Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How I Plan Trips: Make Packing Easier

This is the last post in my 3-part series about how I plan trips. I started with Initial Steps, like choosing a destination and booking flights. Then I moved on to how to find and organize fun, family activities. The natural next step? Packing.

After becoming a mom 5 1/2 years ago, I've often stumbled upon the phrase, "the hardest part is getting out the door." Ain't that the truth. Stocking the diaper bag. Filling the sippy cup. Even just getting socks and shoes on everyone can seem like such a hassle. And that's just for a quick trip out to the grocery store or park!

So what do I do to make packing and departing even easier? Here are a few steps that work well for us.

1) Have a list. I actually don't keep a comprehensive packing list, although I probably should. If you need inspiration, I think the best resource for packing lists for families is at the Travel Mamas blog. She's got a packing list for every phase of travel from babies to business trips. I used these resources frequently when we were just getting started. But now I've packed us up often enough to have a pretty good handle on the basics.

Instead, my struggle tends to be the items I can't pack until a day (or even an hour) before we leave. So I keep a "last minute list." Electronics. Chargers. Phones. Camera. Passport. Medication. Tickets. That favorite stuffed animal. I start the list at least a week before we leave and as I use something I want to bring on the trip but can't pack yet, I jot it down. It's the last thing I look at before we walk out the door. In fact, I've been known to tape it to the front door.

2) Toiletries at the ready. The biggest timesaver when it comes to packing is that our toiletry bags are always ready to go. We just drop them in the suitcase.

I have a spare of every single thing I need to get ready in the morning in that bag, from a toothbrush to makeup. It might cost you a few bucks at the beginning to get a second of everything you need, but well worth the effort. Just the comfort of knowing there's no risk of forgetting any of those essentials makes me feel more organized. And then when I get home from a trip, if I used up any product, I simply replace it as I'm unpacking.

3) Keep kids' entertainment stocked and organized. I implement a very similar strategy for things to entertain my kids on flights, car rides and trains as I do toiletries. I keep two large boxes with lids, one for each child, in our office and I'm constantly adding things to them. It can be anything from a freebie coloring book I picked up at a restaurant, or a small puzzle we got at a birthday party, or a 1000 sticker superhero book I saw on clearance at the grocery store. The night before we leave on a trip, after the kids go to bed, I pull these boxes out and select a few new things for each kid. Then all that's left to do is throw in a few of their favorite toys or books, and we're ready to go. (At age 5, I now ask Big Arrow to pack his own "old favorites.") We often take spur of the moment day trips on the weekends and these boxes are a such a lifesaver and lead to much quieter car rides!

This also helps me to see exactly how much "stuff" I have on hand for each kid (which therefore saves us money). About a week before a trip, I'll take a peek at my inventory to see if I need to pick up anything, and realize that both kids still have plenty of new things to play with in my stash. And then I don't spend another dime.

Here's another tip: The biggest way I add to my "inventory" of travel entertainment is to put aside stuff they already have. Meaning after Christmas and birthdays, I grab a few items that got neglected in favor of more popular gifts in the immediate aftermath of opening presents and put them in their travel boxes. Or if I get tired of reading a particular book over and over again, that book sneakily makes its way into the travel box. They're so thrilled to see these things again a few weeks later.

4) Bath time is packing time. One of my biggest challenges as a mom of young kids is finding a time to pack up the stuff the boys need. Can't do it during naps or after bedtime, when I do the bulk of my packing, because I need access to the clothes in their room. But once they reached the age where they didn't need constant supervision in the bath, this has become the ideal time to pack them up. We always give them baths the night before a trip anyway. And I'm right there at the ready to help them if they need anything (or break up fights) because the bathroom is right next to their rooms. But I can multitask by spending those 20 minutes grabbing the things they'll need while also supervising them. Let me be clear: this will not work if you have a baby who needs to be constantly supervised during bath time.

By implementing all these strategies, it only takes me about an hour to get our family packed for a trip. And my husband probably spends another 20 or 30 minutes putting everything in the suitcase... that's his role in this process. Maybe I can talk him into a guest post about that very topic.

Now, can anyone teach me how to remember to lock our front door when we leave?

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walking on Travels.

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