Since we are such seasoned travellers, it stands to reason that we would have packing down to a fine art. Or so you would think! In the summer I had planned to do a bit of blogging every day. I figured with all the extra sets of hands around I would have more opportunity to write than normal. Plus of course being on holiday for 3 weeks gives you a good deal of material to work with. Which would have been a great idea… had I remembered to pack the computer charger. When we went to Thailand last year I managed to remember everything for everyone else but forgot to pack myself any t-shirts! Luckily in Italy I was able to send mummy Wanderlust a new charger to bring out with her. In Thailand I had a few dresses and was able to find an extra dress when we were there but it reminded me we must never get complacent!
So it’s not foolproof but here are my top 7 packing tips:
1. Remember the essentials
It sounds obvious but we all know the person who has arrived at the airport without their passport. We once left our car seats in the car and got almost to security before we realised. Since we were on our way to India and had heard about the driving there we weren’t willing to travel without them!
I’m a panicker – I’ve searched my bag for my wallet or passport a thousand times if I’ve done it once! Even when I know for sure that it is there! But its one of the things I literally can’t travel without so it’s always worth checking twice for!
So what are the essentials?
- Any entry or exit documents you need for both the outward and return legs of your journey
- Vaccination records if needed
- Money – either cash or credit card or a combination of the 2
- Itineraries – electronic or paper is the latest debate that I have seen (I love Trip It – its one of my favourite travel apps!)
Pretty much anything else, while not ideal to forget, can probably be bought on arrival or can be managed without.
2. Make a List
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good list. I even had made an awesome packing list for travelling with a newborn including quantities that could be multiplied by the number of days away. Sadly I’ve since lost it but I’m also way more chilled out about what we take. A list still helps you stay on track and remember what you have packed already and what you haven’t. It definitely keeps me away from headless chicken syndrome which I am prone to under pressure.
What’s on my list
- Length of stay – I usually have a multiplier per number of days that I go by. For little babies that’s 2-3 outfits per day but as they get bigger it reduces.
- Facilities – If we are going for longer than a week we will generally factor in washing our clothes at some point during the trip. Taking enough clothes for a 3 week trip to Italy was impossible (my kids haven’t got THAT many clothes!). Add to that baggage restrictions on our internal flights and we made sure to make the most of the washing facilities in each place we stayed.
- Destination – this can be divided up into 2 sub-categories. First up is the weather – check the weather forecast and pack accordingly. We went to Egypt in January years ago and, while not freezing, was definitely cooler than I had been expecting! The other aspect of this is understanding the culture. Living in the Middle East has definitely brought this home to me. Do your research and know what is culturally appropriate where you are going.
- Activities – if you are going to be doing lots of active stuff then you probably need at least one outfit per day or maybe more. If you are going to be in the pool all day then you don’t need a pair of shorts for every single day.
3. Set a reminder for all last-minute items
There’s always the last-minute things that you simply can’t pack until you are about to walk out the door. Toiletries are an obvious one but travelling with kids adds a new dimension. Is there a lovey that they can’t live without? It will invariably have to be the last thing to go in. We still travel with bottles of milk rather than relying on whatever might be available on the plane. It stays in the fridge until we are leaving for obvious reasons and is often something that almost gets forgotten!
I make a list on my phone now and read it to Mr Wanderlust as we are getting in the car to make sure we have anything. Since I keep my phone by my bed I also add to it during the night if I ever wake up with the sweats remembering something we haven’t done (please tell me I’m not the only one who does that?!!)
4. Be frugal
I was never a big packer or a mega light one either and I was proud of it. Then Thing 1 arrived and suddenly we found ourselves travelling with things I never even knew we needed! I stopped carrying on anything for myself except my wallet, car keys and passport and yet I was carrying on more than I had ever carried on in my life! And that was just the hand luggage!
I think that is natural for first time parents. If you are travelling for the first time with your Thing and especially if you are doing it when they are tiny, you still have no idea what you need, don’t need and can’t live without. As I said before, over the years I’ve scaled back on what we take.
Here are some ways I’ve managed to cut down:
- Buy it there! Its easy to think you are going to the edge of beyond but the reality is that most places you’ll go to have shops and access to most things you’ll need. If we are going for any length of time I’ll take a little bit to keep us going but heavy things like toiletries and sun care we just buy when we get there.
- Wash on the road – as I mentioned before, taking advantage of washing machines in villas or laundry facilities in your local town or hotel can save you loads of room and weight in your luggage!
- Hire or borrow – you don’t have to take it ALL with you. When we travelled with Thing 1 we borrowed or hired a backpack carrier and some toys like a jumperoo. He ended up much happier but we didn’t have to bring it all with us.
- Be realistic – really consider what you actually NEED. It’s pretty rare now that we take anything that won’t get used. We let the Things choose some toys to bring with them but it has to be heavily policed (we learnt the hard way). Guess what? Last weekend when we were away they didn’t play with a single toy that they asked to bring. Between activities, the pool, the beach, meals and their iPads we could have saved ourselves a backpack full of toys!
5. Take your little luxuries
Don’t scrimp and save on everything. If you’re going to be miserable without your hair straighteners then just take them! Doing washing every 3 days for a 3 week trip will quickly get exhausting as it won’t feel like a holiday and you’ll be bored of wearing the same things all the time!
6. Have a system
Everyone has their little recommendations – roll don’t fold, put socks inside shoes, invest in packing bags… The list can go on and on. I follow a few of these but, for me, the most best thing to do is to keep things in the same place. When I was backpacking I would be able to put my hand inside my backpack and pull out the exact t-shirt I wanted without looking because I put every single thing in exactly the same place. All the time.
Now we’re travelling as a family we generally tend to put the Things’ stuff in one case and ours in another. That’s for the outward journey. On the way back, dirty washing is packed together so it can be quickly taken out and the delightful task of post-holiday washing can commence. Passports are always kept in the same pocket of the same back pack. Same for the laptops and iPads. Same for changes of clothes. When you know where everything it is it saves panicking at the last minute or completely unpacking a bag unnecessarily!
There’s no one thing that I would say will change your life from a packing perspective except to stay organised and to find a system that works for you (and stick with it).
7. Consider carry on
I have become waaaaay more savvy about what we take on board with us when we are flying. I’m lucky in that the Things are happy to watch their iPads or the in-flight entertainment from the moment that they sit down until the moment they get up again! The Things are lucky that aeroplanes are the only place where I don’t ration their screen time lol.
Obviously, now that they are older I don’t have to travel with 598 nappies, multiple outfit changes and a different toy for every 6.5 minutes of the journey. After years of carrying everything for everyone in 2 bags and almost cutting off the circulation in an arm in the process, I’m over it! Each family member has a bag. Each Thing can only bring what they can fit in their case (they have little roll along backpack style bags). This includes any toys that they want for the rest of the holiday, their iPads and their headphones.
What I take
Other essentials that we always take on-board with us include:
- Valuables: Anything that would be a disaster if it got lost comes with us. Since the diplomatic issues in the Middle East arose over the summer this includes our “Grab Bag”. For us this is a wallet with all our most important documents just in case we find ourselves stranded one day.
- Electronics: could be included in the above to be fair. Even if they don’t go missing, bags can be left out in the rain or can be chucked around without much care and electronic items can be ruined in an instant. It’s not worth having ruined stuff so take it with you!
- Medicine: Travelling with sick Things SUCKS! I pack more medicine than this, but with me on-board, I always make sure I’ve got Calpol, (infant Tylenol), kids ibuprofen and adult pain killers. I also take any critical medication (like my asthma inhaler. I won’t need it on the plane but again would be lost without if the bags went missing).
- Clothes: at least once change of clothes or pyjamas per Thing. For ultra long haul we usually take a change each as well. Spillages in our house are a regular occurrence.
- Snacks: I find in this economy we’re given less and less food on flights. Also, lots of what we are given isn’t exactly healthy. Add to that boredom hunger and you can find yourself with some pretty grumpy Things. If I take my own snacks we can avoid this AND I can control some of what goes into the Things’ mouths.
So there you have it there are my top 7 tips for packing. What are your essential packing items? Any advice for the rest of us?