Today I'll focus on the top items to pack.
- Snacks. Nuts, dried fruit, and pretzels are portable, nutritious, and filling. If you have a long plane or train trip, fresh fruit or carrot sticks help keep kids hydrated and satiated.
- Cooler back-pack. This is one of the best investments we've made. We pack it full of healthy snacks for the plane ride and carry it with us when we're out and about in our new location. It also helps us carry cold food back to our apartment/hotel when it's blazing hot out.
- Small packs of travel tissues. They can serve as napkins, tissues or toilet paper. Many parts of the world don't supply toilet paper as a matter of course. You'll be glad you have them!
- Hand sanitizer/wipes. I'm not encouraging you to be obsessive about using these. Washing your hands with warm soap and water is always the best option. But, let's face it... when you're on the road and your kids are suddenly, "starving," a sink may not be available.
- Sleep masks/ear plugs. This helps with sleeping on planes and trains. It also helps when changing time zones- you may need to catch a few zzzz's during the day when a city is noisy.
- Ziploc bags. They are infinitely useful for storing leftovers, packing snacks, packing leaky items, etc.
- Items to help with popping ears on airplanes- gum or chewy foods for older kids, bottles, pacifiers, or lollipops for younger ones. (Breastfeeding is also helpful, but is often not possible because airlines require babies to be in a car seat or otherwise belted to an adult in an inconvenient position during take-offs/landings).
- First aid kit/ typical medicines children often need: acetaminophen, antibiotic cream, bandages, antihistamine, hydro cortisone. On our most recent trip, we brought quick dissolve Benadryl, and boy were we glad we had it when a need arose!
- Small flashlights/headlamps. These come in handy for so many reasons. There are lots of small, portable models available.
- A small journal, colored pencils, and double-sided tape. Have the kids record their experiences and tape in ticket stubs, etc. This isn't necessary, of course, but I encourage you to consider making journals part of all of your trips.
Clearly this list is not for folks planning to back-pack through Africa. This is a list for parents traveling with their children (though many of the items such as Ziploc bags are handy for back-packers, too!) But none of these items takes up much space and each of them will make your trip go more smoothly.
I encourage you to carefully evaluate what you really need to pack and what you can leave behind. Most people pack way more clothing than they need. Leave some of the clothes behind and pack these items. You can always wash your clothes while you're away. (Quick tip: to easily wash undergarments... wear them in the shower, wash them, and hang them to dry). Or, if you find you really need an item you didn't pack, you can always buy one. In all of my travels, however, I've never had to buy a piece of clothing I "should" have packed.
For our last trip, my family of four went to Italy for 3 weeks. We checked a total of three bags, the heaviest weighing 43.21 lbs (19.6 kg). We carried 4 small carry-ons. One was the cooler back-pack full of snacks. The others held our cameras/electronics and items to occupy the kids (and us) during the flight. Oh, yes, and the carry-ons included toothbrushes/toothpaste and a change of undergarments for each of us....just in case!
Despite our careful packing, I still could have left one or two of my shirts behind.
What items have you found invaluable when packing for family travel?