Traveling with children is always an adventure, but one of the biggest challenges is just getting everything packed and ready to go. There are so many things you need to bring along to make sure everyone is comfortable while away from home. Over the years, I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re going away for a weekend or two weeks. The effort of gathering, organizing, folding, and fitting everything is virtually the same, regardless of how many nights you’ll be away from home. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot with my children, and I’ve learned a few things about packing. Here are some things to consider the next time you’re taking a family vacation.
1. Start early
I’m a born procrastinator, but I’ve realized that you simply can’t pack for children on the night before a trip. It’s way too stressful and you’re bound to forget things. Also, kids grow. So if you’re going someplace warm in the middle of the winter, you can’t be sure the summer clothing and shoes will fit. I have a spreadsheet that I use for packing — and I’m not the kind of mom who organizes her whole life in spreadsheets (or at least I wasn’t until I saw how well my packing spreadsheet worked). About 3-5 days before a trip (or a week ahead if we’re traveling cross-country or internationally) I start filling in the spreadsheet, so I have time to shop if necessary.
2. Check the weather
About 2 weeks before I go anywhere, I add that place’s weather to my iPhone and I check it. Constantly. I want to get a feel for what the temperatures will be, so I know what kinds of clothing I’ll need to pack. I pay particular attention to the temperature at night, since it can drop in many places. No matter how warm my destination, I always bring at least one sweatshirt per child. Hot places tend to have aggressive air conditioning. If we’re going someplace cold, I bring lots of layers. And fuzzy, warm socks.
3. Make a laundry plan
Obviously if you’re just going away for 2-4 nights, you don’t need to worry about laundry. But the more clothing you bring, the more luggage you need to schlepp. Planning to do laundry means you can pack lighter. The best scenario is an in-room washer/dryer, but those are few and far between. A pay washer/dryer in the hotel isn’t bad either. But hotel laundry services are usually crazy expensive. I always bring some hand-wash detergent along, but I’m going on vacation and I don’t want to spend too much time washing clothing in the bathroom sink. For longer trips, if I won’t have access to a laundry machine, I use Yelp to find a local laundromat that offers pickup and delivery service.
4. Bring pillowcases
This was a recent discovery for me. A couple of colorful pillowcases (not white, which will get mistaken for hotel laundry) can serve a number of important roles before, during and after the trip. First, my daughters are 9 and 7. Their clothing size is very similar. It can be very hard to figure out whose stuff is whose. A pillowcase can serve as a divider in the suitcase so you can easily separate things when you’re unpacking at your destination. While you’re there, use the pillowcases for collecting laundry. When you’re packing to come home, use them to divide the clean clothing from the dirty clothing in the suitcases. Pillowcases. Who knew?
5. Maximize your suitcase space.
You don’t need as many pajamas as you think you do. At home, our kids frequently wear their PJs for breakfast and inevitably they get dirty and need to be washed. On vacation, if you’re in a hotel, chances are your kids will get dressed before breakfast, leaving you with perfectly clean pajamas that can be folded and reworn the next night. Shoes are also an easy place to reduce bulk. Unless we’re traveling for a special occasion that will require fancy shoes, I bring two pairs of shoes for each child – sneakers and either beach shoes or boots, depending on the climate. Shoes are heavy and bulky and they take up a lot of room in the bag. I also roll most of the clothing I pack, so it takes up less space.
7. Bring toys and games
This could be a whole other post, but I’ll cut to the chase. There will be downtime on your trip. If you don’t want your children to ask you to turn on the TV every time you’re between activities, you need to bring some things for them to do. I always try to choose things that are lightweight and compact. Card games are ideal. Zip-loc bags are a great way to leave bulky boxes behind and still contain small pieces. I bring a small zip-loc bag of Matchbox cars and wind-up toys for my 3yo. I also make another zip-loc bag for each child with blank index cards, a few crayons, some markers and stickers. I put puzzles into a Zip-loc with a printed picture of the puzzle in the bag (take a pic of the box with your camera phone and print it on a color printer). If you’re going someplace with a pool, bring along some pool toys too. I love anything the kids can throw into the pool and retrieve.
8. Think about your technology requirements
We travel with an insane amount of technology at this point. We bring some combination of digital cameras, phones, video games, iPads, and laptops on almost every trip. Each of those devices needs a charger – make sure to pack those too. If you’re planning to give your children some sort of an iDevice to entertain them in transit, make sure it’s fully charged and loaded with kid-friendly apps and videos. Downloading movies and TV shows takes time, and it’s good to start this a few days ahead of time. More than once I’ve been up verrrry late the night before a trip trying to get an iPad ready for a long flight. Don’t forget kid-friendly headphones, too. My kids all prefer over-the-ear models.
9. Be prepared for anything
I learned this lesson the hard way. Several times. I never travel without a “sick kit” — this includes a thermometer, children’s Tylenol, ibuprofen, dosing cups, Neosporin, bandages, alcohol wipes, and hand sanitizer. If your child is prone to motion sickness, add to this some Bonine or children’s Dramamine and pack some paper towels in your carry-on. I also bring a little pouch onto the plane with kid-size Ear Planes, lip balm and wet wipes. If you’re traveling with children under age 2, carry on a change of clothing for them AND an extra shirt for yourself.
10. Give your kids their own carry-on bags
They may not actually carry their bags, but I find it very helpful to have each child’s travel things in a separate bag. This eliminates digging through one big bag to find things and (worse) having the kids fight over what you pull out of the bag. This way, once you get on the plane, every child has his/her own stash of activities. I keep these bags pretty small, and I fill them with small books, stuffed or plastic animals, stickers and crayons. I avoid anything that rolls or that’s very small and will inevitably fall and get lost. The Trunki is still one of my favorite concepts for kids and airports – stuff it with activities for the plane, and then let them ride it through the terminal.