One cold New Year’s Eve night I dragged my large suitcase across snow covered, bricked sidewalks to my bus heading home to Texas from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The trek is where I realized I had packed way too many things and I was embarrassed to be dragging such a large load. Daniel has a similar experience when he overpacked for a missions trip to Hungary. He had packed a 3 piece suit for watching an opera and his Tang Soo Do uniform for a exhibition. I think everyone has a trip where they regret packing too much stuff.
Ten years ago when Daniel and I traveled to Italy for 2 weeks for our honeymoon we both agreed to only travel with a backpack. This doesn’t mean that we “backpacked” through Italy. We never stayed in a hostel or shunned obvious tourist spots. We packed in a backpack, because we found it easier to travel through cobble stoned cities and aboard trains. Plus, sticking to only carry-on bags meant we never lost a checked bag. Our hotel in Florence was up 5 flights of stairs. We definitely had a smug moment when we by passed those carrying large cases up the steps. We loved carrying our own packs. We still use carry-on sized rollers when we travel in the U.S., but we love using our packs when traveling through multiple cities.
We are currently spending 8 weeks in Europe and brought 7 bags and a stroller. There are 5 people in our family and each of us has a backpack. Daniel carries an extra bag with our technology stuff like laptops and chargers. I carry an additional large shoulder bag where I pack my small purse and diaper bag essentials to get us through the plane flights.
Here are 3 tips for packing in a backpack:
1. Remember you will have access to a washing machine or a laundromat.
We are traveling for 8 weeks, but that doesn’t mean that we need to pack an enormous amount of clothing. A good rule of thumb is to pack clothes for one week, then wash your clothes once a week. We’ve used laundromats in London, Berlin, Florence, Paris, and the Philippines. Once your figure out how to pay for the machine and where to put the soap, then you are good to go. In Venice you can open a bottle of wine and relax while your clothes are being washed. In Berlin we ate our Döner Kebabs while we waited.
2. Leave room for stuff.
It is tempting to fill every nook and cranny of your backpack with items. I’m guilty of sitting on my backpack just to get it to zip shut. You are probably going to buy something you want to carry home with you. Even if it is just a t-shirt, you are going to need a way to bring it home. If you are moving through multiple cities it is a lot easier to transfer to a new city if you are traveling lighter. Also, at the end of the trip you probably aren’t going to pack with as much care as you did leaving home. You’ll find that somehow the same stuff you brought will seem to have expanded. You can throw away worn out clothes along the way to make room for new stuff. I am leaving behind some of my children’s pants, because they have grown out of them and they are very worn out.
3. Pack at least 2 to 3 days before the trip.
This is an obvious tip, but don’t underestimate its importance! We packed 3 days before our trip and I am so glad we did. Usually we are cramming things in the night before, but my packing experience was a lot less stressful this go around.
Packing early reduces stress. You have time to patiently fill your travel sized toiletries. You can edit your wardrobe and see what fits inside your bag and what doesn’t fit. You have time to think of anything you may have forgotten. One downside to packing ahead is that you may pack your favorite clothing items and won’t be able to wear them.
I helped my 6 year old daughter decide which clothes she was going to bring several days before our trip. We filled up her bag and put the pack on her to try on. Then we were able to negotiate and leave out a few heavy and bulky items.
Our Kids’ Backpacks
Here is what our daughter brought in her backpack.
I went ahead and made her a toiletry bag to carry her soap, detangler spray, and a brush. I had to go through her closet with her to help her pack. I also wanted to get her approval for everything in her pack, because I didn’t want to waste space packing anything she doesn’t like to wear. Not shown in the picture above are the Skecher running shoes she wears every day.
The boys are easy to pack. I already know their favorite shirts. I packed 3 pairs of pants for our youngest son who is 3 years old. I wish I had packed at least one more pair of pants. He dirties his pants very quickly and I often need to change them out. My middle child is 5 years old. He had a growth spurt on the trip and two of his pants are too short. He has also worn out the knees of his pants quickly. I bought both the boys new pants at H&M the other day and I am so glad I did!
In the photo is Annabelle’s iPad. Each of our children have their own iPad mini. Our kids lost about 90% of their toys to smoke damage from the house fire. We used part of the insurance check to buy the two oldest kids their own iPads. Then we bought one for the littlest before we left. They have been invaluable on the trip. We use them on the long flights. I read to them from the Overdrive and Kindle app at night. They play games and have access to all their iTunes movies and TV shows.
Carrying Their Packs
The kids have done well carrying their own backpacks. Sometimes we get a luggage cart in the airport so we don’t need to cary them. Other times we make them carry their packs while walking to our AirBnb apartment or through the airport. Sometimes they complain about their packs, but for the most part they do really well.
What I packed in my bag for 8 weeks in Europe is coming up next!