6 Things I Learned from My First Major Vacation

Happy Friday, guys! I’m posting this a week later than I had initially planned, but better late than never, right? I think. Anyway, we’ve finally kind of gotten back into the groove of things after our vacation, which took a lot longer than I expected.

It had been three years since visiting California (minus my impromptu trip for my grandfather’s funeral four months ago), and it's definitely been awhile since we’ve stayed in a hotel for more than one or two nights, so there were a lot of things that I completely spaced on for our trip. I wanted to share those with you in case you’re ever in a similar situation (also to remind myself for our next trip, because my stupid ass will forget by that time).

But first…

Some pictures from our trip! I posted these a couple weeks ago, which I snagged with my phone, but I finally got the photos from our Canon edited, so I wanted to share those as well. Mind you, we didn’t take any good photos while we were in Fresno, but we snapped a few pretty great ones in San Diego.

Also, we are idiots and forgot our Canon when we visited Griffith Observatory, so I’ll be posting some of my phone snaps on Instagram - including this one - over the next couple weeks.

Anyway, here’s some more of my favorite pics:

Now that you've seen the photos, it's time for...

6 things I learned from my first big vacation

1. You probably won't need it.

And by “it,” I mean anything that isn’t an absolute necessity (like underwear). As far as clothes go, you won’t need as much as you think you will, unless you’re an absolute minimalist (then goodforfuckingyou). In this post I talked about the 5-4-3-2-1 rule that I used to put together my capsule wardrobe for the trip. I brought a few extra things just in case, and ended up not wearing them at all.

I wore my yoga leggings more than anything else just for the comfort factor (when I had initially brought them purely for sleeping in). This did have to do with the fact that the weather was quite a bit cooler than expected, but still.

Those block heels that I allowed myself just in case? Didn’t even pull them out of the suitcase; they just took up unnecessary room for no reason.

Now, had it been just me and hubby visiting somewhere without family, I probably would have worn it all. But 80 percent of our trip was spent just chillin’ or running after kids, so I didn’t wear a lot of the things I thought I would. 

There are also a lot of things that you can probably purchase after you arrive at your destination so that you don’t have to worry about packing them. Because let’s be real, we all inevitably forget something and end up having to go to the store anyway.

This also goes for buying things while you’re on vacation. Unless it’s a souvenir item that you just can’t live without, don’t get it. We ended up overpacking for the trip home, and it gave us trouble at check-in on our return flight. So resist the urge to spend!

Speaking of packing…

2. Efficient-ize your carry-on.

Yes I am aware that "efficient-ize" is not a word, but I like it. I guess you can use "optimize," if it bothers you that much.


Keep your toiletries (and any other liquids) in one bag, and snacks in another. Then make sure they are easily accessible so you can take them out easily at security. At the time of our trip, it had been awhile since I had flown with young children (or at all), so I forgot about all the different things that have to be separated for TSA.

Thankfully I had compartmentalized everything in my carry-on, but it was still a little hectic trying to dig everything out. I can’t imagine doing it without it being organized.

Does anyone else feel like they’re going crazy when they go through security with kids? Or is it just me? Like, “sorry, I completely forgot that she shoved that tablet and fifteen lollipops in her backpack last minute!” Yeesh.

3. Double-Check policies and fees.

Guys, I can’t stress this enough. We ended up losing a lot of money that I had budgeted for our trip because there were so many hidden fees and/or policies that I didn’t expect or double-check. There were two big things that created issues for us:

1. We got totally screwed over with our rental car because the airport rental kiosks don’t allow you to use a debit card if you are returning your rental to a different location (which is funny, because they had no problem accepting my debit card as a credit card to pay the initial deposit when I booked the car online. PRO TIP: Don’t ever book through Dollar Car Rental. Holy shit, they were awful). Thankfully, we were able to book an affordable rental through National in a pinch, but we still lost out on our $250 deposit because Dollar pretty blatantly just stole our money.

2. I wasn’t expecting our security deposit at the hotel to be so high. We ended up paying almost $400 for 5 nights at DoubleTree by Hilton at Hotel Circle in San Diego. We ended up ordering a lot of room service, which I almost never do, simply because it completely gouged our food budget. I knew there would be a security deposit, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that much, so on top of losing our money for the car, it really messed with my budget.

The other thing with the hotel was that they charged for everything. Breakfast, wi-fi (except in the lobby), parking (and there is nowhere to park off-site, so why not just charge more and include it?), and much more. I haven’t stayed in many four-star hotels, so I’m not sure if this is a normal thing, but I feel like a lot of places aren’t quite so stingy.

With that said, let’s move on to the next tip:

4. Budget, budget, and budget again.

And then STICK TO YOUR BUDGET as much as possible. Plan to spend more than you think you will so you don’t have any crazy surprises along the way.

Another good idea is to have a zero balance on a good credit card just in case. This would have saved us the trouble with the car rental, but I didn't plan for that.

5. Don't go crazy with your itinerary.

Allow yourself time for an empty schedule for an afternoon or a full day, depending on how long your trip is. This is especially true if you are visiting family.

We had ten full days total in California (excluding travel days), so I figured we would need to actually fill up our itinerary to keep the kids entertained, but we ended up spending most of our time just visiting with family and friends! I definitely didn’t need to plan as much "sight-seeing” as I did.

And on a related topic, we have our last tip...

6. Take a vacay from your vacay.

Allow yourself a day or two after your return trip to get acclimated to home life again. This is especially true if you work from home or telecommute and don’t have as distinct a separation between work and home. For me, even though I worked really hard to get the blog on autopilot as much as I could during our vacation, I still found myself having to do a little work here and there. 

Not only that, but our return flight was so hectic that I found myself needing to recover for a few days before returning to work. Ideally, I should have prepped for work through the end of the week even though I was already home at that point. That way, I wouldn’t be slammed with work right away.

Now that we’ve gotten through that, what about the things that I would do again? I can’t say that I was as prepared as I would like to have been, but there were a few things that really helped on this trip.

  • Lavender Oil: I’ve been putting this on Elliot’s pillow lately since he’s been particularly cranky at bedtime. It really helped to have it with us to help him sleep in an unfamiliar setting. It also really helped in getting the girls to sleep quicker. I expected to have a lot of trouble getting everybody to sleep in just a single room, but the lavender oil really helped to combat that issue.
  • Booking a smaller car than we have at home: Originally we had booked a full-size SUV because we wanted to have something with a third row, like the minivan we drive at home. Then we realized that Abby actually can ride in a booster seat now, so our seats wouldn’t be as cramped as they usually are. So, I decided to go with a full-size sedan to save money, and they actually upgraded us to our choice of mid-size SUV anyway since they only had one sedan available. So we got a 2018 VW Tiguan for like $550 for 10 days. Best believe I was stoked about that deal (also that is gonna be Mama’s new car when it’s time for an upgrade, haha)!
  • Window Clings and Activity Books: These were huge in keeping the girls occupied. Although with the window clings, I would maybe pack them up in a ziplock instead of leaving them in the original packaging (duh) since it would help keep them contained better and we’d end up without any trash.
  • Plenty of Snacks: I was a little worried about packing too many snacks because they would take up too much room, but I’m glad I did, because of course the kids were hungry constantly on our flights (despite having prior meals).
  • Card Case: I packed just a couple credit cards and our insurance into a slim card case instead of bringing my usual wallet. This helped a ton in saving space. I was able to slide the card case and my phone in the small outside pocket of my carry-on for easy access, and it was SO convenient.

That’s it for my tips from this trip! What lessons have you had to learn the hard way while traveling?

Much Love,