Family Packing for Vacation; Courtesy of Monkey Business Images/
Big Kids: 7-9 • Tweens: 10-12 • Teens: 13-17

How to Teach Your Child to Pack Their Own Bag for Vacation

See recent posts by Wendy Helfenbaum

Don’t want your child’s failure to plan to become a family emergency on vacation? Teach them a super-important life lesson: how to pack like a pro for any getaway, whether it’s a weekend at grandma’s or a 12-day cruise. But don’t just ask them to pack their bags and then walk away; the last thing you need on a family vacation is to open your daughter’s bag and see a pile of crafts, two mismatched socks and a princess costume. Help the kids get ready for your next trip without having to do it all yourself.

1. Give your child the right tools for the job.

If you want to empower your child by letting them pack themselves, make sure they have the right gear. Packing cubes in fun colors make it easy for kids to keep whole outfits or similar items together. A hanging toiletry bag with lots of pockets will help them keep toothpaste, hair brushes, sunscreen and other necessities nice and neat, too. Pro tip: Keep it stocked with travel-sized toiletries, so it’s always ready to go. Also, a waterproof carry-on that doubles as a day pack and can also be folded up when not needed is versatile and practical.

2. Create a master packing list together. 

Talk to your kids about where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and what kind of weather you’re likely to have, and then sit down together at the computer. Have your child write down all the things needed for the trip, including swim suits and rash guards, sunscreen, an e-reader, and a waterproof camera. With a good list, half the packing work is done! The list can easily be updated and customized for a ski vacation or an all-inclusive resort at the beach. Kiddos can print out the list before starting to get their things together, and check off each item as it’s packed. Things that need to be placed in luggage at the last minute—think phone chargers or a toothbrush—can be highlighted or circled, to make sure nothing gets left behind. Pack the list into the suitcase, so your child can then make sure to re-pack everything at the end of the trip. Easy peasy!

3. Encourage your kid to think double-duty when packing clothing.

Depending on your destination, your child will likely need to include some layers: light windbreaker for chilly nights, several swim shirts for beach days, thin shirts and light fleece jackets, sundresses that double as cover-ups, and pants that easily convert to shorts. Have them lay potential outfits out on the bed so they can see how one pair of pants can be worn with various tops. Show them how to maximize suitcase space: rolling clothes up squeezes out air, so you can get more into the same amount of space. Packing things like belts, socks and undies inside shoes also frees up room. And don’t forget to teach them to wear their bulkiest items on the plane.

4. Pack light and right.

There are only so many stuffed animals, tech gadgets, toys and books that can be crammed into a suitcase, so consider showing your kid how to make priority piles for travel: things that absolutely must be packed—toiletries, medications, good walking shoes—versus the excess comfort items—like a giant pillow—that can safely be left behind. Encourage them to be selective and think light, and remind them they will be carrying or rolling their own luggage. Separating the must-have items from the maybe-you’ll-have-room-for-that-stuff will help your child evaluate what they really need for a great vacation. Bonus: they’ll whine less if they have to lug less!

5. Limit tech devices and toys (yes, really).

Some families rely obsessively on screens during vacation, while others prefer that everyone be unplugged while traveling. If you prefer not to go tech-free, consider getting your kid to downsize by swapping out giant gaming headphones for ear buds, and leaving the portable speakers behind, for example. Make sure your child remembers that every gadget needs a charger or a supply of batteries. Have them add a list of toys or activities that take up little space, such as a deck of cards, a Frisbee, or a travel journal where they can write down their favorite trip events and memories.

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