Let me take you waaaay back to 2012 for a moment... We were traveling every other weekend for the first half of the year, then in May 2012 we had a baby, went on a family vacation to Colorado, came home, packed up all of our stuff and moved out of our apartment, drove across the US for a couple months, until we finally "settled" in our new home overseas when baby was 4 months old. Since then we have been traveling at the very least every six months, not to mention little mini-trips to the beach or weddings mixed in between.
All this to say, I should be an expert packer. Should be. But during last year's trip to Singapore, I still managed to forget the sunscreen I had bought on sale and had to spend loads of extra money buying some there. And then there was that recent wedding trip where I forgot Luke's shirt and he had to buy a new one he definitely didn't need. And overpacking? At the end of a trip I hate packing up and realizing we didn't use half of the things and could have had a lighter load for the trek home or more space for good souvies.
We all get excited about vacation and usually want to start prepping early. This is the time to start your packing LIST. You can start it as far in advance as you want. A year? A month? Go for it. But start it at least one week in advance.
I am a pen and paper kind of girl. I hate making lists on my phone. I like to use a notebook, not a single sheet of paper or I will definitely lose it in an hour. I get sharpies, glitter pens, whatever is close by that I can doodle with and make the list pretty. Its not required, but you might just have more fun if your list is pretty. Make categories of items - Clothes, Toiletries, Accessories and Essentials. Essentials are vital things that you CANNOT leave home without, like passports and child's blankie. Start listing everything you can think of. Then leave it out in the open so you can easily add items as you think of them.
To prevent overpacking, you should find out from your accommodations what they provide for kids. Many hotels have pack-n-plays, high chairs, pool floaties and laundry services. If you are staying with friends/family, they may also have these on hand or be able to borrow them for your stay. The less gear you have to lug around an airport or stuff in your car, the happier everyone will be! While I was packing for our last trip, my friend recommended having diapers shipped directly to the hotel - BRILLIANT! Diapers can take up a huge amount of luggage space!
DON'T PACK AHEAD
Approximately one week before your trip, people might start asking "Have you started packing?" Certainly within days of your trip, they will be shocked if the answer is "No!" But let not this societal pressure deceive you. Packing ahead can actually be a huge inconvenience.
1. Its a Mess - You can only do a partial job here. You will still need your toothbrushes, and may still want to wear some of your clothes before the trip. You will end up with half-packed, open suitcases that have been dug through intentionally by you or playfully by a curious toddler.
2. You will forget stuff - That curious toddler will probably take some stuff and run, and you won't realize what went missing until its too late. Its also harder to remember what you have put in or left out if the packing is done over the course of several days.
3. It will take a whole lot longer - You will pack and re-pack and the total time you spend, in my experience, will be about double that of packing at the last minute.
HOW TO PACK
Now that your packing list has been thoroughly thought through for at least a week, all of your laundry is clean, and you are within 24 hours of your departure time - you can let loose the luggage.
1. Clothes - This trip, I made neat piles of clothing for each family member to ensure I had the correct number of everything on my list. My list looked like this.. "4 shirts, 3 shorts, 5 undies, etc." I simply told the kids "Go pick out 4 shirts. Done. Go pick out 3 shorts. Etc. They will probably want to help and this is a great way to let them. Once I was sure I had all of the necessary clothing items, I put them in the suitcase, person by person. This also makes unpacking super easy.
2. Be Patient - Don't cross anything off the list until it is in the suitcase. And putting something next to the suitcase doesn't count. Wait until it is INSIDE the bag. If it is something like a stroller, that won't go in a suitcase, cross it off only once it is next to the front door.
3. Leave it - Once the bag is full, you can zip it up and put it by the front door, confident that you will not need to open it again until you are in paradise (or your friend's basement, wherever you might be headed).
4. Essentials - Do a last minute double check of your Essentials category right before you walk out the door. This will be easy because they will all be in one organized place on your pretty little list.
If you plan ahead and do the packing all at once, the packing should only take a couple hours, max. Have your own packaging tips or strategies? Let me know in the comments section.
Now, as daunting as it might feel, packing up a big family for vacation is probably the easiest part. Check out my post on 9 Tips for Vacationing with Kids.
Luke and I are married and have four little munchkins that travel the world with us. I blog about living overseas, travel, kids, education and graphic design.
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