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Do you like to pack? 

Call me crazy, but I like to pack!  Packing for a trip excites me!  I am able to pull out my checklist, mark things off and put my packing skills to the test.

Unpacking on the other hand, does not. Unpacking can take me days, maybe even weeks. Maybe it is the thought of the laundry pile growing large. Maybe it is the annoyance of wrinkled unused clothes, now needing to be washed because I overpacked. It could also be the exhaustion that follows an exciting adventure. Or maybe it is just plain laziness. One of these days I will learn how to unpack quickly, but today we are going to talk about how to make packing easier and more successful.

We are a family of six. So that means we have to pack a LOT of things when we travel. As the kids get older, the bags get larger. We also live in the MidWest. We experience all four seasons and in true Kansas fashion 3 out of the 4 can happen in the same week. This means more things find their way into the suitcase. It is important that we are efficient in our packing so that we don’t have to take the car top carrier everywhere we go.

Side note: The one time I didn’t pack long pants for the kids for a July trip to the county hot air balloon festival, it was so cold that we had to make a trip to the local Walmart. Walmart was just as unprepared as we were, so PJ’s were the only option to cover bare legs. From then on, we have always packed at least one pair of pants no matter what.


How can you be a successful packer? For me it starts with a checklist. One day I sat down and made a list of everything that I always pack for a trip. I grouped it into categories from clothes, to electronics, to medications, to stuff for the car. Then I put it on the computer so that I could just print the list each time we were getting ready to leave.

After I print the list then I take some time to think through the trip. If I do a little prep work ahead of time, then it takes out so much of the thinking during the process. I calculate how many days we will be gone. Then I look at the weather to see what type of clothes and accessories (hats, boots, umbrellas, etc) we need to take. Finally, I put the quantity of each item on the checklist and add any random item we also need to take. Often the random item is a birthday present or an item we need to return to a family member. 

Once the list is completed I start packing. It is much quicker to just grab the 4 pairs of socks, 2 pants, 1 pair of shorts, 3 shirts and 1 dress when you do the thinking ahead of time. This has also helped me to not overpack as often. If I stick to the list, there is less leftover to launder at the end. A win, win! 

True confession, I don’t always print the list. Sometimes I lean on my years of experience to help me succeed. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 those are the trips that something like PJs or razors get left behind. 

The checklist can also take an overwhelming task and break it down to more manageable pieces. This will allow the trip to start off in the right mental state. I don’t know about you, but a stressful packing session can take hours or days to recover from and that is wasted vacation time!

(Download the checklist on our Resources Page!)

Raising Adults

Recently we talked about the fact that our job as parents is to raise adults. Packing for a trip is a life skill that we can teach our children. Their mom isn’t always going to be around to make sure they pack underwear and a toothbrush. My children now range from 8-15 years old and all four are able to pack their own bags. It has made my life significantly better, and they have yet another skill set that they can be proud of. 

This doesn’t happen overnight though. I will also warn you that it will take you a lot longer to pack in the beginning, but it is worth it in the end. Soon you will just be able to say “go pack for the trip” and a packed suitcase will emerge a few hours later.

Here are some tips to help train your children to pack well.

Training Checklist:

  1. Print the checklist
  2. Put the quantities needed next to the item ahead of time. Then teach them how to follow the checklist.
  3. Explain to the children what types of clothes are acceptable for trips and which articles of clothing are best left at home.
  4. This is also a good opportunity to teach your children how to match clothes. Explaining what goes with what will also cut down on your outfit battles at home. Unless you have a Fancy Nancy at home who loves creating their own style, they will be very appreciative of the matching knowledge they will gain.
  5. This is also a good opportunity for a hygiene lesson. For some it will be a good reminder that a clean pair of underwear each day is essential for them and for others. It is also good to point out that body wash or soap does need to be used when you are in the shower.
  6. Remember it is a learning process. They won’t get it right the first couple of times, but each time they will get better and better. When we started this I picked out their outfits and they just picked their socks and underwear. Then we moved onto picking this or that. I would lay out two outfits and then they could pick which one they wanted. After that I turned the reins over to them.
  7. Pick your battles. If you are going to let them pack, then let them pack. They won’t pick out every outfit that you want them to pick, so prepare yourself to be okay with that. If you have a special event that you need a specific outfit for, that is okay. Tell them ahead of time and pull it out for them. For the rest you need to allow them space to choose for themselves, otherwise they will get frustrated and it will probably end with both of you crying. Now I have the kids lay out all their choices and I scan them to make sure they will all work. I limit myself to only a few vetoes or suggestions before transferring them to the suitcase.

Praise them for the successful packing. Let family members know how big they are getting. Compliment an outfit they choose on your vacation. Allowing your children the opportunity to learn a new skill will give them a sense of accomplishment. It will build their self esteem and their confidence that they can take on adult tasks and do them well. 

Suitcase Mess

I don’t know about you but a messy suitcase drives me nuts. When I couldn’t figure out what was clean and what wasn’t I knew I had to come up with a better system. That is where Ziploc baggies or rolling the clothes came into play. I go back and forth between these two methods depending on the type of trip we are taking. Both of these also have the added benefit of less arguing on what the kids are going to wear each day. A definite bonus!!

Ziploc Baggies:

Both options put a whole outfit together at the time of packing. A bottom, top, sock and underwear get folded neatly into each bag and then are closed shut. I then label each bag with the child’s name and the day they are going to wear them. Sometimes they are labeled Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 etc. Other times they are labeled according to the location. For our Disney trip they got labeled according to the park we are at that day.

Side Note: I know a mom who had proof that her son did not change any of his clothes the whole time he was at camp despite what he said. What was the proof? All his clothes came home neatly packed in the gallon Ziploc bags she sent them in. GROSS!! Again packing is a great opportunity for conversations on personal hygiene!! 

Rolled up Clothes:

This works the same way as the Ziploc bags. I lay the pants on the ground. Then I layer the shirt, socks and underwear on top and roll it up. Sometimes I flip flop the shirt and bottom so the kids can see the shirt option. Then each morning the kids grab a roll and have everything they need. 

Location Specific

Now for one last trick we have learned. When you are going on a trip and you have different places you are spending the night I switch up how I pack the suitcases. Again with 6 people we have to pack a lot. While it is possible to unload all 4-6 suitcases at each location it gets annoying lugging in clothes you will not use at that stop. So we pack according to location. Each location gets a different clothing suitcase. Everyone’s clothes for those days get put into the same bag. In addition to the clothes bag, we have one toiletry bag that gets taken into every location. This was super helpful when we made our cross country trips to Boston, South Dakota and Utah.

When the weather is unstable where we are going to also pack a weather bag. In this bag goes a pair of pants, sweatshirt or jacket, hats and gloves etc. This way if the weather takes a turn for the cold, we know exactly where those items are located. This will prevent you from digging through every single bag to find everyone’s sweatshirt. The key to this bag being successful for the whole trip is to return those items to that designated bag when they are no longer being used. This will take some training but it will totally be worth it! 

Share ideas!

So there you go, a list of our packing tips and tricks. What are yours??? We would love to learn some new methods! We also have never flown with our kids, that opportunity is coming up soon. What are your tips for packing for the air? 


Download the checklist here!

One Comment

  • Leah says:

    Great tips! We are in the midst of a 3
    week road trip (with a different stop almost every night), and our packing plan has worked well! Like you said, we didn’t want to drag everything in every night. We brought 2 suitcases – each has 5 full outfits for each of us. So we can bring in one suitcase for 5 nights straight, then switch to the next suitcase when there are only dirty clothes left. We have 2 stops that are a few nights long and include laundry, so we brought in both suitcases then and cleaned everything and repacked our 5 outfits. One toiletry bag and a cooler comes in at each stop (each get restocked as needed from plastic totes of supplies in the van.
    We LOVE packing cubes. Each family member has their own color, so we always know which bag belongs to which person (and they coordinate with their assigned calendar colors at home). We use our packing cubes on every trip we go on.
    Air travel – do not give each person their own suitcase. Put clothes for each person in each suitcase in case one gets lost. Then everyone will still have clothes to wear. If there is something you can’t replace at the destination (like a needed medicine), pack it in a carry on.

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