Two weeks ago, my good friend came to visit for 5 days. She brought a 30″ expandable suitcase and a large backpack. Additionally, she had to borrow one of our suitcases for her trip home. She was traveling alone. Luckily for her I was around to help carry her bags. Our family of four traveled Europe for 3 weeks with less luggage. When we travel, we fit everything into one 30” suitcase and 2 carry-on bags small enough to fit under the airplane seat (a stylish shoulder bag for her and a nondescript backpack for him). When you have other items to contend with (stroller, car seats- not to mention twins!) you need to keep baggage to a minimum.
Why on earth should you want to bring only 1 suitcase? If you are on a road trip in your family vehicle or staying in 1 destination, you can get away with bringing more luggage. If you, like us, tend to take trips to multiple cities you should heed our advice. Intercity transfers can be the bane of your existence. You will have to move your family and all of your luggage in/out of stations and on/off transportation by yourselves. Having to lug your bags around and throw them on and off a bus or train is a challenge with 1 suitcase. It is virtually impossible with more than that even just getting in and out of stations. If you are renting a car (or getting a taxi!) keep in mind how much space you will need. Get one large enough to fit all of your belongings. Discovering that your family, baggage and stroller do not fit into your rental car and you need to upgrade is an expensive inconvenience. If no upgrades are available it is a potential disaster. When you are planning your vacation you must consider how you will transition from one destination to another. These transfers will be much easier if you learn to bring only 1 suitcase.
We are always on the move. We rarely stay in one city longer than 3-4 nights when traveling abroad. There isn’t a form of mass transit we haven’t taken with our twins and luggage. While your travel style might be slightly more sane than ours, you will discover our method opens up more travel options. Moving around with your luggage is easy if you bring 1 suitcase. One parent pushes the twins in the double stroller and the other is in charge of the bag/gear. It is that simple.
There are a number of absolute essentials when traveling with twins. The trick is to make sure you bring everything you need and little else. If you limit yourself to one suitcase you virtually guarantee you aren’t over-packing. What is the method to this madness? How do we make it work? What are the essentials? This is how we have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with twins using only one suitcase.
TIPS FOR PACKING LIGHT WHEN TRAVELING WITH TWINS :
- SUITCASE: Invest in a good suitcase. Get a strong suitcase with wheels that is lightweight and expandable (no hard covers). Our current suitcase is 30″ expandable from Antler Cyberlite. (Thank you, Qantas, for replacing the bag you destroyed.) This suitcase has logged many miles with the twins. Everything we need on the airplane (or other mass transit) is in our carry-ons and everything else fits into a wheeled 30” suitcase. We pack beforehand to make sure everything fits. You will have some space for souvenirs on your return trip as you will have used up a number of bulky items (food, diapers) during the trip.
- LARGE DUFFEL: Bags can only weigh 50 pounds on international flights. Even we can’t meet this standard most of the time. We don’t care how much our one suitcase weighs so long as we can zip it closed. Solution? Always keep a large duffel folded up compactly in the outside pocket. Transfer a couple of bags of clothing (we compartmentalize -see below) into the duffel when in the airport and voila! You now have 2 bags to check-in that meet flight standards without paying extra (the duffel also serves as souvenir overflow space on the return trip). Do it with your bag right on the scale at check-in so you know when you have taken out enough weight. The duffel should be large but light and compact when folded. We use an REI duffel bag. Repack everything into the suitcase at your destination baggage claim and off you go with 1 suitcase. Easy peasy! This is the linchpin of our method.
- BUNGEE CORDS. What about car seats? We keep a couple stretchy bungee cords in the outside pocket with the duffel. We put both car seats upside down on the upright suitcase and strap them in place with the bungees. In this way you can pull your car seats as you pull your suitcase. It’s not always the most stable, but it works well for short distances.
- COMPARTMENTALIZE. We use packing bags from Ebags to separate our clothes for more efficient packing. One for mommy, daddy and the twins. ROLL DON’T FOLD the clothes to save space. We also group similar items into bags (eg toiletries, diapers, food/formula, etc). This organization makes it easier to pack/unpack repeatedly. It also helps you know which bags need to stay in the suitcase (breakables) and which can be thrown in the duffel when your suitcase is overweight (clothes and other non-breakables).
- CLOTHING. We don’t pack more than a week’s worth of clothes. Check the weather forecast of your destination(s) to help you decide what to bring. Try to limit bulky items that can be used more than once before washing (jeans, jackets, shoes). Wear bulky items on the flight to maximize suitcase space (and keep you warm on the plane). We always bring a small amount of liquid detergent. If there is no washing machine we hand wash in the sink or tub. Don’t forget you can intentionally under-pack clothing and plan to buy new clothes at your destination. Not only do you get new clothes, but they make great souvenirs!
- Mom: I pack light but I don’t take my appearance lightly. I love to dress up when I travel. I only bring one pair of jeans. I bring plenty of leggings and tights during cold weather and layer as needed. I almost always wear dresses when I travel. Black is my uniform when I travel so color coordinating is easy.
- Twins: We want the twins to look cute and practical. One outfit a day for babies is ok. Keep 1-2 sets of emergency clothes on you at all times if your kiddos are under 2. They should be small and light (we use jump suits small enough to cram into a Ziploc sandwich bag). For cold weather travel bring 2 sets of jeans and multiple pairs of tights. Layer as needed for warmth. Color-coordinate so you can mix and match to create a variety of outfits. Two sets of pajamas is enough. Use bibs during mealtime so the clothes won’t get dirty. Focus on darker colors if you have a very messy eater.
- Dad: Dad has no particular style. Function over fashion is the rule. Two pair of pants/jeans with a mix of shorts and shirts with different sleeve lengths. The exact recipe differs slightly depending on expected weather.
6. SHOES take up tons of space! Try to limit everyone to 2 pair of shoes. If anyone brings boots, they should be worn on the plane to save space. When the girls were babies, we only brought one pair of shoes (Converse, of course) for the entire trip. Bring shoes that are difficult for your babies to take off! You don’t want to have to retrace your steps when you discover a shoe has gone missing while sightseeing! We generally travel with 2 pairs of shoes for the girls- one pair of tennies and either sandals/flats or boots depending on weather/destination. Pack socks in the shoes to maximize space.
7. MILK/FORMULA/FOOD/DIAPERS/WIPES FOR BABIES: Bring enough of these items to safely get you to your destination. In fact, you may want to bring enough to get through anticipated jet lag (few days to a week). Plan to buy most of these things after your arrival rather than carry around the extra bulk and weight (unless your child/ren has/have severe food allergies). After you are settled go to a local supermarket and find necessities like formula, baby food and diapers. Don’t worry if instructions are in a foreign language (there are usually pictures/numbers to help you along). Consider conversions (pounds/kilos; oz/ml) as needed.
- BREAST FEEDING. If you are breastfeeding your twins, congratulations! You deserve a medal. (Not an easy task!) If you are pumping we recommend the Ameda Purely Yours portable breast pump. I pumped on the plane, in the bathroom, in the car- you name it. It is portable and battery operated so you don’t have to worry about voltage differences. Use it with a handsfree breastpumping bra. It comes with two bottles and is compatible with standard sized bottle nipples. Don’t forget to bring a bottle brush. Those little darlings can be hard to find overseas. The Munchkin microwave sterilizer bag is portable, lightweight and good for fast sterilization of bottles if you have access to a microwave.
- FORMULA. If you are using formula, you won’t likely find the same brand abroad. Bring powder formula to save weight. If you buy powdered formula abroad, realize that it may look different from your formula at home. We were a bit surprised by the quaker oats texture to the dry formula in Austria. After giving it a few funny looks and some quick translation from our apartment’s receptionist we gave it a try (well, our girls did). There were no problems. Again, if your children have allergies to other formulas you may want to bring formula with you otherwise you can buy it abroad.
- BABY FOOD. If your babies have started solids, you will need to bring some food. Don’t forget to bring along 1 or 2 baby spoons (you can use the ones from the in-flight meal if you forget them). We would pack a week’s worth of baby food, but only foods in plastic containers or pouches. Glass is too heavy and breakable. Even so, we double packed foods inside of 2 Ziploc bags and padded with baby clothes. Our caution paid off as we never found a surprise baby food explosion inside our suitcase.
- FOOD FOR TODDLERS. We buy snacks at destination grocery stores but always have food on hand for emergencies. On a 3 week trip, we usually bring 3 days worth of emergency food in case we are stranded and can’t get to a grocery store. These foods must be portable, non-perishable, and easy to prepare. We always brought instant microwaveable Mac and Cheese in small individual packets and Gerber Yogurt Blend (individual containers that don’t require refrigeration). There are many pasta/noodle options that only require boiled water to cook. That makes them fast and easy if not the healthiest food around. We would also bring multiple dry snack options (Goldfish crackers, small dried fruits, etc)- roughly a Ziploc bag’s worth. We used Munchkin snack catcher containers. Put some snacks in them and give them to the twins anywhere (we even used them at home). After trying many other cup options, the Playtex Spoutless Spill proof sippy cup is the winner. The girls used the same bottles for almost two years. We would bring a super light hard plastic bowl for meal time and reuse. Have some hand/face wipes with you at all times in case there are no water facilities nearby when touring.
- BIBS! A must have for twin babies! Bibs will save you tons of space because they reduce how many clothes you need to bring. Our girls wore bibs until they were 4 years old. You never know when kids are going to spit up, spill, etc. Our favorite bib is Baby Bjorn Soft Bib for stay at home meals. They are plastic so you just rinse in the sink and they are ready to go. No washing machine needed. They are a bit bulky for going out in the stroller so we use small, lightweight cloth bibs when we eat out
- DIAPERS. Plan to purchase diapers abroad. They are just too bulky to pack en masse. Wipes are portable so bring along a pack or two, but just buy more abroad if you run out.
8. TOILETRIES. Keep a permanent toiletries bag stocked so you won’t forget anything when packing last minute. Repack it after your return. Don’t bring big bottles. They take up unnecessary space/weight. We bring travel sized toiletries whenever possible (eg toothpaste) and often don’t bring shampoo/conditioner/body wash if they will be available at our hotel/rental. Nail clippers and tweezers (for mom’s eyebrows, kid’s splinters) are small, portable and necessary so bring them rather than spend hours finding and buying new ones. Bring what you need! We keep twin toiletries in a small separate bag. For them, we bring tear free head to toe shampoo and lotion from Johnson and Johnson (in reusable, small bottles) for the whole trip. You can often purchase tear-free options abroad if needed, but might not find preferred brands.
9. HIGH CHAIR. In Europe or Asia, it can be hard to find accommodations or restaurants that can provide high chairs. We used our stroller instead. We used the Regalo My Chair Portable Booster in rental apartments a few times when the girls started eating solid meals. Even though they are light and portable, they are a bit of a luxury considering space liimitations. A side by side double stroller works just fine for feedings.
10. SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS. Some hotels can provide cribs or pack-and-plays, but many cannot. I can’t tell you how many times we used our peapods by Kidco. Ours were a gift from some friends- also parents of twins. They were our favorite travel item by far! They are basically mini popup tents for your twins. You can’t imagine how many more lodging options you have when you can bring beds for your kids! They are light and fold up incredibly compact. You whip them out and they spring into shape. They come with a stuff sack (to keep them from springing open). We put both pods into one sack to improve portability. As they are screened, they also help to avoid mosquito bites with our frequent travel back to Asia. It is worth mentioning that the peapods by kidco were taken off the market for a while due to safety concerns. They are available for purchase again after some minor modifications. Do your research before you buy, especially if you plan to use them with young infants.
11. TOYS. You don’t have to bring two of everything. You have more variety if you let them share! For babies, we love Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes and Sophie the Giraffe. We also used Wubbanub Infant Toy Pacifier so it doubled up as pacifier and toy (you can’t believe how often we lost and found it again and again- much harder to lose than a pacifier!). Rattle links are light and awesome too. For young toddlers, reusable stickers and traveling flash cards are great. Since our girls turned 3 we only bring tablets and activities/coloring books that come with crayons. You can find them in dollar stores/aisles (Target). They are great to kill time while waiting for meals at restaurants and you don’t have to bring them home.
12. ELECTRONICS. Use technology to save space. We used to bring leisure books and travel books. Now, we download all travel books and leisure reading on our tablet/smartphones. We brought a small picture book or two for the girls when they were babies, but we also downloaded bedtime stories to a tablet. Reservations and booking information are also saved. Now that our girls are getting older, we have educational apps and a few movies on the tablets to help them pass the time.
13. REUSABLE GROCERY BAGS/PLASTIC BAGS FOR EXTRA STORAGE. We generally bring a couple of reusable canvas bags when we travel. They help with compartmentalization in the suitcase (eg, holding food/feeding items, diapers/wipes, etc), but they can be used for a variety of things at your destination. You can use them for picnics, trips to the beach, or just to hold a few things while out sightseeing. One of them is always under our stroller in case we need to leave behind the stroller for a bit (museums, restaurants). This way we can still easily carry necessary (or expensive!) items with us. It can also be clipped to our stroller handle with a carabiner in case we run out of storage below the stroller. We use plastic bags for shoes and dirty clothes. Many hotels have laundry bags that we take for this purpose. You can also use any plastic bag from shopping (souvenirs/groceries).
14. CARABINERS. We love small carabiners. You can clip it on the handle of the stroller so it helps to carry the handbags or groceries. You can clip on the backpack, put twin bag’s together, endless uses.
15. PACK EARLY. Enough said.