How to Stop Being a Bad Packer and Travel Smarter

Barbara Reich formed Resourceful Consultants, LLC in 1999. She and her husband live in Manhattan with their twins. Barbara has appeared on the Today show and has been featured in The New York Times, New York Post, and Real Simple, among other publications.

How to pack smarter for holiday and summer travelIt can induce anxiety, just the thought of packing up a family (especially one with young children) and getting them through security and to your destination with luggage intact. These tried-and-true tips from organizing guru and Secrets of an Organized Mom author Barbara Reich will help you skirt disaster.

My family travels several times a year, and we’ve been doing that since my twins were babies, so I’ve figured out some handy tricks along the way. Here’s my best advice.

Send heavy stuff in advance.
If you’re traveling for a week or more with babies or very young children, then diapers, toiletries, sunscreen, Benadryl, and all those other necessities could easily fill all your luggage, not to mention weigh a ton. Whenever possible, ship your toiletries (especially diapers!) to the place where you’ll be staying a week in advance of your trip. There are several online drugstores that will ship for free and spare you that load in your luggage—or the risk of essential items going astray.

Bring only essential toiletries.
If you don’t have the luxury of shipping ahead, then bring only the things you can’t live without and in the smallest possible quantities. Opt for using the shampoo and soap that the hotel provides, or have your whole family share what you bring from home. Pare down your makeup routine to the minimum; you’ll want basics that you can apply quickly. Use sample sizes when possible—I store a select assortment in a labeled box in my linen closet so they’re always ready to pull out for trips—or purchase three-ounce (or less), airline-friendly plastic containers for transferring small amounts of your necessities.

Keep a bag of toiletries packed and ready to go.
For families who travel often, I recommend keeping a travel bag at home that is always stocked with your must-have items—this makes it much less likely that you’ll forget something key.

Make smart use of carry-ons.
Here’s what should be brought with you on the plane:
All prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as contact lens supplies.
Valuables such as jewelry and important documents.
One bathing suit and change of clothes per person.
Special-occasion outfits. If you’re traveling to an event such as a wedding, carry on your dress, children’s outfits, spouse’s suit or tuxedo, and the shoes you plan to wear.
Electronics and chargers. These would be expensive to replace, and you wouldn’t want to be without them for even a few days. Before you leave, check that your camera works and that you have an extra battery and memory card. Make sure you have the right chargers for your phone, laptop, and children’s video games. Take the right travel adaptors if you’re going to a foreign country—and don’t assume that the same travel adaptor works in Ireland and Spain. It doesn’t.

Pack clothing using the rule of fractions.
Let’s say you have four members in your family. You will pack four suitcases. Into each suitcase you will put a quarter of each person’s clothing. That way, if three out of four of your bags are lost, each member of the family will have enough to wear until luggage can be located. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that my husband thinks I am completely out of my mind when I do this, and he refuses to participate. His naysaying doesn’t bother me; you can apply the rule to any degree that you want. Maybe you have two children, so you split their clothing half and half between two suitcases. You can do the same for you and your husband (if your husband doesn’t think you’re crazy).

Pack light.
With airline fees skyrocketing, there’s plenty of financial incentive for not taking your whole wardrobe on vacation. Here’s a list of what I’ve found to be excellent wardrobe strategies:
Choose one color scheme and stick to items that you can mix and match; all tops should go with all bottoms.
Opt for pieces that can be layered. This offers a greater number of outfits, as well as flexibility in case of temperature changes.
Rely on dark jeans, which are suitable in almost any environment and are easily dabbed clean.
Pack as few pairs of shoes as possible. Think day, evening, and athletic, and that should cover you for any eventuality. I’m fond of metallic finishes, because they go with everything.
Have fun with accessories, such as jewelry and scarves, which will add a pop of interest to your neutral outfits.

Utilize all the nooks and crannies in your suitcases.
Shoes can be stuffed with small bagged items, and T‑shirts and articles of clothing that aren’t wrinkle-prone can be rolled, which takes up less space than folding.

Plan ahead for airport delays, and pack entertainment.
Lots of parents think about stuff to do on the plane, but we forget that young children are often wound up and climbing the walls of the airport. I discovered two foolproof, easily packable ways of engaging young children and encouraging them to blow off steam before they’re strapped in for a few hours: 1) a jump rope and 2) balloons. So simple. The pleasures of the jump rope are obvious. And the balloons: Blow one up, hand it to your four-year-old, and I guarantee he’ll have three new friends within five minutes. P.S., that jump rope can be reused if you want to get some exercise on your trip.

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