There comes a time in the life of every blogger when they are forced to reveal something about themselves that they’ve never done publicly. I’m no exception. So here it is:
Hi, my name is Mara, and I am a heavy packer.
For years the fact that I had small children masked this sad fact. That enormous duffle bag we hauled with us and of course had to check was full of toys, booster seats, and diapers but it also held numerous pairs of my shoes and full-sized bottles of shampoo. The photo that leads this post is from our trip to Paris two years ago. We were there for two weeks and as you can see, we needed a Sherpa. Whose fault was this? Try as I might to blame them, it was not those innocent children, oh no. It was me.
But I’m happy to report that as of this summer I am a changed woman. In spite of my love of hair product and shoes, in July of 2010 my family managed to travel for two weeks in England without checking a single bag. And I’m going to share how we did it.
(Those of you with infants and toddlers may want to read this so that you know what you have to look forward to. I’m not going to tell you that you have to try to travel light because that would be pure hypocrisy. However, if you are someone who does carry-on luggage with little ones, I’d love to hear how you do it in the comments.)
Here are my top tips for traveling with non-stroller-or-car-seat-bound children without checking bags:
Remember when you are flying that each of the kids gets one backpack, one carry-on suitcase, and one baggie for toiletries. You’ve purchased a ticket for those children and they get to bring just as much luggage as you do. Even for a product junkie like myself, that’s usually enough room to store what I need, especially since we can all use the same shampoo and soap. And don’t feel like you have to segregate each person’s clothes into his or her “own” suitcase – kids’ clothes are smaller and take up less room. That leaves all the more space in their bags for those cute sandals you can’t live without. Or, depending on how you roll, a pair of sneakers for your early morning runs.
Make sure you have the right suitcases. Before this summer, I can’t remember the last time I bought luggage. We got a set of bags as a wedding gift and had been using those same suitcases – heavy, large, and coming apart at the seams – for all of our travel. Then it finally dawned on me that this travel gig thing was pretty permanent with us and I went to a discount store (Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx are good resources for luggage) and bought small, lightweight, wheeled bags for each of us. That’s right: Each boy got his own suitcase and for the most part was responsible for handling his own luggage during the trip.
The one I got for Teddy is perfect not only because it is purple, but because the wheels move in all directions whether or not you are using the handle. He could (and did) easily push the bag through airports and train stations.
Invest in travel sizes. I’d always used my love of perfume and my specific brand of shampoo as a reason to pack an entire bag just for toiletries. Then I discovered that Lo! My scent comes in a travel size! (With a cool little roller top so it doesn’t spill no less). And at the drug store they sell small bottles that you can fill from your larger ones! I also hunted down products I’d never use at home, like those all-in-one face wipes for cleaning off makeup and dirt – they aren’t liquid and don’t have to go into the baggies like a bottle of face wash would. Did it cost me some money up front? Yes. But I didn’t use all of the stuff up on a two-week trip and am discovering that some of those small bottles will stretch quite far. And if there’s a product that you use in bulk – in our case, contact solution – buy a larger bottle once you get to your location. At least until they change those restrictions to something bigger than 3.4 ounces per bottle.
Oh, and for the love of Pete, keep those baggies all together and under your control so that you can easily toss them into the bin at the security check. You don’t want to rely on your five-year-old to do it.
Leave some of the clothes and toys at home. Make careful piles of everything you think your family will need to wear. Then remove at least one top and one bottom from everyone’s pile – yes, even your own. You probably don’t need quite as much as you thought you did. Have the children do the same with the toys and books for their backpacks. Promise them they’ll be having so much fun they won’t need a ton of stuff to do – and then surprise them with the occasional coloring book and box of crayons that you purchase while you’re on the road.
Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes on the plane. It was literally 100 degrees Fahrenheit the day we left for England in July, but I made the boys put on their sweatpants and hoodies for the flight. And I’ve been known to wear three or four tops on my body as a way to transport more clothing. Clothing you remove can serve as blankets or pillows on long flights. And if you’re like me, you’re always cold on planes anyway. Keep your lightweight Vessi Footwear in your suitcase and travel in the biggest and heaviest shoes you own. This will also reduce the weight of your suitcase!
Plan your trip so that you can do laundry. Make sure you have access to a washing machine (and if you’re lucky, a drier – in Europe, much to my amazement, they are often the same appliance) at some point during your trip. You can do this by renting an apartment with laundry facilities, which is my favorite approach. You can also stay in a hotel that has a laundry service or scope out the laundromats in your neighborhood, although you will then of course need to add the cost to your budget. And if you’ve got friends in a foreign city who are hosting you or showing you the local sites, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask them if you can use their washing machine. You’d do it for them, right?
Use the postal service. Finally, if you are going somewhere domestically for more than a week, will be staying in the same place, and have a need for gear like hiking boots or more toys than will fit in your kids’ backpacks, consider shipping a box ahead of you using the postal service. You’re likely to pay less than you would for your baggage and you don’t have the hassle of waiting at the airport. You can also insure the contents, not a service offered by most airlines to my knowledge.
So there you have it: I’m officially a reformed heavy packer. And the best part is, I really don’t feel like I’ve had to compromise – I just pack smarter. In fact, I was fortunate enough at a conference I attended this past weekend to be singled out for my fashion sense on camera despite the fact that I had packed only a small suitcase for four days (another open secret: I loves me my clothes). Which has me thinking that I may need to write a post about looking good on the road, even when traveling with kids. What do you think?