When Moses led the Israelites through the desert, they brought along sheep, goats and all their possessions. When my family and I used to travel across the country, we resembled the Exodus (minus the sheep and goats). It took a few trial and error-laden trips – and some lost luggage – to finally nail down just how to pack for kids. Amazingly, a simple blueprint of five steps makes it possible to pack their belongings for plane-, cruise- and car travel. Are you ready to bid a fond farewell to the extra luggage and ripping bags?
Check the weather forecast. I have been known to pack long-sleeve shirts when traveling to Andalusia in summer. Did I need them? No! Pack the kids’ clothes with the weather at the vacation destination in mind. Include one (count ’em: one!) significantly cooler or warmer outfit. For example, for a trip to Los Angeles in July, the odds are good that the kids need shorts and t-shirts. Toss in one heavy jacket for good measure to take the occasional trip to the ocean after dark. Be sure to let junior weigh in on some of the clothing choices – does he want to bring along the camouflage shorts or the beige ones? – to ensure that a favorite piece of clothing makes it onboard.
Observe the legalities. Did you know that you need some legal documents when you travel outside the country with the kids? At the very least, there will be plane tickets, cruise documents, a passport or birth certificate. If you bring along the kids of your BFF, make sure she signs a notarized statement that gives you permission to take the youngsters out of the country! In addition, bring some very recent color photos of junior; you’d be surprised how much easier it is to show the store clerk a picture of the lost boy than trying to explain in broken Portuguese that you lost your son in his grocery store. Keep all these documents in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag; in this manner, all the papers having to do with the kids are on-hand when needed.
Go easy on meds and toiletries. Unless you are traveling away from civilization, there is bound to be a pharmacy or dime store around somewhere. There is no need for packing gallon-sized shampoo, conditioner, fever reducers and other medicines. Opt for trial-size shampoos, conditioners and soaps as well as tooth pastes. Do bring along a small first aid kit with the child’s prescription medications, antibiotic wound cream, band aids and fever reducer. Do not forget to also pack something for motion sickness! The only container that should be big is the one that holds the sunscreen for the whole family.
They want it; they haul it. When I was a child, I would bring along half the library. My parents finally figured out that the easiest way to avoid carrying on extra luggage is to have me haul my “extras” myself. In the same way, I now allocate one small rolling backpack to each of my kids. Whatever special toys (books, must-have games, dolls and other sundries) they want to bring along, do have to fit into their respective backpacks. There is no horse trading: if an item does not fit, it does not come along. If 20 books make the backpack too heavy for junior to lift, he will have to put away 10 so as to be able to haul and lift it for boarding. This takes mom and dad out of the power struggle and away from any hurt feelings that likely ensue when someone has to be told “no, you cannot bring along that life-size doll.”
Pack a duffel bag. Be honest: you know you’ll be buying toys and souvenirs, bring home rocks, shells and new clothes. Don’t set yourself up for traveling nightmares that find you attempting to cram 75 pounds of items into a 50-pound container. Bring along an empty duffel bag to hold the overflow you are bound to have upon your departure from the vacation destination. Even if you vow not to buy or collect a single item, you know that the in-laws, family members and friends give gifts; leaving with more than you brought is virtually inevitable.
More by Sylvia Cochran:
Couples Guide to Traveling with Young Teens
5 Car Seat Safety Tips for a Cross Country Trip
How to Pack for a Ski Vacation and Remember Everything!