Our first couple of family vacations were admittedly a learning experience of epic proportions and involved an exhausting game of tetris at each stop. We brought stuff we didn’t need, forgot things we had at home, and there was even one delightful time when a bag of potatoes got buried in the car and were driven for days through the baking sun before we finally found them. I am not exaggerating when I say that one of the kids was literally breathing through his soccer cleat to save his nostrils. Not sure anyone loves packing. It is a pain. You never know what you need or wish you had. It is especially challenging now that most flights charge a premium for checked baggage. But smart packing makes traveling so much easier! and it can be done at the last minute without missing important things!
This is on the spreadsheet, but to be fully prepped for a trip, consider obtaining for each person:
- Carry-on size luggage with wheels and / or Comfortable Backpack
- Toiletry Bag (restocked and ready after each trip) & Quick Dry Towel & Extra Foldable Tote
- Shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, shaving cream, razor,
- hair product & bands, make-up, medicine, glasses, contacts, earplugs, flashlight
- Personal Bag — Purse / Backpack / Briefcase / Messenger / Tote
- Electronics: Brick, Cord, Battery for each item & Headphones
- Convenience: Book / Craft / Video Game / Movie / Cup / Travel Wine Goblet or Pint
- Comfort: Sunglasses / Hat / Visor / Snacks / Gum / Meds / Lip Balm / Eye Drops / Klennex
- Personal: ID / Passport / Cash / Cards / an Extra Foldable Tote Bag
- Travel Jacket (comfortable, practical pockets, light-weight, wrinkle-free, versatile color and style)
The Scoop on Packing Luggage:
Luggage / Bags — To be ready for travel at all times, these shouldn’t be buried in the depths of the basement!! They should be in a prime spot in each person’s the closet. They should be ready to be packed at any moment…. they should be calling your name every time you open your closet.
—Luggage — ideally each person should have their own carry-on sized luggage. It doesn’t need to be expensive or perfect, but it should have wheels and be easy for kids to pull themselves. Also check to make sure it can be attached to other luggage and pulled as a train in a pinch.
—Backpack — If camping or dragging on cobble stones, traditional luggage can be cumbersome. Travel backpacks that are carry-on size can make a huge difference. They are also great for weekend trips where luggage seems like over-kill. Backpacks can be heavy. Before the trip, make sure everyone is prepared and capable of carrying their own.
Organization — There are million ways to organize a bag, but the ebag packing cubes are awesome. I put bottoms & tops in the large one, undies, socks & PJs in a medium one, swim, flipflops & towel in another medium. Rolled clothes generally take less room, aren’t as wrinkled, and easier to find than folded clothes. Laundry usually gets folded or lain flat under the cubes in the bottom of the luggage, that way it could be worn again in a pinch but easy to find when able to do laundry.
Clothes — Bringing a variety of items that coordinate but can be intermixed and layered depending on weather tends to be a better plan than packing individual outfits. On nearly every trip, include an option that can be dressed-up, swim-wear, pants, and a travel jacket. Even when going away for a month, bringing more than 5-7 days of clothes is too much. Spending a few hours at a laundry-mat isn’t great fun but the people watching is always worth it.
Toiletries — Especially with TSA, this becomes tricky. We bought sturdy 3.4 oz bottles and refill them after each trip. Each person has their own toiletry bag containing everything that they need, in the required ziplock. It is always ready and in their bag, so that even for a sleep-over, we aren’t hunting for contact solution. In all honesty, if our family is going to have a private bathroom (especially if we check luggage or are driving), the personal liquid ziplocks are pulled and replaced with a family kit for convenience stocked with larger basics: shampoo, soap, tooth-paste, toothbrushes, nail clippers, q-tips, etc.
Electronics — Consider bringing a power-strip, for extra credit, get an international one with outlets AND USB ports. Highly recommend. Each person keeps their own cord and brick for normal use, but the power strip saves moving furniture to find enough outlets in a hotel, saves confrontation in locations where only one outlet is available, and makes it less likely to leave bricks and cords all over America. Any electronics (phones, gaming, tablets, laptops, cameras) belong in each personal bag with any cords or batteries (we try to keep electronics to a minimum).
Personal Bag — The Day-pack was reviewed in an earlier blog, but each person also has a personal bag. Some of us like a tote, others a travel purse, backpack, messenger, or briefcase. Whatever is fine, but make sure it can be easily carried in someway with the luggage (2 backpacks would be a challenge unless you papoose the smaller one– which works okay but makes you feel like a pack-mule). It helps if the personal bag zips shut but opens large. It doesn’t usually go hiking, but it should fit under a plane seat and in the backseat. The bag should be well stocked with everything needed for a comfortable commute or extended wait (entertainment, headphones, sunglasses, snacks, meds, Kleenex charging, & a travel wine glass or cup or pint).
The Scoop on Packing Luggage Continued:
Adjustments for Camping — Honestly, camping has very few changes. Put the tent, footprint, spikes, and mallet in one large duffle bag. Put the air mattresses, pump, extension cord, sheets, blankets in another large duffle bag. Backpacks tend to be more convenient than the wheeled luggage. The personal toiletry bag, foldable tote, and quick dry towel become a necessity because of public bathrooms that tend to be a distance (and always bring quarters just in case). Keep packing to a minimum by only having simple meals at the campsite.
Flights with Limited Luggage — When flying Spirit or one of those airlines where luggage is kept at the feet, just make smaller choices (and use a smaller bag). Rather than jeans, bring lighter pants, swap the cargo shorts for linen. Wear the jacket, don’t bring anything heavy or dense. It really isn’t too bad…. and it feels so freeing to have almost nothing!
Kids Packing — This is going to head toward the realm of parenting advice, but I highly recommend kids learn to pack for themselves and carry their own luggage / personal bag as soon as possible. It builds resilience. It teaches them to plan. They complain less about things forgotten. It is incredible life skills. It is easier as a parent (after the first couple of times). Consider giving the kids a list and then have them show you before it gets packed away (or you will have a story to tell… probably from your son, “Why do I need more than just swim trunks for 10 days?”). Best to make sure they can physically carry their own stuff before heading out the door but it is so good for them! and honestly, the kids should be tired before getting on the plane, train, or automobile. It is also important that kids learn what they should be bringing with them to stay content for long periods of time on a flight or a roadtrip, but also that they will need to carry it themselves (and keep it organized)… Some parents are amazingly patient, but most that I know don’t relish spending vacation trying to placate the backseat (Tangent Alert: We have friends who used to fight about who got to drive because the other one had to handle the kids).
Miscellaneous Packing Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
- Check-out digital library books to save money, space, and avoid losing or damaging a book
- For people done growing, consider a travel swimsuit & flip-flops that stay in the luggage
- Buying luggage that are all a similar size makes life so much easier
- Living without and learning to adapt with needing less isn’t the worst experience ever
- Luggage doesn’t need to cost a ton: Check Sales at Carsons, TJ Max, ebags, etc.
- Our travel backpacks can’t totally replace our luggage but I love that I get stronger by wearing them
- Best to condense until everything fits into the luggage and personal bag rather than lots of bags
- Maybe my kids are crazy, but the year they got their own stocked luggage for Christmas was one of the best
- Bringing an extra foldable duffle for souvenirs or general expansion is a good idea for the way home
- Packing smart and light makes travel so much more enjoyable, freeing, and reduces stress
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Where's the Kitchen Sink?!
Electronic Charging in a Prius
Our Favorite Hiking Shoes
And we do all this because...
and other times...