Time to Pack it Up

This week has been a train wreck. My husband was called away on last minute travel. My oldest came down with a fever and smoker’s cough, and we are scheduled to pile into the car this Saturday and make the 1,000 mile trek to Pensacola. I am grateful, and I am tired.

Vacations have a way of turning me into a stress ball, fretting over the what-ifs and what-have-i-forgottens. But as ridiculous as I become leading up to departure day, the reunion between Vacation Me and Everyday Me is totally worth it. I want to hang out with Vacation Me all the time.

Before I can start knocking back margaritas with my vacation version, though, my everyday self needs to get her ducks in a row, so I start the packing process at least seven days ahead of time. It goes something like this:

Day 7 – Laundry and List Making

I begin my week-long countdown with laundry followed by more laundry. When I think the laundry is done, someone dumps soggy cheerios all over themselves while another child pours applesauce down their pants. Normal people would put the soiled clothes in the hamper and deal with it after vacation. I have to run another round of wash because otherwise I can’t check the laundry box off my list.

In between loads, I make lists. Lots of lists. Grocery lists. Packing lists. To-do lists. I love my lists, and laundry day gives me lots of time to make them.

Day 6 – Let’s Go Shopping!

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It’s time to start checking things off those lists, and Day 6 usually finds me at the grocery store. Creating a well-rounded snack bar for the car is one of my seven rules of the road. My little men are always eager to stock up on snacks, so this shopping trip is relatively easy. My personal shoppers dart back and forth in the cracker aisle determining which of the 53 flavors of fish-shaped goodness to select, narrowly dodging oncoming carts and unsuspecting grandmothers hunting for their Saltines.

We pick up granola bars and applesauce cups for roadside stops. The boys mull over cheese and cracker combinations and non-chocolate candies for rewards and bribes. (Chocolate is no longer allowed. On our last trip, I walked into the hotel looking like I had had an unfortunate “accident” after sitting on a handful of chocolate covered peanuts for three hours).

Next, we hit the cereal aisle for a giant box of fruit loops or cookie crisp, something filled with tasty chemicals and dyes.  I grab chips and salsa and microwave popcorn for late-night hotel snacks. If I love my husband that day, he gets a bag of Doritos.

For this particular trip, I grabbed fruit and veggies, too. I’ll be in a bathing suit for three days, and in my mind, this will make up for a winter of not working out.

Day 5 – Lay it All on the Table

This is my favorite day. This is when I pull out all of our stuff and lay it in neat little piles to be perused for the next 24 hours. It also allows time for my children to run through the piles like bulldozers, so I get to organize them again and make sure I really have what I need.

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Vacations give me an excuse to act like I have my life together. I pair coordinating outfits for the kids because they normally exist in pajamas five days out of seven. Comfy clothes for the car, collared shirts for fancy dinners we are going to attend and never do, beachy surfer looks for braggy Instagram posts. So much to think about!

Can I trust the sunny forecast? Did they hire that meteorologist because he knows what he’s talking about or because he has a nice smile? Does 65 degrees really feel like 65 degrees at night on the ocean? What if someone pukes? What if I look chubby in those shorts? Questions torment me all hours of the day and night. I answer them with my overly thorough approach to packing.

It’s fun for me, until Day 4.

Day 4 – Pack it Up, Pack it In

It’s time to get those organized rows of clothes into bags. The first step is to eliminate one third of what I have because it will never fit. This takes most of the morning.

Once I’ve pulled the least adorable options, I start the packing process. For my kids, open-top carriers work best as I can get to their clothes easier. I’ve tried traditional suitcases, and it is difficult to quickly snag a spare outfit or change a shirt. Our car is usually packed so tightly that laying out a suitcase is profanity provoking.

The second trick I’ve learned is to pack a smaller bag for our quick stops enroute. For example, we are traveling to Florida and staying there for four nights. This will require three nights on the road, so I pack a separate smaller bag with cozy car outfits, diapers and wipes, a few snacks, changes of underwear and a pair of pajamas for each kiddo. This makes hotel stops along the way easier as the trip to our room involves just our suitcase and the kid’s hotel bag. The boys’ big bag, the snack bag, the diaper bag, the beach bag – they stay in the car until we reach our destination.

Day 3 – My Day of Poor Parenting

This is where it all starts to go a little nutty. I know the departure date is looming, and every morning it gets closer. On Day 3, the calm wears off. I get antsy and slightly aggressive. How come Mom gets stuck with all the hard work while Dad escapes to another business meeting disguised as MLB opening day? You know what I mean? No? Just me?

The irritation and general anxiety drives me to ignore my children all day, placing them in front of the television or a bedroom full of blocks as I look through pre-packed bags and revise lists. I feed my kids fast food or takeout pizza because I cannot be bothered to cook. Nothing actually gets accomplished on Day 3.

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Day 2 – Procrastinate

The frustration hits an all-time high as I go to bed the night before with the guilt of having ignored my kids and yet accomplished nothing. I convince myself during the tossing and turning prior to slumber that I will get up bright and early, before the kids, and pack the rest of our stuff. This never happens.

Instead, I drag myself out of bed following repeated requests for milk and attention. I make an entire pot of coffee and then consider making a second while my empty and over-caffeinated stomach churns, begging me to stop the madness.

Day 2 usually looks eerily similar to Day 3 until about eleven o’clock at night. That’s when I kick it into gear and start knocking stuff off the lists. My suitcase finally gets packed – and my husband’s, though he typically has nothing to do with it. I dedicate a shelf in the fridge to everything that must make it to a cooler, and I line up all the bags in our entry way (some of which always remain packed, making this final process way easier). When it comes to traveling with kids, I cannot afford to be spontaneous and my Type A tendencies reach record highs as departure day draws near.

Day 1 – Locked and Loaded

On Day 1, my husband has usually returned from wherever it is he’s been hiding (working…same difference), so it’s time for him to pitch in. I try to even the score by ordering him around requesting he clean out the vehicle, vacuum, handle last-minute errands before it’s time to go. He hands me bags, one by one, as I puzzle-piece them together in the back of the vehicle.

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He sticks it out because he’s met Vacation Me, and she’s awesome. She’s like happy all the time and uses her nice telephone voice instead of the dull growl of Everyday Me. He puts up with the demands of Day 1, so he can leave Everyday Me at home and hook up with the vacation version ASAP.

In the same respect, as much as I’ve grown accustomed to Everyday Me, I have a not-so-secret love affair with Vacation Me, too, which is why I put myself through the craziness of the week-long packing process. The more I plan, the smoother our trip goes. While I cannot steer us completely away from the catastrophes that are bound to track us down, I can prepare us with the tools for a workaround.

Vacation Me appreciates the work that Everyday Me puts in ahead of time so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor on departure day. We pull out of the drive, the kids giggling in the backseat and my husband already singing along to the radio, holding the hand of that mistress he left waiting in the car when we returned from our last vacation.

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