The Simple (and Fun!) System I Use to Help My Kids Pack for Vacation

published Jul 13, 2022
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suitcase full of clothes with paper list
Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Would you believe me if I told you my four-year-old packs her own suitcase for vacation? What if I said that she actually loves doing it and does a pretty great job? It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true — even a kid who spent half her life in quarantine is already on the road to becoming a jetsetter, and it’s all because we follow a very simple, fun system for packing for vacation. In fact, it’s worked so well for my older child (10) that all I have to do now is give their suitcase a quick peek before we hit the road, and we’re good to go. Here’s how we do it.

1. Get inspired

My kids love watching YouTube, so before we ever start packing, I help them find suitcase packing videos to watch for inspiration. And since YouTube is an endless vortex of content, there’s a ton of material on the subject, from what to put in a carry-on for air travel to how to pack for a trip to Disney World. 

My four-year-old, Hazel, loves to watch dolls pack their suitcases (it’s a thing), and her favorite YouTube channel, The Gummy Channel, has plenty of such videos to choose from. My ten-year-old, Lily, prefers to watch packing hacks, so they search for videos along those lines.

2. Talk about it and make a list.

Before you begin the packing process, find some time to sit at the table and chat with your family about the upcoming trip. Ask them what questions they have about the trip, explain how you’ll get there and how long you’ll stay, share photos or videos, and describe the activities you’ll be doing together (especially activities that require special clothes or equipment like swimming or skiing), plus anything you might know in advance about the weather. 

Then, ask your kids to identify what they think they need to pack for the trip. Record all of the answers, even the ones you think won’t end up in the suitcase (Warning: some of the answers may be hilarious). Let your older kids write the lists for themselves, and help your pre-writing kids by writing the list for them. 

Once you have the list, talk through each item and ask questions. This is a good time to make suggestions for missing items by asking questions like, “What will you use to brush your teeth?” and “What do you like to wear at bedtime?” The size of your suitcase will dictate how much you can pack, so if their list is getting a little too long or it includes items that you obviously can’t take with you (like the poor cat), use the suitcase size as a guide for what can go and what should stay home.

3. Use the list.

Once we’ve created the list, my ten-year-old is ready to pack their own suitcase. They know what they need, and I trust them to get it in their suitcase, but I do go through the suitcase before we leave to make sure the system has worked. If something is missing, or if there’s something extra that doesn’t belong, I’ll ask Lily to explain their reasoning and see if we can come up with a solution.

When it comes to Hazel, I give her a little extra help by drawing pictures of the items we’ve identified to pack. I draw super simple (like, laughably simple, but that’s not the point!) illustrations of shirts, pants, underwear, bathing suits, etc, and then I put a number next to each drawing so she knows how many of each item to pack. (This is also a great way for her to work on her number-reading skills!) Then, Hazel puts everything she wants to pack on her bed, and I help her add each item to the suitcase as we check off the list. 

4. Different bags for different jobs.

I like to keep the suitcases simple, with just clothes, toiletries, and other essentials. For everything else, we pack a carry-on-style bag. That’s where we put stuff like blankets, electronics, and toys, so they’re easy to grab in transit.

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