As a family, we have traveled all around Europe and the US on planes, trains, and automobiles but no matter where we are headed, we employ these core approaches to traveling lightly.
As a mom of two kids, I found that I needed my arms to remain as free as possible to hold little hands while walking on busy streets or helping them up into their seats on the bus. Here’s what worked for us:
1. Do laundry wherever you are
We generally never pack clothing for more than five days and plan on doing laundry along the way. We stay at Airbnb apartments that usually have a washer on site and a kitchen. This has transformed our traveling experiences with children.
2. Backpack and baby wearing
We prefer to use backpacks to keep our hands free for wrangling and carrying our children. Roller bags are good but you lose a hand and dragging it through Europe can be extra difficult over cobblestone streets. They call it, “backpacking through Europe” instead of “roller-bagging through Europe” for a reason. We used the Ergobaby Carrier from infancy until age 2 years (worn on the back) and found that traveling hands-free was the key for convenient travel.
If your toddler will wear a backpack, put their light toys and books in that. Time to earn your keep, kid!
We spend most of our time planning the trip during the pre-packing phase (which may be the day before we leave but that’s okay). We research the various modes of transportation, map out our connections, and consider the city vs. country landscape, the number of days, and the weather for the trip.
4. Reduce your load
We also only pack enough diapers and snacks for the travel day. No, we are not crazy. We plan to buy diapers and other large liquids (e.g., sunscreen and toothpaste) once we arrive on site. (This has only backfired on us once in all of our travels when we unknowingly stayed at a house in the middle of Tuscany and no grocery stores were open for the next two days. We made the last diaper stretch with lots of naked time and now we have an embarrassing story to tell our daughter’s prom date.)
Kids and babies look cute in everything and can get away with wearing the same thing day after day. Most days, my toddler demands to wear the same shirt day after day so there isn’t a need to pack a gazillion different outfits.
5. Pack carefully
For women, it is helpful to pack colorful scarves to dress up plain tops and/or to cover your shoulders if visiting religious sites or fancy dinners. Steer away from “outfits” that only match each other. Being able to recombine your clothing means you don’t need as many separate items. Never pack clothes that you may never wear on your trip. For us, we don’t pack fancy clothes for fancy dinners because, hah!
Your goal should be to wear every article of clothing at least once. Space is wasted packing for events that are unlikely to happen. Do you need those bulky rain boots for one day of rain? Probably not.
Go light on toiletries and makeup. My hair never looks the same as it does at home – the water and humidity are different so I don’t worry about hair products. Hotels always provide those little soaps—just use those or pack a small bottle of conditioner. My hair can withstand any shampoo but the right conditioner helps to keep it tamed.
- Wear your largest, bulkiest clothing and shoes on the plane.
- Baby cribs can be checked for free along with your travel stroller (on Norwegian Air, and many other airlines). You can stuff some small things into the baby crib bag if you need.
- Print off all tickets, itineraries, and receipts before your trip and place them in a folder. I print off our overall itinerary (day by day) and tape it to the front of the folder for easy referencing train coach numbers, seating arrangements, etc. I get very nerdy and label everything with sticky notes that are in chronological order for when we will need them.
- Remember, the less you pack, the less you need to keep track of and repack at the end of your trip.
I used to pack “something for every occasion” or an extra “just in case” item but found that it was rarely ever used and just took up space. Most airlines charge for checked luggage so traveling lighter saves you money that you’d rather spend on dessert or wine.
At the end of the day, you aren’t going to care about what clothes you or your children wore on the trip. However, lugging less stuff means you are physically less tired, resulting in less stress during your travel. It will enable you to enjoy your trip while you are actually on it.
Now, if only you could pack an extra pair of hands that would be great! Enjoy your trip!
If you want to read more stories about families who definitely know how to travel light with their kids, check out Knocked Up Abroad.