Back in August, when I wrote Traveling with Kids, Step 3: Where to Stay, I promised that Step 4: What to Pack was just around the corner. But I really only get motivated to write the “Traveling with Kids” series when I’ve just returned/recovered from a trip with the kids and am thinking about what we could have done better. And jet-lagged. And afraid that I will not be able to sleep tonight because it is Serbian Orthodox New Year’s Eve and the fireworks are already starting at 9:00 PM.
Ahem. What to Pack.
There are two very distinct sets of packing rules when traveling when kids – car packing and airplane packing. Car packing: take as much as you can carry. As long as you’ll have a safe place to park the car, fill it up. Take clothes for all four seasons, including multiple pairs of footwear. Take rain gear. Take baby-carrying gear AND a stroller. Take food for the car, and food for when you get there. Bring a stockpile of beer and wine, and a means of opening those things. Take diapers for the whole trip. Take an extra blanket. And a flashlight. Take a map and a GPS. Bring beach towels. Take a DVD player. Take only what you need into your hotel room or rental place, and use the car like a closet. Our car is relatively small, and camping is the only time that we’ve really had trouble fitting everything we wanted into the car, and that might be because we wanted to take a queen-sized air mattress, pillows for everyone, a cooler full of food, AND a pack ‘n’ play.
Airplane packing is another story altogether. Pack only what you can carry. Think about how you will get to the airport and from the airport to your lodging. Can you carry it? And the child who will inevitably fall asleep 10 minutes before the plane lands? Even pushing a stroller requires a free hand, so do not pack more suitcases than adult hands. If you need a car seat, you have to take it, and they’re free to check, but that doesn’t make them any less heavy and bulky. Pack for only the weather you are most likely to encounter, skip the extra footwear, and plan to wear clothes multiple times. Use hotel towels or buy cheap beach towels and beach toys when you get there. Your kid can probably use a straw or drink from a real cup rather than hauling multiple sippy cups. But don’t skimp on airplane snacks / bribes. The difference between screaming toddler and happy toddler might just be that pack of gummy bears. Carry at least two full spare outfits for anyone under 2, and one spare outfit for anyone over two. If you don’t, someone will projectile vomit.
Never forget — YOU CAN BUY IT. Unless we’re talking passport, car seat, flattering bathing suit, or something similarly expensive and legally-mandated, you can buy it when you get there or live without it. I’m not saying to get on a plane completely empty-handed, just not to sweat the small stuff. It never hurt anyone to have an extra toothbrush / deodorant / hairbrush / cell phone charger / underwear / flipflops / sunglasses. Caveat: if you are arriving in Germany or Austria after noon on Saturday or anytime on Sunday, you CAN’T buy it. Everything will be closed, and you fill find yourself wandering for miles looking for an open convenience store run by heathens who will sell you milk and diapers on the Sabbath.