Help Your Big Helper Pack His Own Bags
If your kid is old enough to follow instructions, he's old enough to at least help pack his own suitcase. Letting him participate probably won't save time, but it might cut down on clothing battles during the trip if he's the one who chooses what to bring. Want to simplify the process? Print out a basic packing list and laminate it to leave in his suitcase. He can use a dry-erase marker to tick things off as he adds them, then erase everything and start over for the next adventure.
Absolutely Needs: Clothes and Shoes
No matter where your child is going, he's going to need to get dressed each day. The first order of business? Plenty of clean underwear. This will vary a little if you're going someplace like a rental house, where it's easy enough to do laundry. In general, though, it's a good rule of thumb for a kid to bring three pairs of underwear for every two days, just in case a spill or messy outdoor play necessitates a full outfit change.
Next up, tops and bottoms. Again, the specifics of where you're headed will affect what he needs to bring. Remember that some outfits might get too messy to wear again without washing. So unless you'll have access to laundry, one full outfit per travel day, plus one or two extras, is a good starting point. Help him pick lightweight things he can wear comfortably, even if the temperature fluctuates, like lightweight pants and thin, long-sleeved T-shirts. Don't forget pajamas (one or two pairs per week) and one pair of socks per day.
He'll also probably need comfortable shoes like sneakers for walking and at least one other pair, depending on the destination: boots for the snow, flip-flops for the beach and so on.
Probably Needs: A Jacket and Toiletries
These are items he'll almost always need to pack, unless you'll be picking them up during the trip or you're going someplace like your own vacation house that's already stocked.
If space isn't too tight and you're not headed to a dry desert, a warm, water-resistant jacket with a hood needs to stay on the list.
Space should be made for basic toiletries like a toothbrush, toothpaste and body wash, unless you're planning to pick those up when you get where you're going. Even if you're heading to someplace cold, he should stash sunscreen, sunglasses and maybe a brimmed hat in his suitcase.
He'll also probably need things to keep himself entertained during travel days and downtime, like a few books, art supplies or handheld games.
Maybe Needs: Assorted Extras
Weather- or destination-specific requirements fall into this category. If you're going someplace snowy, for instance, he'll need a parka along with hat, scarf, gloves and boots. Will there be a chance to swim? If so, he should bring a bathing suit.
If your child requires any medication, you can help him safely pack an adequate supply of everything he needs. And if he needs anything special at night, like pull-ups or a nightlight, those should be packed as well.
Remind him to stash a few snacks in his bag too, if you'll be traveling for a long time. A child with long hair may also want to pack hair bands.
Probably Doesn't Need: Redundant Toiletries and Bulky Toys
When staying at a hotel or relative's home, your child will no doubt have access to shampoo and soap and won't need to pack his own. You might also be packing enough toiletries for the family's shared shower.
You'll probably want him to leave behind large recreational things like scooters, kites and sports equipment, unless you're driving—with plenty of trunk space—and going someplace where he'll have ample opportunity to put it all to use.
Definitely Doesn't Need: Treasured Belongings
Toys that make a lot of noise, require batteries or take up a lot of space (like big plastic cars and oversized stuffed animals) tend to be a hassle while traveling.
He may be adamant about taking his most prized possessions on vacation, because leaving behind something like, for example, a brand-new tablet can seem simply not doable to a kid. But remind your child when he's packing that he shouldn't bring anything with him that he would be devastated to lose or have broken.
Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.