Pack smart, travel light

How to take the lug out of luggage


Kit Bernardi

There is a reason why lug is packed into the word luggage. It’s the part we hate most about travel, lugging bags from here to there. Add kids to the trip and bags line up like delayed flights on the runways at O’Hare International Airport.

We learned this on our first family trip to Hawaii, a business-pleasure trip for two weeks on three islands. The big "Aloha!" for us: the smaller the child, the more bags in tow. Ten bags total, more than half for our then 2-year-old son Will: diaper bag, on-board busy tote, food backpack, stroller, car seat, pack ’n’ play, plus a laptop computer, work backpack and two big bags packed with clothes. Nine flights and four hotels later, we returned home suntanned and determined to reduce our bags for the next family trip.

Here are some load-lightening strategies we’ve learned along the way to take the lug out of luggage.

1 Buy when you get there. It’s unlikely your destination is so remote that a discount retailer isn’t within an hour’s drive. Pack the diapers, juice boxes and Cheerios you need for the flight, but buy the bulk when you get there. We’ve bought inexpensive play clothes, beach toys and umbrella strollers on arrival. If you haven’t rented a car, some higher-end resorts have courtesy cars available to guests for brief periods. I’ve also pre-shipped nonperishable stuff to islands, including Puerto Rico and St. Lucia.

2 Call before packing. Family friendly hotels offer everything from toys and Game Boys to bikes and baby joggers, some for a fee. Before packing water wings, goggles and fins, call the concierge to find out what’s available on site.

3 Stop searching. Suitcases become black holes. For easy, fast finds, pack similar items, such as pacifiers, socks and underwear, in different colored cinch sacks of various sizes. Clear, reclosable plastic bags can serve the same organizational purpose.

4 Donate used duds. If it’s obvious your child won’t get another full season out of the play clothes you’ve packed, don’t lug them home. Donate them and gently used equipment to a local charity for a back-saving tax write-off. Or leave stuff at the hotel. We’ve left items in the room as part of the tip for housekeeping staff and given inflatable beach toys to other families.

5 Baby beds. You cannot skimp on this one. Don’t be tempted to take the pillows and construct a makeshift bed in a drawer—it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. Don’t push a bed against the wall-—babies can get trapped between the mattress and the wall and suffocate. Babies should be in a crib, with only a fitted sheet and the clothes they need to stay warm. So, either drag the portable crib and sheets with you or call ahead to rent a crib. Make sure to ask what brand of crib the hotel uses, and check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, (800) 638-2772,, to see whether it has been recalled.

6 Save space. Bring small containers of hygiene products, creams and first-aid items packed in plastic bags in case of spills. Roll clothes and tuck them into corners and voids, such as empty shoes that are bagged so no sole dirt rubs off. For dress clothes, pack wrinkle-resistant fabrics such as synthetic blends, cotton knits, merino wool, gabardine and jersey knits.

7 Survival pack. Like a superhero utility belt, my travel backpack arms me for most needs. A mini medical kit and wet wipes are in the front pocket. Inside is the food bag with bottled water and clear apple juice (in case of spills). Small ice packs keep the food cool.

8 Add an empty bag. Rebecca Dahlstrom, Oak Park mother of two young boys, always packs an empty zippered, collapsible duffle bag. It’s a tote for around town and also carries souvenirs home.

9 Pack extra time and clothes. Allow plenty of time for clogged security checkpoints and wrangling toddlers. I dress Will in bright colors so he is easy to spot in a crowd. Oak Park mom Kate Hlava flies often to California with three young children. She recommends extra clothes in the carry-on for children and parents in case motion sickness strikes.

10 Parenthood is universal. One of the pleasures of family travel is meeting other families. Kids naturally gravitate to each other and parents naturally end up sharing wet wipes, crackers and restaurant recommendations.

Kit Bernardi is the mom of Will and a writer living in Oak Park.

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