If you’ve ever been on a road trip, a weekend away or just popped off to stay with your folk for a few nights, you’ll know parenting rule #12 is absolutely true: kids are not famed for traveling light. This is a problem that us parents have to try and overcome, quickly finding a solution to fit all the bits and bobs they need without a) sacrificing all the stuff you need and b) having to pay the super-hefty price for going over your luggage allowance at the airport.

We know this sounds crazy and impossible and more fabled than a polka dot unicorn, but you can do it. The trick is nailing the preparation stage of the process. Sure, having a few heavy duty combination padlocks on hand to keep the lid closed, knowing how to pack light and making total use of your hand luggage are all going to help in their own little way, but the prep stage is still the most important. So, without further ado, here’s what you need to know:

1. Get The Notepad
The first thing you need to do is grab a pen and a piece of paper (or just open the note app of your smartphone) and create an individual “what to pack list” for every person in your family. This will help you get a pretty solid understanding of what each person needs and how to best make it all fit. To really be on the ball, make sure you highlight any items you’ll need to keep out until right before you leave; things like your kids’ favorite toys, any electronics you use, chargers, toothbrushes, snacks -that sort of stuff. Then make a copy of this and call it your “everything we took list” to help you on your return.

2. Lay It All Out
The next step is the most cliched one of all, but it works. You need to lay everything out on your bed, and we mean everything, and then make individual piles for your different family members. The reason for this is a slightly psychological one: by seeing everything you’re planning on packing in one place you’ll be giving yourself that “whoa, that’s a lot of stuff” and that will help you avoid over-packing. Once laid out, try and reduce the amount by a third and pack some non-liquid laundry tablets instead.

3. Divide and conquer.
This is where the art of packing really starts to unfold, and it’s about dividing your kid’s stuff up. So, what you need to do is try and sort out your children’s outfits by day and then pack them into separate ziplock bags. You can even stick on a sticky white label if you fancy. That’s one way to do it. The other thing you can do is pack things that are similar, like shirts with shirts and dresses with dresses and so on, popping them into separate vacuum-pack bags. Oh, and as a general rule of thumb: always pack an extra day’s outfit. Trust us on that one.

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