One of the most exciting and also most stressful parts of travel is packing. Confusion about what you might need to bring (Will it be cold enough for a jacket? How dressy for dinner? etc.) can lead to clothes thrown all over the place as you get ready to leave. But packing can also build up travel excitement as you anticipate where you will be going, what you will be doing and the clothes, accessories, etc. that you want to take with you for the journey.
When it comes to family travel, parents have mixed views on whether is better for parents to pack their kids bags or to have the children do this task for themselves.
The pros of having kids pack independently include:
Takes something off the parent’s plate
From stopping the mail to taking the dog to the sitter, parents have a lot to do to get ready for a trip (not including their regular jobs and household responsibilities). Having children pack their own bags takes something off a parent’s to-do list. Karen Horowitz, a mother of two and frequent family traveler says,”I give the kids a list of what to pack, they lay it all out and then I put it in the suitcase.”
Builds Self Esteem
Being able to accomplish a task independently helps kids to develop self-esteem and gain confidence in their abilities. Allowing kids to pack independently can help them feel competent and capable. Kids love having their own suitcases and carry-ons. It makes them look and feel more grown up.
When kids pack for themselves, it helps them to anticipate what to expect of the trip in terms of weather and activities. Even if parents have discussed the itinerary, independent packing reinforces the plans.
Helps Develop Life Skill
Packing is a skill that kids will need throughout their lives. Learning how to pack at a young age will help them become more and more comfortable with trip preparations as they get older.
However, there are also cons to having children pack independently including:
It Will Take A Lot Longer
Like so many household tasks, allowing children to pack independently may take twice as long than if parents just did it for them. Michelle Barishaw, mother of three boys, says, “I’m a control freak and pack for everyone. I require them to give me about 10 minutes of their time to make I’m not taking anything they blatantly hate or that is too small—but I control what ultimately goes in the suitcase.”
Items May Be Missing or Unnecessary Items May Be Packed
Children who pack independently may not be as skilled at the task as their parents would be. Andrea Klein, a mother of three, recalls a trip where she had her 8-year-old child pack her own carry-on bag. Klein says, “I discovered on the plane that all she had packed was a book and a big box of tissues.” At least she was prepared if a massive sneezing attack occurred in flight! Another mother of four, Abbe Maron, remembers a trip to Puerto Rico where her six-year-old son packed independently and , “The only bottoms he packed [were] bathing suits and one pair of green pants for a six day trip.” At least they’d be able to recognize him from afar!
This is a concern when you are traveling by plane and overweight bags can be an added cost or when you are traveling by car with limited space. Staci Feit, mother of three, says, “I find my two boys tend to underpack while my daughter will bring way more clothes than she needs.” Parents can also be guilty of overpacking. Try to lead by example and explain to your child as you go through your own packing why you are making the choices you are ( such as “these shoes go with all the pants I am packing.”)
For parents who do want to encourage their children to pack independently, here are a few suggestions:
Share the Itinerary
Some children get anxious when they are out of their normal routine and don’t know what to expect. Discussing travel plans in advance can help children to get mentally prepared and excited for their trip. Go through the daily agenda and help your child to brainstorm what items they will need to bring.
Create a list
A packing list with space to check off each item is a great way to help children pack independently. Lists are also great for adults, too! After returning from a trip, think about revising your own packing list based on what you used and what you wish you had brought.
Allow extra time
It may take children longer to pack independently, so to avoid stress, have them get started a few days in advance of the trip.
Check (and weigh) bags the night before
Even grown ups sometimes forget things – it’s best to do a quick look through the bags before you leave. Remember, the more times children pack independently, the better they will get at this skill so don’t get discouraged if they have trouble in the beginning.
Don’t stress – Vacations are Supposed to Be FUN!
If your child forgets something (other than medications which parents should pack themselves to avoid problems) odds are that these items can be purchased at the destination or the child can make do without. Travel should be fun and create memories, not stress. So don’t get too upset if your child doesn’t pack enough underwear and has to go commando a day or two. Maron’s son wore those green pants every night of the trip. It makes for a great family story (especially when looking at vacation pictures) and on their next trip, he remembered to pack more pants.