How to pack for an international trip with children

I’ve just started prepping for our 30+ hour trip ‘home’ to Sri Lanka for Christmas and thought I’d take some time to share my process of packing.  I’m a planner, and I enjoy organizing, so it’s actually a fairly enjoyable task for me. We also have a lot of details to keep track of in our lives, so it helps me maintain a sense of sanity to spread out the preparations over several weeks. Since I’m busy prepping, I thought I’d do a series of posts geared toward packing to travel with children.  Today’s post details the timeline I follow for packing.


One month out

  • Make a packing list.  I usually start a detailed list this early so that my brain has time to remember all the things I forget.  Making the list early lets me realize what I forget before I actually need  it!  If you’re not the list type, here’s a copy of a generic packing list that I use.
  • Buy gifts.  I always take gifts to our family, but it can be a challenge to stay within my budget and find nice things to take.  Some of my favorite go-to gift items are frames, jewelry, books, and music.  They aren’t too expensive and fit well into suitcases!
  • Buy supplies.  Airplane snacks, travel toiletries, neck pillows, things to do.  Buying this kind of stuff early early leaves the week before we leave to deal with more pressing matters like paying bills and tying up loose ends.

One-two weeks ahead

  • Start packing suitcases.  I usually start on the early side so that I can make sure I have everything washed and ready.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of time to pack because I just follow the list I already made – I just have to plug in the details.
  • Finish trip purchases.  I like to leave the week before I leave to just focus on getting everything ready, not running around crazy picking up last minute things.  This way, if I do end up forgetting something, it’s usually only one or two things to track down rather than 10 or 12!
  • Get traveller’s checks if you use them.  We’d quit using them for several trips, but last time someone in India went on a shopping spree on our credit card, so we may be revisiting the idea again this trip!
  • Make a to-do-list for the week before you leave.  This way you don’t have to think about it, you can just do it.
  • Refill necessary prescriptions.  Since we travel for a chunk of time, I always make sure I’ve got enough of our prescription meds to last the entire time we’re gone.
  • Make copies of your important documents.  We copy our passports to keep in a separate suitcase in case of theft or some other unthinkable.  I usually just stick these copies in a suitcase so we have extras should we need them.  (Thankfully, we never have!)

The week before

  • Pack carry-ons. My rule of thumb is to be as prepared as possible while taking as little as possible.  When the kids were younger, that meant a lot more hoop-la (stroller, bottles, formula, etc.) than it does now.  Remember, the fewer the bags you have to keep track of, the less likely you are to lose your kids!  (See my next post for more tips for packing carry-ons).
  • Finish packing suitcases. I try to get everything in except for toiletries and last minute items like cell phone chargers.
  • Pack toiletries.  While I save a few items for the day of, I pack as much as I can so I don’t have to add anything but the daily things like toothpaste/toothbrush.
  • Pay bills.  Paying bills online has really simplified this process for us.  I make sure to have everything set up to be sent from our bank and pay any other bills ahead of time.
  • Call credit card company.  If you plan to use your credit card abroad, they need to be alerted that you’ll be travelling in another country or your account may be declined.  But in case of an emergency, this is still important information for them to have!
  • Hold your mail.  This is super easy to do online.  Visit USPS’s site to hold your mail for up to one month.
  • Confirm your travel plans.  Check-in online if you can or call your travel agent and confirm your travel details.  A few years ago, our agent changed our itinerary without notifying us.  We  would have missed our flight completely if not for ‘accidentally’ stumbling across the information.
The day!
  • Pack last minute toiletries.
  • Check to make sure you have your travel info, $$, and passports.  I usually do this at least 6 times on the way to the airport!
  • Zip your suitcases, say a prayer, and head out the door!

I’m sure I’m still missing a bunch of little tasks that happen, but these are the major points.  Anyone have something you care to add that I’m missing?


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