suitcase vacation packing

Everyone likes to take a vacation now and then, but if you’re like me, packing for even a short trip is something I dread.

It’s hard to know what to take along in your suitcase. It requires anticipating which activities you’ll be doing and whether they’ll require casual clothes or dressier attire. Along with that is the need to assure all of those items of apparel have been freshly laundered. Then, too, there’s the weather — will it be hot, cold, wet or dry? If you’re traveling by plane, you need to consider the size and weight of your luggage. If you’re going by car, you need to evaluate the size of your vehicle, the number of people who will be riding along and how much space will be left over for luggage.

Up to now, the items I’ve listed are the same for almost anyone planning to travel. However, if you have pets or live on a farm with livestock, the above factors are just the start of your total trip planning. Animals that will require care in your absence present a whole additional set of potential challenges.

In the case of Lizzie and Tillie, our farm’s canines, the solution is relatively simple. We take them to a kennel we’ve used for years and drop them off. The dogs actually like going there and almost pull their leashes out of our hands trying to get into the kennel’s office. However, going to the kennel still requires “packing” for the dogs. This includes preparing two meals per day for each dog and placing them into plastic zip-top bags marked with their names and whether the meal inside is meant for morning or evening, since both dogs take certain medications along with their meals.

We use a plastic bin with a snap-on lid as the shared “luggage” for Lizzie and Tillie. It also holds several towels in case there’s wet weather in our absence, a few favorite dog toys and, of course, a supply of their favorite treats packed in small zip-top bags. For good measure, I prepare a typed instruction sheet for the kennel that includes feeding instructions for the dogs, as well as contact info for us and their veterinarian.

We also need to provide for our barn cats, sheep and goats while we’re away. Fortunately, a nearby neighbor, who is a vet tech by profession, is usually available to handle these duties. Each cat gets fed twice a day with dry food, topped off by a dollop of canned cat food. I prepare these in individual plastic containers with lids and then place them in a small refrigerator out at the barns.

The trick here is describing for the “critter sitter” where each cat can be found at feeding time. Tuxie and Zane are reliably in the barn’s old horse stable. But, Pippa is still more feral than tame, so she either hangs out under the raised section of the corn barn or inside the old chicken house. And then, there’s a new orange kitten that has been coming around, which hangs out between the sheep pasture and the corn barn. Finally, there’s “Cletus,” our feral cat who doesn’t get along with the rest of our cat colony, so he spends most of his time confined to the upstairs of the barn. When we’re away, I put a self-feeder and self-waterer up there for him, to make life easier for the helper.

The critter sitter receives a two-page instruction sheet with headings that include: mail and newspapers, cat feeding, sheep water, sheep feeding, and plant watering. These are detailed directions, such as “If the barn cats’ water bowl is low or looks ‘yucky,’ you can empty and refill from the hydrant beside the water trough in front of the barn.” I email these instructions to the sitter and also tape a copy to the door of the fridge where the dishes of cat food are kept.

The recent addition of two lambs to our flock has added a temporary morning feeding to the animal sitter’s duties, but she doesn’t mind, since Peter and Paul are so adorable. I place the lambs’ morning feed in plastic zip-top bags and the evening rations for all the sheep and goats into plastic grocery bags tied shut at the top and stored inside a large plastic bin.

The care of the beef cattle in the barn or pasture is usually handled by a farming neighbor who lives close by. He knows our feeding procedures and is also available to provide them with a big bale of hay if they run out while we’re gone. Best of all, he keeps an eye on herd health and alerts us to any problems.

I liken our farm pre-vacation preparations to plotting an escape from (a beloved) captivity. It requires a lot of forethought and advance planning before breaking out. In our case, we consider the caper to be, literally, well along the road to success when we’re able to drive out our lane knowing everything will be in good hands. And, we hope that we’ll have enough fun while “on the lam” to justify the extensive pre-planning necessary. With luck, we’ll have rested up from all those preparations before its time to “turn ourselves in” and head back home.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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