Permission to Chill

Long term travel is not for everyone. Living out of a bag, switching time zones, bouncing from place to place for months at a time. It can be stressful. It can be chaotic. It can be overwhelming. Perhaps even more so when you travel with kids, but especially teens with their specific needs.

An important part of a our travel plan to reduce the stress and disruption is to plan plenty of down time. I found that constantly going about as a tourist or traveling all day and then jumping right into exploring takes too much out of us for an extended period of time. Years ago I resolved to give us plenty of time to relax. It is just as essential to our travels as the adventures are. It is also another reason why we prefer slow travel – allowing ourselves the time to live in a place as opposed to just visiting a place. Many travelers are on a constant loop of go, go, go – but outside of seeing all the touristy aspects of a location, so much joy can come from giving yourself permission to relax.

Now it is an expectation and my guys’ need to balance the fun with the “chill days” is real. We recently spent a few days camping along the coast in Olympic National Park. It was a few hours drive from our current location, then three days/two nights at a campground. Limited facilities never mind practically no cell service and absolutely no electricity. Needless to say, this adventure took them completely out of their comfort zone. I expected it, but was still surprised how stressed it made them to be without their screens.

The planned two days of down time after this mini-trip-within-a-trip was exactly what they needed to restore everyone.  What do you use to keep everyone tuned into the traveling?

 

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Meeting the Pacific Ocean

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

I grew up on the east coast of the United States. I’ve lived my entire life along it. For decades the furthest west I’d even been was to New Orleans – which is to say, not west at all. The past few years I’ve traveled westward. We spent some months in Phoenix. I had a weekend in San Francisco. Even had a stop-over in Salt Lake City. But I had never spent any real time along the west coast.

It is a place that has held my dreams for years and I have so looked forward to being here. My father always told me not to get my hopes up because it leads to disappointment. But in this one instance, I am going to have to disregard that advice. We are here in Vancouver, minutes north of Portland, Oregon, and it hasn’t disappointed – not in the least.

We’ve been here exactly one week and already we’ve had the best adventures. We found a landscape that was so mesmerizing the boys thought it was from a video game. We hiked to the lower and upper falls of a waterfall along the Columbia River Gorge. And yesterday we drove to meet the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

My big boys didn’t exactly understand my excitement with the day. They said that my fascination with nature had officially gone too far and that it was “just a big body of water.” I couldn’t help it, though. To spend your whole life on one coast of the country to then find yourself all the way on the other side of this massive land mass was a pretty big deal to me. And, oh my, it was a brilliant first impression.

When doing a quick Google search of the Oregon coast you’ll find rocky beaches, fog-ladened forests, turbulent coastlines, cliffs, surfers, tide pools, and trees so large and massive they command respect. I actually felt a bit of pressure – self-inflicted –  not knowing precisely where to go to see it all while not being overrun with tourists. A hard task this popular time of year, I found.

Fortunately, the weather was on my side and hiking isn’t something that the masses tend to spend their time doing while exploring a coast. When driving west from Portland on US-26 there was a steady stream of cars heading east. I got slightly giddy thinking of everyone leaving the coast before we got there. The weather was dreary – a bit blustery – which deterred most people but was exactly what I was looking for.

We drove straight to Ecola State Park, north of the picturesque Cannon Beach, to start our day with a hike. The reviews of the hike were excellent so I had high hopes. My first view view of the ocean was from the parking lot. That in itself was exciting for me, but the trail held so many more wonders that I soon replaced that initial view with some real stunners.

We spent six hours hiking and walking along the beach. It London-misted (drizzled), was foggy, was windy, and even cleared up long enough for me to sunburn. It was like the coast was putting on a weather-show for me so I could see it all in one day. Everything was so perfect at the park that I scrapped the rest of the plans for the day and enjoyed every minute right where we were.

I can’t post all the photos from the day, but here are a few. None of the photos have been editing in any way – this is exactly how the camera captured it.

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These two are from the same general spot but under different weather. The contrast is amazing.

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Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point Utah

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you know you could spend many days of your life visiting? We stumbled, literally, into such a place during our travels in Salt Lake City recently.

After visiting two exhausting museums at Thanksgiving Point (the first was a science museum that wasn’t too keen on acknowledging the science and the other was a playhouse disguised as a children’s museum), south of Salt Lake City in Utah, we found ourselves in the majestic Ashton Gardens. I’ll probably never be sure if the peace that I found in the gardens was a result of the long and mentally and physically exhausting hours we spent at the museums previously, or if the gardens themselves just exude an innate peacefulness. Regardless, all I wanted to do when we walked into the gardens was take off my shoes, lay down in the grass, and read a book. Pure bliss.

My big guys weren’t feeling it the way I was, though. Aside from their frustration at the pseudo-science museum topped with the extreme chaos of the children’s museum, strolling through gardens was going to take all the patience and tolerance for their mother that they could muster. Needless to day, only one of them successfully managed the rest of the day. The other was shooting darts at me from their eyeballs. My decided obliviousness probably didn’t help matters.

The garden itself was amazing. Every section of the garden is designed in a different style. There was an Italian Garden, a Fragrance Garden, Rose Garden, and a Secret Garden, just to name a few. There are 15 themed gardens in total and each was just as fantastic as the others. I fell in love with the carousel, Italian Garden and the Fragrance Garden. For those of you that know me personally, the fact that I enjoyed the Fragrance Garden will come as a huge surprise since I typically detest the smell of flowers.

Here are a few of the photos from the day.

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Charming area on one of the paths near the beginning of the garden.
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Waterfalls. Behind us they have a grass amphitheater.
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The upper level of the Italian Garden.
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The Italian Garden from a distance. They have weddings on the lawn here.
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The Fragrance Garden
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Inside the Secret Garden. There were fountains in here, as well.
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We walked for a bit with our toes in the grass.
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Little relaxing in the grass contemplating life (lol) after a few hours exploring the gardens.
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This whimsical beauty was such a surprise.
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Close-up of the horses and their flowers in the carousel.
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The Rose Garden
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The Rose Garden

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Electronics and Traveling with Teens

A few years ago we were living in a small two-bedroom near downtown of a little city on the coast. We had just one laptop and one tablet to share between the four of us. No gaming systems, no television, and no car, for that matter. Ah… the good ol’ days. Right?

Wrong, at least where my boys were concerned. Fast forward a few years and now we have two Xbox systems, four controllers, a chat headset, a number of games, a Wii system with all the accessories, five traditional laptops, three iPhones, two Nooks, one gaming laptop, and a television in every room. Seriously!

I could live with my work laptop, my phone, and my Nook. Everything else is an extra as far as I am concerned. When planning to pack for our current trip it came up in one of our discussions that we HAD to bring one of the Xbox systems, which included all the “necessary” paraphernalia that goes along with it. I was still trying to work out all the trip details and jazz the kids up for such a long trip, so I was feeling rather accommodating. I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to allow it. There were going to be days that we had to stay in the house so I could work, so why not allow them to bring their electronics that made them happy?

When all was said and done, we ended up bringing along my work laptop, both Nooks, all three iPhones, two laptops plus the gaming one, and the Xbox with games and three controllers. I mentioned this to an older dear friend and he couldn’t imagine being able to bring along so many electronics when on a family road trip. It made me take pause to really consider the necessity* of all these electronics. *Necessity is the boys’ word for it, I would have chosen desire.

But after giving it some thought I came to the decision that while I don’t care for all of this stuff myself and would rather be out exploring or immersed in a good book, the electronics important to my boys right now. And when you’re traveling a lot and have the ability to carry things from home that make the kids happy and more comfortable, I think you should do it. Had we been traveling out of our home country or by plane, obviously we wouldn’t have been able to bring all this along, but for this trip, I compromised with them.  I personally don’t see the need to be attached – as I like to say when I’m annoyed about it -to all the screens, but I do understand that this is simply a way of life for this generation. I try to keep a balance, but some days the screens win out. But really, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I’m on my phone, my computer, and my Nook all the time. Even though I’m working or reading, I am still technically on a screen. So even though I sometimes think that they’re wasting their lives away on their screens, I realize that the screens are their access to the world outside their inner circle. For homeschool kids, that access is incredibly important.

What are your thoughts on traveling with electronics? What do you bring along, especially for teens?

Stepping Back in Time in Salt Lake City

We visit a lot of museums. Typically they are the first places that we explore whenever we’re at a new location. While I am of the opinion that exposure to things ignites curiosity – which is important for us since we homeschool, there is a point when it can become a bit mundane. I think that we have reached that point.

Aside from our hiking, a majority of places we’ve visited here in Utah have been museums, or the like. A number of the museums were included in our Connect Pass, so my budget-conscious self had us visiting practically every museum in the area. Unfortunately due to our “extreme-museuming”, we have now officially overdosed and will have to limit exposure for the remainder of this trip. Sorry, Washington, Oregon, and California – we just don’t have it in us right now.

However, there were a few gems hidden here in Salt Lake City. The Natural History Museum of Utah, located near the University of Utah, was astonishing. Both the architecture and the exhibits were gorgeous. As you can imagine, we’ve visited our fair share of science and history museums. This one is by far the best we’ve seen, even surpassing the Smithsonian ones in Washington D.C.

Starting with the location, the building was exquisitely designed to fit-in seamlessly with the landscape.

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Then as you walk up the stairs to begin exploring the exhibits, you are met with a three-story display wall.

Display wall - NHMUIMG_6151 Take a right into the Past Worlds exhibit and you’re immediately immersed in a museum that was so well-thought and designed your breath is taken away.

Once you enter the Past World exhibit, this is what you see when you look up.
Once you enter the Past World exhibit, this is what you see when you look up.

Unlike traditionally designed museums where your focus is meant to be directly in front of you as you walk from exhibit to exhibit, the NHMU is laid out so that you can glimpse various exhibits from one location.

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As you wander, the natural flow of the building makes it so you’re simply strolling along as you view everything. No in and out of different rooms. No backtracking or overlapping. Was brilliant. The views from the third level weren’t bad either.

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Aside from the architecture and design, the most unexpected feature of the museum was the Paleontology Preparation Lab.

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To be able to see professionals working in their field right there in the museum was amazing. I could have watched the scientists for hours – not that I’m sure they would have appreciated that.

The day was complete with a trip to the Sky terrace to take in the view of the area

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and exploring Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code, the special exhibit featured at the time.

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Have you been? Did you think it was as well-designed as we did?

Parthenon – Centennial Park, Nashville TN

You know those ideas you have that you are absolutely certain will become part of the greatest hits of your child’s life? The ones where they will turn to you and exclaim that you are the world’s best parent and they cannot get over how lucky they are to be able to see/experience this? Yeah, well, my advice is to not let your imagination run wild.

My big guys have been interested (read: obsessed) with ancient history and the myths from these ancient civilizations since they were old enough to read. For years when I asked where in the world they wanted to go they always, ALWAYS, said Greece and specifically Athens. In their minds there was nothing cooler than seeing the history for themselves.

Fast forward a few years. They’re older now and while their interest in ancient cultures hasn’t abated – alternatively, they believe that they know it all now – their expressed desire to go to these places hasn’t come up. I assumed that just because they haven’t specifically said anything that their desires hadn’t changed. I may very well have been wrong on that.

I was under the impression that Athens was still a top destination in their minds. However, getting to Greece and Athens in particular with four people isn’t exactly something that can be pulled together quickly or inexpensively. Passports, flights, lodging, general travel funds – it was all a bit out of our current price range. So, I started researching alternatives.

Which leads to me to one of our recent trips. When looking for museums that featured prominent collections in the boys’ interests I came upon the Parthenon in Nashville Tennessee – this glorious place within driving distance from where we were living. At this point I’m giddy with excitement and imagining a wonderful trip for my guys. What could be cooler, an exact replica of the Parthenon and an exact replica of the Statue of Athena? I’m thinking nothing could be cooler. They’re thinking everything could be cooler.

However awesome I thought the place was, and however much Little and my sister enjoyed the visit, my big guys were less than impressed. Really made me quite sad so I filed the day into the drawer labeled “Something they were remember and enjoy when they’re older,” to make myself feel better.

Putting the big guys’ feelings aside, the place is amazing. Truly. We paid the small fee to enter the museum and I am so glad that we did. The Statue of Athena is the main attraction inside, but on the lower levels they have photographs of the original Parthenon that was built on this site for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition. 1897! Can you just imagine how astounding it would have been to have been present for this event? The grandeur of it all… <sigh>

From the website:
The Parthenon stands proudly as the centerpiece of Centennial Park, Nashville’s premier urban park. The re-creation of the 42-foot statue Athena is the focus of the Parthenon just as it was in ancient Greece. The building and the Athena statue are both full-scale replicas of the Athenian originals.
Originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, this replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece serves as a monument to what is considered the pinnacle of classical architecture. The plaster replicas of the Parthenon Marbles found in the Naos are direct casts of the original sculptures, which adorned the pediments of the Athenian Parthenon dating back to 438 B.C. The originals of these powerful fragments are housed in the British Museum in London.

Little with his Auntie – also known as greatest sister in the world

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Great Salt Lake

This was by far the best of our adventures to date. I scored a repeated “This is dope!!,” from Aiden, a “Mom, this is completely awesome.,” from Little and “Very cool, we’ll have to come back again.,” and “I’m going to parkour those rocks.,” from Drix. The temperature was mid 70s, there was an excellent breeze most of the day. We picnicked on some rocks at the top after a few hours of exploring and hiking. We didn’t see another human for hours, not until we made the climb up a number of red boulders to get to the highest point of the mountain. Turns out there was a parking area halfway up the other side of the mountain – which we didn’t see – so all other visitors just had a small walk to the top. Next time we’ll park there, because really, hiking up a mountain isn’t that fun; It’s getting to the top that is the best part.

All and all, a perfect day.

The park is known for its free roaming buffalo, bison, and antelope. We only saw one buffalo on the way in, but we didn’t explore too much of the island. There was a lot of scat on the mountain so we know that they frequent the area, just not when we were there. Still a very cool thing to be able to see such rare animals roaming freely.

 

View from halfway up. Facing a northernly direction.
Snakeskin found on the way up. Not making me feel to comfortable hiking off trail where rattlesnakes are known to be. Luckily, I didn’t see any. Little and Aiden heard or saw some at a few points.
Hiking up – Aiden and Little
Drix taking in the view. We crossed paths with a trail about halfway up. Needless to say, the boys didn’t want to spend too much time on the trail. They were going rogue. This is facing an easterly direction.
They ran up the mountain, which I had ZERO interest in doing.
Little was so happy he was able to make it up all the rocks and to keep up with his big brothers. They kept telling him, “Now you are a proper Ireland.” Who knew that you must be able to rock climb to be a “proper” member of our family?
Another view from the top of the western ridge. There were a few large rock structures to climb. I typically hung back so I could give them time to get to the top and so I could snap the photos.
We were at about 5000′ at this point. The temperature and the breeze were absolute perfection.
Stopping to wait for Little to make his way there. I just love to see the two of them together. This is facing south.
The two of them taking in the view and relaxing. It was so peaceful here. We spent a good 30 minutes here.
The two of them taking in the view and relaxing. It was so peaceful here. We spent a good 30 minutes here.
Aiden is off ahead on his own. I took the rocks along the ridge myself. The grass was a bit tall and had some splinter-like things that kept stabbing us. Plus, I thought I had a better chance of seeing any snakes sunning on the rocks than if I were stay in the grass.
Aiden is off ahead on his own heading toward the western tip. I took the rocks along the ridge myself. The grass was a bit tall and had some splinter-like things that kept stabbing us. Plus, I thought I had a better chance of seeing any snakes sunning on the rocks than if I were stay in the grass.
Again, just the two of them as they wait for Little to make the climb. They were great sports – giving Little direction as he made his way to the top.
And there are all three. I didn’t climb this one. Apparently, it was a bit narrow and steep up there.
Was giddy with excitement when I saw the moon was out and [conveniently] directly in the center of two rock structures. This was the last stretch on the way to the very top. We had to climb these large boulders for 400′ to get to the top.
Another rock view. Were were trying to make our way to the tip of the mountain, the goal was to hike the ridge line tip to tip. Unfortunately, it was anti-climatic as it was a gradient drop to the edge rather than being a cliff-edge like they were hoping.
View from the very top – at the end of the day. This is facing north and you can see our car parked in the direct center of the photo to give you some perspective on how high we were. We walked down the mountain from here. Our knees were killing us by the time we made it down.

Out of This World

Perhaps there is something to be said about teenagers and thinking they are the center of the Universe. My two big guys, while physically they were present on our most recent expedition, their phones held more interest than the cosmos. How they can insist that “space” ins’t interesting, I will never understand. I am in awe of everything that we know about our place in the universe and how we got to know and understand it, and I’m – to be perfectly open – saddened by what I will never get a chance to know. I have felt this way since the first time I laid perfectly flat on the ground for hours on end to either feel the Earth moving or to see how many stars I could view in the night sky. To me, space is the great, wonderful unknown. An entity that forces us to question our personal understanding of place and value. An opportunity to gain a perspective that, in fact, we are not the center of everything and possibly merely a product of a very long and lucky sequence of events.

Yesterday we stepped out to the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City. It is a great little place. Entrance is free and all the exhibits are free, which is so completely fantastic. Having open access to this type of exploration is priceless. Think of all the imaginations that can be sparked or the number of people that decide that they have to be a part of this journey into discovery. Just imagine… But I digress.

They have two theatres, an IMAX and the Hansen Dome Theatre. Passes for movies were included in our city pass, which is stellar because I never would have spent the money to see the movies if we were paying individually. For the four of us to see two movies it would have been $62. While the movies and the experience of the dome theatre is excellent, I wouldn’t say – for our budget – that they are $62 excellent. However, I am glad that we saw them. The movie times are staggered between the two theatres but not so you can bounce from one directly into the other. Worked out perfectly though. See one movie when you first get there, explore most of the exhibits, see the second movie, and then finish off the exhibits and head on out.

We watched The Last Reef in 3D at the IMAX and Extreme Planets in the dome theatre. Both were very well done. The film viewed in the dome is visually stunning and having such a large display immerses you in the film even more so than a 3D, in my opinion. I would love to nerd out and see all the movies they offer at the dome.

The dome theatre made Little and I a bit sick at times – caused by the contradictory messages being sent to the brain. Visually you think you’re moving, but physically you don’t feel the sensation of movement. For us, closing our eyes or focusing on one image helped completely.

No pictures from the theatres, obviously, but here are a few of the exhibits. I just loved the Moon and Mars stage sets. In person they look like a little play area, but I think the photos came out great.

Display of Jupiter – Mercury in relation to the size of our sun.

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Little on the Moon.
Little on Mars.

 

 

Upward and onward

Since we arrived in Salt Lake City we have all been in awe of the gorgeous mountains surrounding the city. We came here with the intent to hike as often as possible. All the boys have decided that “it would just be like walking, except you’re going up.” I kept telling them that from ground-level and from a distance, the mountains may not look that high, but to trust me, they are high. Most +/- 14,000′ high, to be exact.

I pulled out my AllTrails app and researched where we should head first. All trails are rated Easy, Moderate, and Hard. They insisted that we do the hard ones because “easy trails are just walks.” I knew better, so I found us one with great reviews that was rated Moderate.

We got our packs ready and headed out to hike Desolation Trail – they loved the name, btw – with intent to get to the Salt Lake Overlook. The trail has an incline rise of nearly 1,250′ and at the highest point you’re at over 6,800′. This trail is advertised as being mostly shaded and having a number of switchbacks that take you to the top. I thought it was the perfect compromise to get us started with hiking here.

Goodness gracious, it was a steady climb and it was HARD. However, right when you felt like your legs wouldn’t be able to climb another inch, the trail leveled off a bit so you could get some rest in. It was pleasantly shaded and opened to expansive views of the other ridges and gorgeous trees. Of which, I have decided, that I am in love with. The motto of the day was “slow and steady.” Every time you stopped to rest it was harder to get into the rhythm again. Things in motion stay in motion, and all that.

Drix went off ahead, even running at times, while Aiden, myself, and Little trudged our way along. We got about halfway up when we met up with Drix. At that point we all decided that we were completely okay with calling it a day and to start making our way back down. Ironically enough, as we were making our way down, we got passed again by the gentleman who was at least 20 years older than me that ran past us a quarter of the way up. Turns out, this hike is known to be great for families and trail running. Apparently, you need to grow up with mountain legs instead of sea legs like I have in order to run up mountains.

I am in ernest to head back and give it another go. The boys are less excited about that idea. However, if we can’t get up a Moderate trail, then how are we ever going to hike those Hard ones they are so interested in?

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Aiden around a bend. The big guys weren’t interested in letting me snap photos this day, so I had to hang back a bit and wait for him to come. 

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Packing tips

When packing for a long-term trip for your family, managing the space is essential. Whether or you’re dealing with baggage allowances for flights or traveling by car, you need to be able to pack everyone’s everything into as small, and sometimes as light, a bag as possible.

For this trip we were planning to be gone a minimum of three months, traveling by car and lodging primarily at long-term airbnb locations, interspersed with the occasional hotel stay and a few overnight camping expeditions. All baggage and supplies needed to fit nicely into the trunk of our Toyota Camry. We had no roof rack or any tow-behinds.

Here’s how we did it.

1) Planning, planning, planning

I am not the best at planning ahead. In fact, the thought of planning for things months in advance nearly causes me to have a fit of anxiety. However, since I am the only adult in our four-pack, all the planning falls solely on me. Needless to say, I’ve had to learn to adjust and take a lot of deep calming breaths. I also make a lot of lists. A lot.

2) Research

Since this was the first-time we were traveling by road for an extended period of time and for long distances, I knew that I needed to be prepared for anything that may happen when traveling this way. We were also going to parts of the world that none of us have been to before, so I needed to know what we were in for.

I researched items that are needed for a vehicle emergency kit, backpack items for day trips with a family, camping essentials, and expected climate at each location.

We’ve camped and hiked before, but we always had a trunk full of space to use, and even more than one vehicle at times, so packing didn’t need to be as concise. This time around, I needed to know what was essential and what we could live without.

All this research, of course, went into lists.

3) Organization

For a month prior to leaving on this trip my bedroom, and eventually the entryway to the house, became a loading zone. Piles of things where put together based on their purpose and organized by person and activity. Then as the planning progressed and the items were purchased/gathered, bags and supplies were organized by how they were going to be packed.

I knew that I needed all of our clothes for the entirety of the trip to fit into one bag. Luckily we had a large duffle bag already that had a huge inner section and eight good-sized outer pockets. It even has a handle and wheels so, inevitably when you over-pack and it the bag is too heavy to carry, you can tow it along behind. Everyone was allowed to bring one nice outfit, two sets of hiking/outdoor clothes, one sleep/lounge outfit, three city clothes for walking/sightseeing, one athletic set, and then one long-sleeve, one pant, and one jacket.

All the clothes were rolled and put into individual clear vacuum/zipper bags. I purchased the Ziploc storage bags and just pressed the air out. I didn’t want to vacuum them out now and then chance not having the availability of a vacuum when having to repack at each location.

4) Establishing needs versus wants

When planning a trip, I first take stock of what the essentials are for the specific trip and then depending on space, fill-in the remaining space with wants. The most important thing to remember here is that most likely anything that you need or want can be found where you are going. The items that should fall into the essentials list are any medications, special diet items, specialized clothing, or items that would cost too much to have to purchase again.

5) Separation

To keep things organized on the road and prevent us from tearing apart the trunk every time we needed something, I put together a hotel bag. I purchased a small underseat bag that had plenty of interior space plus all kinds of pockets for toiletries and extras. Within the bag I separated everyone’s clothing into clear zipper bags (think: Ziploc) and labeled them. That went into the large main area. Then all the pockets were filled according to use. It worked brilliantly.

I also put together three separate food bags. One for the car, one for the hotel, and one for the first day or so at our first location.

6) Loading up and heading out

I knew that the camping wasn’t going to happen on the first part of our trip, I packed those items in the back of the trunk, using every available inch. This included four sleeping bags, a six-person tent, and all the supplies needed for camping – aside from cookware. That took up half of the trunk space. The other half remained open for the clothing, backpacking supplies, Xbox One (see my Electronics and Traveling Teens post), the hotel bag (see above), and the bags of food needed for the drive, as well as for when we arrived.

Finish it all off with a few items placed on top – for us, it was our hiking shoes and extra sneakers – and voila, ready to roll.

What packing tips and tricks have you come up with in your travels?