When Goose was not quite three years old, he frequently and adamantly reminded us of one fact – “I’ve only got two hands.” Anytime Low Key or I asked him to carry a few things to his room or to the car, the response was the same. Ask him to pick up toys and the response was the same – “I’ve only got two hands.” Though the response grew old, there is some wisdom in the statement.
And so it is with travel, “I’ve only got two hands.” So why is it that so many attempt to carry such a heavy load when traveling? As parents, we have plenty to carry – luggage, backpack (and diaper bag possibly, bless you), strollers (almost out of those years), car seats/boosters, and kids (definitely keep up with those). Most of those things are necessary. Unless you have figured out how to solve for only having two hands, minimizing luggage is the best way to keep from requiring a small mule anytime you are moving from point A to point B when traveling.
Before Low Key and I had kids, we spent a month traveling Europe for a month. I probably spent five months planning for that trip. Because we were traveling by train so much and relying on public transit in the cities, we made the decision to only take backpacks. Packing for a month in a backpack requires strategy. This was the beginning of pre-pre-packing.
So what is pre-pre-packing? Well, packing is obvious. Pre-packing is the prep that you do before you actually start packing. Pre-pre-packing is done about two months prior to a trip. Crazy? Yes, I know, but trust me, it really helps for you to thoughtfully plan out what you need to take and what you may still need to consider purchasing prior to departure. At most, for any trip, I only want to take two suitcases for our family of four (plus carry on backpacks). If I waited until a week (or gasp, a couple of days) before a trip, it would be a complete disaster – and we would definitely require a mule or two to haul the aforementioned luggage.
Why not just hire a mule?
Aside from the logistical challenges of hiring a mule when in a city center, there are a few key reasons to travel light and minimize the luggage – at least for me:
- Traveling is not about stuff. The heart of travel is experience. Whether you are off to the beach, going on a cruise, or exploring a new city, it is all about the experience. Sure, you will likely buy things along the way, but the overall point of travel is the experience. New cultures, food, people, etc. Traveling with lots of luggage diverts your attention from the experience.
- Post vacation laundry is AWFUL! Post vacation has to be one of the most depressing times. I mean, you had this fantastic trip you were looking forward to and then you return – to work, to school, to errands, whatever. The last thing you want to think of is piles and piles of laundry. On a typical week, I average between 9 and 11 loads of laundry. If I had to do that much laundry after vacation, I think I might cry. Instead, we take enough clothes for about four days and then do laundry as needed. Yes, I do laundry on vacation. A couple of loads spread out over twelve days (average length of our “big” vacation each year) really is not that bad.
- I hate shopping for clothes. How does my aversion for shopping for clothes relate to packing? I simply do not own enough clothes to take on a twelve-day trip. Or I should say, I do not own enough clothes that I like well enough to take on a twelve-day trip. Maybe if a handful of those days required business attire I might make it, but that is just ridiculous.
- Pre-check-out hotel drawer checking is tedious enough. You know what I am talking about. Before you check out of a hotel, this process of checking drawers ensues – even drawers that you never even used. I watched my parents do this as a kid when we traveled and now Low Key and I do this. I can only assume it is a “normal” process (at least for the worriers of the world). Now compound this with children. For whatever reason, kids can take a few items and spread them to the far reaches of any room. The more you take, the more that is spread. Since we tend to change hotels at least once on any trip (typically because we cover so much ground), checking drawers is compounded multiple times – not to mention checking under the bed, behind the bed, under the sofa, under cushions, in closets, etc.
- Plan for the worst, pack for the best (or somewhere in between). When we took Goose and Chicken to Seattle and Vancouver, I received a lot of questions about packing everything that they would need. As I said then (and confirmed), children live everywhere. You really don’t have to pack everything and the kitchen sink for kids – or adults. People live everywhere. Pack for the best, but then pack a few things that would just be really annoying to track down if needed – think children’s Tylenol, specific snacks that they cannot live without (e.g., peanut butter when traveling to Europe), or small quantities of something that you could normally only buy in bulk (e.g., Ziploc bags – never travel without those).
To assist in keeping luggage to a minimum, there are a few products I recommend and tips that I follow:
- Luggage: Eddie Bauer Travel Drop Bottom Rolling Duffel works great for family travel. The bag is lightweight – key if you want to be able to make use of the space. I once filled a larger suitcase only to exceed the 50 lb airline weight limit. Lightweight luggage avoids the weight worry. It is also easy to maneuver, which is critical when juggling a stroller and car seat bag. [Note: one day we will go to backpacks only – the kids just need to be bigger. They are just so easy when traveling.]
- Small Bags inside Luggage: Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression bags allow you to pack more clothing into a smaller space. I have heard some people swear by space bags, but those come with their own issues. Also, if you smartly pack these bags, then you can only unpack what is needed at each stop.
- Roll or Fold: I’ve rolled and folded clothes over the years. However, I have finally landed on rolling. It definitely minimizes the space needed.
Diligently pre-pre-packing for our next trip, I will put together a final list of what we end up carrying and share. Cold, wet Ireland weather will require two 26” Eddie Bauer duffels, but we will make it (and I will return with limited laundry to tackle!) with just two hands each.