Traveling way outside my comfort zone


“East or west, home is best.” This is a phrase I grew up hearing my father say often, especially when he got back from another international business trip. It’s something I say to myself nearly every time I pull into my driveway.

Even though I’ve been a single parent for the past several years, I’ve never in that time taken my kids anywhere overnight by myself. I don’t really enjoy traveling, flying, or going to new places. This spring and summer, I decided that had to change.

My kids and I just got home from a one-night trip to western Pennsylvania (about four hours away), to places we’d never been before. My older son developed a fascination with Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. He set a picture of it as our computer desktop background and asked me every few months about going.

Wow, was it worth it! We had a great time. My older son said the tour was even better than he had expected and my younger son (the one I’ve now and then accused of taking all his blessings for granted) thanked me many times for our trip and how much fun it was.

I will confess that I naturally have a lot of anxiety and the main way I keep it at bay is through routine. Get up at the same time every day, have the same breakfast every day, follow a to-do list I wrote the night before every day… what may sound boring to you is comfort to me.

Most people would be shocked to hear that I’m anxious because I come across as easygoing and carefree a lot of the time. That’s because I happen to be fortunate enough to have a lot of control over what I do when (a major indicator of human happiness). Only those who know me well see the cracks at the seams when we eat dinner two hours later than I expected or had plans to go somewhere that get changed last minute.

I am not a go-with-the-flow type of person, so taking a last minute trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, finding a hotel online, and driving across the state with some handwritten directions scrawled on a scrap of paper were definitely pushing my boundaries. To one of my world-traveling coworkers, I equated it with her going to Russia.

It got me thinking, what else can I do to keep growing and experiencing new things? What do you do, large and small, to get out of your comfort zone and into the great big world? I’d love your ideas! (Please don’t suggest varying my breakfast, ’cause that ain’t happening.)

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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9 Tips for Packing for Your Family Vacation

Packing for vacation is both fun (the anticipation!) and stressful (do I have everything I need?). My family has developed a system that has saved us a lot of time and simultaneously teaches my kids how to pack their own bags. (I have these visions of them packing for a business trip in the future and remembering how Mom taught them what to bring.) Here’s what we do to make sure packing runs smoothly.

  1. Make a list and divide it into sections, like Clothing, Health and Beauty, and Entertainment. Under each section, have a checkbox and the item. I made our list on Microsoft Word and I print out a fresh one with each trip. The bullets are open squares so I can check off each item as it goes in the suitcase. (If you don’t want to make your own list, there are dozens out there; here’s a sample from a fellow blogger.)


  1. Get the kids involved by asking them to sit down with you to decide what needs to be packed. Show them how much room they have in their bag and let them help prioritize (based on your activities and the weather) what types of clothes and other items they’ll need to bring.


  1. Have everyone pack their items in tandem. For example, I call out “shirts” and we all make a pile of the right number of shirts (for a short trip, we pack one per day plus an extra one). We go through each item on the list one by one and all of us get them out at the same time.


  1. Let the kids pick their own clothes, but tell them which ones have to stay home. My boys have a few t-shirts that are fine for bumming around at home in the summer, but not something I’d like to have pictures of them wearing on our family vacation. The more they get to pick themselves, though, the more interested they are in helping out.


  1. Pack your toothbrushes, makeup, etc., right after you use them on the day of your trip.


  1. Don’t bother with products you can do without, but make sure you bring what you might need and would have trouble replacing. I tend to skip my vitamins on a vacation because we often forget to take them anyway, but I bring my son’s prescription inhaler even though he rarely needs it because it would be a real hassle to try to fill a prescription while we’re away.


  1. Leave a little space in your bag to bring a souvenir home. My kids have the attitude that if their bag isn’t stuffed to the gills with clothes, that means they can fill in the extra space with toys or stuffed animals. Telling them we’ll be bringing home more than we came with heads that off.


  1. Don’t bring anything irreplaceable. If there’s a stuffed animal or blanket or other item that your kids are super attached to, tell them it will be better to keep it safe at home and allow them to bring something they like but wouldn’t be heartbroken to lose. It’s amazing how things disappear, even when you think you’ve checked all the dresser drawers and under the bed.


  1. Take a copy of your packing list with you and make sure you put back in your bags whatever you brought with you.


We’ve followed this method for several vacations now and the process works so well! The kids love getting ready for vacation because they get to help, and it takes a lot of pressure off me because I’m packing one bag instead of three. The other benefit is having extra eyes paying attention to make sure we’ve remembered what we need to bring.

Do you have a tip for packing your family for vacation? Leave it in the comments; I’d love to hear it!


If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.


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[photo credit: “suitcases” by Aimee Ray]