This is My Brain on Packing

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Leave the flat-iron, take the local honey.

Snow day over? If the novelty of drinking tea and shoveling snow has grown stale, you’ll probably be setting your sights on a relaxing getaway, a change of scenery, or maybe even a staycation where you can temporarily suspend the demands of reality.

If you’re planning a trip for two or the whole family, a little forethought could save you time packing and loads of stress before your trip starts.

Here are some quick and useful tips to help you get out the door faster, and happier.

And here is my brain on Venn Diagrams:

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Who doesn’t love a good old Venn Diagram?

1. Spend a little time on your computer.
Sit down for ten minutes and open a text document. Visualize your day, start to finish, and imagine all the items and foods you use throughout the course of a day. Write down everything that needs to make its way to vacationland with you. If you’re like me, you may want to turn these items into a check list that can be printed and used each time you travel. It’s always a good idea to leave some blank check boxes too, in case items change for different times of the year or certain foods or medications need to be included. You can check out my version here:

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It looks a little over the top, but I spent a little time making it once, and now just slightly edit it and reference it whenever I travel!

2. Cover all the major categories: CATVEGI. Yup, CATVEGI. It’s so ridiculous, you’ll remember it.

Clothing
Accessories (hats, shoes, sunglasses, etc.,)
Toiletries
Vitamins/medications/special foods
Electronics and chargers
Gear (camping chairs, pool floats, etc.,)
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS. This includes, but is not limited to:
-Drivers license
-Passport
-Plane tickets or any physical documents that provide proof of reservations or travel

3. Think Small. Either invest in travel size bottles or reuse existing toiletry bottles for new products. I’m a big fan of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps and take them everywhere with me, so I purchased a small bottle of their soap once, and constantly refill it from my gallon containers to travel with. I’ve also saved small face wash pump bottles and cleaned them out to use for lotions.

4. Seal it up.  Secure all toiletries in ziplock bags before packing. This prevents them from leaking on other items in your luggage. Save your bags to reuse for future packing. I keep a wad of zip locks in the closet that are strictly for holding small items, not food, and use them over and over again. You can also try the plastic wrap trick (see links below.)

5. If possible, get double.
Many people have several of the same items already laying around the house. Hair ties, travel size deodorants, bath sponges, hair products, and makeup can be put together as your travel set. If you can get duplicates of certain items, it will make packing and UNPACKING easier.

6. Grab and Go Ready. Keep your toiletry bag prepacked and ready to go. Fill it with your travel set of items, in their ziplock bags, and tuck it into a closet or under the bed so you’re ready to go when you head out of town. All you’ll need to do is throw in the bigger items like blow driers, if you need them.

8. Aim for Arm’s Reach. If you’re packing for babies (like me,) make sure all of the items you will need right away during travel are reachable in your car, and in your diaper bag. Items needed first should be stored at the top of your bag, and outside areas of your car. When we’re taking long car rides and stop mid-way for an overnight rest, we pack a smaller piece of luggage with just the pajamas and outfits for the following day so we don’t have to unpack the whole car.

9. Imagine the Kid Zone. Consider how you will entertain your little one and provide a safe space wherever you are going. You may need to pack toys for the car, outlet covers for your hotel room, or a playpen, depending on where you’re headed, and the age of your child. A playpen may be bulky, but provide the most safe and secure space for your child wherever you go.

10. The Staples of Travel.
Keep a gallon of water and some water bottles in you car along with a roll of paper towels, some tissues, and empty trash and laundry bags. These little extras will come in handy, trust me! Pack disinfecting wipes with you. These can be used on everything from gas pumps to the hotel room remote.

Check out these creative packing tips here from Buzzfeed:

And I love that the folks over at Howdini reuse their old toiletry bottles and seem to use ziplock bags as much as I do.

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H & G sincerely hope you enjoy your vacation and get to kick back and relax! 🙂 🙂

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Cross Country Remembered: Part 1

Since 2003 I have driven across the United States about a dozen times.

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Photograph of Art Bell by Ian Allen. http://www.ianallenphoto.com/Art-Bell-for-Time

Well, I drove about 200 miles in total.  Hubs did almost all of the driving, and I was co-captain, ready with a Red Bull for my pilot or a jab to the ribs at 3AM through a star speckled stretch of Arizona. We chased Coast to Coast AM as it faded in and out of radio stations while we propelled through the long black stretches of interstate, pondering our place in the vastness, listening to the intriguing discussions of George Noory and Art Bell.

Ian Allen's photograph of Art Bell for Time. http://www.ianallenphoto.com/Art-Bell-for-Time

Photograph of Art Bell by Ian Allen. http://www.ianallenphoto.com/Art-Bell-for-Time

I imagined Bell broadcasting from somewhere in the middle of Nevada from a steel base resembling the UFO from Flight of the Navigator.  Callers would connect with the radio hosts  and describe their latest alien abduction stories or delve into government conspiracy theories.  Occasionally we would tune in to Unshackled, the Christian radio drama, or begin a grand rotation of CDs, many of which were mixes scrawled with my handwriting and hearts all over them.

The Explorer hummed with gentle thuds of thousands of insects being collected like snow through the darkness. We smelled worn-in and earthy and our fingers were sticky with jerky and trail mix. When I absolutely couldn’t keep my eyelids from drooping I’d drift to sleep and wake up, “still in Tennessee,” or “still in Texas.” When I saw hubs’ eyes glaze over, we’d pull off the highway and slink past wide loads and semis, pulling in to well-lit parking spaces, armed with a hunting knife tucked in the driver side door. The doors would lock and the heat blasted, but then I’d pull coats and blankets around my knees and over my head after the last bits of warmth evaporated. Hubs could sleep straight up, no pillow, head back, mouth open and snoring. I’d wake, groggy from the biting cold, or snoring, or because the parking lot lamp lights were blaring down on me for all to see.

When my bladder was ready to burst, I’d clutch my bag and look menacingly into the still dark, too quiet of dawn, trying to imagine looking crazier than anything or anyone that might try to approach me as I made my way to the rest room. Once inside, I kicked open every stall door and checked around every corner. Using rest stop facilities were careful balancing acts of not letting anything touch the counters, walls, or floor of the bathrooms. I used elbows and feet and bottles of hand sanitizer, managing to brush my teeth, wash my face, and wipe down my armpits with some paper towels and soap. All of my toiletries were safely tucked in bags or pockets, away from communal surfaces. During the day I’d be interrupted by women entering the restrooms, clearly on shorter trips,  who usually looked much more embarrassed than I did at the sight of my road-grooming routine.

In the mornings, the windshield would heat up and warm the whole car, and soon we’d be driving, windows down, searching for a pancake and eggs kind of breakfast. There were waffle houses and local diners, IHOPs, Cracker Barrels, and rest stop gas stations that sold spotted bananas and granola bars.

The most southern West/East running Interstate.

I-10 is the most southern West/East                   running Interstate.

Just north of the I-10 is Interstate 40.  It passes through the panhandle of Texas

Just north of the I-10 is Interstate 40. It passes through the panhandle of Texas

Interstate 70 passes through the middle of the U.S

Interstate 70 passes through the middle of the U.S

Just north of I-70 is Interstate 80.

Just north of I-70 is Interstate 80.

Mornings meant so many possibilities. It also meant looking like a hobo in broad daylight. Greasy hair was accepted on the road though. On one particular trip we detoured to see the Grand Canyon. The drive off our main course was much longer than I had expected. We had been two days in the car already, I had my period and was crampy and grumpy. I wanted nothing more than a shower and a warm bed. When we finally arrived at the rim of the huge expanse of the Grand Canyon, I lumbered out of the car, threw a hat on top of my head and covered my face with sunglasses. Although we had arrived, it felt like we hadn’t. It was too big to take in. There was an impossible amount of space in front of us.

This is amazing! Ok, lets leave.

This is amazing! Ok, lets leave.

The striped walls of rocks stacked infinitely until they faded to a washed out pink and gray as far as the eye could see. People were specks all along the landscape and some took clever photos pretending to stand on the cliff’s edge. We stayed for maybe an hour and a half, walking around and taking pictures. Then, I decided, it was time to go.  At that moment, that breathtaking view could not replace the pure joy of a warm shower.

We visited New Orleans during one of our journeys. Our hotel room was cheap because we had agreed to take the handicapped accessible room, complete with guard rails around the bed and a shower-distinguishable only by a shower curtain, but otherwise completely open to the rest of the tiled bathroom. We indulged in great food and watched a parade march through town, weaved in and out of artists booths in the park, and admired paintings and street artists. We watched crowds extend their hands to balconies and shout excitedly as beads were tossed to them.  A year later, hurricane Katrina would devastate the entire area.

During another trip we stopped at an ostrich farm to feed the birds and purchased enormous, thick shelled ostrich eggs to paint on. We stopped at landmarks, and took detours. We pulled up to three mammoth crosses erected on the side of the road in Texas and watched people pray and cry. There were “Four Corners” and “Twin Arrows,” and long sections of highway punctuated by green signs that promised food and gas. Hardees suddenly becoming Carl’s Junior, burgers with mustard, to Subway sandwiches with avocados on them.  200 miles till the next gas station.  Riding with the gas light on in the middle of nowhere. Pretty electric.

We’ve been to ghost towns and closed towns. Many of these were open on the second-Tuesday-of-every-month-except-in-a-leap-year- kind of deals for limited amounts of time, so they were hard to catch. But we had no set schedules.

now open

One day we pulled into a mysterious trailer town set against a barren desert landscape. It was the only visible community from the road for hundreds of miles. The campers were arranged in rows to form streets on the dirt. The local hairdresser’s trailer was marked with an old painted wooden sign that hung from a retractable awning over the front door. A few doors down another wooden sign read “Auto Repair,” another “Food.” Each trailer blended into the next, except for pots of faded fake flowers, dream catchers, or rusted hanging chimes. In the center of town, edged with a homemade wooden fence were about three dozen long hills of earth and gravel. It wasn’t until we drove closer that we realized each pile was a grave, marked with a small wooden cross. We crept around the tiny town in our truck, kicking up dirt, waiting to see a single inhabitant, spinning stories in our heads.


Check back for more on Cross Country Remembered…