Saving Your Back and Your Sanity in One Easy Step

airpot waiting

When we first started traveling it seemed a bit of a miserable experience.  Not the actual experience, mind you, just the getting there and leaving part.  In fact, getting there and leaving was such a horrid experience that we avoided some trips all together.

Big mistake – we missed seeing Mount Rushmore because of that, and now we have to go back and figure that one out again.  I mean, really.  I don’t want to be 98 years old and listing everything I’ve done and seen as I head into the next life, with this exception, “But I never did get to see Mount Rushmore…”

giant chicken Lusaka

We’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but we did see the giant chicken in Lusaka, Zambia

The biggest, most important thing to remember when packing is this:  you probably won’t need it.  And if you forget it, you can probably buy another one.

Unless you plan on wearing the Hope Diamond out to dinner one night, replacing whatever you’ve forgotten is probably not going to put you out too much.  A side to this that is also good to remember is that if your luggage gets lost and you didn’t pack your most prized possessions, it isn’t going to hurt quite so much.  And yes, luggage does get lost.  With disturbing regularity.  Once we lost a bag that was checked into Accra, Ghana.  By we, I mean the airline – it happens.

Anyway, we did get the bag back – ONE MONTH LATER.  And missing one shoe out of each pair, three pairs of underwear, and a stick of deodorant.

I’m not really upset about missing the deodorant – I’m all about helping people smell fresh and clean.  The shoes, though?  That one makes me grumpy.  Take them both or don’t take them at all.

Anyway, I digress.

Because we often use public transportation, particularly when traveling overseas, packing the minimum saves quite a bit of wear and strain on my back and also alleviates some of the hateful glances thrown at the family when we’re trying to get from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to our cute little rented apartment in the Gambetta neighborhood.  We try to limit the family to one backpack each and one rolling bag.

flag backpack

We let our kids decorate their bags with patches from the countries we’ve visited.

This means:

  1. We limit our outfits to about four or five per person for any trip longer than a week, and two sets of nightclothes.  Then we plan on doing laundry while in country.
  2. Two pairs of shoes per person.  That’s it.
  3. We pack travel size toiletries to last us until we get to a store at our destination, where we can buy toiletries to use while in-country.  Exception to this rule:  deodorant.  It seems that outside of North America, the deodorant of choice is roll on.  If this is how you swing, more power to you.  I, personally, cannot figure out how to get past that swampy feeling without blow-drying my armpits every morning, a ritual I can usually do without.  I pack my Secret Sport.
  4. Each kid takes their Kindle and their iPod Touch.  The Kindle is every book the kid might need to read, and the iPod Touch is one movie, an audio book, music, and games.  It might sound like our children are spoiled with electronics, but they take multiple 8+ hour flights, car rides, and train trips each year.  Those electronics have been worth their weight in gold.
  5. One bottle of Tums and one box of chewable Pepto Bismol.  They don’t sell these in most other places, and you will be happy you packed them.  I promise.  Also, acetaminophen. You can find it under various names other places (Panado, Paracetemol, Apiretol, Dexamol, and hundreds of other names), but you may not be able to find it when your headache hits.  Outside America, 24 hour drug stores aren’t as common, and if you get a headache on a Sunday you might have a miserable day or so ahead of you.  Take some extra, buy more when you get there.
  6. Yoga pants.  Best travel invention EVER.

See – it’s not even a long list!  And it’s worked for us since we had to travel with a three-year-old.  And if you are traveling with a three-year-old, my sympathies to you right now.  It gets better, I promise.

Why backpacks and not rolling bags?  Backpacks are more likely to fit into the non-standard (and no matter what the airlines say, the space varies wildly) overhead bins than rolling carryon bags, backpacks are easier to deal with on trains, metros, and subways than rolling carryon bags, and backpacks rarely get weighed and relegated to the hold when you check in at the airline.    Sometimes, yes.  But usually, no.  And backpacks are just more versatile than rolling carryon bags.  Your mileage may vary, but it works for us.

As for rolling checked luggage…  Ever tried to finagle three children, a rolling carryon, and a duffle through Barcelona?  I have.  Do make sure your heavier luggage has some wheels – I promise you’ll thank me later.