Want to Raise Expert Travelers? Don’t Pack Your Kids’ Suitcases

Expat LivingTravel Tips

With lots of travel comes lots of packing.  I don’t quite have the right packing recipe, yet, but I hope to get that nailed down soon. When we do travel, whether for camps, school trips, or vacations, it is important that my teenagers pack for themselves. Packing is a skill to learn early in life and then practice, practice, practice. My father is a master packer, and when he travels, everything is carefully rolled, folded, tucked, and compressed into its special space. My husband, whom I love dearly, is the exact opposite. I am somewhere in between but aspiring to be a little more organized when it comes to organizing our suitcases.

The phrase, “I have to pack” means something different to everyone. With every trip, it seems it should be easy to toss things into a bag and go, but there’s a little more strategy to it.  My son just left for a 10-day trip to to canoe through the rivers of Sweden. Now he’s an Eagle Scout with years of experience back packing, hiking, camping, etc., but this trip was a challenge for packing motivation. And a few times I found him sitting on the floor, in a pile of clothes, trying to figure out the right combination of gear and clothing. Even expert packers can get thrown off now and then.

Choose the Perfect-Size Bag (Easier Said Than Done)

Raise Expert Teen Travelers Packing for Vacation, Pack Light

Our basement is full of every type of suitcase size, duffle back, hiking pack, and garment bag imaginable. (Truth be told, I have my eye on a new one, too.) When we travel, I take the kids down to the basement and we browse our luggage “store.”

A few things need to be answered first:

  1. How are we getting there? Plane, train or car?
  2. Where are we staying and will be there be room for a giant bag or are smaller bags better?
  3. Are we taking things to people or bringing things back?
  4. Will [said child] happily carry the bag?
  5. How many days will we be there? How much clothing? (Winter requires a bigger bag with more clothing.)
  6. Will there be a place to wash clothes?

My general rule is pack items in the smallest bag possible. We rarely buy things on vacation so I no longer worry about bringing back souvenirs, usually. But we often find ourselves walking long distances from a train station, carrying up suitcases four flights of stairs, or cramming into tiny taxi cabs. The smaller the bag, the better. My husband may completely disagree with this statement.


Related: 5 Tips for Planning Your Next Vacation with Teens


Pack Like You’re Going to Summer Camp

This has been the golden ticket to my teens learning to pack their own suitcases. Camp lists are created for a reason. Even if they’re not going to camp, I print off a packing list for our own travels. Here is a great one to download. Once they are older, they may not need it, but for now, I want them practice getting the basics into the suitcase. In past trips (before the list), my kids have forgotten things like belts, socks, underwear, toothbrush. The list has been a huge help in keeping us on point.

Leave No Shoe Unstuffed

Raise Expert Teen Travelers Packing for Vacation, Pack Like a Pro

And now, this is where it gets fun. I stand looking at the suitcase and the pile of belonging to get into the suitcase. Can it be done? Absolutely. This is where I begin to channel my dad’s master packer spirit. How to pack like a pro takes practice, but it’s never too early to start learning. This video is very helpful. Stuffing socks into shoes really does save space. I’m not joking! Folding or rolling clothes really can make more room. Packing cubes make it easier to sort similar things to quickly pull them out when arriving. When all else fails, compression bags save the day. If the suitcase doesn’t close, then a choice needs to be made. Typically, it’s one too many pairs of pants or shorts and that’s an easy thing to take out of the mix.


Related: Family Vacation: Are you Ready?


When it comes to toiletry items, I finally invested in each person having his/her own little bottles and containers. With teenagers, everyone has their favorite shampoos, conditioners, and lotions. after a few mishaps where good shampoo (the big bottle) found its way into the trash bin at security because, I decided everyone needed a kit that was ready to go with the little items. Even if we’re checking luggage or driving, big bottles just take up space.

Before Zipping it Up, Check the List Twice

The best part about my teens packing their own suitcase is the onus is on them. With the list in hand, they have all the tools to get the job done. This is helpful for when we arrive and someone forgot their toothbrush. Not my responsibility. Before we close the suitcase, I have my kids do one last check against the list.

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