Today is Memorial Day in the United States. On one hand, it’s a somber holiday during which we remember and celebrate those who’ve served in our nation’s military.
On the other, it’s the traditional start of summer, although the calendar doesn’t catch up for another three-four weeks. Backyard barbecues. The beach. Hiking in the mountains.
The family summer vacation.
After you’ve decided where to go and what to do, you still have the really tough decision ahead of you: What To Pack.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered over about 30 years of regular travel, including the last nine packing for my son as well as myself.
Make a list and pack early. This prevents last minute laundry because you (or your child) wore something you really wanted to bring. Lay out everything by category (underwear, pajamas, swim clothes, shoes, socks, dressy clothes if necessary, casual clothes, sports clothes, even jewelry). Then put about half of it back. Folks almost always pack too much, forgetting that unless you are going totally off the grid, you can probably find a place to do laundry or a store to pick up extra socks. And if you are totally off the grid, who cares if your clothes aren’t exactly… pristine. Just do us all a favor and pack extra underwear.
Exceptions to this rule:
- Packing the diaper bag for a baby or toddler if you are not going to have access to your luggage for more than a few hours. Add a couple extra outfits and more diapers/pull-ups than you think you could ever possibly need. I learned this lesson the hard way. When Douglas was one, we were flying home from Europe, starting in Paris, changing in Zurich and then home. I packed the carry-on with enough stuff for a full day. Then our Zurich to Boston flight was delayed by SIX hours. Douglas got sick to his stomach and blew through two outfits in an hour. Literally. At the time (don’t know about now), they did not sell baby clothes or diapers inside security at the Zurich airport. We were hanging on by a thread with only one diaper to spare when we finally landed in Boston.
- Short trips, especially business trips. Pack exactly what you plan to wear for every day and then add one business casual outfit in case the trip gets extended or someone dumps their soup on you.
Car trip versus plane trip: There’s a temptation to bring more when you are traveling by car versus flying to your destination. Resist! You still have to get it from the car into your accommodations.
If you are flying, try to keep everyone to one checked bag, a backpack and another small carry-on (purse, camera bag). Pack a spare bag for the inevitable souvenirs, but unless you are flying Southwest with free checked bags, consider mailing your souvenirs home. Costs about the same as that second bag on most domestic airlines, with the added convenience of not having to deal with it at the airport. We once shipped our hiking boots back from California. This was well before all the added bag fees; we did it because once we left Yosemite, we didn’t need all our hiking gear in Sacramento and San Francisco.
Sports gear: If you are driving, you can bring your own. If you are flying, consider renting when you get to your destination, especially if you don’t plan to do the activity every day. Typically, we’ll bring our ski boots and golf shoes/gloves, but rent skis and clubs at our destination. If you are going on a golf vacation where the entire time will be spent golfing, you probably want your own clubs, but for a family vacation where you might play once, maybe twice, renting at the course is fine. On a ski vacation, renting the skis lets you try the latest models, but you’ve got the comfort of your own boots.
Staying in a timeshare or rental with a kitchen? If you like to, and plan to, cook, on your vacation, bring some of your favorite spices in small jars or baggies. A lot easier than buying full size jars of everything.
DVD player, some favorite shows, and if budget permits, one new DVD just for the trip. Especially useful for younger children who can’t yet read or play video games. Be sure to road test the headphones before the trip. Kids can be picky about the headset and you don’t want to find this out at 30,000 feet. You can also get a splitter so two people, each with their own headset, can share the same screen.
For older kids, portable video game player of your choice. We’re a Nintendo family and Douglas just got a new Nintendo DSi. Be sure to get a spare charger and a car charger. Rocketfish has a combo pack that includes both, available at Best Buy.
A netbook. If you are driving to your destination, and plan to work (or blog), by all means bring the big ole laptop. Flying? Even only now and again. Get a netbook and a high capacity USB drive to transfer your work from home machine to netbook. There are lots of choices — I have an Acer AspireOne which I love, and my brother recently got an HP netbook.
At the moment I do not have a lot of domestic trips planned where I won’t have Internet access already (Vermont house, BlogHer) so I can’t justfy it, but if I were doing a lot of US travel, I also would definitely invest in a MiFi wireless router. Many US hotels charge you $10 per day for Internet. Do the math. Verizon’s MiFi plans are very affordable if you are on the road a lot, and doubly, triply so if you are with colleagues or family members who also need access.
Last words. You will forget something. Don’t sweat it. Even prescription medications can be dealt with remotely, though it can be a pain in the ass so try to NOT forget those. What do I tend to forget? My hairbrush. It’s always in the “other” suitcase, the one we didn’t bring on this trip. Luckily, you can buy hairbrushes almost everywhere in the world. Trust me. I have.