Family packing tips for Christmas holidays spent abroad

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The Christmas travel season is upon us. And while this Christmas season is certainly different from previous ones because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us may still be travelling abroad to spend it with loved ones.

So if that’s you and you’re feeling stressed about the thought of all that packing, here are some tips to make your festive season a little more jolly and a little less panicky now that masks, social distancing and sanitising are all thrown into the equation.

And if you want more packing tips, you can read the TPG U.K. guide to packing like a frequent flyer and using packing cubes. Also, you can find our guide to packing a carry-on for a young family here.

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Christmas tree in the airport. Image courtesy of Daniel Lobo via Flickr.
(Image courtesy of Daniel Lobo/Flickr)

Don’t wrap your presents

When travelling through Heathrow Terminal last year, I spotted the seasonal restrictions at security, reminding travellers that security staff may need to unwrap your presents.

“When it comes to packing presents in your luggage, security has the authority to unwrap your presents to verify the contents,” said Adam St John, CEO of travel risk company Sitata. “Avoiding wrapping your gifts until you arrive will save you from re-wrapping and the shame of holding up everyone behind you in line.”

St John also suggested waiting to put batteries into toys until you’ve landed.

Heathrow’s website suggests checking with your airline about Christmas crackers but party poppers are not allowed in luggage.

Related: How to plan a family holiday on points and miles

(Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)
Seasonal requirements at Security in Heathrow Terminal 3. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Ship presents instead of packing them

Shipping Christmas presents ahead of time to your destination can save some major packing woes. You will need someone on the other end to receive your packages, so this may not always be possible if staying in a hotel or Airbnb. Remember that if you’re sending things ahead for your children, you’re going to need to bring the items back.

Agree on presents ahead of time with relatives

As a family who travels to Norway for Christmas, we candidly discuss present size and volume for our children ahead of time with family. While we have some philosophical reasons for valuing experiences over material goods, we also have to make sure we can bring everything back.

Shop for presents locally

Rather than shipping or packing presents, consider buying them when you arrive at your destination. We try to get our children involved in making something for the family we’re visiting, which gives them a lovely craft project to do in exchange for descending on someone else’s home.

(Photo by Carol Yepes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

Father Christmas does more than one present drop

My multicultural family celebrates Christmas in Norway with some presents delivered by “Julenissen” (Norwegian Father Christmas) on 24 December. Father Christmas still does the heavy lifting and delivers large items directly to our flat in the U.K. (such as a bicycle) that the children can have when we get back. For a significant present such as a trampoline in the garden, Father Christmas can deliver a letter with a photo to open on Christmas Day. This way, we avoid hauling large items internationally.

Read more: Everything you need to know about flying with EasyJet as a family

Pack essential items in your carry-on bag

Fiona ​Bayne of Chartwell Travel told TPG U.K. that she always packs one small present in each carry-on bag for children to avoid a crisis.

“In the unlikely event of your luggage selecting a different location to you, the trauma can be contained,” Bayne said.

World travelling mum and entrepreneur Suzanne Brown said that families who globetrot over the festive period should consider what is most important to them when packing.

“If your family is all about the Elf on the Shelf, make sure it’s hidden in your bag,” she said.

In addition, make sure you pack your items well and use plenty of padding to secure your prized gifts.

Trying to pack as light as possible over Christmas. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Double-check your luggage allowance and bring an extra bag

Our low-cost carrier guide covers all the low-cost airline luggage allowances, and you should double-check your airline’s policies based on your ticket type. A great benefit of booking a rewards ticket on Virgin Atlantic or British Airways is that it includes free checked bags for all full-service tickets.

We check a bag that is practically empty on our outbound journey to ensure we have enough room for presents on our return. Otherwise, if items don’t fit, they stay at grandma’s house. It’s also a good time to check your credit card’s travel insurance in case of any accidental breakages or loss.

Be aware of what food will cause issues at security

Much like not wrapping presents at security because it might cause issues, some foods can also cause the same.

“Even innocuous-seeming things like a tea tin can appear to be a weapon on the X-rays,” said Edinburgh-based Kate Sullivan, head of experience with Secret Fares. “Bringing foodstuffs like sausages or pre-made dough can sometimes go wrong and I’ve had them confiscated and thrown out.”

She suggested bringing boxed biscuits and sealed treats. But if you can’t go without your favourite homemade treats, it’s best to be as clear as possible — literally.

“Homemade should be kept in clear containers that are clearly labelled as well, not in tins or sealed containers,” Sullivan said.

(Photo courtesy of The Dorchester Collection)
(Photo courtesy of The Dorchester Collection)

Shop duty-free at the airport

I love a bit of duty-free shopping at the airport — particularly at Heathrow — and find that even the high-end stores are accustomed to children. Duty-free shopping is in addition to your regular luggage allowance and can be a helpful way to pick up deals as well.

(Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)
Sneaking in last-minute holiday shopping at Heathrow with the kids. (Note: This photo was taken prior to COVID-19.) (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Family travel is about connection and being together with those you love, not the items you bring. However, with these tips, hopefully, you can avoid having any additional checked baggage fees or your beloved biscuits being tossed out by security. If headed through Terminal 5 with your family this Christmas, be sure to check out our guide here.

Featured photo by Tatomm/Getty Images

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