I have twin boys, so I’m sort of used to living in chaos. When we’re traveling though, and confined to a smaller space, I just can’t stand the clutter and mess. I used to just let them live out of their suitcase because it seemed so much easier than unpacking and repacking later. However, I’ve learned that this system actually creates more of a disaster, and one I can’t just shut the door on…because I have to live in this one hotel room too! So now, I insist that they put their clothes away immediately. While it doesn’t entirely keep things contained (did I mention they’re 6?), it certainly helps.
With that in mind, I talked to family travel experts to get their favorite unpacking tricks. Here’s their awesome advice…
1. Unpack right away. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s essential to immediately put things away. “My kids know that as soon as we get to the hotel, we have to be unpacked within the first 20 minutes,” says Mara Gorman, family travel blogger at The Mother of all Trips. “Everybody gets their own drawer, the shoes go in the closet, the toiletry cases go in the bathroom–they key is having everyone know where to find their own stuff.” If you have older kids, you can train them to be responsible for their own things, but with younger ones, you may have to direct them or do it yourself.
2. Store all but one suitcase. Gorman recommends leaving one suitcase out on a luggage rack to use as a makeshift dirty clothes hamper. You can line it with a garbage bag to contain any stench, and make it easier to pack up at the end of your stay. Once the rest are unpacked, slide them under the bed or put them in the closet.
3. Use packing cubes. These fabric zip-up containers, available on Amazon, often come in sets, and fit easily into your suitcase and will help you stay organized once you arrive at your destination. Katja Gaskell, co-founder of family travel blog Globetotting, says that every member of her family has a pack of three cubes, in a different color, to keep their items together and clearly labeled. “We use the small cubes for underwear and socks, the middle cubes for T-shirts, and the larger cube for bulkier items like jeans and sweaters,” she explains.
4. Organize outfits into freezer bags. Pack a different outfit for every day (complete with underwear and socks), and put each in its own freezer bag. You can even label them if you want to plan for days of the week. It’s so easy because you can literally just take the bags out of the suitcase and transfer them directly to a dresser drawer.
5. Bring tons of trash bags. “Those teeny hotel trash bins are far too small for all of the garbage that inevitably accumulates with children, so bringing your own trash bags can contain the overflow,” says Gaskell. As I mentioned, they’re also great as a hamper. Going to a beach or place where you’ll be doing lots of outdoor activities? Trash bags are ideal for storing bathing suits and muddy clothes.
6. Give each family member a toiletry bag. Sure, you want to travel light, but the last thing you want is to have your kids rummaging through your makeup and skin creams. Giving each person in the family a toiletry bag in a unique color will prevent that, says Gorman. Grownups may prefer hanging toiletry bags to keep them off the counters…and away from the splashing and mess that seems to happen when kids meet sink.
7. Make use of a car storage organizer, if you’re going on a road trip. This bin fits in the backseat and has compartments, zipper packs, and cup holders; it’s big enough to hold tons of the kids’ toys, books and snacks. “When you get to your destination, you can just pull the whole thing out of the car and bring it inside, and all of their toys and books are together in one place,” says Gorman. Genius!