Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize.
And the secret to compartmentalization? Packing cubes.
Remember backpacking during college and having to dump out your entire top-loading backpack on the hostel bunk to find your cute pair of shorts at the very, very bottom? Now multiply that problem by [insert number of family members here]. Disaster!
Packing cubes are the Tupperware of today’s traveling family: They maintain order, keep contents fresh, and prevent a sought-after item from getting lost and moldy in a dark corner.
A few years ago while trolling REI Outlet or some other outdoorsy e-commerce spot, my husband Don grabbed a few packing cubes for one of his backpacking trips. I didn’t know that it would become the basis for our family’s approach to packing.
Even though our kids are old enough to carry their own bags, we like to pack lighter than that – just two big backpacks/duffels max, plus one day pack each. Having four large packs would just allow us to overpack (and give us more to carry when we have to run through the airport to make a connecting flight…)
Packing cubes give each person their own clothes bag to manage. They come in many colors but ours are all black so we just put a colored tag on the handle so we know whose is whose.
Our primary cubes are actually a boxy rectangle measuring approximately 12″ x 7″ x 5″. You want a cube that unzips on three sides, which makes it both easy to pack and easy to see the entire contents. I like the cubes made out of old fashioned backpack material (what is that fabric called anyway?) which gives it a bit of structure even when empty. Just don’t fall for the super thin, small versions or you’ll need a dozen for each family member. (Read more about a variety of packing cubes here.)
With each person’s clothes packed in a cube, we organize the rest of our family’s gear into other packing cubes – one or two for toiletries, one for jackets/hats, one for medicine, one for tech/camera gear, etc. (Click here to see a general framework for how we pack our stuff.)
When we arrive at a hotel for the night, we only need to pull out the cubes we need. One night? Just clothes and toiletries. Several nights? Dump the whole pack. For families traveling on road trips or jumping through cities in Europe, packing cubes are time – and sanity – savers.
Now, this isn’t to say that after three days on the road, our bags look anything like they did when we left – but our intentions are good! Typically, we immediately begin a collection of local plastic shopping bags which we use to pack shoes, random purchases, wet towels and leftover snacks – at which point I wish I had packed some Tupperware 🙂
Maryann Jones Thompson, February 2015
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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, packing tips, family vacation packing, packing for long trips