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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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
- 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 mulesgood helpers they are
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 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)
- 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 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:
- 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)
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).
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?