Packing Smart. Packing Light

Whether you’re off to Grandma’s or a week in Tuscany, packing provides many challenges. Add in a kid or two and your blood pressure is sure to go up. Don’t pack enough and you might spend a day with goose bumps.

Pack everything and you won’t be able to lift your bags. Amie posted a great travel packing tips piece on how fast luggage fees for a family can add up. Luckily, some basic tips can lighten the load and the stress on your wallet.

A good rolling suitcase

Good, not big. The two don’t necessarily equate. You get what you pay for, so think of your luggage as an investment in a great trip fund.When the wheels on that bargain bag fall off two days into your European adventure, you’ll be hating life. One bag is hard enough to handle. When you’ve got two kids to lug around in addition to yours, having fun gets a lot harder.

Whenever possible, I limit myself and my kids to one rolling carry-on each. But you have to be realistic, for my family three weeks in China threw our one carry-on rule out the window.

Pack together

You’ve found the perfect bag, now it’s time to fill it. Don’t do it alone. Don’t let your kids do it alone. Do it together. Deciding on necessities is easier when it’s a group effort. Involving your kids when it’s time to pack gives them choice and responsibility. It also greatly cuts down the chance of any unwelcome surprises, like “Mom, you didn’t pack me any underwear.”

Positive thinking

Don’t pack for the worst case scenario. Deal with it when it happens. It’s a lot easier, and a lot more fun, to go shopping for underwear and a new sweater, than spend three weeks schlepping around an extra 10 pounds of clothes you never wear.

There are all sorts of packing formulas out there. When it comes down to it, how much or how little you take, is a personal choice. But some simple things can help you weed stuff out. Don’t pack directly into your suitcase. Lay out what you want to take so you can see everything. I use the bed in the guestroom. Sometimes physically seeing eight of your daughter’s favorite shirts lined up is enough to convince you to put a few back in the closet. Time can also help with thinning. Once you’ve laid everything out, walk away. Come back a few hours later, or even better the next morning. It’s amazing how the stuff you don’t need stands out to fresh eyes.

Once your bag’s packed, take it for a practice spin. If your kids will be responsible for handling a bag, this especially applies to them. If it’s too much just moving it around the house, you’ve got to re-evaluate.

For some reason many travelers forget laundry exists everywhere in the world. Whether you’re going to Switzerland or San Francisco, you can do laundry. Laundromats exist around the globe. Hotels everywhere offer the convenience. I carry a Ziploc sandwich bag of powdered laundry detergent and a short piece of clothesline rope. A bathroom sink and night’s sleep later, clothes are clean and dry.

The random stuff

Sometimes the little things make all the difference. I always tuck a handful of Ziploc bags into my suitcase. Gallon and sandwich size. They work for everything from loose markers, to ocean pebbles to holding a picnic lunch. Small, disposable ponchos weigh next to nothing and take up even less space. They will keep you dry, and kids love wearing them! Duct tape can fix everything from a ripped suitcase to a broken flip flops. Baby wipes aren’t just for babies. They can clean dirty hands, dirty faces and come in real handy when there’s no toilet paper to be found in the public restroom.

Are your kids picky eaters?A jar of peanut butter can save countless dinners. Just add bread. I even take lots of powdered drinks packets. Lemonade is always just a water bottle away.

Room for souvenirs

You did your job. Everything fits, but chances are there isn’t a lot of extra room for souvenirs and those ever-expanding dirty clothes. Roll up a light-weight flexible duffel bag and tuck it in your suitcase. If you find you start to collect things along the way, pull it out. Dirty clothes make great padding to get new found treasures home safely. Plus, keeping dad’s dirty socks away from.. well everything.. is bound to make a better trip for everyone.

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