Gear Parenting Planning Tips

Hacking The Packing: Teach Kids How to Pack Light and Right

Teaching Kids the Art of Packing
Written by Stuart Wickes

Hacking The Packing: Teach Kids How to Pack Light and Right

Stuart Profile SmallHave you ever let your kids loose with the packing? ‘Of course not!’ you cry. Who wants to land in holiday paradise with a suitcase full of gadgets and soft toys, with no underwear and an assortment of odd socks? But it doesn’t need to be like that. If you teach kids how to pack light and right you may even find yourself asking them to pack your case. In this post, we give some tips on ways to teach kids how to pack. And our very own packing efficiency engineer offers some practical tips on smart packing for kids…..

Carry on Packing

Here’s a question for you. When you send the kids to do the holiday packing do they:

  1. Suddenly find something much more interesting to do?
  2. Get overexcited and pack way too much and all the wrong things?
  3. Make such a pig’s ear of it that you wish you’d done it yourself in the first place?

All three? I know your pain. We recently took delivery of a Trunki for each of our kids which got Hannah very enthusiastic about packing and carrying her own case, to the point where she wants to pack and take her Trunki almost everywhere now. Even on country walks. Well, we mustn’t crush that enthusiasm now.

Unicorn out with a Trunki at Jack's Scout, Silverdale

Hannah seems so attached to her Trunki, it’s started coming on walks with us

Her excitement has encouraged me to spend time teaching her good packing habits. I’ve been doing some thinking about the value of kids doing their own packing, our own experiences of squeezing a large amount of kit into small spaces and how packing right and light can make travel easier.

Packing right and packing light

Running a travel website we find ourselves packing a lot. Packing right and packing light is a bit of an art since no two trips are the same. But over the years we have figured out some tips, tricks and shortcuts that help whether we are packing for a six week cycle tour in the Med, a business trip to a conference or a sleepover at Granny’s. If packing right is all about taking the right things for the destination, climate and activities you have in mind, packing light is about trying to keep it down to the essentials and ideally all in one small suitcase or rucksack per person.

Travelling light is a lesson in life

We’re great advocates for travelling light and not just because it makes our long distance cycle adventures easier. Whether you are flying, driving or taking the train, the less you take, the less there is to lug around. Travelling light makes the journey easier and less stressful. You become a featherweight, fleet of foot family, so nimble and quick you’ll have no trouble jumping over a candlestick, with your bags. You can hop in and out of taxis and tuk-tuks, squeeze into that little space left on Jeepney, even run for the TGV departing platform 2 in five minutes. If everyone can carry their own case you’ll never have to fight for a luggage trolley and can brush off tourist touting porters as an irrelevance. If you’re flying you can save money by travelling carry-on style, avoiding checked baggage fees. What’s more you don’t need to check-in so early, can bypass baggage reclaim on arrival and don’t have to worry about belongings getting lost in transit. Packing lightly is a valuable lesson in life – it teaches you to be selective, to think about what you really need and be conscious about not weighing yourself down with unnecessary baggage. And as we all know, the less baggage you have, the more likely you are to enjoy the journey.

Out walking with a Trunki

Travelling light with everything in one carry on suitcase is a magical experience.

Teach kids how to pack

We’re also keen on getting the kids to do their own packing and have encouraged, cajoled and even bribed ours to get involved from an early age. It builds excitement for the journey ahead and gives you a chance to talk about what to expect in the way of climate and conditions. Packing right and light is not an easy thing for kids. Let’s face it a lot of grown-ups struggle. But with a little guidance, a few rules, a list to work from and some patience, kids of any almost age can get involved. Toddlers and pre-schoolers can pick out a favourite toy and squeeze some socks into shoes. School age kids can draw up packing lists and gather things together, and teens should be able to look after themselves, perhaps even help their siblings.

Kids attempt at Packing

Kids don’t always get the the idea of packing light and only essentials, at least at first

Make a list and check it twice

Getting kids to make their own packing list is a simple way to get started. With a good list half the packing work is done. First talk with your kids about where you are going, what you will be doing and the weather to expect. Help them choose a suitable bag or suitcase and look it over with them so they appreciate its size and space limitations. We aim for a one bag or case per person rule, preferably of carry on size and weight. (If flying do double check dimensions with your carrier as these seem to be getting smaller all the time.) Then encourage each of them to make a list of things they think they will need, reminding them they all need to fit in the case. Then go through the lists with them and help them make changes. Get them to add things they’ve overlooked and remove things you don’t think they need. Encourage them to be selective and think light. Reminding them they will have to carry it helps! When lists are finalised and suitcases or bags chosen, go through and decide who will pack what. Let them choose and gather the things they know about, putting them in a pile and checking them off the list, while you take control of and check on the mission critical stuff.  Giving responsibility is great but believe me you really don’t want to set off on a six week expedition in Iceland with one kid with just a pair of flip flops as footwear.

Kids Packing List

Kids Packing List

Hacking the packing

If a good list is half the battle, the other half is getting it all in the bag. There’s an art to that too and over the years we’ve refined our packing techniques and tried to drum them into our kids. We know some of it has gone in as Cameron has become something of a packing efficiency guru, and now not only takes responsibility for his own packing but for policing other people’s too.

Our Top Tips for Helping Kids Pack it Right and Light

1 Roll and stuff

It’s the first rule of packing and kids love it. No more folding, it’s time to roll and stuff. Roll your clothes up then stuff them tightly together in your rucksack, bag or case. Rolling clothes up squeezes out air allowing you to get more clothes into the same amount of space. Apparently the army tell recruits to pack this way so tell your kids to consider it an order. If you roll socks, underwear and other small items tightly you can stuff them into your shoes and save even more space.

2 Layer up

Dump the jeans, heavy dresses, thick jumpers and coats and take a variety of thin layers instead. Think thermals, T-shirts, thin shirts, light jumpers, fleeces, neck buffs. Go for multi-functional garments where possible, things you can see yourself wearing in different situations or using for different purposes. Silks and quick dry fabrics are especially good; they’re lightweight, roll up small, and are easy to wash and dry. Since they take less space you can take a few more and have a variety of things to wear. For maximum flexibility choose colours that will mix and match. And don’t worry about getting cold without your jumper, layering systems are a recommended way of keeping warm in colder climates.

3 Follow the rule of threes

Three is the most you need; one to wear, one to wash and one to dry. It sounds extreme (perhaps not to a teenager) but it’s a good rule of thumb. Think a maximum of three shirts, three skirts or trousers, and if you can, cut back from there. We normally say no more than two pairs of shoes; you only have one pair of feet. If you must take a third, go for flip flops – they are great for beach, shower and cheap. And while three pairs of socks and underwear may sound smelly they are quickly and easily washed and dried, even on holiday.

4 Dump pyjamas & pillow

No, we’re not advocating going to bed guerrilla style, although that is also very efficient. All we’re saying is that pyjamas, onesies and favourite pillows are nice ‘at home’ comforts but take up space in your case you can use for something more useful. Consider taking a T-shirt or thermal you can use as night wear that can double up and be used in the day too. Just think how much time you’ll save not changing. And as for that favourite pillow, leave it behind. But maybe take your favourite buff or pillowcase to put over the hotel pillow to make little ones feel more at home.

5 Take a lightweight coat

Unless you are planning a lot of outdoor activity somewhere cold and wet, consider swapping a bulky coat for a small pac-a-mac, poncho or lightweight waterproof jacket. Even if you are going somewhere cold a lightweight jacket with a few layers underneath will keep you warm. And if you are mostly indoors and just worried about showers, a £1 poncho is light enough to carry around for emergencies and will keep you dry enough to dash from one place to another.

 6 Bag it up and squeeze

Most of what we carry in our suitcases is air. So the more of it we can squeeze out, the more stuff we can fit in. Organising things into bags and squeezing the air out of them helps you keep your suitcase organised and fit more in. Put tops in one bag, bottoms in another, socks and underwear in a third (if they’re not already stuffed into your shoes). Small dry bags are good for this or you can buy special packing bags or packing cubes. Roll things up, stuff them in the bag, roll the bag up and squeeze the living daylights out of it before packing. It’s a great work out.

7 Go for micro tech

These days tech could easily take a suitcase of its own but you can probably get by with the tech in your pocket. Do you really need that laptop, those big headphones, the DVD player, portable speakers and camera. You can watch movies, access the internet, check emails, tweet, take photos, edit movies, listen to music and much more on an iPod, smartphone or small tablet. So cut back on your tech, or go miniature. Let your phone take the strain, take ear buds instead of headphones, share cables where you can, or consider a tech free break. You might be surprised how much you enjoy each other’s company.

8 Take mini toys

You know that great big cuddly pink elephant? It’s not coming. I know kids like to take toys and some parents live in fear of a bored child so we’re not suggesting you leave all toys behind, just the big ones. Look for little things with a big impact or multiple uses. Load a variety of games and apps onto iPods, smartphones or a tablet. Consider a pack of cards, lego mini people, colouring pens and a doodle pad, a blow up ball, tennis ball or little bouncy ball, a small water pistol, a harmonica, a frisbee. Enforce a no noisy toys and no ukulele rule. You know why. And as for that favourite cuddly toy, encourage them to look for their tiniest favourite.

9 Don’t forget your toothbrush

There’s no need for a caseful of cosmetics and toiletries or to take the hairdryer and curling tongs. Unless you are travelling ultra-budget most hotels will have these things either in the room or available on request. Just don’t forget your toothbrush, although some can even provide those if you ask. If you do want to take your own toiletries or are staying in the kind of budget ‘hotel’ where the most you can expect is a bed, pick travel sized ones or decant into mini bottles. (If you’re flying do check for any carry on restrictions on liquids). Towels are another space waster. Most hotels can provide. If you must take one, swap that big fluffy towel for a small quick drying micro towel or consider using your sarong or silk sleeping bag liner as a stand in towel for emergencies.

10 If you must take bulky stuff wear it

While airlines weigh and measure bags, they don’t tend to weigh and measure the people carrying them. If you want to get a bit of extra bulk or weight onto a plane, why not wear those heavy or bulky items instead of putting them in your case. I draw the line at snorkelling masks and flippers though; you can rent, beg, borrow or buy them locally to save the embarrassment.

You can stuff your pockets too. We managed to get two panniers full of pedals and tools into our pockets and handbags on a trip to New Zealand. The only down side is you’ll have nothing to read on the plane as there will be no space for that novel.

Kids attempt at Packing

Make a list, check it twice and soon your packing won’t be naughty but nice.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


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