We recently took our first big family “vacation” (cough trip cough) to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and it was no small undertaking.
I’m a recovered over-packer and panicked-packer, which is a relief because if Abby at 18 or 25 were packing for five people, she’d be manically pacing in her room for days while consuming processed sugar.
Instead, I try to be minimalistic and regimented about packing the kids, because the only thing worse than packing before the trip is packing to return home. To make my future self happy, I try to reign it in before departure.
These are the keys: two bag max for the kids (two kids to a bag) and carry-on only for me and Mike.
The kids bags look like this from Land’s End:
They are enormous, they zip closed, they have interior pockets, they smoosh into an overhead bin, and you can choose colors and initials. (Also they’re on sale right now which is rare [I’m not paid to post this; I’m not that cool].)
A fellow mom gave me two bags when the twins were born and said they were the perfect bag for everything, and she was right. Each of our kids has one, but we only bring two on trips.
How do we fit all their things?
Enter these brilliant AmazonBasics packing cubes (not sponsored):
These have changed my travel life. No exaggeration. I bought a different colored set for each child (yes, the same color as their tote bag…I can’t stop myself), and then I fill each cube by category — one with shirts/dresses, one with shorts/pants, one with underwear/socks/pajamas, one with shoes/hats/swimsuits/sunglasses/anything random.
Imagine: your kid asks you for his blue striped shirt — locate his color cubes, peer through the mesh to see what that cube holds, and you’re handing your kid their shirt within seconds. This saves you from the standard chaos of the two of you pawing through an enormous bag of not just their clothes, but their siblings’ as well, digging for long minutes while you ask why they even NEED that shirt.
On weekend trips I keep their clothes in their cubes, tossing dirty laundry into the big tote bag. On longer trips I unpack their clothes into dressers, but when it’s time to repack, it’s infinitely easier and organized.
There are still the random items (I’m looking at you, stuffed animals) that won’t fit in the bags nicely, and on this trip my dear in-loves brought an extra bag for us to fill because they have free checking. What blissful words those are.
Each kid brings their own tiny backpack which has their snacks and books, and a spare pair of pants and shirt, in case of airborne barfing. Turns out Hunter needed his on his descent into Cabo…what a champ.
We got them each a pair of AmazonBasics kids’ headphones (not sponsored) so they can watch things at the same time (using a splitter) or on their own screens in front of them. Mama doesn’t need fighting for audio mid-flight.
No fear on those faces! Actually, we can’t see Jameson, so maybe he’s full of airplane dread, we’ll never know.
Lastly, we bring the Ergo to keep the baby on my chest, and one umbrella stroller for cruising Hunter through the long airport lines and walking distances. Of course on this trip we left it in baggage claim, but the kind people of Los Cabos International Airport had it waiting for us when we returned.
The main thing that keeps me from lighting my hair on fire while we check in/check bags/go through security is having our IDs and tickets in one zipped bag. No digging or panicking = mama feels like she’s already in margaritaville.
I’m certainly not trying to paint a still life for you when traveling with kids is, in fact, more like a Jackson Pollock. No amount of organization can guarantee an easy time, but for me it goes a long way in assuaging my anxiety.
It’s my inner Girl Scout blooming in adulthood. I can’t control what happens, but I can prepare. Kids will upchuck, kids will cry, kids will not sleep when you want them to and then pass out precisely when you don’t (landing). But when my side of the fence is in order, I’m less likely to melt down right alongside them.
Go for it; the more you do it, the more “normal” and easier it becomes. Fear not, travelers with tots! Travel on.