I’m writing this from the beach on a 6-week road trip from Stockholm to France, up to London, through Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and back through Sweden. I’m wearing the one and only bra I packed.
I am not a natural-born packer. I’ve read all the tip-laden articles from well-meaning organizational whizzes. I see parents who’ve packed a Russian-doll of a knapsack – multiple layers of fun and entertainment for their little ones – and I drool with envy over their intellectually stimulating magnetic puzzles and the cornucopia of healthy, mess-free snacks. I’ve seen the Instagram posts of kids in a backseat of a road trip merrily creating jewelry for their friends, cousins, and mom out of Scoobie-doos.
I’m just not that kind of a packer.
Instead, here I offer how you should pack alongside how I actually pack, so you never have to feel bad about stuffing a duffel bag and running out the door with kids in mismatched shoes and a cat in a cage who didn’t have time to pee, to catch your overbooked SNCF train in 90°F. I’ve been there with the one and only picture book to read for four hours straight. (The text of “I Love You, Blue Kangaroo” is now imprinted in its own neurological pathway.)
So let’s start packing, the sensible way, if you want to avoid my chaotic departures.
Start three days early and lay out outfits
How I do it: Tear through closets at midnight before a 7 a.m. departure, packing random quantities of tops, bottoms, socks (if we’re lucky), something warm, and one nice dress. Forget accessories. Usually, one child has nothing of a whole category. Case in point: my youngest ended up with 2 tee shirts for this 6-week road trip. And, there’s me with my one bra.
How we should do it: With all the laundry up-to-date, set out outfits for each day, knowing what the long-range weather forecast is, when you’ll do laundry, and if you’ll have special occasions so you can accessorize yourself and your whole family.
See-through bags and compartmentalize
How I do it: Each bag is its own disaster zone. I’ve folded, sure, but there is no KonMari tip for tidiness joy in there. Clothes aren’t even rolled. Small items are lost under bulky items and no day bag got packed at all. Even when my kids were babies, the best I managed was putting spare diapers, baby wipes, and a spare onesie in my handbag. I’d be tossing those out to find passports.
How we should do it: Group together items per category: sports gear, essential toiletries, a separate day bag for side trips, baby’s needs, separate bag for baby’s 1-day needs… so you can throw open a suitcase and see exactly what you need for specific events/excursions, or that separate side-trip. So you can enjoy your holiday instead of repacking bags every other day.
Remove 30% of items
Packing gurus posit that whatever we pack, 30% will not end up worn.
How I do it: I cast my eye over the bags and ADD 30% of stuff I’ve completely forgotten and now have to squeeze in: my contact lens solution and glasses, toothbrushes, the key to the roof rack so we can drive back with bikes on top (okay, so we did forget the key and just asked our house sitter to find and mail it), passports, travel documents, device chargers, a USB-key with important documents I need… clothes for myself.
How we should do it: Don’t overpack. So cast an eye over your beautifully folded bounty and remove that 30% – an extra tee shirt (please send me a few here in Normandy!), those white jeans you think you’ll wear this summer but again won’t don once, those extra polo fleeces when two will do, and face facts – are you really going to need that yoga mat? Don’t be delusional. Turf stuff out and zip without having to sit on the bag to close it.
Avoid stress at the front door
How I do it: I’ve had 3 hours sleep. Our cases are ready (to explode they are so overfull) at the door. The cactus looks dry even though I just overwatered it. I must remember the correct surname on the mailboxes of the neighbor I arranged via text to leave the keys with to let the house sitter in – to whom I scrawled a ramble of instructions at 1:30 am. I ran out of coffee and have a splitting headache. Nobody’s eaten yet; we’ll all need to pee the second we’ve left the building. I mistakenly gave the kids chewing gum and they swallowed 3 pieces each already. My handbag now holds EVERYTHING WE OWN and weighs more than a three-year-old.
How we should do it: Ensure you are packed, cases ready at the door, house spotless, and plants on a nifty timer watering system – as are your lights so you look like you’re still home. Your extra set of house keys is already with a trusted friend who practiced how to disable and reset your alarm. You’ve had your coffee, wiped clean the last crumb from your sit-down breakfast, and you and your family waltz out the door ready for a stress-free vacay like none other!
To all INSPIRELLE readers, happy and safe holidays, and don’t fret about what you’ve forgotten to pack, unless you forgot: tickets (e- or paper), money (I hope you told your bank you’ll be travelling through multiple countries so your card still functions), and passports (that aren’t about to expire and, of course, have the necessary visas, and sign-off from your kids’ dad if you’re not travelling together and leaving le territoire français).
Yes, it is a little more complicated these days than in years past. But it’s always worth getting away from it all – including that needy, needy cactus, and breathe in the fresh air.