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We’ve done our fair share of traveling with our kids over the past six years. Most of our extended family lives out of state, and even out of country. We’re also big cruise junkies and Disney loving annual pass holders. It’s pretty safe to say we take at least one short trip every few months each year, and at least one or two long distance vacations. With all of this travel has come a whole lot of packing. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of about the do’s and don’t of packing for a family of (now) five and wanted to share my personal advice I’ve learned along the years for ways to pack more efficiently for all sorts of travel.
MAKE A LIST AND CHECK IT TWICE! (AND THREE, FOUR, FIVE TIMES JUST TO BE SURE)
I usually start my packing list about a week in advance. If I try to write out a list the day before I’m packing (or don’t write one at all) I’m bound to forget at least a couple of important items. It’s not easy keeping track of everything needed for five people, so I need to have things written out and organized on paper before I can begin to actually pack. I keep my list on a pad out where I can easily see it, usually on my kitchen counter, so I can add things on as I think of them. This also includes making a list of things that I need to shop for in advance, prescriptions that need to be filled, etc so I’m not stuck running to the store at midnight the night before we leave!
CHECK WEATHER IN ADVANCE, AND PACK ACCORDINGLY
This has always been a no brainer to me, but I can’t tell you how many families we’ve seen freezing and shivering their way through Disney in shorts and tank tops on a 50 degree day because they just assumed that Florida is always hot. Never ever assume just because you are going somewhere tropical that you will have hot sunny weather every day. Same goes for cold locations. We once found ourselves in NJ on Christmas Day sitting outside in t shirts during a freak 70 degree winter heat wave. I always always always check the weather reports for where we are going in advance so I know how to pack accordingly. If it’s somewhere we’ve never been or aren’t familiar with I like to do research on the average climate for the region for that time of year as well. As a general rule, if we are traveling somewhere hot I will still pack a light sweater or jacket for each family member just incase we come across a cold night or over air conditioned restaurant. I’m a big fan of packing rain gear as well, such as our rain cover for our strollers, these super convenient disposable rain ponchos, and small travel size umbrellas. Be sure not to forget your foot wear when packing for different climates as well! You don’t want to find yourself in the chilly pouring rain with nothing to wear but sandals. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
I am absolutely obsessed with packing cubes. I got my first set about a year ago and I honestly don’t know how I ever managed to pack efficiently without them. They help save space in suitcases, keep everything organized, and make unpacking at your destination a breeze. I simply move the cubes from the suitcase and into a drawer and I’m done! I can fit a surprisingly large amount of clothing into each cube and press it tight which helps minimize space in suitcases and the overall amount of bags we have to pack. Which brings me to my next tip:
The less amount of things we have to drag around with us and keep track of on a trip the better. This is especially important to us when flying as most airlines now charge for checked luggage and the carry on size allowances seem to be getting smaller and smaller. I’m almost always able to pack all three of my kids in one suitcase and my husband and I in another. The fact that packing cubes can be stacked vertically as well as horizontally allows me to pack not only clothes but usually shoes, loveys, and toiletries all in one. The thought of having to pack one suitcase for each member of the family literally gives me a headache.
TRAVEL SIZE TOILETRIES
I absolutely LOVE the travel size sections of Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. So many convenient little items all in FDA approved carry on sizes! Even if you plan to check your luggage, minimizing your toiletries as much as possible is a great way to save space and stay organized. When I can’t find something I need in a travel size I place it in my own travel bottles like these. I always put anything that could potentially leak or burst into a plastic ziplock bags to protect everything else in the suitcase
PACK ENTERTAINMENT, SNACKS, AND A CHANGE OF CLOTHES FOR EACH CHILD
The first trip I ever took as a parent, I packed an entire large suitcase with an assortment of baby toys and gear I was sure we couldn’t survive without. It was ridiculous. Now, six years and two more kids later, I’ve learned that kids don’t need “stuff” to have fun on vacation, or you’re not vacationing right! However, you most definitely don’t want to find yourself mid flight or a few miles into a long road trip with nothing to feed or entertain the kids. For my four and six year olds, they each bring along their own child sized backpack as a carry on filled with things to keep them busy. This usually consists of a tablet preloaded with videos and games that DO NOT require an internet connection, hand held video games devices, headphones, coloring books and crayons, activity books, one or two small non noisy toys of their choice (usually a stuffed animal or action figure and some hot wheels or bagged legos), and of course snacks and drinks. I also pack an extra change of clothes incase we encounter any major spills or accidents along the way. For the baby I pack what I can into my diaper bag, usually a couple of small books and toys are enough as well as any snacks, drinks, bottles, etc. I also pack enough diapers, wipes, cans of formula, baby food, and any other essential into the bag for at least 24 hours as well just incase we find ourselves stuck or our luggage gets lost. Obviously every child has different interests and only you know what the right things to pack will be for keeping your child busy, but the key is to keep things small and portable and not overpack the bag so it’s too heavy for them to carry on their own. You don’t want to find yourself schlepping a handful of your kids heavy backpacks through an airport on top of everything else!
WEAR YOUR HEAVIEST CLOTHES AND SHOES AND PACK THE REST
This one tends to annoy my husband, but it makes perfect sense to me. If he’s bringing both his sneakers and his flip flops, I insist he wears the sneakers and pack the flip flops. This goes for my whole family. Wear your biggest shoes while traveling and pack the smallest. Similarly, if we’ll be needing any heavy sweaters or coats, we wear them onto the flight as well so as not to increase the size and weight of our suitcases. This also makes it easier to get out of the aiport at our destination so we’re not opening suitcases at the luggage pickup and rummaging through for all of our appropriate outerwear before stepping outside. We can just grab our stuff and go.
PACK LOVEYS IN THE SUITCASE
One of my all time lowest moments of parenthood was the time we left my son’s blankie behind at a hotel we stayed at, never to be found again. To add insult to injury, this particular blanket was a family heirloom. My great grandmother made it for my brother when he was born and my brother passed it on to my son before he was born. Completely non replaceable. It was devastating for our whole family. At this time, we still packed my son’s blanket in his carry on so he could have it on the plane or in the car. My son must have pushed it far down below the covers of his bed so we didn’t notice it when we did a final check of the room. My husband and I each assumed the other parent had grabbed it or that he himself was carrying it. He eventually got over the loss and found himself a new attachment blanket but the fear and guilt continued to haunt me. Now, to reduce the risk of them getting lost in transit, I pack all three kids lovey’s (which for mine all happen to be blankets) in the suitcase, right on top. This way every time I go to zip up the suitcase I can check that they’re all there. It also ensures that the loveys will not be getting dragged around a dirty airport, into public restrooms, etc or dropped by your child somewhere along the way to your destination.
DO LAUNDRY WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
I know it’s not the most fun thing to do while on vacation, but it will save you so much space on packing, not to mention reducing the amount you have to wash when you get home! It’s obviously easier to do this if you’re staying with friends or relatives at their home, or in a condo or efficiency that has a washer and dryer in the unit. However, most hotels and even cruise ships have coin operated laundry machines on property, making it possible to do laundry at least once during the course of your stay. I pack a couple laundry detergent pods from home for convenience. I usually throw in a load of laundry when we get back to our room for the night and our kids are settling in for bed. I set a timer on my phone to remind me to move the wash into the dryer and again when the drying cycle is done. The kids go to bed and I relax and watch tv or read while the clothes are being washed. No big deal whatsoever taking no time away from my enjoyment of my vacation. If you’re truly opposed to the idea of doing laundry on vacation and can afford to splurge, consider sending your clothes off to be laundered. A lot of hotels offer laundry service for a fee, or find a local laundry facility that offers fluff and fold.
PACK COORDINATING PIECES
For my kids especially I pack an assortment of mix and match tops and bottoms. This way if something gets spilled on I don’t have to change the entire outfit. Considering the fact that I usually do laundry while I’m away, I only pack enough outfits for half of the days that we’ll be away at most. When the pieces coordinate, I can stretch the outfits even further if I don’t make it to the laundry as quickly as I’d like to.
DON’T PACK BULKY ITEMS THAT YOU CAN BUY WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
This is especially true for travel with small babies. Don’t pack a suitcase full of diapers, formula, baby food, or any other items that are easily found anywhere you can stop to shop for at your destination. Go over your packing list and consider what is really necessary to pack in advance, or what might be easier to just purchase once you are there. This also applies for large items you’d want to use for your vacation but can get cheaply to use and throw away while you’re there. Rather than pack beach toys for beach vacations, we’ll seek out the nearest dollar store and buy some cheap beach sets to use just while we’re there, than throw them away or pass them onto another family we see on the beach before we leave. The few dollars we spend is worth avoiding the hassle and mess of dragging the stuff there and back. Similarly, on certain trips I’ve actually shipped things I know I’d need ahead of time to our destination and shipped them home to myself from there. In certain cases it was actually cheaper to do this than to pay the cost to check the items onto the airplane, plus it reduced the amount of luggage we had to transport.