Time is Money: Save Time Through Packing Lightby Margie Binder, contributing writer
Traveling to Walt Disney World is not an excursion to Mount Everest, so when it comes to packing, less is more! Think back to your own travel experiences, to Orlando and elsewhere. Have you ever wished you packed more? One of the biggest time, money, and sanity-savers when preparing for a Disney vacation is to pack only what you need and can carry easily—preferably all in one bag.
Driving to Orlando provides more room and options for packing, but space becomes a big issue if you're flying. So if you're part of the mass of humanity passing through the Orlando International Airport on the way to see Mickey, this article provides tips on how to pack, what to take, and what to leave behind in order to save time and money.
With the possible exception of those traveling with babies and toddlers, everything you and your family need on a trip to Walt Disney World should fit into one carry-on bag per person. With most airlines charging exorbitant fees for checked bags, the up-front financial benefits are obvious. Less obvious is the time and money you will save on waiting for and paying people to take care of your luggage during your trip—porters, skycaps, and cab drivers, to name a few. You’ll also have peace of mind knowing your luggage is in your hands and not delayed, re-routed, lost, or stolen.
There are different types of carry-ons, with pros and cons to each. Children should be able to handle their own luggage, although you’ll make friends by helping your kids bring their luggage on the plane and stow efficiently. Otherwise, if they can’t carry it, they can’t take it.
I recommend a wheeled carry-on for elementary-age children and a backpack style carry-on for older children and for adults with children. Wheels and handles create more bulk and reduce usable packing space, but are invaluable for younger children to handle in an airport. It’s easier for parents to wear a backpack and pull or carry a wheeled carry-on through an airplane aisle than it is to maneuver two or three wheeled carry-ons. Many wheeled carry-ons come with detachable or hidden shoulder straps to enable a quick switch to either style.
What to Pack
Traveling light requires smart planning. A packing list is crucial, and lists for Disney and non-Disney related trips can be found online through a simple search on “travel light” or similar. Tailor a list to your specific needs, which doesn’t mean “add to” so much as “modify.” For example, a general packing list may include dressy clothing, but unless you are planning dinner at Victoria and Albert’s or one of a small handful of other more formal restaurants, dressy clothing is never required when dining in Walt Disney World. Look for opportunities to pack items which can perform double-duty, such as capris substituting for shorts and slacks, or for men, a pair of swim trunks that can also be worn as shorts.
Pack items that layer easily and which dry quickly. Socks by Smartwool or that use Cool Max material, and synthetic, athletic-style shirts are lightweight and pack easily. Confirm the weather forecast a couple of days before your trip for last-minute adjustments. For a five-day trip, consider packing at most six outfits, which should be a maximum for any trip (experienced travelers who are willing to layer extensively and rinse/wash some of their garments more frequently, can go with as few as three outfits for their trip).
Darker clothes are better for hiding stains, but lighter clothes are necessary if traveling to Orlando in the brutal heat of summer. Neutral colored clothes offer the best of both worlds and provide options for outfits by mixing and matching.
Laundry facilities in Walt Disney World are generally convenient, inexpensive, and efficient. You can purchase laundry detergent at your resort or bring concentrated laundry detergent or a product like Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets in your carry-on, placing the detergent in the one quart zip-top re-sealable bag to go through airport security. If you plan to swim during your trip it’s even easier to get a load or two of laundry done as most resort facilities are near the pools. It may seem counterintuitive, but the down time doing laundry is more than made up for in the time savings of traveling more efficiently and having fewer things to keep track of.
What to Pack
The list doesn’t include essentials such as identification, tickets, confirmation numbers, emergency numbers, medicine, ATM and credit cards, and a cell phone, but these items are all on my personal list of what to pack:
- Lightweight, collapsible day pack
- Lightweight, collapsible tote bag – Many uses, including laundry, the pool, groceries, or souvenirs. Although you can get dual use with just the day pack, I really advocate for both—the day bag for touring the parks, and the tote primarily for laundry and pool trips, and as a back-up bag for the way home if necessary.
- Light, water-resistant windbreaker jacket with a hood – Plastic rain ponchos are too hot, and waterproof jackets can get expensive, so consider a jacket that can handle light rain, cool evenings, and air conditioning.
- Travel umbrella – Good for rain and sun, for every adult in your party. If I am traveling with one of my kids (they are 9, 11, and 12), we just carry one umbrella.
- Spot remover – The only ones I’ve ever tried are the Tide pen spot removers. You might not fret over stains with your kids, but adults, or at least folks like my parents and those who pack lightly, will probably use it a few times on a trip to avoid having to wash a garment when all it needs is a bit of spot cleaning.
- Small flashlight – I prefer a small—not mini—flashlight that is easy enough to carry in a waist pack or day pack. You can use these for reading at night or for emergencies, or when you want to move around a darkened, unfamiliar hotel room when everybody else is already asleep.
- Good pair of walking shoes – Do not bring extra pairs of shoes for just one night out or because they look cute with one outfit.
- Small digital camera – You really don’t need a 200m lens or a separate carry-on just for your camera. If you have a smartphone with a built-in camera, you might consider going without a camera altogether. The main thing is to travel lightly; avoid carrying a separate camera bag with a huge lens, tripod, and so on.
- Ziploc plastic bags – Use a quart-sized version to pack your toiletries as your 3-1-1 kit for airport security, for separating items when packing, and to keep various small items together in one spot to avoid slowing you down while going through security. I usually pack two or three different sized baggies: quart, gallon, and snack-sized bags, and use them for storing snacks and leftovers.
- Small first aid kit – If you are in the parks, you can always go to the First Aid Center. Your own kit would be mostly for convenience.
What Not to Pack
Leave behind anything you want to bring “just in case.” Walt Disney World Resort hotels have well-stocked sundry stores in case you forget something. While buying sundries on Disney property might mean you pay 50 percent or more mark-up, you will wind up ahead by avoiding the time and money costs of checking bags.
My list of what to leave at home:
- Jeans – Too heavy and bulky. If you can’t part without a pair of jeans, you might consider taking just one pair, and wearing it on your flight.
- Cosmetics – If you’re willing to bare it all, consider leaving your makeup at home. The time savings of a make-up free vacation are significant. If you can’t part with some items, at least limit what you bring to just the basics.
- More than one magazine or small paperback – My downfall is packing too many books or magazines thinking I will catch up on vacation. Or if you want to take a lot, be willing to leave them at your destination. Better yet, consider an e-book reader like a Kindle or a Nook.
- Guidebooks – Cut out or copy the section/s you want or use smartphone apps.
- Towels – Disney hotels provide towels at pools or allow room towels.
- Heavy coat – This might be hard to leave at home if you’re traveling to Orlando in the winter, but you will not use it once you get to the resort.
- Electronic games – Many may consider sacrilege to omit, but engaging kids in conversation and teaching patience are great benefits of an unplugged vacation. If you are worried about how your kids will do on long flights or drives, consider taking some music CDs or audio books. You might be pleasantly surprised at how little your kids complain once you’re all on vacation.
- Laptops – If you are too wired to leave home without one, try substituting a less bulky tablet, netbook, or even a smartphone. Many hotels also have business centers where you can do things like check your email or check in for your flight home.
- Large quantities of toiletries – Greater than 3 ounces is not allowed and most hotels provide the basics free of charge.
- Travel alarm clock – Use your watch or cell phone. If you’re staying on property, don’t forget to set a wake-up call from Mickey Mouse (but make sure you have a back-up, especially if you have to get up at a certain time).
- Bad attitudes – Few things take up more time on a trip than dealing with a grump.
These lists are not exhaustive, but give you some basics packing tips to save you time, money and heartache on a trip to Walt Disney World. For more packing tips and in-depth packing lists, a simple web search will yield many well-known and respected websites devoted to packing light. Remember, your objective is Expedition Everest, not Mount Everest. One carry-on will set you free. Try it and lighten your load in more ways than one.
Margie Binder lives in Shoreview, Minnesota with her husband and three Disney-loving children. She has been a DVC member since 1995 and uses any excuse, including inviting herself along on relative's trips, to visit her Happy Place. She has been a helicopter pilot, special education teacher, stay-at-home mom, and corporate employee. Like many, she is either in Walt Disney World or planning her next trip. She still has her stuffed Pooh from her first visit in 1975.