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5 Ways to Travel Light with Kids

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Now that Covid restrictions are lifted a bit, summer is prime family vacation time once again! But that does not mean you need to haul heavy bags through airport security or strain you back hefting stuff onto the minivan roof rack. (Neither of which sounds like relaxing vacation time to me!)

Today I want to share 5 way to travel light with your family, not just this summer, but always. 😊

When our kids were in first grade, Josh and I took them on a 6-day trip to Mexico, and–true to my minimalist roots–I was determined to pack all five of us in one suitcase. Now, I’ll be honest… It was the biggest suitcase we owned, but I felt better knowing that the last time I’d packed that bag, I’d filled it completely with my own clothes for a one-week trip. I didn’t know if this same bag could meet the packing needs of my entire family… but I was ready to accept the minimalist challenge!

I’m happy to report that we DID manage to fit all our stuff in one suitcase, and I learned a few things along the way that might help you pack more lightly with your kids.

Tip #1: Start with a list

Good packing starts by thinking about what you actually need while you’re gone. I keep a running packing list on my computer, subdivided by the types of trips we usually take (subtitles include things like: camping weekend, Christmas, Mackinac Island, etc.). These are annual trips and it helps to look at last year’s list when I start packing the next year. It also helps me not forget things!

For this trip, I thought about how much time we would be gone (6 days) and whether I’d have easy access to laundry (no). I also considered the types of activities we’d be doing (mostly swimming). As a result, my list looked something like this:

Kids – Large Suitcase:

  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair pajamas
  • 3 outfits each
  • 6 pairs underwear
  • 2 pairs socks
  • Crocs
  • Goggles

Kids – Carry Ons:

  • Pencil cases
  • Travel journals
  • Coloring books
  • 1 stuffed animal
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair undies + change of clothes
  • Toothbrushes

You can see that I divided my list between the big suitcase and carry-on. This was very helpful and gave me peace of mind knowing that we’d have enough to get by if our luggage was lost. (On more recent trips, we’ve packed our entire family in just carry-ons, but at the time of this trip, I was not yet ready to go to that level of minimalism. It’s a process!)

Tip #2: Enforce a dirty-stinky clothes changing policy

“If your clothes aren’t dirty and they don’t smell bad, put them back in the drawer,” I proclaimed the first night at our hotel. I knew my kids only had a few changes of clothes each, I didn’t want to waste any item of clothing that could be re-worn. I think Orlando ended up wearing the same T-shirt four times, but you know what? It wasn’t dirty and it didn’t smell bad, so it was fine. In fact, I started wondering why I didn’t enforce this policy at our house normally, as it would certainly cut down on the laundry.

Tip #3: Shampoo and a hotel sink will get you pretty far

I was surprised at how chilly some of the evenings were, so I did have to wash out my daughter’s one pair of leggings in the hotel sink and hang them up to dry. This was totally fine and I learned a good lesson: If you run out of clean clothes, you can just wash clothes by hand and all will be well.

Tip #4: Even when you think you’ve packed lightly, you’ve still packed too much

I could not believe that with only four changes of clothes total, every member of our family was left with clothing we didn’t wear. I attribute this to the dirty/stinky clothes changing policy. For future vacations, I rationalized that we could probably get by with just two changes of clothes each. That sounded crazy (even to me!), but in subsequent years, I’ve found that it’s totally doable. And the worst thing that happens if we run out of clean clothes? Someone might have to wear a shirt with a stain. No big deal.

Tip #5: Minimize the kid entertainment

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I bought an iPad mini just for this trip since I was so nervous that my kids would break down in the airport and embarrass us all. Lucky for me, my good friend Angela (who travels solo to Africa with all three of her kids – go, girl!), looked at me a bit strangely when I explained this and said, “You don’t need that. You’ll be fine.” She was right.

I left the electronics at home and my kids got by with a coloring book, bag of colored pencils, and one travel journal each. They entertained themselves by looking out the window, talking to us, and snuggling their stuffed animals. This was a big lesson. I’m sure if the technology had been available, they would have played with it… and fought over it… and missed the beautiful scenery out the window.

Ah, a true family picture of us on vacation! At least one kid is looking at the camera… 😉

I hope this post has inspired you to pack lightly, even with those kiddos in tow. I’ll keep you updated on my eternal quest to pack lightly for future trips. I’d love to hear some reader feedback on how you travel lightly with your family!

To summer, travel, and packing light,

PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to simplify your work-mom life, but aren’t sure where to start… join me for my FREE *live* masterclass: How to Organize Your Family’s Home Without Exhausting Yourself or Resorting to Threats. Click here to save your spot!

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