So during this first week of Endless Summer Fun, I took the kids to the local amusement park, courtesy of Season Passes (because there’s no other way to afford going, honestly. I could probably buy a small country with family admission plus parking). And as anyone with kids knows, the biggest logistical nightmare in an outing anywhere “fun” is Packing. You’re going somewhere, probably for a much longer time than you usually go on an outing, and there are forces guaranteed to be at work on you that you truly must take into account.

Pack too little, and contingency plans go out the window while you’re caught with someone’s pants down in a parking lot trying to change into dry undies. Pack too much, and you exit the fun on a stretcher, in traction, or you simply can’t get up the following morning without heavy-duty painkillers and assistance, after carrying around half a metric ton of crap it turns out you didn’t even need. And never mind how it seems that every parent tote seems to fill to the level of its own maximum capacity no matter what you start out packing into it.

The trick is to pack only what you need.

Take a Flexible Bag

The most painful experiences of Packing For The Outing I’ve ever been or seen has been when the bag isn’t flexible. The bag is packed in the morning with everything that morning’s assumptions have declared will be needed, and from then on, the shape of the bag is determined by those same assumptions. Your bag starts out a cooler and continues to hold cold drinks and popsicles even if you’re going snowboarding instead of wakeboarding. Let your bag have soft sides, so it can mold itself to both the things you are carrying and your body, so that load doesn’t weigh you down any more than it has to.

Wrangle an In/Out Pass

With the flexible bag comes the ability to re-pack on the fly. In strictly literal terms, it means running out to the car to ditch the umbrella after the sky clears. Most places–and most points in life–have an in/out pass that allows you to reassess what you’ve brought to the party. Use that. Get your hand stamped, go on walkabout to the parking lot, and come back with a lighter weight filled with the tools you’ll need for the future, not what went down in the past.

Divide and Conquer

There comes a point in every parent’s life when the burden becomes too great and a glance around reveals that instead of tour guide and camp counselor, you’re the camp burro. Any time “fun” is involved, there’s usually a souvenir cup to go with it. And souvenirs are great, but how then does it become your responsibility to carry their molded plastic never-forget-’em memories? We hold onto them far longer than we need to, until we realize that they are now finally old enough to do some of their own carrying. Loads are much easier to carry when they are evenly distributed, and logistics managers will tell you that never putting all your eggs in one basket is good advice both literally and figuratively.

I made my kids string backpacks out of their own old t-shirts–they’re flexible and stretchy, so they’re bigger on the inside, but not so big they’ll tip you over. They mold to your body thanks to all that loved-in t-shirt fabric. And most importantly, by learning how to carry their own baggage, they’re figuring out what’s really worth carrying.

I write about quirky people finding their own crazy paths to happily ever after. My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is about a Dating Diva who has to choose how much romantic baggage she’s going to hold onto when she meets the right kind of Mr. Wrong.

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