I should have posted this first, but I didn’t. Oops.
The family posting at The Common Room is a retired military family. This means we have many moves under our belts. Since our marriage some 27 years ago (where does the time go?), we have established our hearth and home in somewhere around 17 separate domiciles. That does not count places where our term of residency was less than two months. We have traveled, oh yes, we have traveled.
One of our favourite traveling tips for large families is the brown bag suitcase. We are sorry if this is not stylish enough for city folk. We have always been more practical than stylish. Of course, it’s gotten harder and harder to find brown bags, so now it’s the plastic grocery store bag.
The Brown Bag Packing System works like this:
Take one brown bag for each day you will be on the road- label each bag with one day of the week- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Put one, and only one, change of clothes for each family member in each brown bag, as needed. For instance, you might wear the same denim skirt or pair of blue jeans two days in a row (or more), in which case you’d only have a change of linen (that’s underwear) and shirt for you in one of the bags.
The proper way to pack is to smooth each item carefully, fold it in half and smooth it again, possibly fold it a third time if it’s a larger item, and then tightly roll up each item of clothing. This reduces wrinkles and enables the packer to pack to maximum capacity.
You’ll also want one overnight bag that carries toiletries, nightwear for each member of the family, and any medications. Toiletries that leak should be put inside ziplock bags. You should also include some saftey pins, clothespins, first-aide supplies such as bandages and disinfectant, and a small sewing kit. This bag can and should be genuine luggage, a backpack, or a duffle-bag- something sturdy. IF you are a frequent traveler it helps to keep this bag always the same, and to keep it well stocked- usually with duplicates of items from home.
If on Monday we intend to be driving hard, Monday’s bag will only contain comfortable, clean, but not fancy clothing for each family member- t-shirts and denim skirts mostly. If on Tuesday we intend to visit a museum on the road, Tuesday’s bag will contain slightly dressier clothing. If on Wednesday we intend to wear the same outfits, Thursday’s bag will contain only a change of linen, and Wednesday night we’ll go over the clothes we wore with a damp washcloth to freshen them.
We also find that mornings go more smoothly if we unpack those brown bags the night before. It is one of the first things we do upon arriving somewhere. Hang up one person’s entire outfit on one hanger (this is one reason why your clothespins might be handy). Loop linen over the top of the hanger, put socks for the next day in the pair of shoes neatly placed on the floor beneath the clothing. This helps smooth out any wrinkles. If you’re staying in a hotel you can also hang these in the bathroom during baths and showers so that any wrinkles can be steamed out. If necessary, you can also handwash linens and socks in the sink, wring them out well and clothespin them to a hanger to dry. You can hang this over the heater during the cold season, in front of a window, or while traveling lay these things out flat where the sun streaming in the car window will hit them.
The beauty of this system is that each night we have only to remove one brown sack and one overnight bag from the car, rather than a large and unwieldy suitcase. Another advantage is that The Progeny are not rummaging through the suitcase, hunting up that particular pair of socks and in the process unraveling all my careful packing and disrupting my arrangements with everybody’s clothes.
It might be a bit embarrassing to walk past a hotel clerk with one brown paper sack and an overnight bag while seven siblings trail behind their parents, everybody in various stages of travel-stained bedragglement. Personally, I think the mornings run so much more smoothly this way that it’s worth the disparaging glances our simple brown sack might attract. However, if you do not, you can also pack some brown bags inside a suitcase. You carry in your nice luggage, but only allow the children to rummage through the brown bag for that day.
Incidentally, as the Progeny have grown up, they prefer to keep their own toothbrushes and travel tubes of toothpaste and other toiletries in their own purses, simplifying travel arrangements even further.