Our family has been crazy for travel for more than a decade but it took me years to realize that three days before every family vacation, I jumped on the hamster wheel of frantic. I finally stopped flipping out (though I reserve the right to lose it) when I accepted this fact: packing for a family vacation takes two weeks, minimum.
When you’re a mom, vacation planning isn’t an instead of activity, it’s an in addition to activity: in addition to cooking, cleaning, school, sports, grocery shopping, cleaning, errands, paying bills, baths, bedtime, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, cleaning, oh the cleaning. You have to squeeze in vacation planning—and packing for that great family vacation you planned.
Once your vacation dates are set and the hotel reservations are confirmed, you can get back to the business of everyday life—and start your vacation countdown! The date your vacation starts is definitely something to look forward to: days on end not doing dishes and having someone else make your bed and clean your bathroom while you’re out having fun?! “Looking forward to it” does not begin to describe the joy that only a mom understands.
If you stay organized and start packing, cleaning, and vacation errands early, you won’t stress yourself—and your family—out while you’re scrambling to get all the last minute stuff done two days before you leave. Nobody wants to spend the first two days of vacation recovering from packing.
Avoid pre-trip drama with a vacation packing checklist that starts two weeks before your vacation!
If you wait until the day before vacation to start packing, you’ll discover:
- Your daughter refolded her dirty clothes and put them away, and put her clean clothes in the hamper…then dropped her wet towel on top of them.
- Your son grew 4 inches overnight and all his pants make him look like Michael Jackson.
- You can’t find four pairs of socks that match in a drawer stuffed with three dozen socks.
- You have nothing to wear.
Here’s my list of 45 things moms have to do before vacation! I’ve organized it to fit all the pre-vacation tasks I have to get done before we go—and leave time to do day-to-day Mom jobs!—in a manageable two week schedule.
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I created my packing checklist based on dozen of roadtrips to Disneyland, with hotel stays. If you fly or camp or have pets, your packing checklist will look different from mine. Get my free printable Vacation Packing Checklist!
Unpacking the Vacation Packing Checklist: 45 Things Mom has to do Before Vacation
2 Week Countdown to Vacation!
- Haircuts. Highlights. Hair maintenance of any sort. Do it two weeks out so you have time to fix a botched color job, let a kid’s too-short cut grow out a bit, and never have to find out your stylist is on her own vacation so you can’t get your hair done.
- Shop for clothes and travel items. Take a few minutes to rifle through everyone’s closets and dressers and obviously the laundry basket to make sure everyone has enough clothes to be able to wear a clean outfit every day of vacation. Did you leave your shampoo and body wash bottles in the hotel bathroom last trip? Make a list and go shopping!
- Shop for clothes and travel items. Again. Since you have kids you know you won’t be able to find everything you need at the stores before someone needs a nap or protein; give yourself three days to shop for your vacation. Start breaking in new shoes today!
- More shopping. If you didn’t find everything you need in town, you’ll have plenty of time to order from Amazon with free 2-day shipping.
- Take the car in for preventive maintenance/repairs.
- Double check tickets and hotel reservations.
Do you want to add a day to your trip? That’s a rhetorical question.
Do you know where you put the tickets—or which email they’re in?
Why do I only have three Annual Passes in my wallet?
Check the hotel’s website: is there a cheaper rate now? Book it and cancel the original reservation.
- Check the long range weather forecast. You won’t know exactly what the weather will be like on your vacation yet, but looking forward is always a good idea. I use this weather forecast that shows a whole month at a glance—set for Disneyland’s zip code 92802, of course!
- Cancel extra hotel reservations. I often make multiple reservations at different hotels for the same trip. Now is the time to decide whether you do want to go all out and stay at the Disneyland Hotel, or stay at an inexpensive hotel and come home with some cash. (Or lots more souvenirs.) Cancel all but one reservation to avoid paying a hotel for a room you won’t stay in.
- Money Day:
Buy discount Disney Gift Cards (I save at least 13% on every Disneyland trip!).
Transfer Disney Visa rewards to the reusable gift card.
Make sure the credit card you’ll use on vacation has enough open credit.
If you have an American Express card, check the Offers section at the bottom of your account’s home page. Sometimes they offer rebates on hotel brands like $20 rebate when you spend $100 at Best Western—just click to add the deal to your card and remember to use that card to pay your hotel bill.
Check for coupons for stores and restaurants you may visit on your trip. Scroll to the bottom here for Downtown Disney and Anaheim restaurant coupons
Pay bills that will come due during your vacation. You’ll rest easier on vacation if you know everything is paid up.
- Make a meal plan to use up the food in the fridge. Avoid wasting food that has to be tossed when you get back, and get creative shopping in your fridge, freezer, and pantry the week before your vacation. Put the grocery money you save right into your vacation fund!
- Check operating hours for theme parks/attractions. Make sure everything you plan to see will be open and for how long. You don’t want to drive to a museum and find a Closed Sundays sign, or get the kids excited about seeing fireworks if they’re not going off during your vacation. Disneyland AP friends: Make sure your Annual Passes aren’t blocked out on a day you plan to visit the Parks!
- For Disneyland vacations, check the Disneyland Resort Entertainment Schedule 5-day view, which includes Park hours and refurbishments list, plus the schedule for shows and parades.
- Transfer photos from your phones and cameras onto the computer—and delete the photos and videos from your devices once they’re safely transferred and/or in the cloud! There are few vacation problems worse than missing the perfect shot of your adorable kids because Storage Full.
- Shop for nonperishable roadtrip and hotel snacks. We pack a ton of snacks for our roadtrips, and I like to get everything organized early—those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on sale at the grocery store for $2 won’t go bad, so you may as well buy them now instead of paying $4 for a smaller bag at a gas station on the road. If you managed to pick up roadtrip snacks while you shopped last week, you’re ahead of the game!
- Recheck the weather. You’re less than a week out now, and that weather forecast will be tightening up.
- Clean the house. You’ll clean again on Day 2, but today’s the day to clean everything so you can just do a once over later. Pay the kids to do extra chores—many hands make light work and they’ll be thrilled to buy souvenirs [that you would have bought them anyway] with their own money.
- Library. Avoid Stupid Tax: return the library books that will come due during your trip. Check out enough books and movies to get you and the kids there and back in peace. Note that if your library only rents movies for one week, you may need to renew them online just before your trip.
- Do all the laundry. Yay.
- Pack roadtrip items: books, gum, notebook and pens, sweater…gather all your roadtrip creature comforts.
- Kids pack their own roadtrip bags. Toys, games, books, drawing paper…my kids can bring whatever they want except crayons, because dropped crayons + summer = a ruined car.
- Start a last minute packing list and tape it to the door. Make sure it’s the door you exit the house through! Write down the things you can’t pack now but don’t want to forget, like swimsuits hanging outside, probiotics in fridge, throw out the coffee grounds….
- Ask a neighbor to take out and/or put back the trash cans.
- Pack clothes. Yes, three days early. This keeps kids from wearing—and inevitably dirtying—their very cutest clothes that you need to take on your vacation.
- Pack travel toiletries. Fill up those shampoo and bodywash travel bottles, throw an extra pack of baby wipes in your toiletry case, make sure you have enough glitter hairspray to make princess hairdos for your little girls on Disney days. You’ll need your deodorant, makeup, and daily stuff—well, daily, but you can pack quite a lot today.
- Clean out the fridge. It’s gonna happen either before or after vacation. Before smells better.
- Buy fresh fruit & veggies for snacks, wash it all, and let it dry overnight.
- Get gas and check the tire pressure.
- Kids: wash the car inside and out. Yep, it’s gonna be gross when you get home. Start off clean anyway.
- Pack all snacks and make a refrigerator/freezer list of things to remember to pack in the ice chest. Nobody gets to enjoy the frozen Snickers bars on vacation if you forget them because you hid them from yourself behind the peas.
- Do your nails and paint your toes. Take time to paint your little girl’s nails, too—before it gets hectic tomorrow, and while she’s wearing her not vacation-cute clothes so smears aren’t a big deal. 3 dots with a bobby pin makes a Mickey head!
Day 1: The day before you leave for vacation is the busiest day for sure, but think of what you don’t have to do today: everything above this short but important list!
- Prep the fresh fruit & veggies for snacks. We eat a ton of junk food on vacation. But we take lots of fresh stuff too. I need the fruit to last at least 5 days, so I cut it up the day before we leave.
- Clean the house. Funny how those three tiny words can inspire horror. If you did a thorough job on Day 5, just do a once over.
“Just do a once over,” she says, like that won’t take three hours.
- Check the weather one last time and add/remove items to match it.
- Pack your travel purse:
- Tickets/Annual Passes
- Credit Cards/Disney Visa for free Meet & Greet PhotoPass prints
- Order takeout for dinner. You’ll be tempted to cook a wholesome meal tonight because your kids will live on Mickey-shaped pretzels and ice cream bars for the next five days. One more day of junk food won’t give them rickets, but it will save you an hour of prep and clean up.
Day 0: Today’s the day! Ready to Roadtrip? Vacation starts when you pull out of the driveway!
- Pack the ice chest (check items off your fridge & freezer list as you pack them).
- Pack last minute toiletries.
- Last minute cleaning/dump trash/clean coffee pot.
- Check the last minute packing list.
- Pack the car and go!
Where do you want to go?
Build your vacation fund from $0 to Disney with my book Disneyland on a Budget! Read it free with Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited!