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Packing 1 bag for a mom & 2 boys- how?

I will be traveling from north to south Germany visiting relatives and sightseeing, with my 2 boys (8 and 10 years old) parents and sister in an 8 passenger VW van. I plan to have a small daypack for our light cotton jackets and camera during the day plan to leave our suitcase(s)in the hotel or van.

I have a dilemma.
1. Do I use three carry on suitcases or one large suitcase?
What would be easier for getting in & out of hotels
and finding each of our clothes for the next day?

  1. How do I pack to find things each day easier?

Do I pack everything flat to maximize space (but then
I need to flip down through the lagers to find each
of our outfits.

Do I roll everything so I can more easily see what
the item is (rolled side up to see contents)?

Posted by
11507 posts

Frances. Last year I took my 12 yr old on a Rick Steves 14 day FAmily Tour( as well as we stayed another 2 weeks independly) .. and the youngest in our tour group was a 7 yr old girl , and her 10 yr old sister. We had 14 children in our group of 28 people.

All children had their own rolling bags. Simple. If Katie from Texus who was all of 7 could handle a bag getting off and on trains(we did not use the bus all the time) and have to haul it up some steep streets and staircases,, then I am sure you 8 yr old boy from Alaska can handle his own bag too!( you may have to help occaisonally, but thats not a big deal if you only have one small carry on rolling bag yourself).

To aid in clothes packing ,, first pack less not more. Second, stick to basic colors mix and match. Second , quart size heavy duty zip lock bags are incredibly helpful. One for socks. One for undies. Easy to see how many in each bag are left clean...( put dirty ones in seperate bag). Easy to find.

A small rolling bag will easily pack 7 t shirts( one with long sleeves at least) , and 4 or 5 bottoms( shorts, pants, and bathing suit) . An extra pair of shoes ( or sandals) and a sweater. Kids stuff does not take up as much room as yours. You are staying with relatives here and there, so you have easy assess to laundry,, do not overpack.

Posted by
5678 posts

I am sure that some of the people who travel with children will chime in shortly, but in the meantime I give you my two bits. I would not take one giant suitcase. You are likely going to be carrying these bags upstairs as elevators are not always available. I'll be interested as what the mom's say to your question.

Now as to packing, I'm a roller and I use ditty bags, as we call them in my family, to help me organize my suitcase. I put underwear in one, socks in another etc. I find that this facilitates not only finding things, but makes packing much easier in the morning! Don't forget a bag for laundry even if you don't use the bags for anything else.


Posted by
6898 posts

The two boys should be old enough and big enough to carry a good-sized backpack of some type. They can easily bring much of their own stuff in a carry-on.

Posted by
3313 posts

Well, there's your problem! Leave the lagers out of your luggage. They have plenty in Germany so you don't need to pack your own ;)

Seriously, one big bag is a huge hassle. Divide between backpacks the kids and you can carry and one piece each you can lug by hand. I think that making the kids responsible for at least part of their stuff is a great travel lesson.

Posted by
5678 posts

I love the way the men chimed in here. I wonder if they are dads? Where are the moms? ; ) Pam.

Posted by
800 posts

Frances - I'd put the boys in one carryon and you in another (and I assume sister has her own). I'd use lightweight wheeled bags and would actually have both boys pull the two bags from car to hotel (you will probably have to put them in the overhead so make sure you can lift both). If you are traveling in the summer you should have more than enough room for the very lightweight clothing that you will need. Also, if your sons are anything like mine then they will be happy to wear the same t-shirt & shorts/jeans for many days in a row until you make them change - but limit to 1 pair of jeans (for weight considerations). They can wear one pair of shoes (their tennis shoes) and carry their Tevas or other sports sandal type shoe.

Packing for myself I use large ziplocs and pack flat. But I am flipping the ziplocs, not layers of clothes. The kids won't be so neat so I'd only put their nicer shirts in 1 ziploc for when you need them to look more presentable.

This plan has worked for us pretty well - we often had son & daughter pack together until they were teens and wanted more room for stuff and could carry more themselves. Also, boys should each have their own school backpack with books, etc. for plane, car, downtime. This they will ALWAYS carry themselves.

Posted by
34 posts

Your boys are big enough to carry a bag each. Have you looked at the bags that Rick Steves sells? They are made of heavy-duty canvas, carry like a suitcase, but also have straps that pull out to be carried as a back pack. Others sell them also; regardless, I have found them to be light enough that children carry them, but they also expand to a size that is capable of carrying most things you need. Using any type of light weight bag to hold similar items is advised also. These type of bags to not hold shape and when carried as a pack everything will naturally fall to the bottom. The big suitcase is a real pain. Yes it is easy to carry everything, but it is also very unwieldy packing into cars, up stairs, etc. Bags that are easily manageable by one person is a more preferable way to go.

How on earth does packing a bag have a sexist bent? A mom's opinion is somehow an improved concept? What an odd thing to say. Oh, I get it. Packing everything in the biggest suitcase possible while yelling at your husband to heft that bag up four flights of stairs increases the a woman's enjoyment of their vacation. :)

Posted by
6898 posts

Our 2.75 year old grandson pulls his own Thomas the Tank Engine luggage cart through the airport. He wouldn't have it any other way. He can't wait until he can carry his own backpack like his daddy and mommy. And, yes we are fathers and grandfathers :) :)

I just love Karen's comment about the boys wearing their scrungies (smelly underwear) for several days. LOL. Its so true. I almost posted that above but I hesitated. The boys can carry some of their own weight.

Posted by
1633 posts

We have taken our son on 3 trips driving through Europe. He uses a rollerboard suitcase that has a detachable daytime backpack. When he was younger, there were times when we had to help him out with his luggage. Because we have backpack luggage, we were able to pull his rollerboard behind us. We also check our luggage through.

I am also a roller and user of ditty bags. We stay at zimmers which often times have lots of stairs and it's not easy to carry our luggage. So, I bring a small collapsible bag for each of us and put toiletries, pj's and a change of clothes in them. I would bring a case for each boy and leave lots of room for souvenirs. We also bring backpacks for our cameras and daily needs. We buy lightweight windbreaker hooded jackets that can be stuffed into its own pocket.

My son would also wear his clothes for many, many days. Hey, he's on vacation! Don't forget to find sommerrolderbahns (luge rides). They are a blast. Have fun making lifetime memories with your boys. My son is graduating from high school this week--the years go by so fast. Material possessions come and go, but our memories last forever.

Posted by
671 posts

I have four children. When we went to Germany, my son was 14 and my daughters 11, 5, and 2. They all had their own rolling bags (smaller bags for smaller kids.) The 2 year old didn't pull her own, but everyone else did. When I pack bags for everyone, I put matching top and bottom outfits together and roll them as one. I have a separate stash for underwear and socks. This system has worked for me for decades now.

Posted by
381 posts

My 2 girls have been packing and carrying (rolling) their own bags since they were 5. I make out a list of what they need and they decide what outfits to bring. By making out the list for them, they don't miss any essentials, but at the same time, they know if they bring it, they carry it. So far, it has worked well for us. They are now 10 and I find giving them the responsibility makes life easier on all of us.

Posted by
3428 posts

Our children started going to Europe with us when they were about the age of yours (they are now 22 and 31). They always packed and carried their own non-checked bag and a small day pack. I agree about the hooded-lightweight rain jackets. They are perfect for rain or wind. I'd suggest the following: 3 pair khaki or black shorts, 1 pair jeans, 1 pair khaiki pants (or other 'dockers' type0 for "dress", 5 tee shirts/polos, 1 button up casual to layer over Ts/polos, 1 "dress" shirt, at least 5 pair of undies and 5 pairs of socks. Good shoes are a must. Add a cap, washcloth and their toothbrush/paste, and a brush and that's about all they need. Let them put a game, book, notebook/sketch pad with pens/pencils/markers in their day bag, along with the jacket and a water bottle. Also - consdier taking some of the "instant" drink mixes that you can add to bottled water- something like crystal light.

Posted by
12172 posts

I would do three carry-ons. Our 8 year old girl used a large daypack rather than a carry on bag and was very happy. Our 12 and 16 year old both had a regular roll aboard.

If the kids have (including what they wear on the plane) three t-shirts, a button up shirt or two, two pairs of pants, one pair of swim trunks, underwear, socks, a light sweater or fleece, an unlined rain jacket and two pairs of shoes, they will have plenty for a month. After you pack those, you can let add a couple of personal choices. Don't pack everything full because the load expands on the road with less careful packing, souvenirs, etc.

Each child wore a neck pouch with their passport and some money in it. We tied a knot in the neck strap to adjust the length and tucked it inside their shirt.

I wouldn't bring cotton jackets. I would opt for a light rain/wind jacket that you can layer with a light sweater or fleece for warmth.

We roll our stuff. I find it's easier to get in to grab the one item you are looking for - such as a t-shirt to replace one that got spilled on.

Lots of large and small zip-lock bags come in handy for dirty clothes, papers or loose items. You can squeeze the air out to compress them.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you everyone for your feedback!

I plan to repack and see what I have and what it looks like etc. I am going to go with checking in as baggage three carryon/luggage size rolling suitcases (max size for carry on). These can all stay in the van while we travel- 1 for souvenirs/gifts/dirty clothes, 1 for both boys clean clothes and spare pair of shoes, 1 for my clothes, spare pair of shoes & our toiletries.

Each of us will have one small/med carry on backpack on wheels with airplane activities, snacks, light rain jacket and spare outfit for emergency or if our luggage is lost/delayed. (That’s all that I can fit into theirs).

When we arrive, the backpacks will be stored in the vehicle as well as the souvenir piece of luggage (this will empty as we visit our relatives and fill up with the new items we take back. All I will have to transport into the B&B/hotel are the two carry on size luggage (the boys clothes and my items).

Sounds better. I will repack and see if it is more manageable or if I will have to revise my plans and see if the boys can take a smaller back pack or just their carry on suitcase. I am concerned about just having a rolling carryon (vs. checking in) and the boys going in and out of it messing up the packed clothes. There is only one large compartment and a thing zip pouch on the front. And if they want to change activities, the suitcase would be in the overhead.

Thank you for the tips:
-Packing in zip lock bags
-fleece/sweater vs. cotton layer w/rain jacket
-packing outfits together

Posted by
2349 posts

Frances, they can take their carry=ons and still take a small day bag or back pack for stuff on the plane. I emphasized to my daughters that they absolutely were not allowed to get anything out of the suitcases because it's too annoying to others on the plane. All games, books, snacks, jackets, etc went into the day bag. I think they should carry their own small pack every day with snack, water bottle, and jacket.

Posted by
57 posts


If you don't want to have the boys carry a dayback (or they don't want/like to), you could have them put their plane activity stuff in a soft tote bag (one for each?) and then after going through security they can take it out of the carry-on suitcase and have it under the seat in front of them whenever they want to change to doing something else.

If you take a day back onto the plane (and have room) the tote(s) could go there until the boys get situated on the plane.

A plastic grocery bag each would also work if you can't get (or make) soft fabic totes.

Just an idea that I think might work. The carry-ons could then go in the overhead bin and stay there until arrival.