Smart Travel Tips for Quick and Easy Airport Experiences

Smart Packing for Today's Traveler by Susan Foster

A very busy summer air travel season is forecast, as rising gas prices send many families to their destinations by plane this year. Full flights are anticipated, making planning ahead essential. Packing expert Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today's Traveler, offers these ten tips for smart family travel.

  1. Make plane reservations as soon as possible to lock in current inexpensive fares. As fuel prices increase, airfares will also.
  2. Select seats when you make the airline reservation -- this is the only way to ensure that you will be seated together. Waiting until you arrive at the airport will scatter each of your family members throughout the plane, or will require asking other passengers to accommodate you by moving seats when they are trying to get settled themselves.
  3. Print boarding passes before leaving for the airport. If you have booked online, this option is generally available 24 hours in advance of the flight and will save standing in a check-in line at the airport.
  4. Pack light. Many airlines are charging $25 each way for checked bags weighing 50 pounds or more. Weigh each bag at home on a bathroom scale before leaving for the airport so you can lighten the load. Also measure each bag before packing as no bag may be over 62" based on linear measurement of length + width + depth. Larger bags may incur a large fee. Consider packing into two smaller bags in place of one large one.
  5. Take less. Organize what each family member wants to pack far in advance to allow time to wash favorite things and to encourage participation by each person. This minimizes complaints upon arrival, as each was part of the packing decisions. Plan to find a coin- operated laundry half way through the trip so you can pack half as much clothing. Tucking in a self-sealing plastic bag of laundry detergent saves money and hassles.
  6. Organize your suitcase by grouping similar clothing items into containers: socks in one container, underwear in another. Self-sealing plastic bags of various sizes are perfect for this and are a travelers' best friend! Children's clothing is easily packed by folding or rolling an entire day's outfit together--pants, tee-shirt, underwear and socks--and tucking them into a self-sealing bag. Pop the dirty items back into the bag at the end of the day to isolate soiled clothing from clean.
  7. Pack into as few suitcases as possible -- the more bags the greater the chance that one will be misplaced or forgotten. Plus, a hefty fee may be charged for additional checked bags. Airlines typically allow two checked bags plus one carry-on per ticketed passenger (young children who ride on a parent's lap are NOT considered "ticketed"). Many families pack into community bags of one adult with one child per bag; for a family of four this means two checked bags plus carry-ons.
  8. Pack a backpack for each person (this will count as one carry-on). Parents can manage children better if they are hands-free, so purses and in-flight necessities are best carried in an adult backpack. Kids fly quieter when entertained, so allow them to choose their toys and to carry them. Smaller children manage better passing through airports, airport security, and aircraft aisles with small backpacks; bigger children can manage small rolling bags that will fit under the seat.
  9. Take your child's safety seat and stroller as carry-ons whenever possible. Each airline has a slightly different ruling on traveling with this gear, so call or visit your airline website to check in advance so you won't have any surprises at the airport.
  10. Savvy frequent flyer parents advise packing the following in your child's carry-on: Gameboys, games and extra batteries and travel-sized games; Books (thin paperbacks are best!) and/or coloring/activity books and crayons; Portable DVD player (however, battery length is usually only about 3 hours); Pajamas and slippers for a long flight (if children are comfortable, they are more likely to sleep); Hard candies to suck on, water or juice to combat cabin pressure changes during take off and landing; Anything your child must have, such as a favorite blanket or bunny.

Packing light will spare your back and your budget and minimize baggage hassles. Plan ahead, take less, and have a great vacation! See for more family packing and airport tips, or buy a copy of Smart Packing for Today's Traveler by Susan Foster.