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Plan Ahead for Travel

by Mar 17, 2016

Plan Ahead
In my day job, I organize details, plan procedures, and I LOVE it!  But I know not everyone is a planner, some people don’t even like spreadsheets (GASP!)  Not to be too mellow-dramatic, but planning ahead can make or break even the smallest trip.  Depending on who you are, that sounds obvious or ominous or over-whelming, but it really isn’t any of those things.  It takes the right balance of prep work on the front end to make trips still an adventure in the unknown but feel like a vacation rather than a frantic and expensive scavenger hunt.

We love trips — but want to enjoy every last minute, rather than shopping for swim bottoms or a phone charger (especially when I can visualize exactly where they are at home).  Even worse is having blisters because I didn’t bring the right pair of shoes or getting out of the plane and realizing that we have no idea how to get to our night of lodging… and it is raining… and we are starving… and have nothing with us… and Johnny cut his arm…

A (slightly OCD) spreadsheet that is adjusted and used before each trip makes a world of difference.  It doesn’t really matter a whole lot if you are going away for a weekend or a month.  The list remains similar but some areas might take a bit more prep or get to be removed.  You are MORE than welcome to copy mine and adjust away!  We take so many trips and I’ve been tweaking this list for years.  I want travel to be as fun and easy for people as possible.


Standard Plan Spreadsheet for Travel

The Day-Pack Scoop:

Secondly, be ready to travel at any moment.  Each person in our family has a travel & toiletry bag that is nearly ready (even when the kids were little)… just add clothes. It helps because if there is a last minute offer we can’t refuse, it isn’t so over-whelming to actually make the trip happen. Not bragging or anything, but we’ve seriously left with less than 30 minutes of warning and needed to buy very little…

And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a day-pack ready and waiting by the door:

To save money, aggravation, and your marriage… Travel with the perfect day-pack.  I don’t care if hiking the Narrows, wandering Paris, meandering a local fest, surviving the zoo, a riveting soccer tournament, or an all-inclusive resort (okay, that last one might be pushing it), having a back-up plan on your back is a life-saver (or at least a fight-saver).  The perfect day-pack must be well stocked, in lots of Ziplocs, almost Y2K style.  Honestly, the day-pack barely adjusts from bikeride to local outing to travel to carry-on.  All of this stuff is ideally ready, all the time.

(a list is on the 2nd tab of the shared google spreadsheet)

Day-pack Contents (Essentials)
  • Comfortable Daypack (gender neutral, comfortable, durable, water resistant, and an appropriate size)
    • Large Water Bottle (enough for everyone to share with their own cup)
    • Trailmix, Snacks, Mints, Gum, Candy (have some protein, healthy stuff, and some incentive stuff)
    • Kleenex, Wet Wipes, Antibacterial (update these often, always need them)
    • Small Quick-Dry Towel / Picnic Throw  (should be multi-purpose – dry off bleachers, keep warm, & toss on the ground for fireworks or a picnic)
    • Cards / Dice / Disc Golf / Small Ball / Coloring / Project (never know when you need something to do)
    • Gallon Ziploc extra ziplocs & garbage bags (put phones in ziplocs if it starts raining and garbage bags to leave no trace)

  • Medical Quart Ziploc

    • Eye Drops, Lip Balm, Hairbands, Nail Clippers, Bandaids, Anti-bacterial
    • Stomach Meds, Tums, Dramamine,  Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, Allergy, Benedryl (extra perscriptions if necessary)

  • Electronic Quart Ziploc

    • $20 Bill & Quarters (sometimes, a person must just must have cash… or play pacman at a retro 1984 arcade)
    • Small Flashlight / Extra Phone Cord / Plug & Charged Brick

  • Food Mesh Bag (keep this with you for emergency picnics and to save tons of $$ on Meals & Food)

    • Plate / Bowl / Cup / Spork for each (I linked ours but there are good options all over- Target? IKEA?  Think light and distinguishable)
    • SS Pint Glass / Wine Glass / Kid Cup for each  (better than solo cups and even come color-coated or distinctive images)
    • Unpaper Towels for Each (these can be washed and reused rather than making waste… check ETSY)
    • Serving Spork / Cutting Board (both optional but nice to have for cutting cheese or laying things out)

  • Convenience Quart Ziploc (remove this bag before TSA or they throw it away)

    • Swiss Army Knife / Cheese Knife (great to have but don’t try to fly with them – just pull the whole bag)
    • Corescrew / Bottle Opener
Day-pack Contents (Optional Stuff)
OPTIONAL Extras Determined by Destination

  • Ponchos / Umbrellas for Rain
  • Hats / Gloves for Cold
  • Bug Spray & Sunscreen for Well-being
  • Adult & Kid Beverages for Fun (& Sanity)
  • Compact Cooler for Food & Drinks
  • Map of Park or Region for Efficiency
  • Foldable Chairs (or bleacher pads) & Table for Comfort

  • OPTIONAL by Family Need in Discrete Packaging

    • Tampons, pads, Diva cup & extra undies (especially with teens, just be ready – they will thank you someday)
    • Diapers, undies & change of kids clothes (even bigger kids have situations)
    • Baby powder, hemorrhoid cream… you know… all those embarrassing but necessary things…
    • Small Swim Suits (when the kids were little, I just kept an extra set in the bag, never know when there is fun water)

  • Consider per Person –  We each carry these ourselves but my kids are teenagers

    • Sunglasses / Sunhat or Visor / Appropriate Jacket
    • Phone / Charger / Headphones / Charged Brick / Camera
    • ID / Passport / Cash & Cards  — if necessary
Day-pack and Planning Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
  • Coming back to a clean and organized house is worth the time and energy ahead of time
  • 4 milkshakes cost $20 and 3 stomach aches.  1 milkshake split between 4 cups costs $5 and happy family
  • A bottle of wine is $10… and so is a glass.  Love my Canadian travel wine glass so so much
  • Search the house to make the daypack.  Most of us have all of this stuff laying around for free
  • Disposable dishes / cups / napkins could be used, but the earth would happier with less garbage
  • Buying a local botanic garden pass gives reciprocal membership to botanic gardens all over the US
  • Packing in ziplocs makes everything much easier to find.  Trust me on this.
  • The daypack may seem like just one more thing and a pain to carry — but think of it as trimming your frame!
  • Google spreadsheets are better than old-school lists!
    • no paper is wasted!
    • able to copy and adjust the original list rather than starting from scratch each time
    • check, plan, and adjust while waiting at a track meet or on the road
    • partner and kids can check the list and help out (in some alternate universe)
  • Most families are only blessed with one planner (thank God!) – but to you, my planner friend, I say…
    • Good work –and I know it is a lot of work!
    • I appreciate you — and I know first hand that planning often goes under-appreciated
    • VERY happy travels my friend –you are making great memories!


The daypack fully loaded weighs less than 9 pounds, and most of the stuff can be gathered from the house!

Medical Needs

Best kept together in a ziplock and easy to reach, like in the front pocket of the daypack

Down-time Bag

This ziploc changes from time to time, especially when there are no outlets nearby and all of the phones are dead.  Sometimes crayons or a ball, always cards and dice.  We love these little frisbees.  Always keep a little cash.  You just never know when it will come in handy.


A lot of this gets removed seasonally and for flights.  I usually re-buy some of it after we land but in smaller containers.  I just hate that the travel size versions are the same price as the full size so we tend to just daypack the full-size.  Keep them in ziplocks.  Nobody wants to clean-up the bag dripping with broken sunscreen.

Picnic Dishes

Ideally, each person gets a plate, bowl, spork, larger drinking glass, and unpaper towels that just stay in the day-pack.

Distinctive, Light, and Packable

Don’t spend a ton of money on this until you know you will use it, anything laying around the house will due (or swing by IKEA), but I love when we can tell our stuff apart and it stacks neatly!  It makes everything so much easier!

The Mesh Bag

My inner Girl Scout is showing, but a mesh or canvas bag for the mess kit is way better than a ziplock.  You kind of want things to air dry a little and be able to wash the storage bag.

Travel Wine Glass

I also found an awesome stemless SS cup at Pier One Imports!  I bought 2 I love them so much!!

The Travel Gnome

I’ve seriously been searching for the perfect travel gnome for so many years (my husband has even written poems about the quest).  I found him last summer.  He is so excited to travel with us, but he doesn’t have a name!!