Vacation Packing Tips to Save Space (and your sanity)
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Packing for a vacation these days is tougher than it used to be. With stricter airline baggage limits and fees for every extra bag, packing is a game of Tetris, only not as much fun and without the peppy Russian music.
Add to the mix the task of packing for kids who absolutely won’t leave home without dragging an armload of beloved toys along, and you have a recipe for stress.
Whether you’re off for a weekend at the beach or headed overseas for an extended adventure, these vacation packing tips will make it easier to bring what you need (and even some of what the kids think they need). Don’t forget to look into the insurance coverage you might need traveling out of the U.S.—at least that won’t take up space in your suitcase.
Make Lists – Lots of Lists
Yes, that’s lists, plural. A master packing list is helpful (Microsoft Office even has a template), but it can become overwhelming, especially if you’re going on an extended trip or are packing for a family.
Break down your lists into sections, including one for clothes, one for toiletries, one for entertainment, and one for extras. That last can include things the kids need, like goggles for the pool. Be specific – how many pairs of socks are needed? How many swimsuits?
A complete and sectioned-off list makes it easier to strike items off early. Look for things you can pick up when you arrive. If you’re headed for a beach destination, you can probably get sunscreen there. Most hotels have a hairdryer available. Remove anything you can from the list before anything comes out of a drawer.
Set the Stage
Create a staging area where everyone can gather the things they want to pack. Seeing it all in a pile makes it easier to eyeball just how much stuff is on your list. From there you can weed out more unnecessary items.
This is a good way to look for duplicates. For instance, you and your teen daughter don’t both need to bring a flat iron. Does everyone really need their own tube of toothpaste? Narrow it down to the bare necessities.
A general rule of thumb is to pack only half of what you originally planned. By the time you’re done making lists and pruning the staged area, you should be there.
Everyone Packs a Carry-On (and Has to Carry It)
If the airline you are flying with allows everyone to bring a free carry-on, use it. The more you can bring on the plane, the less you will have to fit into the checked luggage, which has a weight limit.
Have your kids carry their own bag. Fun, kid-friendly roller backpacks will make that easier for them. This backpack is the perfect place for a child to pack those items they can’t bear to leave behind while enforcing a space limit. Since they have to carry it, they may not be so tempted to bring heavier items.
Make sure each carry-on bag contains a change of clothes and other necessities in case the airline misplaces your luggage or a missed connection strands you overnight. Carry-ons should also contain all of your IDs and any needed medications.
Roll with it & Keep it Together
Not the luggage (although that can roll, too), your clothes. Rolling clothes rather than folding them takes up less space and will also prevent wrinkling in transit.
Pair clothes off into outfits and roll them together. This is especially helpful in preventing kids from tearing apart their bags looking for a shirt to go with those shorts. It’s useful for adults too because finding things in a suitcase isn’t easy.
Creating outfits rather than packing by item also allows a chance to pare it down even more. Look for items that can work with more than one outfit. That’s especially important when it comes to packing shoes, which are real space hogs. Tuck small items inside of shoes to use up that wasted space.
Organize Inside the Bag
Get even more organized with packing cubes, which keep items together and organized in your luggage.
Frequent travelers love the cubes from Eagle Creek. They have extra compression, which compacts things to take up less space overall. Keeping things tightly packed also prevents things from shifting around inside your luggage.
When you’re packing back up to go home, the cubes can keep your dirty laundry separate.
A cheap alternative to packing cubes is zip-top plastic bags, which come in a lot of sizes. Use smaller ones for things like jewelry and larger ones to pack individual outfits. As a bonus, you can use an extra to pack that wet swimsuit your son drops on the floor ten minutes before checkout.
Speaking of The Bag – Choose Carefully
Buying one huge suitcase seems like a good idea; you can fit more items in one and only pay for a single checked bag. It might work out well for you, but be aware of how much those big bags weigh – especially if you go hard-sided.
Overweight baggage fees are going to cost more than simply paying for an extra checked bag. Not only that, but you have to be able to lift it. And, if you’re renting a car on the other side, it will have to fit in a trunk that might be smaller than what you expect.
Anyone who has ever watched a luggage carousel go around knows those bags all look the same. Make yours stand out. You can choose to buy bags in unusual colors or add a colorful strap.
Better yet, if you’re looking for some busy work for the kids, let them decorate with stickers. No one is going to accidentally grab the suitcase covered in Peppa Pig and glitter.
Stores like Target and Walmart have sections dedicated to mini travel and sample-sized products that are a packing dream come true. Even ULTA offers travel-sized products for higher-end hair care and cosmetic options.
They’re perfect for travel, not only because they take up less space, but also because they’re small enough to pass through security, so you can keep them in your carry-on. That will reduce the risk of arriving to find out the pressure change caused your shampoo bottle to leak all over your clothes.
Pack As Early As Possible
Packing in a hurry is the bane of a well-organized suitcase, so don’t leave it to the last minute.
It’s even worth buying extra toothbrushes and other items that are usually the last to go into your bag just to have everything ready to go the night before. By having a set of travel-only toiletries, you can keep it all ready to go, rather than reminding everyone to pack those items in the morning.
How many times have you tried to stuff in one last pair of shoes or that lightweight cardigan you just might need at the last minute? If you’ve packed carefully and taken your time, you won’t be tempted to second-guess your choices.
And with the packing out of the way, you can get on to enjoying your vacation.
Leslie Kasperowicz holds a B.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg, and is a Staff Writer at carinsurancecomparison.com. Her ten-year freelance writing career has covered topics from insurance to entertainment reporting. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons.
Post edited August 2019.