Sorry, Cowboy, you have to stay home.

Let’s talk about packing.

As the mom, the vast majority of the actual getting-the-clothes-into-the-suitcase falls on me. I have learned a LOT in moving the small army that was four preschoolers cross-country. It makes my four big kids now seem like a breeze. Here are my best tips:

  • If you forget it, you can buy it when you get there. If you can’t buy it, you can do without.

When the kids were tiny, this one thing used to stress me out more than anything else. And then I realized that if I didn’t pack enough diapers/socks/shorts/hats, I could buy them. I was probably going to buy a couple of those things anyway as souvenirs! (Well, not the diapers.) That meant that when the kids were little, I only had to worry about the time we were moving between home and our destination. If this isn’t true for an item, pack it first.  Obviously, this doesn’t exactly apply to things like prescription medicine, although I’ve even had that phoned in.

  • Everyone does not need their own suitcase.

Oh, we’ve all seen the little cuties in the airport, pulling their own bag. And then we’ve gotten stuck behind them because they are so slow and can’t maneuver their bag. Don’t do this. Save yourself and everyone around you the trouble. I found that the easiest and quickest way to pack was to figure out who was staying in what room, and pack one bag per room. Now that the kids are older, they take this approach quite often, so they don’t have to pull a suitcase all the time.

  • But everyone does need a backpack.

Add a clean t-shirt, fresh underwear, a toothbrush and a swimsuit. This will fit in a gallon bag.  Even Mom and Dad should do this one. Backpacks are easy to carry in the airport, stow easily in the car, and get everyone accustomed to being just a bit responsible for their own stuff. As soon as my kids could walk they got their own backpack, age-appropriate, of course.

  • Don’t be afraid to pack a big suitcase.

Especially if you have little kids. Save your hands for theirs, not for a suitcase. Yes, it’s $25 (or maybe not, check your credit card). Yes, it’s worth it.

  • Unpack when you get there.

If we stay somewhere more than one night, we take our clothes out of the suitcases and move into the closets and dressers. It is just more relaxing not to live directly out of a suitcase, and our clothes look better. My kids are so messy that we even have a far easier time packing back up to go home! Somehow this keeps the t-shirts from sliding under furniture or the socks from going missing.

  • Get the kids to pack their clothes as much as possible.

This requires a leap of faith, so start early. We spend the weekends at a lake fairly often in the summer, and have for many years. When the boys were about four, I’d tell them we were going to be at the lake for two nights; please pack accordingly. They’d figure out what they needed, toss it in a duffle and away we went. Sometimes they ended up with some crazy outfits, or no pjs, or sometimes even no shoes. (THAT happened more often than I want to admit.) The nice thing about lake packing was that it was very low risk. After all, we really were just swimming and grilling out all weekend. They might mess up, but they learned.

As they got older, I’d tell them what we expected the weather to be, how “nice”–like one good outfit for going out to dinner, or all camp-type clothes–and how many days. Now they figure out if they want to share suitcases (frequently they do), and they pack their own clothes. I’ll give them a hand but it is a process driven by them. It’s been several years since we’ve had a big item left behind.

I’m sure there are lots of other ideas, but these are the ones that have really served us well over the years, no matter how many or few clothes we need to take, or where we go, or how we get there. What are your favorite packing tips?