By Melissa Shaw
Packing is an unavoidable reality of traveling, and when you’re a mom preparing for a family trip, the chore is multiplied by the number of children in your family. Sure, once your kids get older they can be trusted to pack for themselves. But for several years, the responsibility of remembering all your stuff — and theirs — falls on your shoulders (and possibly in your bag, too).
To literally lighten your next load and make the experience easier, check out real-world, practical advice from these travel and parenting experts.
Start with a list. Yes, it’s obvious — but do you use one? “There are many mistakes that families can make when packing for travel,” says Tammy Gold, licensed therapist, certified parent coach, and founder of the New York-based Tammy Gold Nanny Agency. “The biggest one is forgetting those items that you reminded yourself 100 times not to forget. The easiest way to deal with this? Lists, lists, lists. As redundant as it sounds, lists can be a lifesaver! Write down all the things you need and check them off once they make it into the suitcase to make sure nothing gets left behind.”
“Make a checklist of items required for the trip, and remember that airport shops rarely have products for infants,” adds Lisa Furuland, mother of two and creator of DockATot, a portable baby lounger where infants can sleep, play, and more.
Stephanie Goldman, senior director of marketing and communications at Samsonite, suggests parents create a travel checklist for every family member: “For older kids, get them involved, and have them fill their own personal item — like a backpack — with activities and snacks.”
When you get to your destination, can you buy whatever you forgot? Sure. But remembering that item in the first place saves you time, extra travel, and money. Did you really travel to your vacation destination to see the inside of a Target?
Pack essentials first, extras last. “Do we really need the 64 pack of crayons? A rule of thumb I like to follow is ‘pack smart,’” Gold explains. “Start with the bare minimum; only pack the things you need. Once those are bundled, then it’s OK to start adding the rest with the leftover room.”
Pack at the same time. “One way for families to lighten their load is to pack at the same time,” she adds. “While it may be a challenge to scurry around and gather everything together, it helps to get another perspective on what’s being packed. When packing alone, the question of ‘Do I really need this?’ occurs a lot, and usually follows with you throwing it in your suitcase, anyway. When packing together, a simple call out of, ‘Do I really need this?’ will result in a system that will keep your over packing at bay (and probably a lot of no’s as well).”
Packing clothes that pull double duty helps, too. “Consider packing multi-purpose clothing, like a lightweight jacket, as opposed to different sweaters and cardigans for each day,” Samsonite’s Goldman says.
Roll those clothes. “Rolling clothes, instead of folding them, will allow you to fit more into a smaller space,” explains family travel expert Grainne Kelly, a former travel agent who created BubbleBum, the world’s first inflatable booster seat.
“Garments like underwear, T-shirts, jeans, cotton pants, and knitwear won’t wrinkle when rolled tightly,” Gold adds. “Stiffer fabrics, like cotton shirts, blazers, dress pants, and skirts, should be carefully folded, as they can wrinkle easy.”
Avoid ‘Bag of the Day.’ “While some people will suggest that the best way to pack for kids is to pack an outfit per day — including socks and underwear — into ziplock bags, labeled and ready to go, I have found that for any child older than a toddler, the system goes haywire by Day Three as they decide that they don’t actually want to wear what is in the Day Three bag,” Kelly says. “It can be bulkier to pack this way, too, unless you’re using compression bags, and in a location with changing weather conditions — completely useless.”
“Consider packing cubes and labeling them into categories like shoes, toiletries, dirty laundry, etc.,” Goldman recommends. “This allows you to find and store items easily in your suitcase.”
Don’t forget duct tape and plastic ziplock bags. “Yes, you read that right. Duct tape is the perfect all-around tool,” Kelly notes. “You can fix a torn suitcase or bag handle in a snap; baby-proof electrical outlets by covering them with a piece of it; and so on. You never know what might need a quick fix on the road! Plastic ziplock baggies are for everything: dirty laundry, wet swimwear, socks and underwear, items that could leak, items that need protecting, all the electronics chargers. Keeping small items in a bag make them easier to locate and keep organized.”
Tone down the toys. Packing too many toys is easy to do and a burden in the long run. “You need some items that do double duty to avoid the problem,” Kelly advises. “For example, the Mr. Bear that your daughter can’t live without can double as a travel pillow. The tablet you were thinking of leaving behind can be loaded up with movies, games, coloring apps, and more, making it a one-stop play tool. With older children, the best thing to do is provide them with a carry-on bag that they can put their personal items in. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go. Throw in a few snacks, their sunglasses, and any other necessities, and you’re ready to go!”
Look to laundry. If luggage space is a major issue, call and see if your destination has a laundry. “When booking family accommodation, look for one that has some sort of laundry facility,” Kelly says. “That way, you can pack less clothing and do a load mid-way through the trip to have enough for the duration. Hotel laundry services are expensive, so avoid that unless there’s tomato sauce on the flower girl dress and ceremony is the next day!”
Borrow gear. “To lighten the load of luggage and baggage fees, look for family friendly hotels/resorts that provide baby gear, like strollers, for traveling families,” DockATot’s Furuland suggests.
Packing a carry-on “When it comes to avoiding airline baggage fees, it’s important to know each airline’s policy,” she reminds. “No two airlines baggage policies are alike; some airlines allow passengers to check one bag for free, some airlines charge for carry-on bags.”
“If the flight you’re traveling on allows a free carry-on, you better believe everyone’s bringing an extra bag with them,” Gold notes.
If you’re traveling with a baby, Furuland advises parents plan for delays when packing diapers, formula, and baby wipes. “If you’re breastfeeding, consider additional breast shields to prevent leakage,” she adds. “Pre-pack bottles and use powders to avoid additional delays at the TSA checkpoints. Request warm water from the flight attendant once on board; they usually have plenty on-hand for tea and coffee.”
BubbleBum’s Kelly says carry-ons aren’t just for extra clothes and snacks. “You should also consider those items you can’t live without: medications, important papers, Mr. Bear. These are all things that could get lost if placed in checked luggage, creating a negative start to a great family trip.”
Go hands-free. “Bring a baby sling or carrier,” Furuland says. “This can make moving about a busy airport easier. No need to bring a stroller to struggle with, especially if you have older kids in tow. If you need a stroller, do a gate check for ease of drop-off and pick-up.”
Everything you bring, you carry. “Just keep in mind that everything you pack is going to be something you will have to carry through airports and train stations, to taxi stands and buses. So make sure you’re not setting out to start your trip as a pack mule,” Kelly advises.
Stand out in a crowd. Your luggage is easy to spot in your home, but how about at the baggage carousel?
“Having cases that are easy to spot in a crowd makes it easier to keep control of them,” Kelly notes. “Even a child can spot their suitcase with the pink unicorn webbing strap or hippy chic floral pattern. Basic black is lovely for business, but when you’re trying to track down four cases while keeping hold of two kids, it’s best if you can spot your luggage a long way off.”
And, remember, you need to get that suitcase through the airport, so make sure yours doesn’t make that a chore. “Choose luggage that is easy to push, pull, and carry,” Samsonite’s Goldman says. “Today there are cases that are lower to the ground and have even more handle heights, allowing for ease of use by most all family members.”