This page will provide you with some of the tips and insights that I have collected over the years to help make your vacation a little more enjoyable.
My first rule of thumb is like the boy scouts, be prepared! This means plan for anything that could possibly go wrong, no matter how unlikely. It is much better to have ten times more stuff with you than you could ever possibly need than it is to be missing just one little thing.
I always pack umbrellas, boots, some extra clothes, and some warm clothes like thick socks, a sweat shirt and some pants. I have several small basic first aid kits that I got for a couple of dollars each at Wal Mart. They come in a zip loc bag, and have just the basics, a wound wipe, some ointment, some band aids. They are exactly the kind of thing you need with young kids around to patch up a skinned knee or a splinter. I have gotten pretty lucky with my daughter, but a couple of times these kits have made me a hero with strangers whose kids were crying over a little scrape. I carry one kit in my van, one in my camera bag, and one in the cam corder bag. My wife has one in her belt bag, and my mother carries one with her. We always have one near by.
I also have a very well equipped first aid kit that I keep in my van for more serious injuries. Before each trip I go through these kits and replace anything that has been used, or is out dated. My larger kit is stocked with Immodium, Tylenol, Allergy medicine, and Rolaids in addition to the first aid items.
I have several small coolers which we use for picnics, and cookouts. They are soft sided, and easy to carry. I have a thermo-electric cooler which I keep in the van and is very handy for carrying food from the store to the campsite, or motel.
I also have a "garden cart" which I purchased at Sam's Club. It is basically a kids wagon on steroids. It is 2' wide by 4' long. The bottom is 14" off the ground, and the sides are 13" tall. The front, back, and both sides are hinged which allow them to fold down together, or independently (though you must leave two sides up together for them to stay) and it comes with a long, padded handle for easy pulling. This is the perfect way to carry kids, cameras, and coolers almost any where. The high ground clearance, and 10" air filled tires should be able to handle anything you can throw at them, and have a long life. It can carry 500 pounds which is more than enough to handle lugging the fully packed cooler from the van to the camp site, or the BBQ supplies from the parking lot to the BBQ site. This wagon is indespensible! In the amusement park, it has room for the kid, camera bags, umbrellas, swim suits and towels, and a first aid kit, and there is space left over to carry empty mugs (so you can get the cheap refills instead of paying four bucks for a soda) and any stuffed animals you should happen to wind. At the campground, it is a great way to move stuff from the van, or trailer, to the campsite. This is especially handy when setting up two campsites. It really saves a lot of time.
The first time I used the cart, it rained on and off all day, and we wound up rigging up umbrellas, and plastic sheeting to protect the kid, and the gear. When we got home from that weekend trip, I set about making a vinyl top for the garden cart. I've been using the top for a couple of years now, and it works GREAT. The results can be seen here.
A couple of weeks before I travel I go over my van carefully. I check the brakes, belts and hoses. I check the fluid levels, and if any are significantly down I look for a leak. I check spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor cap, and rotor. I check the tires, and pressure, and then I check the pressure again the day before the trip. I check all fuses, and make sure all the lights are working. I change the oil and filter, fuel filter, and air filter, and rotate the tires. I pack a small tool box with screw drivers, fuses and a fuse puller, and some spare bulbs. I can replace any bulb except a headlight without a visit to the parts store. I put in new wiper refills, and fill up the washer fluid bottle. When I am satisfied that everything is working right I spend an afternoon at the car wash. I clean the van from top to bottom, inside and out. I clean the engine, vacuum the interior, polish up the chrome, coat the tires with Tire Shine, and treat the rubber plastic and vinyl with Armor All. I treat the windshield with Rain X, clean all the glass, and spray the inside with air freshener. I usually do this two days before the trip.
If I am going to be towing I check all the bolts on the tow hitch to be sure they are tight. I also check over the wiring for the trailer light connector to make sure it is intact. When I hook up the trailer, I have a check list that I go through. The first thing I do is put the trailer on the ball, then I tighten the clamp, or latch to lock the trailer in place. Next the safety chains get attached, and then the wiring gets hooked up. Once this is done, I go back and verify that the trailer is on the ball, and locked in place, the chains are properly attached, and the wiring is hooked up, then I check to make sure all the lights are working properly. During the trip I check the trailer hitch, and lighting at each rest stop I visit.
The night before the trip I fill the gas tank, and check the fluids once again. Before we leave I make sure I have my drivers license, and my auto club card (also a good idea to make sure that you have paid your dues and are still a member in good standing), as well as my cell phone, and auto charger.
I carry a 12v vacuum cleaner in the van because someone is always eating and making a mess. I also carry upholstery cleaner, a stiff upholstery brush, and a roll of paper towels. In the event of a spill I pull over as soon as possible, and get it cleaned up the right way before it becomes a permanent part of the van.
A few other things I carry in the van are some basic hand tools. This generally includes a small multimeter, a hammer, a cheap basic socket set, some screw drivers, linesman pliers, some electrical wire (generally 18, 16, and 14 gauge, as you can repair nearly any wiring with these gauges) and electrical tape. I also carry my breaker bar, and a few 1/2 drive sockets, including the 3/4" which I need to remove lug nuts. I also make sure I have my jack, and battery booster pack in the van, and a few road flares. Since my van likes to chew up ignition modules on a pretty regular basis, I carry a timing light (it's a fast way to test for spark if the engine won't start), and a spare ignition module as well. I can swap out a bad module, and be back on the road in about a half an hour, which is usually faster than the auto club can get someone to me.