Packing Smart

Posted by Eileen on February 28, 2011

burton-wheelie-flight-deck-1 (burton-wheelie-flight-deck-1)The suitcase was the biggest I'd ever seen. It took up so much room in the rental minivan trunk that we had to get a taxi to take most of the other luggage to the hotel.

But try telling a teen she doesn't have to bring her entire closet. This young clotheshorse certainly thought that was necessary even in Hawaii where all she needed were shorts, bikins and flip flops.  And it had never occurred to me to offer any guidance to my daughter's friend on what – or how – she should pack for the two-week trip with our family. I certainly learned my lesson.

Now I tell whoever is going what they should bring and in what size bag. Not only do I want to make sure we've got room in the trunk for everyone's gear, but I don't want to pay a hefty airline penalty for overweight luggage. (Yes I’ve been that mom at the check-in counter with the suitcase open trying pulling out shoes and jeans so we aren’t overweight.)

It's no fun either to drag suitcases full of stuff we don't need in and out of hotels or up and down stairs at rental condos. That's not to say the kids always listen to my luggage proclamations. (“But I have to take three pairs of sandals!”)

What happened to those days when we could manage for weeks with what was in a backpack?

To help lighten the load – literally – here are my 2011 Taking the Kids Rules for Packing Smart:

lands-end-flightwise (lands-end-flightwise)A BAG FOR EVERYONE
... will help keep the crew more organized and give the kids their own personal space-to-go. You don't need fancy luggage, though you definitely want wheels so each member of the family (yes, even the second grader) can wheel his/her own. Check out the inexpensive duffels on wheels from LL BEAN or Lands' End. They can be monogrammed and come in bright colors like orange and red so the kids can easily find them on airport luggage turnstiles. Duffels are a better bet than suitcases because they crush down and won't take up as much room in the trunk if they're not full. Stash a smaller, empty (wheel-less) duffel in one of the bags for souvenirs or dirty laundry. (Remember you are allowed two bags free on Southwest!) 

RENT RATHER THAN BRING  ski equipment. You will get the latest gear and if you or the kids have any problems, it can be replaced on the spot. If you are bringing your own, consider shipping ahead.

if you are just going for a long weekend. You will save a lot of time at the airport!

separately in a duffel so you'll know exactly where it is when you need it and won't be hunting through everyone's suitcase looking for that beach towel or sippy cup. If you're traveling with a baby or toddler, consider bringing a set of their crib sheets as well as a favorite blanket and night light – they'll feel more at home in a new environment. Don't forget sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses for everyone.

to see if you can rent or borrow baby gear where you are staying. Check websites like Just don’t borrow cribs or other baby equipment that isn’t up to today’s safety standards.

A WELL-EQUIPPED first-aid and medicine kit, complete with prescription and non-prescription remedies for everything from sunburn, fever, bug bites, and scrapes. Ask your pediatrician what you should include for your children and yourselves. Don't forget tweezers (for splinters.), a thermometer, and your pediatrician's phone number. Keep a mini first-aid kit in your bag or the car with bandages, antibiotic cream, acetaminophen, and antacids. In our family, we always have medication handy for motion sickness, too.

ZIPLOCKS RULE for on-the-go parents and kids. Pack underwear in one plastic Ziploc bag, socks in another, bathing suits in a third for each child. Some parents with younger children even pack entire outfits in individual bags. I always throw in a few extras for wet (and filthy) clothes.

QUICK DRY, TECHNICAL  fabrics are best, whether shirts,  long underwear and socks that wick moisture.. Pack fleece rather than cotton sweatshirts because they not only are lighter but dry more quickly when wet. Ditto Check websites like and for good travel gear—and good sales!

MIX AND MATCH colors so that everything in the suitcase goes with everything else. Some savvy travelers I know opt for darker colors and patterns for the kids (they show less dirt).

THROW IN an extra package of inexpensive socks and underwear for each member of the family so you don't have to worry about finding a washing machine when everyone starts to run low.

LET THE KIDS HELP pack so you don't get blamed if their favorite shirt isn’t forgotten.  If they're old enough, give them a list of what they need and let them make some of their own choices.

GOT EVERYTHING? Double check the kids' bags to make sure they didn't leave out the dress shoes they need for the family wedding but packed every action figure or Barbie doll in the toy box.

... remember you'll be able to buy extra diapers, food, tee shirts, flip flops, and whatever else you need along the way.


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