We recently took an eight day/seven night vacation to Orlando, Florida. Packing was a bit of a challenge, so I wanted to share a few tips on packing for a vacation with a toddler.
Bringing a toddler on a trip sometimes requires you to haul around a couple of extra items. Since we rented a car in Florida, we brought our own car seat (I did not trust the rental company to provide us with a decent one). We also brought a full sized stroller (the kind with storage underneath), because we planned on doing a few parks and had brought a soft-sided cooler with us to pack our own lunches. A car seat and stroller are bulky and inconvenient, so I wanted to keep the rest of our luggage to a minimum. We ended up bringing one large suitcase to check, one small suitcase to carry on, and our backpack (which functions as our diaper bag). With this in mind, here are my tips to help you keep your luggage orderly and easy to pack and unpack.
1) Pack less and plan on doing a load of laundry: We were in Orlando for eight days, but I only packed for five. One of those outfits was a "nice" shirt for each of us in case we ate somewhere classier than Shoney's; I also kept an extra outfit for Kieran in our backpack. Halfway through the week we did a load of laundry at our hotel (I made sure to book a hotel that had laundry facilities). Most of what I packed for me and Tom were shirts - we have no problem re-wearing shorts or jeans several times between washings.
2) Pack outfits in bags by day: I packed our large suitcase with several bags. Some were marked with a date ("Wed. 1/28") - in each dated bag I packed one outfit for each of us (including socks, underwear, and extra diapers). I also had one bag marked "extra for Kieran" that had diapers, his Superman cape, his swim trunks, and his nice shirt, an "extra for Dionna," and one more for Tom (both with similar items). When I unpacked at the hotel, the outfits were hung in groups and there was never any scrounging around in the mornings for clothes to wear. After I did laundry, the clothes simply went back on the hangers in groups. Easy!
I reused the bags to pack the dirty clothes; any clean clothes I folded neatly. When we got home, I hung the clean clothes and took the bags downstairs to toss in the laundry. It made unpacking incredibly fast and painless.
3) Pack small toiletry items, especially liquids, in clear plastic Ziploc bags: If you really want to be fancy, pack them in logical groups. For example, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, and mouthwash together; contact case, saline solution, and glasses together; shampoo, conditioner, razor, and q-tips together; baby items together; etc. I put all of my toiletries in the inside zippered section of our checked suitcase. Packing toiletries in waterproof bags not only keeps your other belongings safe from spills, but it makes it easier to set everything up in the hotel and to put away later at home.
4) Pack all of your electronics in one location: We put all of our electronics (laptop, Garmin, camcorder) in our small carry-on suitcase and the cords for each in the carry-on's zippered section. Our camera and phones were in the backpack for easy access. We felt the electronics would be safer with us than they would being tossed around by airline personnel. After we'd been in Florida for a few days, it was nice to know exactly where to find all of the cords when it was time to recharge batteries.
We keep our camera handy for impromptu photo opportunities like this one: the Northwest Airlines pilots invited us to sit down in the cockpit after I told them how excited Kieran had been to fly and say hello to the "pi-pi."
5) Pack shoes and a couple of heavier items (like jeans) in the outside zippered compartment of your checked bag. When we weighed our checked bag at the airport, it was four pounds over the maximum allowed without an extra fee. We easily transferred our sandals and a pair of jeans from the outside of the large bag to the carry-on suitcase. We avoided a hefty overweight fee and the hassle of unzipping the main part of our suitcase and rummaging through it in the middle of the busy airport.
6) Pack anything you’ll need quickly in your backpack or diaper bag. In our backpack we kept: diapers, changing pad, and wipes; a change of clothes for Kieran; fun things for Kieran to do while traveling; our camera, phones, and wallets; a few “just in case” items for Kieran (Ibuprofen for teething pain, teething tablets, a burp cloth); snacks and a bottle of water. (Even though TSA says formula or juice only, we were allowed to bring one bottle of water through security.)
7) Pack snacks and fun things for your toddler to do: We had a short layover and about three hours on the plane each way. Here is what we packed to keep Kieran occupied after the novelty of the plane wore off: stickers, construction paper, twistable crayons, a couple of new books, a stuffed animal, a Doodler Travel, and snacks (Annie's bunny crackers and some organic soft granola bars). The stickers were a hit - he enjoyed sharing them with a little girl across the aisle. The books were also a success, I got an "I Spy" book (to hold his attention) and a Dr. Seuss classic (long and engrossing). He never touched the Doodler or the crayons, but he has on other trips.
I hope these are helpful, feel free to share your packing tips and tricks in the comments!