This was, by far, the biggest, longest, grandest family vacation we have taken.  Up till this point, our kids had only traveled to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and our home state of Wisconsin.  We decided to drive to Florida to make more of an adventure out of it.  An adventure it was:  18 days traveled, 12 states visited, 3571 miles driven, thousands of pictures taken, many amazing adventures experienced, and millions of memories made.   We’ll share all about it.

Packing

Packing for an almost three week trip for a family of 6 poses its challenges.  My husband will tell you that I am not known for packing lightly.  I call it “Prepared.”  I started my list of things to bring months ago and as my list grew, I had the thought, “We need to get a bigger vehicle.”  However, we already have one of the bigger SUVs available, so just shy of learning how to drive a semi, I came to grips with needing to make our space work.  We borrowed a car top carrier from friends, but that was primarily going to be consumed the stroller.  So the back of “the truck” (we call it a truck, but it’s not really a truck by my definition) and the middle of each bench seat were the spaces I had to put to things.  My solution:  totes!

As I actually started packing in totes, I got so excited.  SO excited, I tell you!  I told my mom that I had almost reached packing nirvana by the time I was done.  It was just about perfect!  I had purchased a few totes and then arranged them in different ways in the back of the truck.  Three totes fit across perfectly!  Perfectly, I tell you!  I went back for more totes.  Twice.

The totes worked great.  Easy to stack.  Easy to see in inside.  Easy to dig through versus a big bag or deep suitcase where you don’t recall where you shoved things.  We didn’t incur any of the usual hodge-podge, miss-matched bag stacking chaos we usually ensue.

Each of us had our own tote for our own clothes.  Jason and I shared an extra one for our shoes and sweatshirts.  In total we had 11 totes:  7 with clothes, 2 with food (which then got condensed to one and the empty tote then housed dirty laundry), 1 with bathroom and toiletry items, and 1 with “kitcheny” stuff.

The kitchen and bath totes went up in the car top carrier with the stroller because I didn’t need access to them every day.

Within the food tub, I tore off the tops of boxes so items like granola bars, fruit leather, and apple sauce pouches stayed organized, but were still super easy to get to.  That turned out to be pretty handy.  Stuff wasn’t floating around the tote; we could see right away what we had and where it was.

One packing mistake:  It’s not so much a packing/organizing error, it was what I packed that was a mistake.

You see, I eat eggs just about every morning for breakfast.  I also feel better when my kids eat eggs, knowing they have some strong nutrition to start their day, especially since traveling can often lead to a lot of fast food and junk food.  (Yuck!)  So, I decided I would make eggs for breakfast on some days, in the hotel room.

I thought I was being smart and ordered a hot plate to take with us.  I packed my frying pan and spatula.  I was prepared!  WRONG!

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I never considered the flaw in my plan until I actually started scrambling some eggs one morning.  No fire wasn’t really the risk, heat was.  As I started cooking and thinking about the all the sprinklers in the room, I began to realize that it was not a good idea.  I could have set off the fire alarm simply due to heat.

Needless to say, I didn’t fry any more eggs or anything else on that hot plate for the rest of the trip.  I would have felt terrible and probably gotten in a lot of trouble had the fire alarm gone off and everyone in the hotel would have had to evacuate.  No thank you.  Pass.  Soup in the microwave is great back up plan, and a pretty common breakfast for my kids at home anyway.

A few more thoughts on packing with totes.  I was pretty pumped because they were going to stack so sleekly on the luggage carts at the hotels, which they did (fantastically, I might add).  However, not all hotels have luggage carts apparently, or they have too few that you can’t find one when needed.

I was surprised when we arrived at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort to find that there weren’t luggage carts by our area of the hotel.  I called the front desk to investigate and found out they do have them, but something about that you have to check them out from the main building near check-in.  Our hotel room was a bit of a trek to get back to the main building.  So, we decided it would be faster to just unload in multiple trips instead of going to get a cart.  Fortunately, we were on the first floor and we used the stroller to help haul some stuff.

I actually got several compliments on the tote packing idea from people in hotel elevators and lobbies, while we were in parking lots with the back open getting snacks, and even had one lady pull over at a rest stop to share how impressed she was at the organization.

As another fun way to remember our trip, we put stickers on our totes from the places we had been.  We will keep adding as we travel more.  I won’t use the totes for regular storage.  I set them aside for our future packing and traveling endeavors.

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What tips and trips do you use to stay organized while traveling?  I’d love to hear to about them.

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