Wednesday, November 18, 2009

19 Tips for Zen-Like Holiday Travel

The holiday travel daze is just around the corner! I get a little twitchy just thinking about all the packing, cleaning, sorting, planning, buying, wrapping in my near future! Here are a few family-friendly tips for creating some mellowness in your life over the next few weeks:

1. Give yourself 2-3 days to pack. Don’t wait until the night before the trip (or the morning of – you know who you are!) It always takes longer than you think. A stressed out mom and forgotten essentials are definitely not a good way to start a trip!

2. Create a packing list for each family member. You can get as fancy as an Excel spreadsheet or use a piece of notebook paper. The important thing is to get down in writing each family member’s travel needs. Think about the weather at your destination and what sorts of activities you’ll be doing. Make copies of each list for future trips. Don’t forget phone, computer, camera and game chargers!

3. Pack self-contained, complete sets of clothing for each child. You can use gallon size zip-lock bags (use a Sharpie to put the child’s name on it) or even reuse plastic grocery bags for this purpose. Older kids can help and often love the process of putting together outfits for each day of the trip. Don’t forget to include socks, undies, hair clips and any other accessories. Once you are at your destination, it’s easy to just grab each kids’ bag ‘o clothes for the day! Bonus: You can use the bags for dirty clothes on the back end of your trip.

4. Pack absolute essentials in your carry on bag or purse in case your luggage gets lost or delayed. Medications, lovies, toothbrushes, change of clothes (or at least a fresh pair of underwear!), contact lens solution, etc.

5. Don’t wrap gifts if you are flying! Pack wrapping paper or gift bags in your suitcase to wrap gifts upon arrival at your destination. There’s nothing worse than seeing a grown woman cry as the TSA guy is destroying her beautiful wrap jobs. Also, pack one suitcase with gifts to be given and you can use it on your return trip for gifts you and yours received.

6. Make copies of passports, credit cards, trip itineraries with confirmation numbers (e-tickets), drivers’ licenses and other important documents, and leave with a trusted friend or family member back home. You will thank me for this when you leave your wallet sitting on the bathroom counter at Chicago O’Hare.

7. Make arrangements for pet and house sitters well in advance. Kennels fill up around the holidays. Friends and neighbors who usually help you out might be traveling themselves. Keep a form letter about all of Fido and Fifi’s habits and needs so you can just print it out for the pet sitter each time you travel.

8. Weigh your bags at home to avoid costly surplus weight baggage charges at the airport. Remember, each traveler, no matter their age, is allowed a certain number of checked and carry on bags. Your two year old is entitled to a carry on bag and a checked bag.

9. Pick a color to coordinate your clothes for the entire trip. My trips tend to be either “brown” trips or “black” trips. It really cuts down on the shoes you need to pack and it just makes packing a lot more streamlined and, frankly, mindless.

10. Keep your toiletry bag pre-packed at all times so you don’t even have to think about what you need to take. I admit I worship at the wall of travel-size stuff at Target. You literally can get any toiletry item you really need in a travel size. You may not find your luscious, extra special eye makeup remover, but, I promise, those little Dove wipes will do in a vacation pinch! Or if you must have your special creams and stuff, stock up on the little plastic travel containers and fill them with the goods.

11. Leave your home reasonably clean. Well, OK, how about just reasonably tidy. Ahhhh. Doesn’t it feel good to come home to a clean house? Also, unplug (don’t just turn off) the “vampire” appliances throughout your house: computers, printers, microwaves, TVs, etc. These are the items that suck the electricity even when turned off. Consider it your own little carbon offset while you drive or fly across the country!

12. It took three or four years but John is now a convert to my “roll your clothes” process for packing a suitcase. I swear it seems like you can pack twice as much in a suitcase by neatly rolling your clothing rather than folding them. It also helps keep wrinkles to a bare minimum. Go ahead, try it.

13. Back up your faith in your GPS with a real map (you know that paper thing that has all the squiggly lines on it?) or MapQuest printed directions. You just never know.

14. Pack a small hostess gift from your hometown so you won’t be running around trying to find something special the last day of your trip.

15. If traveling by car, pack activities and toys in a soft bin on the seat (or between the seats if you have captain’s chairs) so kids can access items themselves. You’ll save your shoulder joints from the constant, ergonomically-incorrect reaching back!

16. Oldie but goodie: Collect a few new books, toys, games and/or DVDs for the road or plane. There’s nothing that says 10 minutes of peace and quiet for mom and dad like a new goodie. And for God’s sake, don’t forget to pack spare batteries for that Game Boy or DS or whatever it is that mesmerizes your child!

17. If you travel by plane a lot, consider investing in a second, lighter weight carseat for travel. We schlepped around a bulky, heavy-as-a-bag-of-rocks car seat until I saw the light.

18. Wear your bulkiest shoes or boots on the plane to free up space in your luggage. Yes, you’ll have to remove them for the security line but it’s better than them taking up a third of your suitcase space!

19. If you are staying with friends or family members, do a quick run through the house each day and collect all your stuff. This will ensure that you at least start each day with your belongings intact. It’ll make your last day pack up much easier as well. Bring a copy of your packing list to use as a checklist for your return packing.

The holidays can be hard enough on you and your loved ones. Travel stress, extended family issues, unrealistic expectations, excessive eating and drinking – all can take their toll. At least give yourself and your family a solid head start toward a calmer and more relaxing holiday by having a good travel plan. Ooohhhhmmmm.