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The Informed Parent

Prepare For Your Trip With Ease

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Sep. 12, 2005

Although the calendar says it is still summer, once school begins, it feels like fall. With fall's arrival, many families begin thinking about holiday travel for vacationing or visiting relatives and friends. Traveling any distance requires careful planning. We all know that early preparation relieves last minute tension and stress. If you are like me, too often you go into a last minute crunch mode and leave home feeling exhausted.

As a well-seasoned traveler, I have discovered a number of tips that make preparing for a trip easier. This means that from the initial thought of travel through the memories following my return I enjoy the process. This month I will share these ideas with you so that your future trips might be easier from beginning to end.


Begin preparing for a trip several weeks in advance. Make a list of what you want to accomplish before leaving. Rewrite the list in prioritized order. Include activities such as having the car serviced and finishing up business or household projects. Don't leave anything out that, if left unfinished, you would obsess about while gone.

Make a second list of what you want to take. List everything from underwear and vitamins to gifts or special items you require on a daily basis. Include the amount of cash or traveler's checks needed. Making one list for the adults and another for the children simplifies actual packing. One doesn't need to think. Just follow the list. When the most mundane items are included you will find all that was needed when reaching your destination.

Create A Time Line

Once you have made the lists, create a time line. This serves as a commitment to yourself that all those things needing to be done will be accomplished in a timely manner. If projects need to be completed, determine how long they will take, and be strict with yourself about following the time line. Otherwise you will be caught a day or two before the trip pushing to get them done. Find a way to validate yourself for each accomplishment achieved.


Some items must be bought before the trip. Beginning the month before departure, purchase one or two items each trip to the grocery store or mall. A week before leaving you will have everything on the list. Check the items off as they are procured. Checking off gives the feeling of accomplishment.

Plan For The Children

Long trips require special planning for children. Very young children do not need much. A cuddle toy and attention from Mom and Dad usually will do the trick. Babies and toddlers do best during travel if there is some sense of the familiar. Favorite rattles and colorful toys attached to the car chair provide a sense of continuity between home and the trip.

A trip bag will help older children pass the time more happily. Have the children help choose what goes into the bag. Little pocket games such as those from the Dollar Store are fun. So are activity books. Small Etch a Sketches are available for about $2.00 and provide hours of fun for many children. Choose inexpensive toys, as they may get lost when packing and unpacking. A favorite cuddle toy can make sleeping in strange beds easier.

When my girls were young, we had a game called "The Treat Dispenser." I packed a special bag with healthy snacks and several pieces of candy and gum. Every few hours "The Treat Dispenser" brought out the bag, reached in her hand, and pulled out a treat for each girl. Preparing and using the treat bag was easy, created great delight, and made the time pass more quickly as the girls looked forward to the next time they would receive a treat.


Travel as light as possible. Even with children, many of us pack much more that is actually needed or used. Take enough to cover all situations while remembering that the less one takes the less one has to keep track of and care for.

Before packing check for the right size and amount of luggage. Do a trial run; put the unpacked suitcases in the trunk of the car to assure that they fit. If flying or going by bus or train, inquire about luggage limitations and required dimensions. Keeping the children's trip bags compact will save on taking up too much space.

When possible, have all the packing completed a day or two before planning to leave. If you can manage this, the day before the trip is calm for everyone. It will leave the inevitable last minute tasks to be done without stressing that there is too much to do.

Children usually feel a combination of excitement and anxiety before a trip. If you are frazzled, they pick up on that and their anxiety rises. When the day prior to a trip follows the regular at-home schedule, everyone begins the vacation better rested and in a better mood.

Making Changes

I find that often I have put far more on my original to-do list than I can accomplish. Because the list was prioritized I know what can be crossed off without causing undue stress. I also attempt to see all my friends before leaving--something I often fail to put on the list. If I am honest with myself, I know that crossing off undone things or being prudent about increasing my social life is wiser than trying to "do it all" and feeling overly tired.

If you are a person who thinks you can do more than you reasonably can, who tends to add things to the original to-do list, or who increases the social calendar without forethought, you know that changes will probably need to be made as the leaving date approaches. Recognize that this is wise and not irresponsible.

The ideas presented for making travel easier are simple. In some sense, they may even seem silly. What I have discovered is that keeping things simple, doing the necessary preparations, and committing to staying on track makes traveling in particular and life in general far more pleasurable. May your next trip be well planned and enjoyable!

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