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Packing Up the Family

It’s that time of year again — Family Vacation! Whether you’re hitting the open road in an RV or flying down to Disney World, chances are that getting everyone packed will be a challenge. It’s usually up to Mom to get everybody organized, but no matter who’s in charge of what on the vacation “to do” list, here are a few helpful tips to make sure essentials aren’t left behind.

First, pick a bag. Unless you’re going away for an extended period of time, longer than 1-2 weeks, one bag per person should be enough. For road trips, duffle bags are perfect, as they are more malleable and easy to load in the car. If you’re taking a plane or train, you’ll need roller bags/hard-shell suitcases, which you can buy in a set and “assign” according to size, i.e., bigger kids get bigger bags. And, while it may seem like a good idea to share bags, especially among smaller children, try to avoid doing so. By designating one bag per person, it’s clear which items go in which bag, and when double-checking, you can easily see that everyone has everything they need. Plus, this lowers the risk of over-packing. If everything doesn’t fit into one bag per person, reevaluate if that one person really NEEDS all those items. Full-disclosure: I am a habitual over-packer and have encroached on my husband’s suitcase on more than one occasion.

Second, make a combination activity/apparel list. While you may not have every hour of every day scheduled, you should have a general idea of activities for your trip and pack accordingly. The trick is to think beyond the obvious. If you’re spending the week at the beach, of course, everyone needs a bathing suit. They also need sunhats, towels, sandals, an extra suit, maybe a rash guard, and a light jacket/sweatshirt for cooler evenings. Going to an amusement park? Everyone needs sturdy, walkable shoes, shorts with pockets, and breathable t-shirts that aren’t too clingy. If you have a variety of excursions planned, like a water park day, a hiking day, a museum day, etc., then have everyone think of what they’ll need for each day and what can be worn for multiple activities. If you have access to laundry during your trip, plan a day midway through to clean clothes. Laundry or no laundry, always pack 1-2 extra pairs of underwear and socks just in case. Try to avoid separate full outfits for everyone for each day and instead focus on items that can be mixed and matched, as well as pieces that can be worn multiple times. For older children, allow them to make their own list (with some guidance) and pack themselves.

Next up, make individual toiletries lists. Sure, Mom and Dad can pack up the toothpaste, shampoo, and sunblock for everyone’s use. But give kids a checklist and make them responsible for their own toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant (if they are at that stage), and any extras they know they need — hello retainer and inhaler. By designating who is responsible for what, it gives everyone a clear idea of what they need to remember, instead of putting it all on one person, and can be a teaching moment for children to plan ahead and think about their practical needs versus their wants.

Lastly, double check together. Take your lists and review everyone’s bag with them. You can even make it a game, which will get them excited for vacation if they aren’t already, and make packing seem less like a chore. Also, work with them for their car/carry-on bag with activities for the trip. As for electronic devices, use your best judgment on whether your kids are responsible enough to bring tablets, iPods, etc. Be sure to emphasize that, if they choose to bring these items, they’ll need to be responsible for keeping them charged, safe, and bringing them back home in one piece.

Ideally, having everyone pack their own bag from a checklist will take the burden away from Mom and Dad to make sure everybody has enough clean underwear. This also helps everyone be responsible for his or her own bag and keeping track of it. Don’t beat yourself up if you DO forget something; 99% of things can be replaced on site unless you’re deep out in the wilderness. If the kids forget something they need/wanted to bring, it’s another learning opportunity to do without. The important thing is to not stress about packing, try to make it fun, while also teaching your kids (and maybe also your spouse) to take responsibility for their personal items and make sure everyone has the provisions they’ll need.

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