I hesitate to offer packing and luggage advice because I think it is a really personal thing. What works for some, might not work for others. But I’ve gotten some great ideas from friends over the years, so I’m hoping you find something useful.
Adults: Depending on the reason for travel, most adults are pretty good at packing their own stuff. Unless you are traveling for a formal event, or a long period of time without washer/dryers, each adult should be able to pack in the typical carry on roller (for a week long trip I definitely use the zipper extender part and check it). My theory when traveling with kids is check everything you can, the more use you have of your hands, the better.
Men/Husbands/Dads: Attention wives!!! Never pack your husbands luggage. There is always something he will blame you for forgetting, and it just adds to your list of things to do. So if you already started doing that early in your marriage, undo it. It’s dumb. You can certainly make out a list of recommended items or events that HE should pack for. Or if there is a special event that you want him to dress accordingly for, lay it out and let him pack it. I have gone on vacations with other couples, only to hear the husband complain about what he’s wearing to his wife that packed his entire bag. I have no sympathy, pack your own bag.
Women/Wives/Moms: There are two camps for women packing luggage. Everything but the kitchen sink or wearing the same thing (shoes included) for the duration of your trip. With rolling luggage it’s easier to pack too much, since you hardly ever lift it. I tend to pack one too many outfits, no matter what the destination or who I am traveling with. It tends to be worse when I am traveling with other couples for fun. Lay out everything in outfits, pack flat, and take out one outfit before you close the lid. Our house rule is that everyone carries/rolls their own bag, even mom.
Also, create a travel makeup stash that will fit inside your toiletry bag. No separate makeup suitcase is necessary, you are out to see the world not be a supermodel, get over it. I actually have a travel set of makeup that permanently lives in my hanging toiletry kit. It makes one less thing to pack every time.
A mom’s purse for travel tends to be larger, the smaller the kids are. With my boys between 10 and 13, I now only carry a large purse or backpack. In the early days I had that AND a diaper bag. I carried one change of clothes that was about the middle child’s size. The older kid rarely had clothing mishaps and it would fit (too big) on the smallest child if needed. Although one time my oldest had a mishap and had to wear his middle brothers clothes. The shorts looked like he was entering a bike race, but they worked.
Under 5: With little kids still in diapers, extensive car seats, bottles, etc. you will be hard pressed to pack light. I try to use one medium roller bag for 3 kids. I have one toiletry bag for all of them. My biggest tip is to pack a collapsable clothes hamper in their suitcase. When we get to a hotel, we pull it out and pop it up to a standing position. When the boys get ready for bed each night they know to throw all the dirty clothes in there. It helps them not put on something they’ve worn before. Boys!?! When I repack the suitcase to go home I put all the dirty clothes on the bottom, fold the collapsable hamper on top and then fold any clean clothes on top of that. It serves as a barrier between the dirty and clean clothes.
I HIGHLY recommend investing in a decent car seat cover. You can find them at Babies r Us or online at One Step Ahead. At one time, we had 3. My husband would stack one on his rolling bag, I would stack one on mine, and we had another one that had straps like a backpack. As a bonus, they also provide a great place for extra packing. I’ve put dirty shoes, life jackets, wet swimsuits, and extra purchases in them just to get home without looking like a sherpa.
5 and Over: For domestic travel, I still pack all 3 kids in a medium roller bag. However, each child has a small rolling backpack (or day pack) for a carry on. They each pack books, video games, snacks and small toys for travel. My theory is that you have to start teaching them to pack early in life. We are down to one car booster seat that fits in one of our old car seat carrier bags, which helps with overflow packing during the trip.
Traveling outside the US: For international travel, all bets are off. Understandably roller bags seem to make sense with kids, even when you are headed to some mega resort in the tropics. But when actually navigating foreign countries, getting on and off of trains, buses, subways, dirt roads, etc. it drives me crazy helping every child navigate thresholds and gravel. So we use backpacks. Even adults. My 6 year old was fine carrying all his clothes on his back in Europe and Alaska in the same year. Granted, each backpack was sized appropriately for each child. They are excited about getting a seat on the train to rest their pack on, but they power through. I still use one toiletry bag for all 3 and have the oldest child carry that burden.
When changing hotels a lot, I’d recommend the pack by location method. For an example, I’ll use our European Christmas trip. For a 2 week trip, we had 3 different hotels in 3 different countries. With 3 boys, the breakout was simple. Junior’s bag held all the clothes for Vienna. Squirt’s bag held all the clothes for Poland, and Twerp’s bag held all the clothes for London. The beauty of this method is that I was not trying to rearrange 3 boys bags and mine every time we packed up. The boys did wear things twice, so there was a little bit of an adjustment, but it certainly helped. When you repack 4 bags too many times, you start to see the appeal of a cruise or a one city tour.
Like I said, not every tip works for every person. Hopefully you’ve found something you can try out on your next trip. What are you waiting for? Get packing…
Oh, I’ll help with what to pack and how to get your kids to help pack in another post…bon voyage!