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Now that the world is opening up again, people are traveling in record number. In fact, earlier this week, national parks closed their gates due to overcrowding. With so many of us taking road trips or flying again, it’s time to remember — or learn — how to pack as painlessly as possible.
Let’s face it. Vacationing with kids is more work than being at home, especially when it comes to filling up the suitcases with everything that everyone may need.
When my three kids were toddlers, I began to coach them on how to pack a suitcase. Now mostly grown, my kids still follow my methods. In fact, whereas I used to shlep suitcases while carrying a toddler on a hip, I’m at a glorious time in life when my kids insist on grabbing our bags from the carousel at the airport.
Make a List
I’m a list maker for all things, including packing lists. When we were going on a trip, I would make a list for myself and each of my children. At the top, I’d write out how many days and nights we’d be gone, and what the temperatures would be. Then, I’d list out how many items for each category — such as pants, shorts, short sleeve tops, and so forth — to be packed.
Before the kids could read, I’d sit on their beds and call out the list, while they would pull the right number of each category and make a pile. I’d type my list on my laptop, and then go in and revise as needed for each trip.
Roll Your Items and Use Packing Cubes
Even young kids can roll their clothing and packing cubes really do live up to the hype. As the items are rolled and placed in the cubes, the magical process of crossing the items from the list can happen. While some people pack each day’s outfits together, even using gallon baggies per day for young kids, I prefer to use packing cubes for like items.
My system is to put pajamas, swimsuits, underwear, and socks into one cube, after I’ve stuffed small items into the shoes that go in the suitcase. Another is used for bottoms, such as pants, shorts, and skirts, and another for tops. I actually have tweaked my methods to the point of using three packing cubes for myself, placed in only a carry-on spinner and backpack when we’re flying to a destination.
Use Your Suitcase Wisely
While we never got to take our 25th anniversary trip to Italy (thank you, COVID), I have the crowded Pinterest boards to prove I was totally prepared. This is how I actually turned the corner to carry-on luggage only.
Plan to travel in your heaviest shoes and coat or sweater. Then, place the heaviest items in the bottom of your suitcase, and place your shoes in the corners. The packing cubes slip in nicely and also serve as drawers when you get to your location. We use toiletry bags with travel size items that pack on top of the packing cubes.
Hit the Dollar Store for the Carry-on
A trip to the Dollar Store for new coloring books, stickers, and other activities, along with lollipops and other snacks, is a great way to let your children choose things to keep them entertained for the travel time. These new items can go right into their own backpacks for their carry-on or the bag they keep next to them in the car.
I know the struggle is real when it comes to traveling with kids. I know there’s no such thing as time off when you vacation with kids. I know that you are so exhausted from all the trip preparation and packing that you need a vacation from your vacation. But I make you these two promises that you can count on.
First of all, the memories made from trips are the most treasured gifts of childhood. While you feel all sweaty and overstressed, what your kids will remember is the wonder of sleeping in a hotel, seeing new places, and visiting family. One of the best decisions I made was purchasing Christmas ornaments for each child when we travel. Now, when we decorate the tree, we laugh and revel in all the memories – including the time one of my beloveds fell asleep with their face stuck on top of the barf bucket, which had been used for its intended purpose. My kids say our trips are without a doubt their best memories, from the simple camping trips to the more extravagant vacations.
Secondly I promise that as your kids grow, it will only get easier. One day, they will pack their own bags, though their adult selves may still want a list. I still text a quick note with a packing list to my kids before we travel, and they often ask I sit on their bed as they mark off their list, just to double check them. Some day, you’ll find it nice to be needed, and especially when you know they’ll offer to lug your suitcase for you instead of vice versa.