The tickets have been purchased. The hotel’s been booked. The presents have been bought. The only roadblock standing between you and a picture perfect holiday trip? Packing the bags.
It should be simple, right? A straightforward checklist: party outfit, shoes, underwear. Throw it all in a rolling bag and then you’re done. It might be this easy for someone on their own, but the intricacies of family travel mean that what was once a no-brainer is now a carefully orchestrated — sometimes multi-day — logistical headache.
In light of this, the team at Hopper has pulled together some key packing tips for families. Since we’re all about numbers and data, we’ve assembled this packing-guide timeline.
PS. There are some time tested tricks for maximizing suitcase space: The Hopper team advocates rolling clothing rather than folding it (roll delicates in tissue paper to prevent wrinkles). Another pro-tip is to pack clothing in between layers of plastic dry cleaning bags to protect clothing from spills/leaks. These double for laundry containers on the trip home.
One Week Out:
It’s list-making time. Pull out the iPhone or open up an Excel doc and start detailing all the items you’ll need. This is the time to take stock of the essentials and plan on the pivotal drugstore and grocery runs to ensure you’re fully loaded with diapers, plastic bags, painkillers and decongestants, disinfectant wipes, single-serving snacks and all the other travel essentials. We advocate list-making by each individual family member (who is capable of doing so). This way you can start planning the overall family packing strategy. Dads need less stuff than babies, so start strategizing what extra items can go in his suitcase.
If you’re planning for a long holiday trip, consider shipping certain items out ahead of time. Checking extra bags can cost you upwards of $40 a bag, so shipping a box via UPS ground a week in advance (with presents, extra clothing, etc.) is not a terrible idea. Another suggestion? Try an Amazon Prime account (which offers free two-day shipping) and ship ahead basic toiletries, extra snacks, and any supplies you’ll want to have on location, but don’t need on the plane.
Five Days Out:
The weather for your destination should start becoming more clear, so now is the time to start prepping for those snow storms in New York or rain in San Francisco. Nothing is worse than the last-minute search for rain boots or last season’s bathing suit, so ask any school-age children to start pulling together less-used items now. In fact, it’s a perfect moment to introduce the list to any children who love being Mommy’s helpers. Even toddlers can check off lists — think a picture of a shoe with the word written under it (it’s efficient education!).
Either way, it’s time to find out if your four-year-old is adamant about carrying half his stuffed animal collection in his backpack and start adjusting expectations. Five days out is also a good time to start prepping the “team”: go over the itinerary with the kids and explain any problem areas or potential delays. Three-hour layover in Houston? Let the kids know what to expect, and make sure they are prepared with the kinds of movies, games, or books that will keep them the most happy and calm.
Three Days Out:
Now’s the time that everything that needs to go in a suitcase is washed and ready to fly. The goal for laundry should be to wash and immediately pack. Pro-packers swear by easily color-coordinated outfits, so try to pull together clothing that is mix- and match-able. Moms with young kids will be well-served by dark colored clothing, to mask the inevitable stains that will arise from spills on airplanes and car rides.
This is also time to start asking the tough packing questions. Will you have laundry where you’re going? How many shoes will you bring? Family packing strategy is essential here — consider packing one bag with everyone’s extra pairs of shoes and checking that suitcase. In general, try and plan outfits to minimize shoe changes (ideally aim for a comfortable airline/walking everyday pair, sneakers and one dress shoe set). Will you be able to handle kids and luggage? If so, plan to carry everything on, as it will save time at both ends of the trip. If you need the extra hands for baby, then checking luggage is your best bet. Trying to juggle and infant AND a rolling bag is more annoying (and potentially disastrous) than the amount of time you’ll spend waiting for luggage.
One Day Out:
Run the laundry and start assembling the bags. Older kids should be intimately involved in this process, from checking off items on the list to helping carry extra materials for mom and dad. Here’s where plastic bags become your best friend. Take a page from the Duggar playbook (19 kids teaches you something about efficient packing) and pack each day’s outfit for the young kids in a plastic bag, labeled if possible. This way all the items are kept together and can be easily fished out of the luggage. Plan on packing at least one change of clothes for you and the kids in your carry-ons. Disaster preparedness is the name of the game, and spills and accidents are practically inevitable.
Ideally, each kid should be armed with their own back-pack. Extra underwear, tee-shirts, etc. should go in here, along with their key entertainment items for the trip and a few single-serving snacks. Make sure any electronics are fully charged, and plan on letting them juice up overnight. Now’s the time to do a trial “roll” down the hall with your bags: check every kid to see they can handle their luggage and make sure you’re not overloaded yourself. If you haven’t already, start a last-minute checklist for the final items that need to go on the bag tomorrow: IDs, plastic bags with toiletries, cell phones, electronics, tickets, keys. This is also the time to empty out your wallet of any extraneous materials and consider removing any keys you don’t need from your keychain. Less is more!
Here’s where the last minute checklist comes in handy. Triple-check every bag for the essentials and establish the “go-to” pockets where they’ll be stored. First aid kits should be as accessible as your ID — nothing is worse than fumbling through a bag in an emergency. As you’re leaving, make sure to do one sweep of the kids for any items that could be problematic in security: this means anything from metal barrettes to hidden plastic toy swords. Take a deep breath, lock the door, and head out with the happy confidence that comes with knowing you’ve packed like a travel pro!