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Parenting Advice

How To Actually Pack Light When Traveling With Kids

Written by Serena Minott

Photography by Photograph via Away

Is a trip to the airport in your future this holiday season? How about a road trip to grandma’s? No matter where you’re going (or how you’re getting there) holiday travel usually means extra crowds, extra traffic, and loads of extra stuff to haul there and back. So, what better time to practice the art of packing light? We’ve always admired the families who breeze through the airport sans massive rolling bags, each kid toting their own compact backpack. And this year, we vow to be one of them! So, we turned to mama, globetrotter, and kids’ book author Serena Minott to share her secrets for traveling light with her two kids—Asha, 6, and Amal, 1. Before her second birthday, her daughter Asha had already visited more than 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Senegal. Their worldwide adventures inspired mom and daughter to team up and create the children’s travel book series The Amazing Adventures of Aya & Pete (which debuted at the Miami Book Fair this past weekend!). Below, Serena shares her secrets for traveling smart and traveling light with kids.

Aim For The Holy Grail: Carry-On Only. “I try to minimize the likelihood of our bags getting lost by carrying on our luggage whenever possible. With small kids in tow, however, this can range from tricky (all their clothes, especially in winter), to downright impossible (all the gear you need to be comfortable away from home).”

Mix and Match. “This piece of advice actually relates to life before you start packing. I try to mostly purchase kids clothing that can mix and match. So, any top can go with almost any bottom. Now when you start getting into patterns, things can get hairy, but they’re kids. They can mix polka dots and camouflage, it’s all good.”

Pack Practical Favorites. “Traveling, especially for children, is not the time to test out new styles, new shoes, new fits or fabrics. Stick with the tried and true. You’ll already know if it’s itchy, if it squeezes, if there’s that annoying button that keeps coming undone. Don’t pack those things or you’ll live to regret it. Pack their favorite items that fit well, and are comfortable and practical for the destination.”

Give Them A Say. “To piggyback on my last tip, if your child is old enough, give him or her a say in what gets packed. This way, they’ll be eager and excited to get dressed when you’re trying to get out the door during your holiday.”

Keep It Simple. “Kids are kids, they don’t need to ever get too fancy. Keep their clothing simple and bring less of it. One dressy dress or a nice pair of trousers with a button-up shirt, depending on the reason or season, should suffice. I also try to limit the number of shoes—because they’re bulky—and ‘novelty’ pieces—things that are worn usually only once or one way.”

Buy Easy-to-Find Items On Arrival. “Diapers and toiletries, I’m looking at you! Depending on where you’re traveling to, you’ll likely be able to buy the brands you know (or something very comparable) on arrival. This includes toys and books, too. Why not pick them up something new at your destination? Your child will enjoy the novelty effect, and it makes a great souvenir! There is an exception to this one, though. If you’re traveling to developing regions or remote destinations, it’s best to bring your own stash. On the advice of a local friend, I traveled to Ethiopia with nearly a full pharmacy in my suitcase. And I was happy I did, as it was difficult and expensive to find the things we needed for my then 2-year-old daughter.”

Wash and Reuse. “Another bit of advice that happens before you pack a single item, is deciding where to stay. When traveling with small children for more than a few days, we almost always stay in serviced apartments or AirBnBs with laundry facilities. This really cuts down on how much you need to pack because you have the option to wash and wear again. Even if your accommodations don’t include a washer/dryer, almost all hotels offer laundry service ($$$) or find a local laundromat ($).”

Apply All Of The Above To Your Own Suitcase, Too! “Now it may seem like these tips focus only on packing for your children and not very much on packing for yourself. But really, it’s the same advice! Mix and match, buy on arrival, wash and reuse, bring only your favorite pieces, and keep it simple. Plus, let’s be real, you’re not going to too many fancy places with kids anyway, unless you also have your family or travel nanny coming along!”

For more travel tips, check out these pieces on Great Activity Books & Compact Travel Games For Kids, Flying with a Baby Alone, How To Survive a Road Trip with a Toddler, 20 Great Kids Podcasts for Hitting the Road, Pro Advice for Surviving Holiday Travel With Kids, Tips for Traveling with a Baby or Toddler, and 20 Traveling Essentials for Kids,

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