The sheer horror of lost luggage is enough incentive for families to pack carry-on luggage only, but with nearly all airlines charging checked luggage fees, doing so will also ease the burden on your wallet. Whether you have children flying alone or everyone is going together, it can be done. And it will give your kids an opportunity to be responsible for and to manage their own things. Following the tips below will have you packing light on your next family vacation.
1. Use the ‘roll’ method or packing cubes when packing.
Research shows that rolling clothes instead of folding them saves 30% more space in a duffel or suitcase. Line the bag with bulkier items such as shoes, then roll heavier clothing, like pants and jeans, on the bottom. Layer next with shirts, t-shirts, and lastly, undergarments and socks. Packing cubes can be essential to packing organization. I use shoe cubes to keep kids’ socks and underwear organized. Many families use cubes to pack by day, making complete outfits for each child in each cube.
2. Pack more shirts than each child needs, and half as many pants.*
Assuming your family vacation is not taking you too far into the wild unknown, the majority of messes will occur to your child’s shirts (think food spills, sweat, and sticky hands wiping). Pants and shorts can often be re-worn. Also, if you are a picture-taking family, it is nice to have your children in different shirts. Try to find clothes that do double duty, such as pants that zip off to become shorts, and sun protection shirts that can be worn during active play. Likewise, try to restrict each child to two pairs of shoes: a sturdy pair of walking/hiking shoes (to be worn on the plane) and a pair of destination and season-appropriate sandals or boots.
*Does not apply if you have a potty-training child.
3. Rent baby equipment at your destination.
By far the bulkiest part of the packing equation is baby gear such as portable cribs and play spaces, strollers, seats, and baby feeding equipment. Whether your destination is a hotel or resort or a relative’s home, there are numerous companies renting all of the above to vacationing families. Most allow parents to reserve the desired equipment online ahead of time, and will deliver equipment to their door. When we rent a car, we rent the car seats directly from the car rental company. Be prepared to safely and correctly install the car seat yourself. And if your child is still in the logistically-difficult baby food stage, companies such as Petit Organics will deliver organic, hand-processed baby food as well.
4. Be prepared to do laundry.
No one wants to do laundry on vacation, but with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to ruin your day. We always pack 2-3 mesh laundry bags, which compact to almost nothing while empty. Travel-sized laundry detergent containers and stain remover can be purchased in TSA-approved sizing, and a roll of quarters can make finding change for washing machines far less painful. When we went on a month-long trip last summer, we bought boxes of one-load-sized detergent from the hotel desk. They also made change for us for the washer and dryer.
5. Take advantage of the carry-on plus purse rule.
In addition to each ticketed passenger’s carry-on, he or she is permitted a personal purse, tote, or backpack. Since hauling a family’s worth of carry-on luggage can be a challenge enough, consider foregoing each passenger’s right to bear a backpack and consolidate to only one or two totes or packs for family use. In addition to each passenger’s carry-on, we designate one large tote for in-air entertainment, which carries our laptop, iPad, and each family member’s book or Kindle. We allow for one backpack for snacks, medications, water bottles (to be filled post-security) and other essentials.
6. Board as early as possible.
Because so many travelers are now packing carry-on luggage to avoid fees, those bulk-head luggage bins fill up quickly. And when they’re full, you’ll be forced to check bags against your will. If you’re carting several large carry-on roller boards or duffels, board the plane as soon as you’re able. Doing so will ensure there’s still space for your carry-ons.
7. Gate check for free.
If you’re carrying-on only for the cost-savings, and don’t mind waiting at the baggage carousel for your bags at your destination, almost all airlines will offer free checking at the gate, as an incentive for travelers to save some cabin space. On smaller commuter flights, gate-checked bags will usually be waiting for you on a cart directly off the plane. Be aware that on longer flights, they’ll be checked all the way through to your final destination.
Note: Remember the 3-1-1 rule! The 3-1-1 rule states that you cannot bring any liquid or gel that’s more than three ounces. These must be carried in one quart-sized clear, zip-lock bag. We love the reusable kind for this purpose. (You can order them on Amazon.com at Flybags – TSA Compliant Toiletry Bag)
When Packing Carry-On May Not Work
Carry-on travel is possible even during extended or long-term travel (thanks mostly to the laundry tip!), but there are situations in which it just may not be practical.
- During winter vacations, for which bulky snow or ski wear or multiple layers are needed.
- For adventure travel, during which a wide-variety of clothing types will be needed (think hiking gear and snorkeling gear.
- During multi-climate travel, during which several drastic weather changes may necessitate bringing both winter and summer wear.
Packing Carry-On Luggage – A Final Tip
Many families we know will go to even bigger extremes. They purposely bring old clothes to leave behind in hotels — if they are still in decent condition — or they just throw them away. They pack a few old shirts or other clothing that they plan to wear on the trip, and then discard them, leaving room for souvenirs, or just to enjoy a lighter load on the return trip to home.
Is packing carry-on luggage the only way you travel? How do you make it work?