The best way to ensure you have a great family vacation? Minimize stress from the get-go, and that means conquering the often-daunting task of packing. As a father of three girls between the ages of two and nine, I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, becoming a vacation packing pro in the process. Here are some of my best tips for packing more efficiently, and for streamlining the process so the journey is easy for everyone involved.
Do your homework
I always like to research what our travel experience is going to be like before we go. How much room are we going to have? Do our seats have access to power outlets? What’s the food situation? Once I have answers to questions like these, I pack accordingly. Many of these answers are available on travel provider websites; for insights to complicated questions (How many changing tables are available?), you always can call the provider directly. Other great resources are online forums such as TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk.
Check the lists twice
One way to make sure you don’t forget anything is to create vacation packing lists before you leave. We usually create one for each traveler, and an additional list for those items that everyone might need. Individual packing lists include basics such as underwear and socks, but also might include rain gear or rain boots (depending on where we’re traveling). Some of the items we usually put on the catch-all travel checklist include Children’s Tylenol, a thermometer, and hair ties.
Keep it simple
Travel essentials for kids? Ha! Most kids are mini hoarders who bring a bunch of random stuff wherever they go. While that behavior can be the impetus for funny Facebook posts, it’s not sustainable when it comes to a family trip. To keep everyone in check, my wife and I have instituted a two-bag policy. Each kid gets one suitcase and one carry-on for her stuff. If their random items don’t fit in those bags, they must leave the stuff at home. Yes, this strategy often causes angst among the younger set. But it also keeps the packing process simple, and guarantees Mom or Dad won’t end up schlepping bags like a Sherpa.
Consider the checkpoints
Security checkpoints are a reality of modern-day travel. They also can be chokepoints for moving through transit hubs with little ones. To streamline the experience, keep all electronic devices in one bag, and send that bag through with a parent. If you’re headed to a cool-weather destination and bringing outerwear, use a parent’s jacket as a sack to hold everyone else’s coats so nothing gets lost. Remember that kids under the age of 12 don’t have to remove their shoes. Be sure to check the Transportation Security Administration website before you go.
The best way to keep kids occupied in transit includes a mix of high-tech and no-tech options. We give kids an hour with each category, then require them to switch. On the device front, we cram as many books, audiobooks, television shows, and movies as possible onto an Amazon Kindle, which is smaller and lighter than a tablet. Our no-tech options usually include art projects, word searches, writing in notebooks, and travel board games (the girls love Sequence). We also have become huge fans of Rory’s Story Cubes, a pocket-sized dice game that provides direction to make up stories as a family.
Plan for emergencies
If something can go wrong when you’re in transit with kids, it probably will. That means we all must embrace that famous Boy Scouts motto: Be prepared. In our family, this usually means one of the grownups brings a carry-on full of backups: extra snacks, extra art supplies, an extra power pack for devices, and more. (When the girls were younger, we also stocked this bag with extra diapers and wipes.) Another must-have item I usually bring: Ziploc bags, which are perfect for everything from redistributing snacks and organizing washable crayons to collecting all the garbage the kids produce.
Matt Villano is a family travel writer and journalist based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him or read some of his work, visit whalehead.com.