Downsizing what you pack on family trips

Building fairy houses on the road.

Building fairy houses on the road.

I was inspired earlier this week when I read a post by my writer friend and family travel buddy, Julie Schwietert Collazo, about how to stop packing “so much crap” when you travel with kids. The story, which Julie published Monday, prefaced a trip she and her family were taking this weekend. The gist of the piece: Among family travelers, downsizing what you bring on trips always is a good thing.

I’ve got many favorite lines from the piece, but this, by far, is tops: “Your kids don’t need all the things you think they need. Children are far more resourceful than we give them credit for. In fact, they are far more resourceful than you are. For them, anything can be turned into a toy.”

In our family, we’ve proved this very sentiment countless times. Just this week, in fact, during stops on two of three local road trips, L’s used twigs and tree leaves to build “fairy houses.”

Beyond this advice, I *love* Julie’s recommendation for subjecting all of the kids’ items to a “wants” and “needs” test. This is something we do before every trip as well—down to laying everything on a bed and evaluating the items individually. Our needs: a few basic outfits, a streamlined toiletries bag, a box of crayons and some paper. Our wants: Extra princess dresses, travel board games, maybe some bubbles.

As Julie suggests, it also is a good idea to prioritize packing items that serve multiple functions and require minimal management. Julie’s best example is an all-purpose sarong. Our fave: The Kindle Fire HD, which currently has about 100 kids’ books (we used to schlep the old-fashioned kind everywhere).

In addition to these great suggestions, we have some other tips to share—secondary recommendations for downsizing the stuff you bring on family trips:

  • Bring sponge and tiny squirt-bottle of dishwashing detergent. This enables you to leave multiple cups and snack containers at home. If you’ve got a little little one, this setup also is a great way to clean pacifiers (and minimize the number of pacifiers you bring in the first place).
  • Embrace the glue stick. Having this little sucker will allow you to leave at least half of your child’s coloring implements at home. It also will allow your child to make artwork that incorporates items and objects from real life. (Such as leaves. And twigs. And local currency.)
  • Give each child the opportunity to bring three small personal items. This process teaches them how to be selective. It also gives them the opportunity to feel like they have an important say in how the packing experience plays out.

Finally—and Julie suggests this, too—consider packing only backpacks instead of roller bags. This strategy minimizes the Sherpa-shlep for us dads, and allows for freer movement around airports. It also eliminates those inevitable moments where we parents accidentally roll over our kids’ feet. Traveling is challenging enough on its own; the last thing we need as mom or dad is to spark an unnecessary meltdown.

What are your tips for downsizing the stuff you bring on family trips?

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