Road Trip Checklist here! (free for subscribers)