“Pack up your troubles,” the old song goes. Unfortunately, packing can be one of the biggest troubles when you are preparing to go on vacation, especially when you have children to consider. One of the best things you can do though is to get them in on the act.
Asking your child to pack for a trip may, to some parents, seem like a disaster waiting to happen. I remember one of my kids emerging from their room with a small daypack stuffed with action figures and a raincoat, announcing that they had packed their own bag. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell them that they were sharing a (much larger) bag with their siblings, and the coat would be a little much for camping at the beach. Still, the instinct was good and it is something to encourage.
With younger children, you will need to give a lot of direction. We all know how easy it is to forget things, and we are the supposed experts! What is important is that the children have a sense of ownership over their choices, even if they are limited. Decide how much packing you need to do for them, and what might be appropriate for them to contribute to. They probably aren’t that concerned with which socks or underwear go in the bag, but might appreciate having a voice on things like their favourite t-shirt or top. You might lay out several sweaters and ask them which two they would like to pack, or ask them to choose which swimsuit to take. If they are a little more savvy, you could give them a short list of necessary items and ask them to lay their choices out on the bed for approval. It could be as narrow as a predetermined number of warm-weather tops to ‘enough outfits for five days at the beach,’ depending on how well you think they will grasp the concept. Once they have selected the assigned number of shirts and pants, socks or whatever, you can double-check their choices are appropriate and help them with the actual packing.
Fitting things in a bag can be a matter of philosophy and brute strength. With children it can be helpful to have a travel bag with multiple pockets, or, if you use suitcases, one with internal dividers or compartments. That way you can assign underwear, socks, tops, accessories and toiletries to distinct pockets or sections. Plastic bags are great for keeping either outfits or collections of clothes together, and a few spares can be lifesavers when you have dirty laundry or messy or wet things that you can’t tend to immediately. Most kid’s clothes will survive a little crumpling without looking worse for wear, so consider rolling items together to save space. Younger children will inevitably need more outfits than anyone else, so room for spares is always helpful.
With older children and teens, set the packing as a challenge. Offer a basic list of necessities, but don’t be surprised if your hard-earned wisdom isn’t immediately acknowledged. On the list outline enough outfits for every day of the trip (if you don’t plan on doing any laundry while away) plus a spare for each environment. Swimsuits in the warm and a weatherproof jacket in the cold are vital, as are comfortable shoes, plus any other footwear the location will warrant. Include toiletries, socks, smallclothes and things like hats and gloves where they make sense. You will want to predetermine the space your teen can pack for, and ideally assign them their own bag. It would pay to stipulate that what they pack, they carry, too. Teenagers are not renowned for their restraint, and if they want to bring every t shirt they own, the least they can do is carry them.
When they are done, you may want to talk through their choices before you depart. While it could be a good lesson to have them live with the consequences of their luggage decisions, having a sullen teenager can ruin the trip for everyone. Simply ask them about what they chose, and why. If there are any gaps, ask what they will do in the circumstances that they haven’t covered. What if we go out for dinner – do you have clothes for that? Have you thought about something in case you are sunburnt and don’t want to get more sun? What will you wear if we go into town? Have you thought about hiking with the family? What are you planning to do with your hair for that week? Do you have chargers for all those gadgets? Simple, if slightly-leading questions will leave them the freedom to make their own decisions, but also help them make good ones. Don’t be surprised if the bag gets repacked a couple of times after these conversations!
Including your children in the packing process can actually make things easier in the long run. It may take a couple of trips, but you are training them to be good travellers, and in time, they should be able to do their own packing independently.