But packing for such a trip? And keeping the kids entertained as we traveled from state park to state park? And night after night in a campground? These kinds of conditions called for some Happy Gal Love, and that’s what I’m about to share with you. Anything worth doing is worth doing organized…because in my experience, being organized means having less stress and more fun. So buckle up, ‘cause I’m about to revolutionize the family vacation experience!
- Type up your packing list and save it on your computer. How many times over the years have you made lists of all the different equipment you take to the lake, for the bathroom, or on a hike? Make this the last time, and re-use the list each time you pack. Add to it as you discover new needs, and permanently delete from the list other items that you never use. This is a no-brainer, and makes packing a lot less daunting.
- Print all itineraries, maps, reservation numbers, and miscellaneous information and put it in a binder to take with you. I can’t tell you helpful that was this trip! We stayed in 5 different campgrounds, and I had all of the information I needed at my fingertips. My binder even included our camping menu, park brochures and activity ideas for the kids. I didn’t waste a second searching for papers or information throughout the entire 9-day stretch.
- Pre-pack for the hike. I don’t know about you, but the thought of assembling sunscreen, chapstick, snacks, water, bug repellent, first aid kit, and other items each time we had to go on a hike began to get overwhelming after the second or third time. Packing your hiking pack before you ever leave on your trip allows you to hit the trail with ease. You’ll just have to replenish the perishables after each hike.
- Pre-cook every possible meal. Call me high maintenance, but I just kind of like cooking with running water and electricity. In my Camping Recipes post this week, I shared with you several recipes that can be precooked and then frozen. What a lot of time and effort this saved me on my trip! Meals were ready quickly, and clean up was a cinch. This made everyone involved a whole lot happier.
- Dirty Clothes Bag. Nothing is worse than coming home with unused clean clothes mixed in with the dirty ones. Pack a bag or two for dirty clothes, and when you come home your laundry will already be sorted.
I was actually a fun mom this trip, and spent some time preparing activities for the kids while on the road. It made for a better trip for everyone! Here were some of the favorites:
- The M&M Game. Thank you to Karascreativeplace for this great idea! The kids got a snack pack of M&Ms and spent some time estimating how many M&Ms were in their pack, as well as how many of each color. They filled in their guesses on their worksheet, and then compared their guesses with the actual number. This game was a winner all the way around: the kids got a treat, they exercised their brains a little bit, and it ate up some time (pardon the pun!) Download this free printable to play the M&M game on your next vacation. click image to print
- Busy Bags. The kids really thought these were fun. I picked up some cheap lunch boxes from my local TJ Max and packed each kid their own bag of treats and activities. I hit the dollar store and got some prizes, crafts, and toys (a rubix cube, a deck of cards, a notebook and some pens, etc.) They also got their own pack of gum (that was cause for some excitement!) and a few dollars to spend at the gas station. (Side note: This is what I’ve learned about packing snacks in the car: It doesn’t matter what I pack, or how much money I spend buying their favorite treats, because they just want to choose their own snack when we stop for gas anyway. I figure I actually save money by giving them each a few dollars to spend rather than stocking the car with a bunch of food. Plus, they get to learn how far a dollar goes, and it is a good opportunity for them to learn a little budgeting lesson.)
- Made Up Mad Libs. You’ve heard of Mad Libs, right? Those silly stories that have you fill in the nouns, verbs, and adjectives of the story? I use my laptop and write my own Mad Lib as we drive (always pertaining to the particular trip we are on) and we’ve had some good times reading the funny stories that have resulted. We still laugh about the “Steve” Light Year Mad Lib we wrote on the way to Disneyland, or the time that someone actually came up with the word “marshmallow” for the noun when filling in the blank for what we were roasting over the fire at a cabin trip.
- The Skittle Game. This is what I pull out when the driving starts to get long and we start hearing choruses of “Are we there yet?!!!” Here’s how it works. I have a big bag of skittles (that candy being selected strategically because I don’t like skittles and have no desire to snack on them while we drive…) and I’ll say something like “First person to see a red car” or “First person to see a flag” or “First person to see a deer;” the first person who sees it gets the skittle. All of that work for one little skittle, but even the teenager loves it!
I have a mission. It is called “Get the kids off the electronics.” Seriously! Doesn’t it get old? We’re out in NATURE, for heaven’s sake! What ever happened to exploring and using your imagination? Well, the kids need a little encouragement in that department, and here are some fun activities I planned to encourage them to be present and interact with each other.
- Marshmallow Shooters.
Thanks to Come Together Kids for this fun idea that everyone enjoyed, from the 14-year old boy to the 2-year old girl. Find the instructions to assemble here. (Funny story…after the shooters were assembled, we took turns shooting the marshmallows while everyone tried to catch the launched marshmallow into their own cup. One of the funniest moments of the trip was when my 11-year old daughter accidentally caught a marshmallow in her mouth instead of her cup. I wish I’d had a picture to capture the pleasantly surprised look on her face!)
Another winner with my kids. I found these bingo boards on Amazon, and brought plenty of prizes from the dollar store. Bingo has become a family tradition when we travel.
- Campfire Songs. I wanted to share this link I found at Country Farm Lifestyles where I got a lot of fun campfire songs. This even includes some guitar chords if you are so inclined! The kids pretended to hate it, but I heard them singing the songs on their own the next day!
- Candy Bar Game. Here are the rules for this game in case you haven’t played it. You need a bunch of full-sized candy bars, two bowls, four dice, and a timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes, and pass the bowls around with two dice inside each of them. Bowls are passed quickly as everyone tries to roll a 7, 11, or doubles. After rolling a 7, 11, or doubles, the lucky roller gets to select a candy bar, and then tries to hide it from everyone’s view. Once the candy bars are all taken from the pile, you may steal the candy bars from each other until the timer goes off. The trick is to keep track of your favorites, because if someone doesn’t have what you’re asking for, then you don’t get to try again.
- If/Then Game. I actually played this at a Christmas party a few years ago, and it has become a favorite with my kids. Everyone has a slip of paper and a pen. They write on their paper a statement beginning with “If.” For example, “If Mom didn’t get so many misquito bites…” And everyone folds their paper and puts it in the center of the table. Everyone then draws a slip of paper and answers the “if “ with a “then.” The answer might read, “Then she wouldn’t itch her bites so much!” Once everyone has written down their “then” statement, it’s time to read the statements out loud. But as you go around the circle, the first person reads their “if” statement, and the person sitting next to them reads their “then” statement. The if’s and then’s are unrelated but are often quite funny when paired together.
I hope all of these tips help your trips to be more organized, and therefore more fun. I’d love to hear your tips and family favorites. Please share them with us by leaving a comment below!