Carry On Packing With Teens

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

This week we’re happy to feature a guest post by Jenni Mahnaz, of Witness Humanity, whose expertise on packing with teens grew from her backpacking trip across India with her daughter.

There are many articles out there about packing minimally with children- articles that really help you get down to the nitty-gritty needs when packing up the littles. But what about carry on packing with teens?

Teens are no longer in need of an adult packer but sometimes they need a little guidance, especially for a first trip. No 15 year old wants to be told by mom what she is, and is not, allowed to bring on a trip. However, if your family is dedicated to taking as little as possible, you may feel the urge to drive those packing decisions. So, how do you guide your teen when packing while simultaneously teaching him independence and autonomy?

Give Advance Warning

Give teens plenty of time and discuss limitations before hand. Springing clothing, electronic, and toiletry limitations on a your child at the last minute is a recipe for disaster. Make carry on only plans known far in advance so there are no surprises. Repeat the plans whenever the opportunity presents itself. Teens genuinely have lots going on in their minds and in their lives so hearing repeatedly that everyone will only be taking a carry on bag can really help get them in the right frame of mind when it’s time to pack.

Make a List

Not any old list, a list that details what they want to bring, what kinds of double duty an item might serve, and how versatile it is. Do this together but don’t be married to the idea that it must be done on paper. Talking out a list, drawing it, texting a list to yourself, and laying things out to look at are all valid ways of “making a list.” The point is to help your teen visualize how, and when, things might be used. We all fall into the, “I-might-need-this-nail-polish-so-I’ll-just-throw-it-in,” trap. Don’t get frustrated if your teen does the same. Just ask when and how he sees himself using that item. If she can’t think of a specific use, suggest setting it aside until the end. If there is still room after they pack the essentials, he can add a few items under the “just in case” category.

Discuss Details

You may think you have done this but, in my experience, you probably haven’t. Don’t just talk about the beaches you will visit and the fun you will have. Talk about the walk from the airport to the hotel. Talk about the weather- hot, cold, and anything in between. Talk about the time your flight arrives. Talk about public transportation. In short, talk about the practical logistics that allow your teen to visualize what it might be like to transport her luggage while traveling. Your purpose need not be obvious. Including your teen in travel plans is always a good idea. Genuine conversations about logistics will have an impact on how he sees his packing choices.

Pack Together

Set a packing time for the whole family. Not every teen needs this but teens who are traveling for the first time might find this especially helpful. Set up a day and time for everyone to head to their respective spaces and get packing. This makes it a family affair without you hovering over your capable teen. Making a time to pack “together but separate” also makes you available to your teen if she should have questions about what she is packing but allows enough space to agonize over packing deacons in private. Turn on some music, leave some snacks out on the table, and keep the mood light. This can actually be a fun start to the trip!

Less is More

Avoid the urge to buy them special travel stuff. It seems obvious, but it’s not. Travel is exciting! Buying a few things here and there for an upcoming trip is fun. But it is really easy to get caught up in the idea that you need a whole new wardrobe for a trip to Mexico. You don’t. Teens don’t. Traveling teens are not likely to give up their familiar comforts in favor of all the new stuff. So, when you buy three new pairs of shorts and five new tops for her, your teen is likely to try to stuff all of that PLUS their favorites from home into their bag. This is carry-on death. Insist that your teen pack from his current stash first, fill in the holes last.

Hold Teens Responsible

Establish (and stick to) a “you bring it, you carry it” family packing rule. This is the most important thing to remember if you are really trying to encourage a teen to pack light and be independently responsible. No matter how hot, tired, or miserable he becomes, do not carry that oversized bag for him. Humans learn through experience and if a teen does overpack and is then required to shoulder her own burden, she will likely understand why packing light was on the agenda in the first place.

With some support, any teen can get his travel needs into a carry on bag!

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