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School Trips: A Packing Checklist

What should your kids pack and take along on a class trip to a camp, big U.S. city – or abroad? Here's a handy list of essentials for parents.

Is your child bound for Washington, D.C., New York City or Chicago? Many schools in metro Detroit and southeast Michigan organize big city excursions for students to bring education to life – and give them a taste of exploration and independence (with teachers and chaperones close by, of course!). But knowing what luggage to pack for your kid's voyage can seem vexing.

Get rid of the stress and guesswork with this handy packing checklist, courtesy of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA). This non-profit organization's first suggestion? "Do not over-pack for your trip" (since each kid is responsible for toting his or her own luggage; stuff gets heavy!). As SYTA puts it, "Efficient packing can make the trip more enjoyable and stress-free."

So what should you take besides weather-appropriate clothing, comfortable walking shoes and toiletries? Here's a checklist featuring SYTA's advice for general supplies – and special tips for airplane and international travel, too.

General supplies

  • Limited cash. Essentially all costs are covered in the trip price, if you're going with a group. Check with the tour operator for advice on spending money. (Kid going solo? Pack a little cash and an ATM card or travelers checks.)
  • Inexpensive digital camera. Opt for "one that won't ruin your day if you lose it," SYTA suggests.
  • Spare lenses. Have your child take along an extra pair of his or her prescription glasses (and/or contacts). Just in case the original gets lost or damaged!
  • Cheap accessories. Opt for a watch that's also waterproof – and definitely skip pricey, valuable jewelry. Simply put, "Expensive items can make you a target for thieves."
  • First aid kit. Keep this simple: Include adhesive bandages, some sort of antibiotic cream and age-appropriate pain relievers – as well as any other items your child might need for any medical conditions.
  • Prescription tips. Be sure these medications are in their original containers – plus, pack photocopies of all your child's current prescriptions. Discuss these with the group leader in advance.
  • Cell phone? Check with the group leader for the policy on this, first. They're often dissuaded (instead, parents get a list of phone numbers of the kids' chaperones, teachers and tour operators, just in case).
  • MP3 player. Whether by bus or train, traveling can "get long and tedious." Send them off with that iPod fully charged (and consider getting a charger, too). Don't forget the headphones!
  • Writing utensils. Stash a lightweight journal and a couple pens or pencils so your child can jot down memories of his or her experience.

Air travel

  • Carry-on musts. All of your child's valuables (including cash), medications, travel documents and trip-related details (itinerary, etc.) should be stored in here.
  • 3-1-1 rule. This applies to liquids, aerosols and gels in carry-ons: 3-ounce (or less) bottles; must fit in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top big; and 1 bag is allowed per passenger, to be placed in the screening bin. Pack this toward the top of your child's luggage, so it's easy to pull out. (Read more about 3-1-1 for carry-ons.)
  • Unlock luggage. Unless using a TSA-recognized baggage lock, don't lock your child's luggage. It must be accessible for inspection.
  • Discrete ID. Label all luggage with your child's name and address, but use covered tags so strangers can't easily spot the information.
  • Metal-free. Don't wear accessories that contain metal – on the trek out and return – to make the screening process quicker (and to avoid losing items).
  • Be early. As your group organizers will surely tell you, arrive well in advance of your departure time. Airport security measures can cause delays.

Note: Check with the Transportation Security Administration for the latest air regulations before packing.

International Travel

  • Advance planning. Whether your child needs a passport or visa, apply early – and be sure to fill in the emergency contact section before her or she departs.
  • Back-up printouts. Be sure to print out and pack photocopies of your child's airline tickets, passport and visa. Have your child keep these documents with them – but, importantly, separate from the originals.
  • Email passport. Email your child a PDF of his or her passport so he or she can access it online while abroad.
  • Check ahead on chargers. Bringing a hairdryer or other appliance? If your child's heading outside the U.S. or Canada, their gear could require an electricity converter. Check ahead to avoid this cost and hassle (note that many hotels around the globe do now have hairdryers in the rooms).

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