What do you do when your traveling companions are slobs?

You’d be amazed at the kind of damage three kids can do to a vacation rental in just a few hours. And at one time, my crew might have been the worst.

It was so bad, that when we first started traveling with the children, I felt like I was the maid.

Picture, if you will, crayons spilled under the kitchen table and abandoned, “missing” sight-reading cards found stuffed between cushions in the couch, a half-finished cup of orange juice left on the bathroom countertop, cookie pieces in crumbles hidden underneath the sheets and pillows in the bedrooms and ubiquitous Cheerios spread out like land-mines across the staircase awaiting adult feet to obliterate them.

These things would never fly if we were at home.

Have you ever traveled with people whose sense of cleanliness and order is not quite up to your standards? It’s as if, because they’re not in their own home, they’ve conveniently forgotten what it’s like to put dirty cups in the dishwasher, tissues in the trash can or when to flush the toilet.

How do you handle the tension and anger build-up? What do you say to let them know that the hotel room or vacation rental is partly yours and that you expect a better effort at keeping things tidy?

Or should you just give in to their sloth, condemning yourself to a vacation as their unofficial personal cleaning service?

I’m not that great at hiding my frustration, so at some point in our first months of adventuring I pulled my better half aside and we had a meeting of the minds. Instead of suffering in silence – or hey at the top of our lungs – we racked our brains for some explanation as to why our formerly well-trained children had suddenly forgotten their housekeeping skills and how we might correct this bad behavior.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

From the kitchen I could hear the euphoric bubbles of kids laughing maniacally, with the accompanying rumble of quick, little feet across the ceiling. By the time I sprinted up the stairs and swung open the bedroom door, following a crunchy trail of fish crackers, every single item in our luggage had been emptied onto the master bed and the kids were jumping with delight as they tossed underwear, socks, pants and t-shirts at each other.

It was last straw.

The room was a wreck, I couldn’t distinguish fresh from dirty clothes and the thought of cleaning it all up by myself was inconceivable. I knew I had only two choices left: invoke strict house rules where ever we go or just stay home.

It may sound a bit extreme but changes had to be made. Starting then and there we created a formal plan that everyone agreed to. My better half and I assigned travel chores, created cleaning zones and put together a schedule so both kids and adults would know what they needed to do and when.

And the same regiment continues today. Sure we’ve made a few tweaks over the past three years, adding rewards and new responsibilities as they grow older. Even though we’re pretty happy with the results, we’re always open to new ideas.

Having a written plan has been especially helpful when staying with the grandparents in their home. There’s a peace of mind knowing my kids will make their beds, brush their teeth and help clear the table without even being asked.

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