Packed beach tote

The 7 biggest packing blunders and how to avoid them

Does the idea of packing a suitcase fill you with terror? Let's be honest: it's not exactly the best part of a family vacation. You have to decide what goes and what stays, what's a necessity and what's just taking up space, and you have to do it all while keeping everyone happy. We're here to help, though! Just avoid these blunders and you'll have a great trip.

1. Not making a packing list

Before you place a single sock in your suitcase, sit down and make a packing list. Consider putting one together on Google Docs – that way, your spouse and kids can check it out and make additions. You can also delete anything you know is unnecessary or too difficult to bring. When it's ready, print the list and check things off one by one as they go in your bags and you'll avoid the nightmare of realizing you left something important, like your favorite ankle boots, at home.

2. Shoving everything in a bag without a second thought

Packing cubes your friend. They're the difference between a bag crammed full of disorganized stuff and one that makes sense. You can even give everyone their own cubes, so dad's shirts won't get mixed up with the baby's onesies. They also make unpacking easy – just give everyone their cube and you're done.

Alternately, you can try packing by day. Get a plastic bag for each member of your family and fill it with an outfit and accessories for a single day, repeating until your entire trip is covered. In the morning, hand the troops their bags and you're set. Small pouches for toiletries are also handy and you should consider wet bags if you're going swimming. That way, you'll have a place to stash soaked swimsuits when pool time is over.

3. Packing clothes that you can't mix-and-match

Only pack classic pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched together or you'll probably end up going over your weight limit. Check the weather at your destination in advance and take things that will keep you comfortable in the local climate. After all, there's no point in bringing a flannel shirt to Maui. You should probably avoid anything that's delicate or stains easy – tough, dependable apparel is best when you're on the road. A few extra pairs of socks and underwear often come in handy, too.

4. Forgetting the first aid kit

An accident can happen in the blink of an eye. Without a first aid kit, you'll be scrambling to find a band-aid or asking strangers for help. Your kit should contain any medications your family requires (along with copies of their prescriptions, in case you need a refill) and some basic over the counter meds, like aspirin. Band-aids, antiseptic and burn lotion are also good to have, as are bug spray, tweezers and cough medicine.

5. Overloading on footwear

Keep your bag light and don't get weighed down with a bunch of shoes you don't need. Typically, some sneakers, a pair of dressy shoes and something seasonal (like warm boots or flip-flops, depending on where you're going) are all a person needs. If you can get away with less than that, do it.

6. Leaving electronics at home

The idea of a screen-free vacation might sound nice, but you'll be grateful that the kids have something to watch movies on when your flight is delayed by three hours. Bring enough phone chargers to keep everyone powered up, and take your laptop if needed, but keep it safe in a protective case. Tablets can keep little ones occupied during long plane rides and car trips, and give them something to play with in the hotel at night, too.

7. Not caring for your passports

Finally, if you're travelling abroad, don't forget everyone's passports! Make sure they have at least six months' of remaining validity and consider putting them in water-resistant holders to protect them from damage. A backpack with a zippered inner pocket is perfect for keeping them all in one place and will ensure you always know where they are.

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