Our Disney Trip: Organized Packing and Playing in the Van

The last time I drove to my mother's in Ponte Vedra, Michael was eighteen and Karoline was an infant riding backwards. Mike flew in to meet us there. I drove the whole way. Karoline cried the whole way. It took us fourteen hours. I waited nearly five years to repeat that trip.

This time, Mike drove. Everyone is old enough to ride facing forward. And I applied everything I have ever learned about packing and planning for the car. here's the brain dump.



We began the packing process early and took our time working through it thoughtfully. Mary Beth was a huge help. Totally umprompted, she presented me with packing lists one morning and showed me how she had begun to gather into a laundry basket t all of the extra things we would need. Those basket items were then divided into things we would need in the car while we traveled and things that could be packed and put in the back. Then, it was divided again to cut down on what we actually needed and didn't need. The kids' bags were laid out on the floor, packed, checked, unpacked, repacked, checked, and one more for good measure;-). I'm happy to report no one underpacked (though a certain 13-year-old boy overpacked). 



We were lucky enough to have a washer and dryer in our hotel suite, a feature that was a huge help with eliminating extra clothes. I did laundry every day at my mother's house and every day at Disney World. The only dirty laundry we brought home was the laundry we were wearing. That made transition to home a bit easier.  The packing lists we created for the children included 3 pairs of jeans, 5 shirts (3 long sleeved, and 2 short sleeved), sweatshirt with hood, bathing suit, pajamas, underwear, socks, baseball cap, and sunglasses and clothes to wear for dinner at the club and church. The older kids were in charge of getting their car 'toys' into the car while the youngers had theirs packed in an extra bag (more on that later in the post). 



A note about shoes: About three weeks before we left, I took inventory of the shoes each child planned to wear while walking at Disney.I made sure they were in good repair and fit perfectly. I ended up buying new pairs for a couple of children and then encouraging them to wear them often before we left so that they'd be broken in and we'd catch any ill-fitting blister issues before leaving.

Car Bag 1 (this is a euphemism. We actulaly called it the "Throw Up Bag.").  The first car bag was packed with things we potentionally would need while we were in the car (a bag that wouldn't get packed and be unaccesible in the back of the car). We have several children who are prone to motion sickness. This bag was the go-to bag when someone started to gag. It included baby wipes, clorox wipes, gum, snacks, waterbottles (they weren't IN the bag but nearby), and plastic bins just in case of car sickness. I used these bins, so that I could put the lid on it and dispose of it as soon as possible. I also packed a roll of scented trash bags for nasty clothes and clean up trash.  In the accessible car bag, we included a change of clothes for each of our two littlest girls. 

Extra Things Bags: This was a catch-all bag for the stuff of every day living away from home. It included

  • Tiger Balm patches  and cream (for mom's elbow, but they were used otherwise as well)
  • bandaids (why, Mickey Mouse of course)
  • neosporin
  • blister packs (happy to say no one in our family needed them, but I did give one to someone else)
  • nebulizer 
  • cold medicine 
  • Airborne
  • sunscreen (something we definitely DID need)
  • Advil
  • breakfast food and some patnry items for meals prepared in the hotel. we ate all our breakfasts and some dinners in the hotel.
  • glowsticks, needed for extra magic at night and great for helping to keep track of kids at the nighttime parade and fireworks
  • garbage bags 
  • laundry soap
  • paper towels.  
  • Tide to go
  • Cinch sacks for everybody. I'll explain these in further detail in a later post, but we packed an empty cinch sack for each of us to use daily while we were there for water and snacks and other essentials. The boys regularly collect these at soccer tournaments and from shoe vendors, so we had planty of them around the house. Sarah's bag was the only one that was different. She had a teddy bear backpack that was a birthday gift. Since I ended up carrying her and her packpack more often than not, I'd think differently about her backpack if I had it to do again. My backpack was a frontpack. Sarah rode in it. So, my pocket for water and snacks was super small. I still managed to put trail mix in it and to stash a few bandaids, Tide-toGo, and lipgloss. I carried this purse with me everywhere. The size, the zippers and the velcro while I walked through throngs in the park made it perfect! (And here I admit that it made me happy that my hipster and my baby carrier happened to coordinate. It's the little things;-). 



AeroBed Sleep Tight Bed: So worth the money! This bed is extremely easy to inflate and so cozy to sleep in. If you need extra beds in the hotel room I strongly recommend these. i didn't pack these from home. My Aunt Lisette had them for her grandchildren and mentioned them to me. My mom borrowed them from her while we were staying at my mother's and then I packed them to take to Disney. I plan to buy some of our won. Katie and Sarah slept on them. Katie is nine and had plenty of room. One night, Sarah woke and I laid down next to her to put her back to sleep. I comfortably spent the rest of the night there. 

Download Disney Master List PDF.

Tips for a Happy Car Ride:

For the older kids they had the things they wanted in their own bags/pockets so they weren't forgotten. They mostly occupied themselves with iPods, laptops, and the occasional Kindle. They also slept a whole lot. iPod Touch: This is 14 hours of teen and tween peace at your fingertips, from Nick to Christian, all of the older kids had music, HD video camera, game apps, and, when needed, iCloud to find misplaced iPods. Audio books can be downloaded to these also and they can listen to them while playing apps.  While in wifi zones, the kids could also play Words with Friends against each other, update to Facebook, and check ESPN game scores.

For the younger kids, we kept their LeapPads, batteries, and  headphones in one bag ready and accessible to them. This was Car Bag 2, another accessible bag with extra batteries, markers, drawing paper, crosstich projects, extra embroidery floss and Kids Travel (by Klutz). This book matches its description as a backseat survival kit. Everyone had something fun to use in this book, it is definitely complete. Even if you don't plan on going on a trip anytime soon you might like this book, lots of fun mess-free things to do. 

About the LeapPad in Pink and LeapPad in Green.: These have gone up in price and are still extremely hard to find in stock. We bought them for each of the little girls for $99 each and that was their Christmas present from us (we don't do Santa--so the Leap Pad was it). I let them play with them Christmas Day and then I put them away until the trip. The recommended age is 4-8,  but I think it suits a much wider span. Sarah is three and LOVED it, and Stephen (13) and Nick (11) might have spent more time on them than Katie. Also, once we got to Disney these were great to have when they wanted to take pictures or even videos of Disney World,.The camera isn't the greatest but it is not awful and it captured for them what they wanted to remember. We only let them take the Leap Pads into the park on one day because I really didn't want to mess with carrying and remembering them. LeapFrog always does things well and this product is no exception. 

Make sleeping comfortable. We packed a pillow a person and some throw blankets..Those throw blankets were passed all around and helped tremendously when one person wanted the air conditioner up high and another person didn't want air conditioning at all.

Snacks on the Way and Border Treats: We packed a variety of snacks so that we could stretch time between stopping for meals and keep carsickness at bay. I tucked in granola bars in three different flavors, crackers, goldfish, trail mix, and things that would hopefully not make too much mess in the back. I did vacuum after arriving in Ponte Vedra, after returning to Ponte Vedra from Orlando, and after we got home before we returned the rental car.


The favorite treats were our border treats. This is a fun idea Lissa passed on to me when I drove to Florida several years ago.  Every time we crossed a border into another state, Katie would read aloud (or shout) the sign saying "Welcome to...", then the treat would be passed all around. On the way there we had: Peanut Butter Cups from Trader Joe's (you will never want Reese's again after tasting these), Smashing S'Mores from Trader Joe's, Minty Mallows from Trader Joe's, and Salted Caramel Chocolates. On the way home we had to go to a local grocery store and we had: Pirouettes, Coconut Dreams, Mint Cookies, and Chocolate Covered Ritz Crackers.


For my own entertainment, I packed some embroidery and some lovely floss. I had visions of stitching merrily for hours while I chatted with Mike. The reality was that I stitched a wee bit and then recognized that the van was not the smoothest ride and getting that needle right where I wanted it wasn't happening. Besides, the shifting light along the treeline as we traveled, combined with the needlework, made me start wondering about whether that Throw Up Bag was for me, too. I also packed a bunch of old design magazines, some glue, and a blank sketchbook to create an idea journal. That took about an hour:-). There were some new books, both print and audio awaiting me on my Kindle, but that just seemed rude to Mike, who was doing the real work of getting us there. Mostly, I just kept keeping the little girls happy. 

In order to maximize the benefit of gas and meal stops, I insisted everybody "give it a try" every time we stopped at a bathroom. For the most part, this strategy prevented the dreaded "I have to go" fifteen minutes after having just stopped. I will admit that I grew very, very weary of lifting Sarah onto every public toilet along the southeast coast. 

On the way down, the girls were battling carsicknesses mightily. Mike and I decided on a sitdown late breakfast at Cracker Barrel. After that stop, they were considerably better the rest of the trip. So, it was probably time well spent. But it did slow us quite a bit. On the trip home, we snacked more and stopped for fast food and potty breaks, but ate meals in the car. All in all, our best coping strategy for little bladders and motion-sick girlies was to accept it and just roll. We did what they needed and didn't try to push past their limits. 

One more note: we don't have a vehicle big enough for all of us any more, so one of our major expenses was the renting of a 15 passenger van. We had plenty of space for all of us and all our stuff. The thing gobbled gas, though.

This trip was so much better than the last one. As long as Mike is with me and willing to drive, I'd easily do it again. Soon. Maybe this summer? 

 {{This post, the PDFs, and all of the packing that went into the education that informs this post, would not have been possible without bushels of cheerful, thoughtful help from Mary Beth. }}