yeah right

Who Am I Kidding With My Vacation Packing?

Dress clothes? FIVE exercise outfits? A copy of Pride and Prejudice? Who do I think I am?

Written by Laura Onstot
Mother packing car with two small children. Summer vacation concept, road trip
Anchiy/E+/Getty Images
On The Go with Scary Mommy

Every summer, my husband and kids and I go to the Midwest for a month-long trip to see family. This year, I packed five workout outfits. Five. I reasoned that we'd be staying at a place without laundry for a week, so I'd want to have enough. I was obviously feeling inspired, since I am lucky to knock out four workouts in a week when I’m not on vacation. I packed dress clothes and nice shoes for my daughters and me, "just in case."

When we returned home from our trip, four of the workout outfit sets went back into the closet, untouched. The packing cube with dress shoes hadn't even been unzipped. I wish this was a one-time packing mishap, but it happens every year. My suitcase reveals that despite being a mother for eight years, I still haven't grasped the reality of "vacation" with kids. It is never relaxing, dress shoes simply take up precious suitcase weight, and no, I don’t work out every day.

I polled my friends and it turns out I’m not alone. I heard several categories of stuff that apparently we’re all hauling through airports and in and out of car trunks and never, ever using.


“Every time I pack all my makeup, I end up only using the basics,” said my sister-in-law, Rahne. I take it one step further: I pack makeup despite never wearing makeup, even at home. Plus I always bring makeup remover. My friend Sam confessed: “Nail polish. (I thought I’d actually have time to paint my nails.)” Honestly, what was she thinking? Other moms reported packing jewelry, or contacts, “so I could wear cute sunglasses.”

Healthy snacks

I brought weight resistance bands and ginger tea on our last trip. I don’t even like ginger tea, and come to think of it, I don’t like resistance bands either. Another friend brought pre-packaged protein powder and dried fruit. Sure, we all want to prevent vacation bloat, brought on by eating the entire box of Cheez-Its (whoops), washed down by a Bloody Mary packed with charcuterie (it’s a drink, not a meal!). But are you really going to drink a protein shake for breakfast? No. Order the f*cking biscuits and gravy, and throw away your running shoes.

Organized Kid Activities

“All they really want are the pages from the Bible in the nightstand drawer,” says Jordan, mom of two littles. And that about sums it up. Why bring your kid an activity when they can play “hide the crystal coasters” at the VRBO, or unload all the cabinets within arms reach? Another mom sent me a picture of $50 markers she bought on the trip, planning to draw with her kiddos. It sounded like a great idea, I agreed, until she told me the markers bled through the paper and damaged their airbnb table. Whoops. The moral of the story is, stop trying to be such a great parent.

The Dressy Outfit

My friend Lisa brings dressy outfits, “for nights out that inevitably never occur.” Amen to that. The dressy outfit seems like a must-pack item, probably because you have a memory from a trip in your childfree years, where you regretted not packing heels to go clubbing at 2 am. I regret to inform you this will not happen anytime soon. Another mom who shall remain nameless explained she packed a dressy outfit on the assumption that she’d get a date night while the family watched the kids. Ah yes, the family babysitter plans. They’ve dissolved for so many people.

A sub-category of “the dressy outfit” is the risqué swimsuit that you can’t wear because you’re playing hard with children and you don’t want a boob popping out. Or, really, as one person put it: “Any outfit that attempts to peg me as not being a mom.” If you want to wear one of those, you’ve just gotta leave the kids at home.

Hair tools

“Let’s be real,” said mom-of-three Clare, “I’m only going to use a ponytail holder.” Remember when messy buns came into style and we all sighed in relief? Are they still in style? IDK, but just like the women who still perm their hair, I’m going to live my entire life in the messy bun era.


Oh, the books. When I pitched this article, Scary Mommy executive editor Kelly Faircloth responded: “I packed three physical books on this vacation, plus a Kindle, and I genuinely don't know who I thought I was kidding.” My friend Amanda recently returned from a trip to Hawaii with her one and five-year-old kids, on which she brought an iPad loaded with Kindle books. She read one... page. Meanwhile, I tried to be all holier-than-thou and brought Pride and Prejudice on vacay. I read three paragraphs before running to Target to pick up the latest smutty summer romance novel.

When we pack for vacation, we aren’t quite living in reality. My friend Amy summed it up the best, “I like to pack that one item that doesn’t quite fit but for some reason I think it will fit correctly and comfortably on vacation.” We believe the muffin-top-inducing jean shorts might possibly fit when we leave the confines of our everyday life. We believe we will wear makeup, straighten our hair, and dammit, drink that protein shake for breakfast. We will have time to paint our nails or have 30 extra seconds to throw on the swimsuit cover up rather than running out the door with one boob hanging out from our swimsuit to slather our escape artist in sunscreen.

We won’t do any of these things. But there’s nothing wrong with dreaming.

Laura Onstot writes to maintain her sanity after transitioning from a career as a research nurse to stay-at-home motherhood. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids binge-watch TV. She blogs at Nomad’s Land, or you can follow her on Twitter @LauraOnstot.