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Vacation Countdown - The Savvy Parent's Guide to Packing

Your family vacation is just around the corner, but have you started packing? If you’re like me, waiting until the last minute to pack for a long-distance trip never works. Don’t ask me about the time I forgot to pack the pull-ups for my family’s island getaway because I decided to wing it. My time-tested mantras for packing: start early and make a list. Following these suggestions makes it less likely you’ll forget something and helps you avoid costly purchases en route or at your destination.

Count down the days to your vacation and get packing with these practical tips:

About a week in advance – Take 10 minutes and make a quick list of everything you’ll need for your trip. From aspirin to sunscreen, get it down on paper. Or jot your list on sticky notes, so you can post them around the house when you pack.

Consider what you’ll need to buy before your trip, from snacks to medicines to insect repellent. Write these items on a separate sticky note and keep it in your bag. Or email a copy of it to your smartphone, so you can purchase the items when you’re running errands. This saves you from making a hurried trip to buy necessities the night before you leave.

While you’re at it, get refills on any prescriptions you or your family may need while you’re away.

A couple of days before your departure – Get out your luggage, and gather basic items you’re not likely to use between now and your departure date, such as guidebooks, a First-Aid kit, extra diapers and camera equipment. Stash the items in your suitcase and you’ve already made a dent in the packing.

Gather toiletries for the whole family. I save time on this step by keeping a toiletry bag stocked with essentials specifically for travel, separate from the items my family uses on a daily basis. This reduces the risk that we’ll forget to pack toothbrushes or antiperspirant the morning we’re racing out the door to the airport.

The day before – Gather clothes, shoes, hats and other items for each family member, or if your children are old enough, put them in charge of collecting their items. If you tend to overpack, give yourself permission to get out everything you think you’ll need. Then, as you go, return less practical items to your closet.

To streamline efforts, set aside items for your diaper bag or carryon as you pack, such as sunglasses, wet wipes and a change of clothes for the little one. Once your suitcase is ready, organizing your carryon is simple – just throw it all in the bag and you’re done.

Print travel documents and make sure you have IDs or, if necessary, passports. Verify driving directions and print out maps and other materials you may need for your journey.

The night before – Make a sticky note for those last-minute items that are easy to forget in the bustle of leaving, such as your tablet, phone charger or your child’s favorite blanket or toy. Post the note where you’ll see it first thing in the morning.
Pack snacks and any medicines you and your family require.

Check to make sure all your suitcases have tags with your current contact information. To avoid costly airline fees for overweight luggage, weigh your bags with a portable travel scale. For peace of mind, call your airline or visit their website to check on the latest baggage fees, as they often change without notice.

A little advance planning and organization is the first step to a great vacation. Avoid the stress of waiting until the last minute to pack and get to the getaway you and your family deserve.

Packing Checklist:

Electronics: cell phone, camera, tablet, MP3 player

Chargers for all electronics

Cash, ATM cards, credit cards

IDs/passports and visas


Travel documents, such as maps, driving directions, flight itineraries and hotel reservations

Toiletries and medicines

First-Aid kit

Sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, insect repellent

Sealable plastic bag with small liquid items (for air travel)

Heather is a freelance writer and a mother to two avid travelers.

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