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Packing for Your Trip – Bring the Right Stuff

Kids on a camel

When packing for family trips, less really is more. As in, the less stuff you’re lugging around, the more freedom you’ll have.

    First, ask yourself a few questions:
Who is going? Traveling with infants and toddlers, resist the urge to take everything under the sun. For older kids, consider that many ordinary things can be shared. For example, girls may insist on having their own blow dryer at home, but when traveling, one is enough.
What do you plan on taking? How many suitcases? What kind – roller bags or duffle bags? Are the kids old enough to help or will it be up to the adults to lug everything (and kids) around? You may need to run for a departing plane/train/boat, so don’t take more luggage than you can carry.
Where are you going? This is the biggie: trekking through the jungles of Belize, for example, requires quite different footwear than strolling around London.

When are you going? Sailing around the Mediterranean in July is different from hiking the Andes in July. December in Bali is warm and tropical, December in Amsterdam is cold and snowy. Check out the weather for your destination in advance.

      Tip: Also read our "Packing for Your Trip: Part 2 – All the Small Stuff" for more info on what to bring.
We can recommend these money belts from personal experience comfortable and won't bulge at your waist.
    But before thinking of a single thing to wear, there's something more important than how you'll look – your travel documents. Some things take more time to put together. This might be one of your first checklists. For more detail, read our Travel Tips article, Of Documents and Medicine....
    Sight-seeing should be distracting – so rather than worrying about pick-pockets, consider a zippered money belt or waist wallet for your valuables. In South America and India, we've worn money belts for weeks, months at a time.
    Clothing Basics
      Believe us: you will be able to do laundry. Don’t pack something for every day of your trip, and take things that can serve double duty.

Travel outfit – This is the outfit you wear when on the long plane, train or car ride. It should be loose fitting and comfortable, and have lots of pockets for essentials and surprises. Keep in mind that airplanes are often chilly.

    Behind the scenes – Have enough underwear and socks so that you can rotate them comfortably.  Remember to take different weight socks for different footwear or weather.
    Footwear – Walking (closed toed) shoes, sandals, dressy shoes should cover basic needs. Tip: Try all-terrain sandals or water shoes if you’ll be tromping around rocky beaches or in rivers. Dressy shoes should be nice, but not fragile or too costly, anything can happen in a suitcase, or on a cobblestone street. If you have laced shoes, bring extra laces.
    Exploring outfits  There’s always an adventure worth hiking or biking to reach. In warm weather, you’ll want shorts, lightweight tops and windbreakers (to block out sudden chills). Hats are essential bring caps with wide brims to protect from the sun.
      In cold weather, you'll want loose, comfortable but well-lined lightweight clothes. Plan to layer your clothes for warmth (e.g. a T-shirt or turtle-neck, long-sleeved shirt, then jacket.) Tip: Fleeces are light, warm, and will dry over night if you need to rinse off some “exploration” dirt along the way.
    Even if it isn't the rainy season – Hooded windbreakers or train ponchos (thin plastic that folds into tiny, easy to pack pouches) work well in unexpected downpours. Even in the tropics, if you go to highland areas, the temperature can cool dramatically; a light windbreaker is good for damp, misty weather.
    Not just shorts – You’ve planned a real rough-and-tumble adventure and you don’t think you’ll need this? After a week of hiking in the Australian outback, high tea at a luxury hotel is a wonderful change. A play in London or haute cuisine in Buenos Aires is worth dressing for, and may well be among your fondest memories.
    Water gear Almost all vacations include water in some way pool, ocean, lake, river, hot springs or water park. Make sure everyone has swim suits, those all-terrain sandals, water shoes, or rubber flip flops, floaties if needed. (We never venture out without swim suits for everyone in the family.)
    Make Room For "Must Haves"...
  Daytime gear Few things are as useful as some kind of day pack that lets you carry money, sunglasses, lip balm, a guide book, water bottle, snacks, sweaters etc. while leaving your hands free. Get one for each member of the family and spread the goodies around so no one feels like a pack animal.

Toiletries Get water-proof pouches (no leaking) for each person's  toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, body lotion. Tip: Currently there are regulations for carry-on luggage - bottles must be 3 oz or less in a transparent pouch.

    Emergency kit Don’t lose time because of small emergencies. Take along a mini sewing kit, a good all-purpose foldable tools (e.g. Swiss army knife), a conversion plug for any electrical you’re taking along (110/ 220) and small flashlights. Flashlights are great for little ones to have bedside in strange hotels, and useful when exploring unexpectedly dark places.
    Medical Take everything in clearly marked original containers (to avoid hassles at customs). Take a small pouch of antibiotics, aspirin, anti-itch, anti-fungal, band aids, thermometer, and tweezers. Yes, you can get these things abroad, but do you want to be searching a strange place at 2:00 am?

Pass times – You know best what to take: playing cards, iPods and smartphones, books, Legos whatever you and your kids like that can be stowed in a carry-on. Buy a few brand-new, small and inexpensive toys as surprises for long plane trips (especially important with toddlers, but all ages love this). Stuffed animals are also great traveling companions.

  Packing for infants and toddlers – Imagine that you’re going for a long weekend to a childless friend’s house and pack your diaper bag accordingly. You’ll be able to buy all the usual favorite items (sippy cups, bottles, formula, diapers, wipes etc.) at local pharmacies or grocery stores, but you want to have a good three days before making that stop.
    Memory Makers
      You’ll want to remember this trip, and be able to share it with others.  
    Camera A digital camera is a great way to share pictures, and also to have lots of stuff for your scrapbooks when you come back. Also, a waterproof camera is great for watery environments and no worry about the camera falling into the water.
  Travel journal Writing in journals is a good pass-time on trains, boats, planes, at night in hotels and will bring memories to life in years to come. (Bring extra pencils and pencil sharpeners too.)

Sketch pads Even if you think your kids can’t draw, pack pads and colored pencils. There are 101 ways kids use art, not always in the expected ways: scrap book, hang man, pressings, etc.

family travel tools

Traveling with a baby and don't want to fill up your luggage with a Mt. Everest of baby supplies? Save yourself the hassle of carrying everything with you – diapers, wipes, disposable utensils, travel bath sets and more, can be delivered right to your hotel:

Babies Travel Lite
These days airlines haven't made it easy for parents traveling with young children and infants, especially extra baggage fees. Here's a complete list of family-owned and operated baby equipment rental service companies in the U.S., Canada, and worldwide. Rent cribs, playpens, high chairs, strollers, booster seats, and pick them up at your destination:
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