Alas, summer vacation has begun and we are setting our sights on vacation. For some, summer vacation means sending your teen/tween to sleep away camp (for tips on packing for sleep away camp, see the blog post of triple threat mommy), for some it means day camp, and for some it consists of lots of little weekend sojourns near or far. For our family, during the past 4 years, summer vacation has meant traveling to a location in Europe for sometime over a month and immersing ourselves in the food, culture, and people. Packing for a trip such as this one four years ago, looked very different from the packing for our trip this summer. During our first year, we arrived at our destination with 4 rather large suitcases, and two very tired parents. We’ve learned a lot over the years – some of which has come with experience and some has come with the growth of our children from girls to capable tweens/teens.
Here’s a few pointers we’ve picked up along the way to guarantee a safe and enjoyable travel experience. Did we miss one of favorites? Let us know in the comments.
1. Kids carry what they pack
This may not have been possible four years ago, but now my 11 and 13 year old girls are perfectly capable of managing their own luggage…as long as it is the right luggage! When preparing for a long trip abroad, think very carefully about what type of traveling you are doing. If you plan to travel by car most of the time, be sure you are choosing luggage that will fit in the trunk of a small European car. If much of your trip will be done by train, consider choosing something that is not a traditional suitcase, like a large touring backpack. This summer we are traveling to 5 countries in 30 days which requires 4 train rides, 2 flights and one boat. We opted for touring backpacks that have been remarkably convenient and we have used them for years now for all of our travels. I am partial to the Gregory backpacks but so many of them are good. For kids, I recommend 25-35L while adults can get a pack that holds up to 50L.
2. You need less than you think
Inevitably, kids want to pack lots of extras when traveling. To help combat this, see #1 above. Other ways to reduce luggage include buying shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, and beauty products when you arrive. On our first trip abroad, we went prepared with enough products to last the whole month (right down to a bar of soap!) We learned that not only are all of these products available in other countries (duh!) but it was really fun to make a field trip out of gathering what we would need when we arrive.
Apothecaries in Europe are a window into the soul of the country we are visiting. Museum like in nature, this shopping experience is a great opportunity for your teen to learn how other cultures live and the things they find important. And what better way to begin to immerse yourself in a culture than discovering what kinds of toothpaste they use! Last summer we found a sunscreen in Spain that I loved so much that now I cannot live without it. Not to mention, every time we use it, it brings back wonderful memories. Another benefit to starting your trip off at an apothecary is the exposure to the language. It’s fun to try and find the Czech word for shampoo or the Italian word for deodorant! In fact, you can make a game of it – let them see how many words they can find that are like the English word. Kids will feel empowered to be able to say a few words in the language of the country they are visiting.
3. Do laundry along the way
Another cultural experience that both myself and my kids have enjoyed is laundry. We have, over the years greatly reduced the amount of clothing we take with us in exchange for doing laundry on the road. A mind numbing task at home, doing laundry on the road is an adventure and there are lots of opportunities to learn along the way. First task, find the laundromat.Asking directions is a basic part of travel and the quicker your kids learn how to follow instructions the better. Whether in English or in the language of the country, it can be a fun challenge for kids to help you find your way to the nearest laundromat. When you arrive, kids can help figure out the task of buying soap, starting the washer and running the dryer. (Aside: one product I always bring with me abroad are Shout stain remover towelettes. When you are traveling with limited clothing, stains can be a game changer!) What seems like an opportunity to learn some words or phrases in a new language also has the added benefit of teaching your child about a chore they can help with at home without them even realizing it. Note that dryers in laundromats usually run super hot so clothes dry much more quickly, thereby making the laundry process a pretty quick one.
4. Use compression bags
This summer we discovered a miraculous packing tip called compression bags. Compression bags are large “Ziploc-like” bags that, when zipped, and rolled properly, vacuum pack your clothing into a bag that is half the size of what you started with! Using compression bags we packed the following items into a backpack for one month:
3 dresses, 4 pairs shorts, 9 shirts, 1 pair of pants and one sweater, 3 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of pjs and a toiletry bag. Total backpack weight : 15-18lbs. Perfect size for a child 11-15 years of age to carry! Note that it is useful for kids to wear pants, a sweater and their heaviest pair of shoes on the plane so they have some options for cooler days.
In addition to huge space savers, they are good organizers. Since backpacks tend to have one large compartment, packing all shirts and dresses in one compression bag and all bottoms and pjs in another, allows my kids to easily pack and unpack the items they need from their backpacks upon arrival.
Happy packing and happy travels!
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