After living on a sailboat, several international trips, and backpacking around Europe for 8 weeks with the kids, we’ve learned a thing or two about packing. Plus, as airline employee travelers, we’ve had to become pros at packing carry-ons only, since we never really know if we are going to get on the flight we are hoping for. Even if you do plan to check bags (which I rarely recommend unless you’re bogged down with infant car seats, strollers, etc. and even then I’d consider gate-checking those to avoid the luggage carousel), good packing prior to departure is key for success in getting to your destination with fewer snags (and stress) than necessary. Hopefully you can rip a page from our playbook and learn how we successfully pack for long and short-haul trips, carrying everything we need through security and on-board.
So, here’s how you can pack like a boss (especially when traveling with kids!):
- Color-code each traveler:
Assign each traveler (member of your family) a color and make sure each person’s luggage, carry-ons, and personal items match that color. Our color-coding system goes something like this: mom (pink), dad (gray), kid #1 (green), kid #2 (blue). Color-coding works wonders when you incorporate the packing cubes (see below) as each traveler knows exactly where their stuff is at all times!
- Main luggage: Rollerbag or Backpack?
We typically use a combination of our 21″ rollerbag/rollerboard and our backpacks. We’ve tried a bunch over the years and our favorite is the Traveler’s Choice 21″ Polycarbonate hard-sided roller-board because (a) They are super-light (b) They fit in the overhead bin (Do the flight attendants a favor and put them in wheels in first!) and (c) They hold up well, even with the abuse inflicted on them by the baggage handlers. Tip: Get one in a color other than black. Our color-coding system extends to our luggage too–we have all navy blue luggage so they are easy to spot and we can easily + quickly count up our bags when we arrive and make sure nothing has been left behind.
Our favorite backpacks? It’s a toss up between the eBags Mother Lode Weekender Junior (not the larger “Professional Weekender”) and the Osprey Porter 46.
We love the eBags backpack! Pros: The interior looks and feels like a traditional suitcase and the straps disconnect and hide in a zipped pocket on the back (saving you from losing straps in baggage handling). Cons: We felt that it allowed us to carry too much s*&t, so it ended up being pretty heavy (upwards of 13 kilos). Remember, you might have this on your back from a long time while en route. That said, if you are a ruthless packer you will be just fine. The Osprey Porter 46 has a more backpackey-like interior (therefore less room than the eBags Weekender Junior) plus exterior padded laptop pockets and easy access to travel documents. Pros: It’s hard to overpack this bag, so you should stay solidly under 10-11 kilos (really important if you are flyig ultra-low-cost carriers). Plus the ergonomic straps make it infinitely more comfortable to carry on your back for longer periods of time. Cons: You lose a little interior space, so you need to be scrupulous in considering what you really need to bring. Finally, it only comes in black (which doesn’t work for our color-coding system) and could be an issue if other travelers have a similar pack at the luggage carousel.
Verdict? I’d probably go with the eBags Mother Lode Weekender Junior and be a ruthless packer.
- Packing Cubes My biggest tip on packing cubes? BUY THEM AND USE THEM. Before Europe, I’d read enough blogs to know that these things were the s*^t, so we got ’em. HOLLA! Between packing cubes and rolling our clothes (not folding them), we were able to bring so much more stuff and it compacts down well in our bags. I cannot recommend these enough. Any typical packing cube system should be fine, but again color code your packing cubes for each traveler. We loved these ones for me + the hubs (pink and gray) and these ones for the kiddos (green and blue). They come with an electronics bag and a laundry bag (for the soiled goods). Another tip: refrain from using the largest cube. You’ll end up bringing way more than you need. Remember, if you forget something, you can always buy it when you need it and even donate/dump it when you’re done (think: seasonal clothing when you’re traveling between climates/seasons).
- TSA-Approved Liquids Quart Bag
I know, you could totally just use a regular ‘ole ziploc bag. But I’d advise against that. Depending on the length of your trip, they can rip and/or break down and no longer are water/leak-proof. Plus you may end up having to use your precious ziplocs for soiled kid clothes, a broken liquid container, etc., while you’re on the road. (Another tip: always carry 1-2 extra ziplocs!) Instead, we recommend these TSA-approved plastic quart “bags”. These bad boys are a more rigid plastic and hold a whole lot more than your standard quart bag. Not sure exactly how or why, but I wouldn’t travel without them again! Our system is to keep 2 in the main luggage (for toiletries we need upon arrival) and 2 in our personal carry-ons (we call them our “comfort kits”) for stuff needed in flight (facial tissue, hand sanitizer, lotion, lip balm, eye masks, hair ties, Vitamin C, essential oils, necessary medications).
- 300ml/3 ounce “Go Toobs”
Finally, we recommend these reusable/refillable Go Toobs. They are 3 ounces each and are perfect for bringing that precious/specialized shampoo + conditioner for your lovely locks. (No more buying those expensive and wasteful travel-size toiletries!) Not everyone has “special needs” hair, but I sure do, so I make sure I bring my own. These little guys are super light, durable, plyable and come in various colors to easily identify their contents (plus they have a little ID window to label the contents). They are BPA-free and food safe with a wide-mouthed opening, which make them super easy to refill and clean.
I know I said 5 tips… but here’s a bonus for ya, because I love y’all.
Bonus Tip: Kids’ “Go” Bags
What, you might ask, are these? Simply put, kid-friendly (read: they carry their own) backpacks the boys carry for on-board comfort and entertainment, i.e., their travel blanket, travel pillow, lovey, books, games, iPad and headphones, and crayons/card games for when electronics cannot be used. Because our youngest crew member was only 4 years old when we toured through Europe, we bought these uber-lightweight, collapsible travel backpacks. We got the 20-litre packs for the kiddos (green and blue, remember color-coding!) and the 30-liter pack for Dad.
Why do we love them? They are durable, water-resistant, COMPACT and have a carabiner clip so you can attach things to them (we clip these color-coded water collapsible bottles with a carabiner clip to each traveler’s pack.) They fold into a tiny zipped pouch when you’re not using them (which is almost never for us) and have 3 compartments for organizing your stuff, plus 2 exterior pockets for water bottles.
We call them our “go” bags and whenever we travel each kid knows they can pack whatever toys/books/games they want in there, and they know they have to carry their own pack, so they rarely overpack them. #winning !!
Happy Packing and Even Happier Adventures!