We have traveled… a lot! Over the years we have developed and picked-up tricks that help make packing easier. To be honest, there were seasons where I wasn’t even unpacking my toiletry bag once home because we were on the go so much. As our family has grown, our packing skills were put to the test. Little humans require so much gear, extra clothing in case of accidents, and toys, and teddy bears and…the list goes on (you probably need to pack the list too).
With the addition of baby #4 I thought it was likely that we had hit our limit in terms of packing us into one suitcase. With determination and creative thinking, I’ve figured it out! So whether you’re a large family like us, or you’re one person packing into a carry-on, we think this how-to-guide will fortify your packing game.
The inter webs are awash with packing how-to posts and lists. Almost always they recommend buying a certain bag or packing cubes or some other product (and often with a steep price tag). I’m not into that. I want to use what I have. So my how-to requires you to use a suitcase you own – that’s it!
We have been lovers of HEYS bags for over a decade. No we did not forget what we just said about using any bag – we’re not saying you need to get one – we’re simply letting you know what we’re working with here.
Flying with kids can be awful but packing carry-on for kiddos can make it suck less.
Our bags have travelled thousands of kilometres, endured 3 inter-continental moves, and countless flights. They’re fairly beat up now, but they do the job! HEYS no longer makes this specific bag, but you can check out their site here for something similar (PS- this post isn’t sponsored…we just like the bag and want to share). Costco, a North American wholesaler, often sells luggage sets and so we snagged ours there – somewhere between the fruit section and the snowmobile aisle. Costco currently has this set. The bag we have is 74 cm / 29 in tall and opens like a shell so it can be packed on both sides. Aside from a strap to hold down what is packed on one side, and a mesh panel that rolls out and buckles across the other, there are no pockets or compartments.
Where To Start?
I always begin packing by laying everything out in one place, it happened to be our bed this time. For adults and big kids we each get 3 or 4 outfits. That’s it. The same goes for socks and underwear, 4 pairs. I use the concept of a capsule wardrobe to choose what we bring, so everything will be in one colour palate and tops and bottoms can be mixed together. Our toddler and baby are the exceptions to the 3 – 4 outfit limit as they tend to go through at least 2 outfits a day between spills and diaper blowouts! Their clothes are smaller and so they don’t take over the entire suitcase. If laundry facilities aren’t available where we are staying, we hand wash – no big deal!
TIP travel with a bar of laundry detergent (check the camping aisle) or put some laundry powder in a sealable, reusable container.
I will also gather all the extra things such as beach towels, suntan lotion, books, hats, shoes etc. It is amazing how all of these little extras add up to a lot of space. Once I have it all laid out in front of me, then I begin actually putting it in the bag.
TIP everyone has to wear their bulkiest clothing or shoes to travel. If everyone is wearing their runners, jeans and hoodies as we travel…I don’t have to pack them!
Biggest Items First
I always start by packing the adult clothes first. For this suitcase, because I can pack on both sides, my stuff goes on one side and my husband’s things on the other. I try to fold as neatly as possible (though I’m not a folding genius). I alternate the direction that the collar or waste band is stacked so that the stack stays as flat as possible. Tops go on one side and bottoms on the other and I leave a gap between that which I fill with rolled socks, underwear, bathing suits, and belts. Some people are huge fans of rolling t-shirts and bottoms etc. I find that it doesn’t work as well for me, but if you love to roll your clothes, go for it! The idea of having your larger items rolled and placed on the sides of the bag with a gap between for the smaller items will still work.
Kid Stuff Next
I pack one big kid and one small kid’s stuff on each side so that it stays fairly even. I use the same concept for folding, alternating the way items are stacked, and then rolling smaller things between the two larger stacks. In addition to the clothing, I then put in the baby blankets and extra kid items – again keeping these items as flat as possible. Be sure to group items together (all of one person’s things in one zone). I find this really helps me on the other end when a kid asks where one of their things are, I know it’s all together in one spot. It’s also great when road tripping to a destination and you know night 1 is on the road before settling into your holiday destination on day 2.
This post is about HOW to pack. Check out our other post on WHAT to pack.
The Random Odds & Ends
Once all the clothing is in, I begin to nestle all the other items into the grooves between stacks. It’s a good idea to seal liquids and creams in a reusable plastic bag just in case there is a leak (which I forgot to do this time!). I try to layer anything that is more fragile between clothing. Be sure to stuff hats with socks or rolled underwear to help keep it’s shape. My last step is to lay beach towels and books on top as they’re flat.
For this trip, we were driving to the beach. In addition to this one suitcase, I also packed a beach bag that had our kids deflated pool toys, snorkel masks, diving toys and extra swim diapers. We bought diapers along the way for the two littles and I did have a diaper bag (which doubles as my purse when we travel). Those were above and beyond the suitcase. The kids each have a backpack and are required to carry whatever toys, books, stuffed animals or blankets they want to have along. If they can’t carry it, it doesn’t come. This works well for both road trips and flights.
For more great packing strategies and our never-leave-home-without-them travel items – check out this post here.
Buy What You Need
Unless you are going to an extremely remote location, you can likely buy whatever you need once you arrive. This is particularly useful when you’re flying and have a weight restriction. Things like shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen and diapers can add significant weight and are bulky. Take what you need for your first few days in a smaller package, then buy more once at your destination.
TIP the only time we avoid “buying essentials as we go” is when we know an item is specialized or have done the research to know an item is hard to get or radically overpriced.
Whether our trip is a long-weekend or 2 weeks of travel, I use this same method. If we are at a beach location, I find that everyone usually has at least one clean item remaining at the end of the trip because we spend most of the time in our bathing suits anyway!
What are your best packing tips and tricks?
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