As overwhelming and potentially frustrating packing for a long service-oriented or adventure based trip can seem, getting your student ready to leave can be very simple (and sometimes fun!) The key is organization, logical thinking, and getting started as soon as possible. Here are a few things you can do to make the entire process easier for everyone involved.
1. Start sooner rather than later
Designate a room in your home (or a corner of a room, but somewhere out of the way) to be the “prep” room. This is where everything you might be packing for your trip will go – toiletries, gear, clothes, etc. Lay everything out so that you can see it, and hopefully every time you go into that room or put something in the pile, you memory will be jogged as to something else you might need. Don’t try and do this all at once – there WILL be something you forget. Instead, if you give yourself a few weeks, you will have time to run through your brain several times as to what you’re still missing, what you need to go out and buy, etc.
2. More is best – and THEN, less is better
Don’t be shy when you first start putting items in your “prep” room or pile. If something pops into your head, put it in the pile, no matter how obscure or possibly unnecessary it might seem in the moment. Do it right away as well – if you wait until the end of the day to put something you’ve thought of in the pile, chances are you’ll forget. This system is going to make your pile of stuff very big, so keep in mind that before you start actually packing things into your travel bag, you’re going to have to go through it all and decide what makes sense and what is extravagant. This will be your “sifting” process, and at THIS point, use a critical eye. Do you really need three bathing suits? Or will two suffice? How many days can you realistically get away with wearing the same pair of socks? While you don’t want to forget any essentials, you also don’t want to weigh down your bag with a bunch of unnecessary clothes.
3. Do your shopping all at once
There’s nothing worse than running out to Walgreen’s or REI ten times in one day. While you’re going through your process of putting stuff in the prep room, start also making a list of what you need to go out and purchase. Then, designate one day fairly close to your departure as your shopping day, and do your best to get everything on the list all at once.
4. Be realistic
Let’s be honest here – as much as it would nice to shower every day and have a new, clean outfit every morning, it’s not gonna happen. Even if your student isn’t going on a camping trip, the reality is that these programs intentionally promote a simpler way of living. It’s not necessary to have three different kinds of face-wash, or to travel with your favorite pillow. Everyone will survive a few dirty days, and in fact, everyone will probably be a little better for having left some of our over-processed routines behind. Embrace an easier lifestyle for a while, and remember that in that moment when you are dragging your suitcase through the airport, wondering how you’re going to navigate the busy streets of Rome with a bag that weighs more than you do, you’re going to seriously regret bringing that fourth pair of sneakers.
5. Do your homework
Do some research before your student leaves on where exactly they’re going. Is it an extremely hot, humid climate? Then you probably want to buy quick drying, synthetic clothes and avoid cotton. Does the temperature drop to well below 40 degrees, 30 degrees, 20 degrees at night, no matter how hot it is during the day? Then think about what kind of sleeping bag you might want to get – as crazy as it seems to buy a sleeping bag designated for 30 degrees and below when your student is going to be working in shorts and a t-shirt during the day, these are the types of things that can make or break an experience. Being prepared is better than guessing!
Don’t bring a whole container of shampoo when you’re only going to wash your hair a few times. Don’t bring the pillow from your bed when you can buy a travel sized pillow that stuffs down into a five inch ball. Think about the space something takes up in a suitcase or a backpack, and always err on the side of caution. If the situation is dire, chances are someone will be able to loan you some toothpaste, or your leaders can make sure to buy some when your group is in town.
Everything about your trip will be so much more enjoyable if you take the time to pack smart and pack well. Follow these tips, and you should be headed for a summer of fun and adventure!