As many of you know, our family spent three weeks in Southern Europe this summer. As I planned and searched the Internet for traveling tips, I realized that travel has changed a lot in the last decade. Most airlines no longer serve meals or even a small bag of peanuts, to their passengers. Baggage restrictions have increased and we now have to pay baggage fees on most domestic flights. I became increasingly aware, that traveling with three children was going to take a lot of preparation. There are literally, thousands of packing videos on YouTube and many blog posts dedicated to the subject. However, most of them seem to be geared toward adult travel and not so much, toward children and families.
I am planning a 3-4 part series on packing and traveling light. It will not be specifically for families, but will include a lot of family-related travel tips. I will be referencing air-travel quite a bit, but most of these tips can be applied to road trips as well. Packing light is always a good idea!
Why travel light?
I think we've all experienced baggage overload. Struggling through the airport with giant suitcases full of stuff, sweating and straining our way through customs or airport security, and mentally kicking ourselves for packing so much. I remember traveling to Haiti, as a teenager. I maxed out the 'two checked baggage, one carry one and one purse' rule. My luggage was absolutely stuffed, with clothing and toiletries. For a two week trip. How could anyone possibly need so much stuff for two weeks? Somehow I thought that bringing more would help me have a better experience. Needless to say, I've come a long way since then. Our entire family traveled to Europe with less luggage than I took on that trip. The dilemma we face when packing, is that we fear not having what we need or that we didn't bring the right things.
One thing is sure. If you throw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase and bring everything you could possibly need, you will too much of “not the right stuff”.
So let's get started with packing tip number one, shall we?
#1. Plan ahead, make lists, and do your research.
I can't stress this enough. There is no such thing as too much travel preparation, especially when traveling with small children. Check the weather/climate for your destination. Make lists of things you want to bring and update them as you get closer to your departure date. Check the baggage restrictions for your airline. How many bags can you bring, what can be carried on? What items fit the 3-1-1 rule? Are there fees on checked baggage? If so, is it more economical to not check a bag and buy some items at your destination? Can you rent a car seat or stroller at your destination? I knew a year ahead of time, that we would be taking this trip. I began research immediately. And it was none too soon. If you have time to think and prepare, you will make better decisions. If you wait until a month before departure, you will not have time to test out items you may want to bring, and if you purchase the wrong item, you may not have time to return it and/or find a better one. Check Amazon for reviews on packing cubes, travel games, etc…there are many places, you can gleans tips and information on travel related items.
Traveling light, pertains not only to physical objects but mental clutter as well. Arrange for pet or plant care, house sitter, mail, bill paying, trash pick-up etc, ahead of head of time. That way you can leave for vacation in a more peaceful state of mind. I like to make very detailed “to do” and “to buy” lists. I don't have to worry about forgetting anything because it's all written down to the last thing I do, before I walk out the door. No returning to stinky garbage, moldy food in the fridge, or an overflowing mailbox.
The more you can digitize, the less you have to carry. If you plan on taking copies of passports or other important documents, which I highly recommend, scan them into some place like a Dropbox file, and you won't have to worry about losing the copy, or having it stolen. You can access it from anywhere in the world, with Internet access. Music, books, and movies are much safer on your phone or tablet. They create no extra bulk or weight. Another thing to consider, is scanning a copy of your eye prescription, if you have contact lenses or glasses. If the unthinkable happens, you won't have to walk around half blind for the rest of your trip, because you can find an optometrist and order a pair of glasses or contacts. Obviously, you can also take an extra pair of contacts (recommended) but you will have that scanned copy as back up. If you plan on sending postcards to friends and family back home, make a list of all the addresses you need, on your phone. Basically, anything that can be digitized, will save you time, space and weight. You won't have to keep track of it, organize, repack or carry it.
#3. Tag ALL of your luggage
This is more of a general packing tip and not specifically related to packing light. If your luggage gets lost or your carry-on bag gets left behind, checked on the wrong flight or delayed, your chances of recovering that item will be greatly increased if you have your name, physical address, email address, and phone number attached to it.
#4. Choose your luggage, based on your own personal needs.
I agonized over this one for hours. Our airline (Iceland Air) had a maximum luggage allowance of 2 checked bags per person, one carry-on and a personal item (purse, laptop bag, etc). Checked luggage was free so that did not play into our decision at all. I knew that my number one goal, was to take as little as possible. There are many reasons for this, but the top three were: I did not want to be bothered with hauling, keeping track of/maintaining, or packing and re packing a gazillion things over the next three weeks. We were going on vacation to have fun, not to make a fashion statement with a new outfit every day or to experience all the comforts of home. And I knew my kids could not carry very much so it would be up to my husband and I to take care of 90% of our family's belongings. In the end, I decided on 1 carry-on piece per person, plus a purse for me and cross-body bag for John. On the way home we checked a suitcase that I found at a second hand store, filled with chocolate, wine and other goodies. :) We also checked two of the carry-on pieces we had brought. This worked out well and we were easily able to pack everything we needed in carry-on only luggage. The only downside was that even though our kids only had a small backpack to carry, they got tired of it. So it ended up on the floor in security lines, or being drug around on the floor. It was very nice to not have to go to baggage claims to wait for luggage or worry about our luggage getting lost. We had a three hour drive after arriving in Zurich, so I knew that delayed luggage would be a huge issue. Checking in for our flight home, I knew that if our luggage got delayed, our airline would deliver checked baggage straight to our house at no cost to us. Would I do it this way again? I'm on the fence. If we had to pay $40-60 per bag then YES. I am not paying hundreds of dollars to get my family’s clothing delivered to our destination! If it was only my husband and I traveling then it's a no brainer…I'd never check baggage. We are easily able to carry everything we need, whether it's a three day or one year trip. With kids? If they are under the age of 6, I don't expect them to carry more than 2-5 lb. Elementary age kids, it's a toss up. My eight year old is extremely strong and tough. He runs races, and his energy is boundless. But he got tired of his back pack which weighed somewhere between 5-8 pounds. My ten year old is small, petite and she got tired of her backpack as well. Teenagers? There's no reason they couldn't physically carry their own luggage. I think if I could do it over, I would check one piece of luggage for my kids and they wouldn't have to carry anything. Otherwise, I'd probably do the same thing. Carrying everything you need, keeps you honest. You'll think twice before throwing in that “just-in-case” item. Lastly, go by your own research and instincts. Don't throw in last minute items because other people in your group, or your cousin's best friend is doing it. Get an overall sense of what has worked best for people in your situation, and don't go by one persons opinion on a YouTube travel channel.
In the next part, I will address toiletries, cosmetics and other hygiene items. It's an in-depth topic and worthy of its own post. :) Part three will address clothing, packing cubes and all things wardrobe-related. Part four will be a misc, general packing tips post, covering things like travel pillows, snacks, etc…
Below, is a picture of our luggage cart, at the hotel before we left. My husband knows how much time and research went into this, and named it, "Rachal's Masterpiece". :)