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My secret to packing for 3 kids without leaving anything (or anyone) behind

March 24, 2022
6 min read
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We've all been there. Your suitcases are bursting at the seams because you packed everything but the kitchen sink for your family vacation, but when you arrive at your destination you've somehow still forgotten something crucial. For me, it was usually enough diapers, the kids' toothbrushes or enough pairs of socks and underwear to get them through the entire trip.

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

I've tried writing out packing lists, but I would inevitably leave something off the list. Even if I did remember everything, I was making the same list over and over again every time we traveled.

Related: TPG’s guide to packing for spring break, family edition

Now I have a much more efficient method that ensures I never forget anything we need when we travel – even with three kids in tow. If you are looking for your own nearly fool-proof way to stop leaving things behind then dear reader, let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Trello.

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What is Trello?

At its core, Trello is a robust project management tool that works just as well for large teams as it does for individuals.

I've used it for years to manage my work and home life – everything from stories I'm writing to my daily to-do list and even vacations I'm planning. I can add checklists, attach documents or websites, invite collaborators and track progress on whatever I'm working on.

(Screenshot courtesy of Trello)

Trello's organization method uses boards, lists and cards. In basic terms, a board represents a project, the lists on a board serve as a means of organizing ideas and information and the cards are the ideas, tasks and information. You can use this basic functionality to organize your project in a way that works best for you.

I prefer it to similar programs because it's aesthetically pleasing, easy to use and there are lots of ways to customize it to meet your needs. It also helps that Trello's basic plan is 100% free and I can use it online or on the go with Trello's iOS app (there's an Android app, as well).

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Related: The best family vacations with kids of each age

Using Trello for packing

Instead of writing the same packing list every time I travel, I created a Trello board called "Packing List."

That Trello board is permanent and I can continue to reference it every time I am planning a trip (which is basically all the time). Within that board, I created lists for each of my packing categories.

(Screenshot from Trello)

This includes things like my carry-on bag, my main suitcase and my kids' suitcases. I also have a list of items we only bring when we visit Disney World (I don't want to forget my Minnie ears!) and one for pre-departure tasks like leaving out extra food and water for our cat, Apollo, and downloading a few movies onto the kids' iPads.

(Photo by martin-dm/Getty Images)

If you are a frequent beach-goer or skier, you could create a list for only the items you need for those types of trips. If you often travel internationally (especially in the age of COVID-19), it may be helpful to keep a list of items you need for international travel like a passport, vaccination card and negative COVID test results.

For generic cards like "toiletries" or "outfits" which may change from trip to trip, I typically drill down even further and create a checklist within the card. If I know I'll be away for four days and need six outfits, I can create a checklist with the types of clothing I want to bring.

(Screenshot from Trello)

Last-minute items

The biggest downfall of my previous methods (other than my natural forgetfulness) was there wasn't a good way for me to remember those last-minute items that couldn't be packed until just before I left.

If I used my toothbrush or curling iron before heading out for my trip, I would often forget to actually put it in my suitcase. This goes for last-minute tasks like emptying the garbage, as well.

(Screenshot from Trello)

In Trello, I denote these items with a sticker (available in the menu bar on the right-hand side of the board). I now know to look for those big orange stickers to check off any items that need to be packed or tasks that need to be completed not long before I leave.

To me, the beauty of Trello is that you can organize it in any way you see fit and still achieve the same goal. It's very versatile.

Related: Our favorite carry-on bags

Similar programs

Of course, you don't have to use Trello specifically to create a packing list. There are plenty of similar programs out there that serve a similar purpose. You can use any reminder or notes app that has a checklist function, a word processing program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or project management tools (though I've yet to find one as user-friendly as Trello). There are even dedicated packing list apps for iOS and Android.

(Photo by Atit Phetmuangtong/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Trello has made packing for family trips stress-free and much more simple. I'm now not starting from scratch for each trip and am much less likely to leave something behind.

Now if only I could find a way to automate the actual packing -- and unpacking -- process (it's 2022, maybe it's not too far off).

Featured image by Marko Geber/Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.