Family Vacations

A Guide to Packing Like a Pro From A Special Needs Mom

Your Guide to Packing Like a Pro From A Special Needs Mom

Today more than ever before, airlines are cutting down on the amount of luggage that can be brought on the plane.  Long gone are the days of packing whatever your heart desires with no plan for what will be used when you arrive.

These are troubling times for special needs parents.  I know in our house, it seems like we pack the kitchen sink just to go to the store.  It doesn’t seem possible to stay within airline guidelines and pack everything a special needs family requires.  There is a way to beat the lock down on luggage though!  Pack smarter.  I am going to show you how to take the stress out of packing for your next trip.

Your Guide to Packing From a Special Needs Mom

Create a Standard Packing List

Making a list probably seems fairly basic, right?  I am sure that most of you make a list when you are about to venture somewhere.  But, is your list standard.  What I mean by that is, can your packing list be used for any and all trips and vacations.  If not, it needs to be tweaked slightly.  The best way to avoid mistakes in any operation is to be automated or have a fairly strict routine.  Packing is no different.

packing list

Before you travel, sit down and make a list of everything you will absolutely need while you are away.  This list should only include essential items.  The non-essentials can be added to your list after you have packed what you truly need.  I am guessing that most essential lists will go something like: pants, shirts, undergarments, socks, toothbrush, etc.  Make sure to have someone check over your list to make certain it is complete.  Then each time you pack, bring it out, and you will have piece of mind knowing you have at least the essentials.  This works especially well for when kids are packing their own luggage.  We don’t want them forgetting to pack those pesky socks and underwear.

Start Packing Early

When I mention to people that they should begin packing early to avoid forgetting something important, I hear so many excuses.  The worst one that people like to tell me is that they don’t have enough stuff to be able to pack early.  If that’s true then there should be no issue with the strict airline baggage requirements, right?

While this may be true for clothing and medications, there are a lot of things that can be packed early.  Toiletries, first aid kit, flashlights, extra pairs or shoes or sandals, and swim gear are just a few items that can be packed early.  With the amount of stuff we tend to bring with on vacation, we should have some things that can be packed early.

I recommend beginning three days prior to a weekend getaway and a full two weeks prior to a week long vacation.  This helps to ensure that you are not missing anything on the big day.  There have been numerous times for our family where we did not realize we were out of something until we started packing.  Giving yourself some extra time to get those needed things makes the days leading up to your trip much less stressful.

Ditch the Wheelie Carry On Suitcase

I have to admit, we used to rock the wheelie carry on suitcase many years ago.  That was before my husband and I took a trip to Eastern Europe.  Then we ditched the small suitcase for a large backpack.  I now understand why people backpack through Europe.  It is a whole lot easier, and it is quite amazing just how much you can stuff into a backpack and have it still be very portable.

The nice thing is that you can wear the backpack rather than try to roll it behind you. This gives you a hands free approach to travelling.  Because it is a lot easier to manage, it can even come to the airport restroom with you.  No need to have someone watching your bags.

Additionally, kids are used to wearing backpacks to school.  What they aren’t used to is maneuvering a wheelie suitcase with a mind of its own.  I can’t tell you how many times our son’s suitcase would be flipped upside down and all around as he struggled to get it across the airport terminal.

Backpacks are great for our wheelchair bound daughter as well. It is much easier to put her bag on the back of her chair while mine is safely on my back.  My hands then become free to push her chair.  With everyone able to carry their own luggage life on the go becomes so much easier.

Bundle Pack Your Clothing

This is my best tip for smart packing.  Instead of folding your clothes in nice neat piles that become jumbled up, wrinkled messes, try backing each day’s complete outfit in a bundle bag.  Each bundle should include pants, shorts or skirt, a shirt, socks, and undergarments.  I lump diapers and pull-ups into the under garments category, so that I don’t have to find these essentials on our busy mornings.

clothing bundle for packing

Lay out the clothes with pants/ shorts on the bottom, with the shirt, socks and undergarments laid out on top.  Then roll the clothes into a burrito shaped bundle.  Now place the bundle into a bag.  We use large zip lock bags so that we have them for laundry accidents or other zip lock emergencies.  When you use zip locks, you can also squeeze out all of the air from the bundle just like in one of those storage container commercials.  This saves quite a bit more pace, and oddly enough, prevents wrinkles in the clothing.

Our kids love helping with this process, and we love knowing that everyone has a complete set of clothing every day of our trip!  Simply return the dirty clothes to the zip lock bag so that the dirty clothes do not have to come in contact with the clean.

Pack Medications in Each Person’s Carry-on

With all of the special needs folks in our family, we tend to carry a pharmacy whenever we travel somewhere.  My worst nightmare is that we will lose our checked bags and run out of medication before the end of the trip.  I really don’t want to find out what a headache it is to get medications refilled while on vacation either.  So, for this reason, all our medication is packed in our carry on backpacks.

This is the other reason I love the idea of a backpack for carry on luggage.  Backpacks have pockets, lots of them.  Since the pockets are designed to hold small quantities of school supplies, it makes these pockets perfect for  storing our medications.

At home we store everyone’s medications in a small plastic drawer organizer, so adding them to the backpack is a lot easier.  If you have a lot of different medications for a lot of different family members, I highly recommend the small plastic organizer.

Pack Your Important Travel Documents in Your Phone

With the exception of your passport and your driver’s license, most all other travel documents can be stored in your phone.  This saves so much space, and it is so much faster to locate documents when they aren’t packed with your other travel essentials.

travel documents

Check with your airline, as they probably offer digital tickets that the airline will scan right from your phone.  Even car rental agreements, and hotels will email the confirmation notices.  Store these in your phone for easy access..  I would recommend storing the documents in the files section of your phone just in case you need to access them in a place without access to the internet.

Another document that I recommend having in your phone is a list of important phone numbers.  This includes the pharmacy, your family’s primary doctor, the dentist the supplier for any medical equipment you bring, and your insurance companies.  I also include a list providers local to the area you are visiting as well.  This may seem like overkill, but in the event that something happens while you are on vacation, this list just may come in handy.

Ditch the Non-essentials

I know, I know.  Everything is an essential, right?  Or so thinks my kids who would bring every toy and electronic device they own.  And you know that no one is touching my phone, tablet or laptop!  But, the realities are that we can truly be happy with so much less.

I remember packing a week’s worth of groceries in one checked bag the first time we visited Disney. And we had the dining plan!  I was sure that there would be nothing my kids could eat there.  Yes, I can be a tad bit neurotic sometimes, but I share this with you not for the counseling, but to demonstrate just how easy it is to justify the non-essentials that we pack.

A good rule of thumb when deciding if something is essential or not is to ask yourself a few simple questions.

  1. Is this item replaceable by something else that I have already packed?
  2. Does my hotel or another party at my destination have something that would replace this item?
  3. Is this an item on my standard packing list?

Depending upon how you answer the above questions, you can determine if the item in question is essential.  I have stopped bringing a hair dryer with me to most hotels, as they already have one waiting for me.  You might be happy to know that I no longer bring a suitcase full of food to Disney World anymore either.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still bring non-essentials on my trips.  I just make sure that I have all of the essentials packed first.

Think Outside the Typical Travel Box

This is probably the tip that will save you the most.  Thinking outside the box on anything usually boasts good results, but it is imperative when you are trying to pack like a pro.  We pack extra pairs of socks inside the foot area of our extra pair of shoes.  Did you know you can actually pack a full week’s supply of socks this way?  You can.  Shoes are actually a great place to pack all sorts of little items.  Just make sure to put them in a plastic bag first for obvious reasons.

On our last trip to Disney World we took advantage of another bloggers great tip!  The shoe organizer zip tied to the back of a stroller tip.  This is an ingenious idea, and one I highly recommend.  To see the plans for this head over to the Krazy Coupon Lady site to see this in action.

She uses it for a large drink holder, and while we did use the top row this way, we added a few of our own ideas.  We ended up not taking a diaper bag to the parks, as we could fit a days worth of diapers, a pack of wipes, extra clothes, and feeding essentials all in the shoe organizer.  And the best part, was Disney security did not need to check it, as the front of the organizer was clear.

Packing becomes a breeze when you think about it in a whole new way.  For more great travel tips, check out our Travel and Home School Solutions page.

The next time you find yourself in the midst of packing for your families trip or vacation, don’t stress!  Remember these travel tips and pack like a pro!

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A Guide to Packing Like a Pro From A Special Needs Mom

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