Since returning from a weekend trip with my family, I can confirm that travelling with kids can be less a vacation and more a
chore trip. We had a few things go sideways, mostly related to planned (and then abandoned) activities, but luckily packing wasn’t an issue. We had everything we needed without burdening ourselves with a bunch of stuff we didn’t. I may not be able to guarantee that our trips go flawlessly (though if you know how to do that with a two-year-old, I’ll let you come on our next trip), but I’m confident about how to pack.
Here are my essential packing tips gleaned from years of backpacking, road trips and family air travel.
Start with a list
Trust me, this is essential, even if you can keep 27 things in your head at the same time or are not the least bit worried you’ll forget your iPad charger and have nothing to keep the kids occupied while you’re trying to stay sane at 30,000 feet. Lately I rely on TripList. The free version has the basics, but if you pay a couple of bucks for the full version you can save lists and create a new list for an upcoming trip by duplicating an old one. As you pack, you can check items off the list, and when you’re done it shows the list as 100% complete. Quite gratifying (and a good way to make sure you haven’t forgotten something).
Pack the heavy stuff in your bag first
Regardless of what type of bag you’re bringing, packing around shoes or boots and any other heavy stuff makes the whole process easier. You can simply place other things around them. Underwear, small t-shirts, etc. can all be stuffed into nooks and crannies to make the best use of space.
Stuff your socks into your shoes
This method has two advantages – it’s a space-saver, and your socks will also help prevent your shoes from getting smushed in your bag.
Layer & roll your clothes
Lay a shirt on your bed and then place another one on top of it. Toss a third onto the pile if you’re feeling brave. Then tuck in the sleeves and start rolling the shirts from one end until you have a nice layered tube. Packing this way saves space and wrinkles, plus it makes it easier to pack because you can put all your tubed clothing snugly into your bag.
At least when it comes to toiletries. As tempting as it is to just chuck your full-sized moisturizer and face wash into your toiletry kit, don’t do it. Buying travel-sized ones can save precious space for other things (like those, ahem, fuzzy socks you like to travel with). Travel sized toiletries also have the added bonus of staying within the carry-on size limits for liquids.
Maybe your bottle of moisturizer is small enough to fit in with its little security-approved travel toiletry friends. But buy a second one that you can always leave in your toiletry kit which will make packing faster and easier; just grab and go! Plus you won’t risk forgetting something your sensitive skin can’t do without.
Leave the hair dryer at home
If you’re staying in a hotel or with someone who is likely to have a hair dryer, leave yours at home. I know, you like your hair dryer, but the hotel versions work just fine. Save that space for something you’d really like to have with you (like a flatiron). Or better yet, decide to throw perfect hair to the wind and leave the tools at home. It’s vacation, after all.
Lay out all the clothes you want to pack and put half back
Or almost half. A good chunk, anyway. Unless you have packing down to a science, you will probably pack more clothes than you need to. Ditch them and lighten your load. The vast majority of places you might travel have somewhere you can buy items you forgot or left at home, so if you desperately need an extra pair of socks while you’re away, you’ll be able to find them.
Choose clothes you can mix and match
Now that you’ve eliminated half your clothes, focus on pieces you can wear in different ways. Pack tops that can go with both a skirt and pants or shorts. Add a scarf or two and you’ve got a chic, pared down vacation look.
Don’t leave home without Ziploc baggies
Ziplocs are pretty much magic. They’re good for preventing liquids from exploding on everything else in your bag and they work really well for wet clothes (whether due to an accident, spill, or extra enthusiasm at the pool), among other uses. They’re small, and you can’t go wrong putting a couple in an outside pocket.
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