Now that I’ve told you what NOT to bring, it’s time to help you figure out what you SHOULD bring on your next trip.
First of all, the same rules apply. Pack light. You do not want to be hauling your whole wardrobe around the world. And if at any point in your packing you hear yourself utter the words “but what if,” stop. Take that thing back out of the bag. “What if” is your enemy. “What if” will see you dragging four giant suitcases through the London Underground, leaving a trail of angry, creatively-cursing locals in your wake. (Though with the accent, it will still sound totally charming.)
You are not going to tea with the Queen. You are not going to get snowed on in Rome in June. Step away from the closet. You do not need that thing.
Here’s what you DO need.
Moms–are you going somewhere where the culture is conservative or you will be visiting a lot of churches? Pack a shawl and long skirt. A knit maxi skirt might just be the easiest travel outfit in history, and will take you from Cathedral to beach to museum without a beat. In many places, visiting a church or a mosque sporting shorts or bare arms is not only rude, it’s just plain not allowed. Plan accordingly. A giant silk scarf is another easy alternative to a shawl, and one that can be crammed into the smallest corner of a backpack.
You need the bare minimum of clothing. Especially if your vacation features time on a beach, you hardly need any clothes at all. You need to wear everything you bring at LEAST three times on any given trip. If you don’t, you brought too much. And let’s talk about the Packers Downfall, shoes. Do not pack all those shoes that you Really Need. Find shoes that will work for both sightseeing and restaurants, concerts and shopping. For summer trips to Europe, one comfortable, nice-looking pair of sandals and one pair of hiking shoes are all I ever take.
Dads–I got nothin. I’m married to the World Champion Light Packer, so I have no idea what “regular” men pack.
Wait. I have one tip. When you go on a beach vacation to Greece, maybe remember your swimming suit. Because as Matthew will tell you, if you do not want to wear a speedo, there are pretty slim pickings in tourist shops in Europe.
Babies–Most of the world is decidedly stroller-unfriendly. Brick roads, bumpy streets, high curbs and winding stairways make using a typical American-style SUV-sized stroller impractical if not impossible. If you own a baby sling or backpack carrier it’s going to be your new best friend. Just make sure baby is used to it before you leave. While Cletus and Leafy Isaac adored the baby sling, Lemmy hated it with a vengeance. That would have been an unfortunate discovery to make on day 1 of a trek across Spain.
Toddlers–Plastic dishware. Especially if you are staying in condos or apartment-style lodgings you’ll find mostly heavy glass and stoneware and almost no plastic. If your kids tend to be hard on their dishes you might want to bring along a set of plastic plate, cup and silverware. Get small ones and you can even cart them along to your restaurant so when they deliver Junior’s apple juice in a wine glass you can help everyone’s peace of mind by making a quick transfer.
Big and Little Kids–Card games. Evenings in the hotel are much more fun when the kids can entertain themselves with endless rounds of UNO. Low space–high payoff. Maybe even invest in a new game to keep them engaged. Our personal family favorite is Gloom, dark and hilarious fun for everyone from 6 to adults.
Here’s another genius idea I wish I had thought of years ago–color-coordinate clothing. I don’t mean outfits, I mean this: Assign each kid a color. EVERYTHING they bring should be that color. Okay, maybe not jeans and such, but all shirts, beach towels, sweaters, everything. When you are packing multiple kids in one suitcase (and you should–nobody gets more than half a suitcase) locating the right clothes for the right kid becomes exponentially easier when you know that Lemmy=Green. No matter how jumbled the case gets, everyone can always find their clothes and NOBODY can start a fight because “he’s wearing my shirt!” Brilliant.
Tweens and Teens–mostly, with this age group your job will be to delete. “No, you cannot bring more than two pairs of shoes. No, you cannot bring three pairs of sunglasses. No, you do not get your own suitcase. You’ll thank me later.”
They won’t. But you will thank yourself. One thing that will make the trip easier? Get them their own camera if they don’t already have one. Even if it’s a cheap little piece of junk, being able to chronicle their own trip will make the average Tween so much more agreeable.
And finally, for all travelers regardless of age: the many-years-of-experience List Of Essentials. These things will turn out to be invaluable. Don’t believe me? We have ACTUALLY used each of these things as described on more than one occasion.
Putting broken sandals back together, fixing broken rental-RV doors, hemming skirts, repairing suitcases, silencing whiny children (just kidding)
binder clips or clothespins
Use to drape blankets over airplane seats to make sleeping zones, to darken hotel windows for naps and, of course, to hang clothes up to dry in your hotel room.
gallon-size Ziploc bags
Everything. Just everything. (Specifically: wet clothes, diaper explosions, vomit, dirty shoes, souvenir rocks, swimming suits, papers that can’t get wet, seashells, leftover pastries… everything.)
You WILL be doing laundry in your hotel sink. This will be a life saver.
travel size laundry detergent
See above. Here’s my favorite.
Find out which adapters you will need before you go. Many are available on amazon, but if you only need a hair dryer, it’s often easier to buy a cheap one in-country on the first day.
(for filling out customs paperwork ahead of time on the plane)
Very expensive overseas and almost nonexistent in many places. Don’t count on finding it outside of North America.
And my final tip? You are going to forget something. It doesn’t matter. As our family mantra states–If you have your wallet and your passport, you have everything. You can always buy anything you forgot. So don’t sweat it and have fun!
Okay readers. What did I forget? What have your found invaluable on your travels?