Packing It All In: How to Fit a Week of Disney Fun into Two Suitcases (With a Family of Four!)

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Do you remember the carefree days of air travel, when each member of your party would board the aircraft with large pieces of luggage, plus carry-on and personal item? Travelers had so much room in their baggage, they had the luxury of packing for every contingency, as well as all of the comforts of home. Ah, the good ol’ days.

Fast forward to today, where airlines have started charging a la carte for everything from snacks and seat upgrades to baggage. Most airlines are currently charging $25 and up for a checked bag (and some are even charging for carry-on baggage, too). Unless you don’t plan to bring any of your items home with you, those fees are doubled for round-trip. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that money on Mickey Ice Cream Bars and Vinylmation figurines on my Disney vacation.

So how can you limit the amount of baggage (and fees) for a family of four heading to a 7-night trip to Disney World? I will show step by step how my family managed to pack it all in to two checked bags and four carry-ons.

Guidelines/Disclaimers

After my first trip to Disney World I realized my old, heavy, mid-sized luggage wasn’t going to cut it. Before my second trip, I bought the biggest and lightest luggage I could find at a reasonable price (I purchased mine online; it’s the “American Tourister iLite XL 25-inch Rolling Expandable Upright,” which is apparently no longer manufactured). My luggage measures 25.5″ x 18″ x 9″ and weighs only 8.5 pounds per piece.

Ultra light and ultra large are the key features of this luggage.* *Adorable cat not included
Ultra light and ultra large are the key features of this luggage.*
*Adorable cat not included

We always pack carry-ons that can be stored under the seat in front of us so they are readily accessible while we’re in the air. They are generally backpacks, which can be easily carried through the airport when we’re trying to catch a connecting flight.

When packing two suitcases, I divide everything in half when possible. Half of my outfits go in one, half in the other. Half of my husband’s in one, half in the other. And so on. If we lose one of our pieces of luggage, at least we have *some* clothes for each of us. We can always do laundry at the resort in case of such an emergency.

Note that I am packing for a family of two adults and two tweens. I realize that packing for an infant would require approximately 47 pieces of luggage (of course we need to bring the special blankie, bouncy seat, and teething ring!!), and packing for 4 adults would also probably also require more than two pieces of checked baggage to accommodate the larger clothes.

Packing Food

The first thing to note is that I’m moderately frugal. I try to pick and choose the things I care the most about when I spend my hard-earned money, and Disney breakfasts and snacks aren’t something that provide me a ton of bang for my buck (we will eat Disney snacks when on the dining plan because they are included, but when we are not on the plan we bring snacks to the park with us and only splurge on the most special snacks, usually sharing them).

The food is a pretty substantial portion of what we pack, taking up about a quarter of one of my suitcases and about 8 pounds of weight. The cost savings by bringing our own food to Disney are also pretty substantial, so I make sure to make room for it in my luggage. And by bringing food, we make room for souvenirs as we eat!

Breakfasts:

  • Individual non-dairy flavored creamers for my coffee –and- my own travel coffee mug (I like flavored coffee, and I like to drink out of my own mug; these are small comforts that I enjoy!)
  • Granola bars
  • Individual cereal boxes and disposable spoons (I buy milk at our Disney resort, which is more expensive but more convenient than going off-property)
  • Oatmeal packets and disposable spoons (you can heat water in the microwave or coffee pot and mix the oatmeal in a mug)
  • Instant breakfast powder packets to add to the milk I purchased at the resort
  • I also purchase juice at the resort

Snacks:

  • A variety of individually wrapped snacks to bring to the parks (cheese crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks, cookies)
  • Reusable water bottles and water flavoring (Florida water tastes pretty metallic and needs the flavoring… we refill several times a day at drinking fountains in the park) – our water bottles have straps so the kids can carry them for us like the pack mules good helpers they are
Breakfast and snacks for a week, with packaging (try not to judge the nutritional content - we're on vacation).
Breakfast and snacks for a week, with packaging (try not to judge the nutritional content – we’re on vacation).
Breakfast and snacks for a week without packaging weighs nearly a pound less, and can be tucked into nooks and crannies much better. Also, water bottles and travel mugs make great snack storers.
Breakfast and snacks for a week WITHOUT packaging weighs nearly a pound less, and can be tucked into nooks and crannies much better. Also, water bottles and travel mugs make great snack storage areas.

 

Packing Clothes/Shoes

I always look at the weather forecast just before the trip to see what kind of clothing we will need. Our upcoming trip is forecasted in the high 80’s/low 90’s, so shorts and t-shirts are going to be the staple (along with one sweatshirt just in case). We never have the need to dress up, so no extra clothing is necessary for that. I pack light, figuring there are always washing machines available at the resort in case of a true emergency (or really, because we are likely to buy souvenir t-shirts that we can wear if we want).

  • 7 complete outfits for each of us (shirt, shorts, undergarments, socks)
  • 3 extra shirts each (these are an easy way to freshen up in the middle of a sweaty day)
  • 3 extra undergarments/socks each (also an easy way to feel clean again on a hot day)
  • 1 set of pajamas each
  • 1 sweatshirt each
  • 2 comfortable pairs of shoes per person (“comfortable” differs by person, and varies from flip flops to tennis shoes to walking sandals…. the shoes must be able to still be comfortable after 10 miles of walking per day) – we wear our heaviest shoes on the plane and pack our lighter ones to save weight
  • 1 pair of flip flops each (for the pool)
  • 2 swim suits each plus goggles (I like to have an extra swim suit because putting a on wet suit makes me grumpy)
Packing outfits into compact rolls saves space. And creates a fun Tetris-like puzzle when fitting them all in the suitcase.
Packing outfits into compact rolls saves space. And creates a fun Tetris-like puzzle when fitting them all in the suitcase.

 

Packing Other Miscellany

  • A dryer sheet in each suitcase for fresh smelling clothes
  • Toiletries (I love my toiletry bag from LL Bean – it has about a million pockets to hold toothbrushes, razors, travel size shampoo, small quantities of various pain/cold medications just in case, deodorant, etc.)
  • Disney trading pins and lanyards
  • Autograph books and pens (you may want to pack this into a carry-on instead, in case of an unexpected character sighting)
  • Disposable ponchos for the inevitable Florida afternoon rainshower (I bring two per person, but in a pinch they can be laid out to dry and reused)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen (this is seriously expensive to buy at a Disney resort, let me tell you)
  • Misting fan for those super-hot days
  • Cell phone chargers/battery backup
  • Park bags (we use one fanny pack and one saddle bag purse for touring the parks)
  • Plastic grocery bags and sealable sandwich bags – to keep a wet swim suit away from other clothes, to store leftover snacks, etc… they are lightweight so we pack quite a few
Packing travel sizes of your toiletry items save valuable space and weight. This bag holds a ton of stuff, plus can be hung on a towel bar at your hotel to save counter space.

 

Packing the Carry-ons

There are two types of things to carry on to the plane: things related to the travel itself (boarding passes, Disney reservation information, touring plans, MagicBands) and things that are difficult to replace if your luggage is lost (valuables, medications). I like to pack our carry-ons pretty light (unless my checked baggage is over the allowed weight, then I would stuff them). In my family, everyone must be able to carry his or her own carry-on across a big airport, so backpacks are the way to go. Our carry-ons include:

  • MagicBands
  • Flight paperwork
  • Paper itinerary booklet from Disney
  • Touring plan printouts
  • One swimsuit per person (in case your luggage doesn’t make it to your Disney resort room before you want to swim)
  • Wallets with ID, health insurance card, credit cards, and cash
  • Prescription medications
  • Gum & snacks
  • Cell phones (we use these as cameras, so no need for us to pack a camera and extra batteries)
  • Small blanket (a little something from home)
  • Something to do on the plane while you anxiously await your arrival (books and games)
Leaving the carry-on pretty empty means that if your baggage exceeds the weight, you can transfer items to your carry-on. Also, it's another space for souvenirs.
Leaving the carry-on pretty empty means that if your checked baggage exceeds the weight specified, you can transfer items to your carry-on. Also, it’s another space for souvenirs.

 

In the end, we have two checked bags totaling 52.5″ each (length plus width plus heighth, which are less than the 62″ maximum per Delta Airlines) and weighing 39 and 37 pounds each (well within the 50 pounds each I’m allowed), plus four carry-ons. I think we’ve packed the perfect amount in order to save money but not feel deprived of things we would want (except my pillow… I do wish I had my pillow).

Two checked bags and four carry-ons, ready for our vacation. Perfect for my family of four.
Two checked bags and four carry-ons, ready for our vacation. Perfect for my family of four.

 

A bonus: Packing the Park Bag

Here is a pictoral example of what I bring for a day at the park (yes, that black bag does fit everything in the photo except for the water bottle). It does lead me to ask: are there any other “laminators” out there?

Park bag deconstructed
Park bag deconstructed

 

Trista VanderVoord

Trista is an analytical planner with a love for Disney World. With two preteens and a husband who also adore Disney, Trista approaches each vacation with spreadsheets, crowd predictions and touring plans that would make your head spin. Despite her logical approach to vacation planning, Trista still feels the magic as soon as she steps onto Main Street, U.S.A. and spies Cinderella’s Castle.

38 thoughts on “Packing It All In: How to Fit a Week of Disney Fun into Two Suitcases (With a Family of Four!)

  • September 5, 2014 at 6:26 am
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    Thank you! This is the kind of blog your website is famous for: excellent research, appropriate photography, interesting reading. So much useful information!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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      Glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 6:43 am
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    This is absolutely the best Disney packing article I have ever read! Thank you SO much!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm
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      Thank you, I hope it helps!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 7:04 am
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    What size L.L. Bean toiletry bag do you have? I have been wanting to get one forever, but for some reason I forget about it until I’m in the midst of packing. I want to be sure to order one before our December trip. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm
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      It is the medium size. We actually have two – a “boys” bag and a “girls” bag. We use them when we go camping, so that one bag goes to each bathhouse. I love all of the pockets!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 7:23 am
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    Do you have a suggestion for a specific brand/type of disposable poncho? My last trip we brought some purchased from Amazon and they were so flimsy they tore and leaked halfway up main street and we ended up buying the Disney ponchos instead. Which worked wonderfully but were very bulky for carrying around the park when it wasn’t raining.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm
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      The ponchos I have are all Coleman brand. I *embarassingly* have 16 ponchos currently, I think I forgot I had them all and kept buying! I believe I bought them at Target or our midwest department store, Meijer. I have also bought them at Walmart. They end up being $1 to $1.50 each. They are not super-durable, but they fold up so small that we will bring a couple extras with us to the park just in case one rips. The Disney ponchos are great quality, but are so heavy, bulky and expensive that I would rather gamble with the dollar variety. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 8:09 am
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    Love the clothing roll-ups! We’re a family of 7, 2 adults and 5 kids from 12-3. I consider it a victory if we make it into 4 pieces of luggage. My fave suitcases are inexpensive rolling duffels about 26-29 inches long that have 8 handy pockets on the outside for organized storage.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm
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      4 pieces IS a victory! Rolling duffels are a great idea.

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 8:24 am
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    I have been checking bags recently since I have a kid who cannot haul his own stuff yet, and it pained me to pony up the $25 each way the one time that I had to pay.

    With 4 able-bodied humans, I’m curious why you don’t carry on your bags (with your packing strategies, fitting your stuff in 4 carry-on suitcases should be easy!) to save $100 for 2 bags, round-trip, on Delta. Travelling with checked bags is much easier if everything goes well (especially if you’re staying at Disney Hotel and can use Magical Express), but I don’t think it’d be worth $100 to me.

    (Obviously each person will have his own preferences here; I’m not judging!)

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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      I love the challenge of packing into the carry-ons, but I don’t think we could distribute the 70+ pounds in a way that would work for us without my husband carrying the bulk of it. I also really enjoy the fact that I don’t have to limit my liquids to 3 oz. when I check my bags. For now, the $100 is worth it to me. When the kids are older, challenge on!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 8:50 am
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    Then there are those of us who need nearly an entire suitcase for the daily princess dresses! Someday dear daughter will outgrow that, but I’m willing to sacrifice the extra bag until then.
    Two other things I would add: hats in our carryons and Kindles for everyone – they’re a huge space/weight saver for all my readers.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm
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      Princess dresses are a must when your princess is young 🙂 Great tip about the hats – my husband packed his in the suitcase and we didn’t receive our luggage until after we had been to Magic Kingdom in the afternoon, he regretted not including it in his carry on. Our kids both brought their Nooks for reading and gaming, a great way to save space and pass time while waiting!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 9:00 am
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    Outfit rolls! You have changed my whole life. Seriously.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm
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      Haha! Enjoy the Tetris! 🙂

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 9:17 am
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    Love LLBean toiletry bag! This size is medium, I have the same. We are planning our 3rd trip for Feb., and I’m curious of where did you purchase your water bottle? Like the size and the strap, drawings are cute, joyfull but not to “baby” (8 y-o son don’t want to look like 4 yo, he said… 🙂
    Great post. Each disney trip is a packing challenge… I Will try your clothe packing tip on our next trip! Thanks!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm
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      I just bought the water bottles (clearanced, a month ago) at Disneystore.com – but it looks like they don’t have that style anymore! Here is the same style but with Grumpy: http://www.disneystore.com/grumpy-water-bottle-with-neoprene-cover/mp/1348073/1000350/

      If you do purchase it, I recommend reinforcing the plastic rings that attach to the neoprene cover – ours broke on both bottles. We used twist ties to strengthen them, and didn’t have a problem after that. Have a great trip!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 9:32 am
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    For many of our family trips, we use one (or two for very long/complicated trips) large rolling duffel from Mountain Smith. Into each duffel, we have a variety of smaller “cube” bags that each person’s stuff goes in (a grownup can use one, kids can share). Around the cubes we pack other things (food, blankies, etc). Then we use backpacks for carry ons. The duffel is so burly that we have been able to place a toddler/preschooler on the duffel and pull it through airports. We have done a family of 4 to Hawaii for 10 days with this method. You do need to be willing to pack lightly, and potentially do laundry if necessary. We do it more for the ease of travel (husband can wrangle big bag, I can push stroller) than for cost reasons.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm
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      That duffel bag sounds great! And I love the idea of separating the clothes inside the bag. Thanks!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm
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    We laminate! On our most recent trip, I laminated the touring plans, and wrote in other relevant information for the day, like Extra Magic Hours, Events/Parades we wanted see, FP+ times (together in one section), and what restaurants we were going to for that day. Some of those items can be incorporated into the Touring Plan itself, but I enjoyed having the quick-reference of seeing it in my own writing.

    Your list is great! We also bring Quart-size ziploc bags to put cell phones, cameras, wallets, etc. in for that rain shower or wet rides. I also bring a letter-size zipper pouch (like you would use in a school binder) for the park map and times guide for the day. It only took one rainy day and sogged out map to add that to the packing list!

    Also – I find it interesting you pack 2 ponchos each. We usually bring 1 and hang it up at the end of the day. plus they are so bulky! But maybe you are better at folding them back up and getting them back into their original pouches than I am! 😉 Great article, best I’ve read on the topic! Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm
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      Good to meet another laminator! Thanks for the ziploc tip, I do forget to bring the ziplocs in the park bag. I am sort of a poncho hoarder, so I have a lot, but the only reason I bring two ponchos each is to avoid trying to reuse them since they are a bear to repack. My daughter used to go through several per trip, she hated being wet, so every wet ride she would wear a poncho and we would throw it away after. There is just something so cute about a 6 year old in a poncho on Splash Mountain.

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm
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    Great article! We really need to learn to pack light! All those charges (plus the trouble of carrying several bags) can be avoid. I learned to pack light by error – every time I returned home I checked my bag for unused itens and planned to reduce for the upcoming vacation. We found our goal by spending 20 days in the beach with 3 carry ons (for a family of 3) 🙂
    One extra tip is mix and match – plan to repeat itens of one outfit in another (specially true for bottons that can be repeated many times changing the top).

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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      3 carry ons is impressive! It sounds like you and I both suppress our urge to bring everything we might possibly need for a trip. I’m a great contingency planner, but that can get expensive with luggage charges!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm
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    Best…article…ever!! I’ve been packing complete outfits in large gallon size ziplock bags for years, but now I’m converting to the “clothing rolls.” I love that idea! Did you put your toiletry bag inside one of your checked bags? Time to revise my packing list and start filling the suitcases for my upcoming trip. I would love to get everything in one large checked bag. Keeping my fingers crossed! 🙂

    Reply
    • September 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm
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      Good luck to you on getting into one bag! I packed the toiletry bag into the checked baggage, mostly because I didn’t want to have to deal with the 3 oz. liquids rule for my carry-on. Have a great trip!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm
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    We discovered rolling last year and it has changed my life! We also often roll each kids outfit, put it in a gallon ziploc and squeeze. Every morning I toss them a new bag of clothes and we have plenty of storage for wet/sweaty/sticky ice cream fingered clothes.

    If you travel often on delta, a sky miles American Express May be a good option. The annual fee is under $100 and you get your first checked bag per person free on every trip. They also send one free companion ticket voucher per year. Plus miles earned on every purchase can lead to free tickets to the Happiest Place on Earth pretty quickly.

    Reply
    • September 6, 2014 at 8:12 am
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      Rolling is relatively new to me, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to folding. I’m not a frequent Delta traveler, but free checked bags are a definite perk. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 10:11 pm
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    Great article! I felt like the way I pack for our family trips was just completely validated! I also divide everyone’s items in half for fear we lose a piece of luggage. Knock on wood it hasn’t happened so far! In addition to the rolling tip, I highly recommend the Ebags brand packing cubes to help organize the contents of both checked and carry on bags. Pick a color for each family member and you’re set! They come in various sizes as well. They act as drawers for your suitcase and if you like to unpack into the dressers in your hotel room, you just pull the packing cubes out of your luggage and put in the drawers! Another thing we do is to pack a collapsible duffel that zips into itself under the lining of our largest checked piece luggage and if needed, we can check that bag on the way home if we need room for souvenirs our trip. Yes, it might mean paying for another bag but at least it’s only for the way home and it’s reassuring to know I have room for any bulky or fragile items purchased in the parks. Happy Packing!

    Reply
    • September 6, 2014 at 8:14 am
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      I’m going to look into those packing cubes. I love organizational items!

      Reply
    • September 11, 2014 at 4:18 pm
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      I was hoping someone would mention eBags!!

      I have a purple American Tourister (the latest version of the one the writer has) that I got at Target. This was my first time buying my own luggage (it’s my first trip out on my own:)). I got a set of eBags in eggplant and they match perfectly! They also organize so, so well.

      I also have a duffle that zips down (one of the 1971 with Mickey they were doing with merchandise purchases in 2013). I plan to pack that as well as a just in case. We’re flying Southwest, so my first bag will fly free, but I’ll have the extra should I need to check for souveniers.

      Reply
      • September 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm
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        That’s the same zip into itself duffel bag I have. It works great for an extra bag on the way home. We stuff it full of dirty laundry and use our suitcase for protecting our souvenirs on the way home.

  • September 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm
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    Love the article. And great name!!

    Reply
    • September 6, 2014 at 8:13 am
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      It’s nice to meet another Trista, a rare occurrence for sure! 🙂

      Reply
  • September 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm
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    Love all the ideas!! Where did you get your park purse? It looks like a perfect size for me.

    Reply
    • September 7, 2014 at 8:58 am
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      After a long search, I bought that bag at Kohls. Hope you can find it!

      Reply
  • September 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm
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    I love your idea to laminate the touring plans–do you have any tips for how to print them to make a good (small) size to carry around, and still be legible? Thanks for sharing your packing tips!

    Reply
    • September 9, 2014 at 8:15 am
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      I printed my touring plans in the “two sheets per page” mode for my printer, so it reduced to 8-1/2″ x 5-1/2.” I had to print on both sides for it to include my whole touring plan. Then I cut them down as small as I could and laminated with my Xyron laminator (only laminates up to 5″ wide). The print is a little small, but they fit into my park bag perfectly.

      Reply

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