Monday, February 24, 2014

The Well-Traveled Mama's List of Plane Packing Tips

So, we are traveling this week, heading to the States to wait out the layover between rental homes here in Costa Rica by spending some time with family before my beloved and I head to Tanzania in mid-March and then we all head back here in early April.

And I've been packing. I can't say I follow the same packing science every time I do it, but I will say that having packed our family of seven for long road trips in our own car, 37 hours of bus travel, multiple border crossings on foot and various plane rides, I am, if anything, an experienced packer. So I thought I'd share some tips I've learned along the way.

Road trip packing and plane packing are two totally different things in my mind, and since we are packing for plane travel here, let's go with that one for now. With so many airlines now charging for bags, efficiency is dollars in your wallet, so it's worth the effort to get the packing done right.

For our trip, our family of seven will each carry a back pack as his personal item, and we'll check two bags and carry on one. We'll be in the States a month, but it's not like we need that many clothes, since we'll be staying with family and doing laundry regularly.

So let's work by category, personal items, carry-ons, checked bags.

1. Personal Items:

  • Don't underestimate how much packing you can do in these. Remember they are free weight! You can load them up with as much as the carrier can carry! I used to tend to only see these as busy bags and snack holders for the kids and fill them with things to entertain them during the plane ride. Now I still put a few busy bag items and snacks in their back packs, but I also try to use them wisely.
  • Pack each person's heaviest pair of shoes in his back pack. Obviously this won't work with say, ski boots, but tennis shoes? Fit easily and all total that's a lot of weight and space saved in your checked bags. My boys are wearing crocs on the plane and each carrying his tennis shoes in his back pack.
  • Books are heavy too. So my guys each carry whatever school books and their own personal reading in their packs. Greg and I carry our own books and all the family prayer books we want to take along.
  • Put each person's tooth brush and a travel sized tooth paste in a small ziploc bag in his pack. One, it makes it easier when you get to your final destination to start getting people either freshened up or ready for bed, and, two, fresh teeth are a great cure for travel grumpies and plane boredom.
  • Tie jackets or sweat shirts to the top handle. Save space and keep them handy for the million times your kids will take them on and off during the trip.
  • Mom keeps travel documents, Dad keeps photo copies of travel documents. This everything is in one place for the million times you need to pull it out these days, but their are emergency copies in a second location should some horrible thing happen. I had to replace my passport from a stolen purse recently, at it was a breeze because I had a photocopy of the old one. Carry copies with you and leave copies with someone who can fax to you while traveling if necessary. 
2. Carry-Ons:

  • I know so many people love to only carry on if possible. My advice when traveling with kids is to limit carry-ons. It's hard to navigate the airport with lots of people AND lots of stuff in tow. Overhead space is more and more limited all the time, and trying to get everyone seated plus store carry-on luggage can be overwhelming. And it's one more thing to remember when it's time to get off the plane and everyone is antsy and distracted.
  • We are taking one carry on this time as I usually do. In it are packed a couple of towels, our pajamas for the first night, and clothes for the following day for each family member. So we are covered if luggage gets lost. We are covered if someone gets sick in an airport (been there, done that). And if all goes well, only one bag has to be opened on the first day and night, which is a sanity saver to be sure. We'll be traveling nearly 18 hours by the time we add plane and car transport. A quick transition to warm showers and pajamas will be really, really helpful.
  • If you are bringing gifts or souvenirs to people that you know you will want to access right away, stick them in your carry on inside another small tote bag. It's quick and easy to open and pull out and a better presentation than your belongings strewed all over your hosts' home while you dig for their bag of coffee (well, that's what I'll be carrying anyway).
  • You'll likely carry most of your electronics in your back packs, but if you have spare chargers, stick them in your carry on. Easy to find and a handy replacement if someone accidentally leaves on in a random airport electric socket. It happens. I'm telling you.
Checked Bags:

  • I have one brilliant solution for making your large suit case packing easier, whether you are plane traveling or road tripping. It is experiential learning at its best. And it is this:
  • Rather than putting some of the children's items in one bag and other's in another and the adults in another, pack three days worth of clothes for the entire family in each bag. 
  • While traveling, you can pull one bag out at a time, use up what is in it, close it up and move on to the next.
  • You can plan for special clothing needs, climate changes and adventures. If your bags are specific to the days of the trip, stick a little duct tape around the handle and number it.
  • I love packing in those large duffle bags that have zipped bottom section under the main compartment. I put socks and underwear, toiletries, and jewelry accessories in the bottom, and then in the main compartment, I roll outfits together, pants and shirt, and pack them rolled up by person.
  • It really does cut down on bags somehow. By following my above strategies for personal items and carry ons, everyone has one jacket, both pairs of shoes, pajamas and one outfit already on hand. I can get three outfits per person in each checked bag, giving us a grand total of seven outfits and two sets of pajamas each, two pairs of shoes, socks, underwear, accessories, toiletries, school books, electronics and personal items and snacks for seven people in two checked bags, one carry on, and a backpack per person. 
I hope you'll find these tips helpful next time you need to load your crew up and head out. Have a favorite packing tip to inspire me this week? Leave it below! I need all the help I can get.

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