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Packing Tips: Strategies for Travelling Light with Youngsters in Tow

A few months back a notification from my husband popped up alerting me of his plans for an upcoming work conference. I added it to the family calendar without much thought. Although I’d miss him, I was also a little excited to eat cereal for dinner and binge-watching Bravo after the kids go to bed. However, upon closer review, I realized this conference fell over winter break, where I was now slated to spend an entire week home alone with my young kids in chilly February. Family Trip Booked! It can be noted that I refuse to use the word “vacation” when referring to travelling with small children.

Because the flight (Seattle to San Francisco), and the stay (four nights) were both relatively short, I decided we’d attempt to carry on. This would save money on luggage fees and allow us to be more agile and flexible travelers. Although my two kids are still little, at four and six we are past babyhood phase of needing to pack our entire house, plus most of Target when travelling. Regardless of one’s particular situation, strategic packing helps eliminate excess stuff weighing us down without sacrificing being prepared for the adventures ahead.

Here are some key items that I packed that allowed for a svelte and successful family trip:

  • Stylish Backpack. Once my kids hit the toddler phase, I quickly learned the importance of being hands-free when on the go. Since I had signed up to spend my days solo-parenting two small kids in an unfamiliar city, being as agile as possible felt particularly important. While becoming a mother has stripped me of a lot of my vanity, I still try my best to look somewhat put together. An easy solution to staying both functional and fashionable is sporting one of the many trendy backpacks out on the market these days. I was able to stylishly store all sorts of mom things; snacks, water, hoodies, sanitizing wipes (those things you casually whip out while running across the aquarium screaming at your daughter, to, for the love of God, not lick her fingers after petting the communal starfish). Deep breath. Where was I? Ah, yes, laundry.
  • Mesh Laundry Bags. A little gem of a traveling trick I’ve picked up over the years is to pack a couple mesh laundry bags. These inexpensive receptacles take up almost no space, and allow you to throw dirty clothes, separated by lights and darks, into each bag throughout the trip. This has the two-fold effect of keeping clean clothes separate from dirty ones, and eases the post-trip homecoming (when everyone is typically tired and cranky) since your laundry is pre-sorted and ready to wash.
  • Travel Booster Seats. I was recently bemoaning to a mom friend the inability to easily taxi or rideshare as figuring out the booster/car seat situation is a total pain. She mentioned that they had starting using mifold grab and go booster seats, and I was quickly hooked. These compact and easy to use boosters allowed us to Uber to and from the airport, rather than spending extra time and money renting a car. And because I was able to easily fold these seats up into small units that fit into my (above-mentioned) stylish backpack, my kids mental and physical energy was saved for fun rather than commuting, when walking or public transportation wasn’t a good option.
  • Cute Kicks. On behalf of all busy moms everywhere, here’s a collective shout-out to whoever made athleisure a thing. After a recent trip to Nordstromm, where I generally wander around and feel like a more put together fashionable version of myself just by breathing the air, I found lightweight, attractive athletic shoes front and center. I took this as permission to go ahead to sport a pair frequently in the cool, yet casual San Francisco. And I needed them, particularly when my daughter fell asleep on a cable car (who knew this was even possible!), and I got to carry her 4 very long city block back to our hotel while simultaneous keeping my 6-year old country-kid from walking into traffic. Transitional Items. When attempting to travel light, it’s important that the items you pack transition from day to night, or casual to more formal. On this particular trip there wasn’t much need for formality. Our evening family stroll through the hotel lobby found my husband and I longingly gazing into the swanky hotel bar, mumbling things about the seasons of life, then taking a hard left into the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. Luckily, I was able to sneak off one evening for drinks and dinner with a girlfriend. Thus, the following transitional items came in handy:
    • Bar Earrings. I bought these earrings in both silver and gold finishes, and they’ve become a staple in my wardrobe. I love their minimalist look, and their edgy, yet sexy vibe that easily transitions from day to night.
    • Chic Sandals or Cute Boots. Depending on the time of year, when traveling light I try to pack only two pairs of shoes. Cute kicks (per above) and either chic sandals  in the summer, or stylish, yet comfy boots in colder weather. Both pair well with dresses, yet are comfortable enough to wear exploring the city.
      Kaitlyn Pan Studded Strappy Ballerina Leather Flats
      Kaitlyn Pan Studded Strappy Ballerina Leather Flats
    • Multi-Tasking Makeup. To keep your cosmetic bag light and carry-on-approved, pack multi-functional makeup sets, such as my go-to travel eyeshadow kit, foundation with SPF or tinted moisturizer, and a combo lip and cheek stick.
    • Cute Scarf. Scarves are great for traveling. At best they keep you cozy on a plane or dress up an outfit; at worst they serve as a barrier between you and your row mates sneezes or stinky feet.

Hopefully incorporating a few of these simple tips for efficient packing help you jet set into smooth future travels! Any tips of your own? We’d love to hear them!

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Feature photo by bedya/Adobe.