Picture this among your summer vacation snapshots: You arrive at your destination after an all-day trip with children in tow and, miraculously, they look presentable, with nary a food stain or rumpled shirt in sight.
Behind the perfect picture: You made a pit stop 10 minutes before arriving at Aunt Harriet's, pulled out the small duffel bag you had so carefully stuffed with a change of clothes, and turned them into the model children you want your relatives to believe you have.
Culling packing tips from the experts feels a little like sharing secrets. I thought I was the only person who cut down on food stains while traveling by buying snacks for my children the same color as their clothes. At least the stains match.
The experts go one better, though. They recommend offering bottles of non-staining cold water to drink and banning foods certain to leave a mark, such as Popsicles or dark fruits. And always, always carry a big stain stick and a flask of water to prevent a stain from setting.
What clothes you take along and how you organize them can go a long way toward making your children look presentable when they need to be, which is the definition of fashion on the road, says Vicki Lansky, a Minneapolis-based author of more than 25 parenting books, including "Trouble-Free Travel With Children" (The Book Peddlers, 1991).
Packing expert Judith Gilford, who stresses the importance of using a list when packing, has written an entire book on the subject, simply titled "The Packing Book" (Ten Speed Press, 1996). Still, she managed to take her two children to a week of family camp and leave behind her daughter's socks, an anecdote the Newark, Calif., author and lecturer finds "kind of embarrassing." She saved the week by begging footwear from friends.
Jan Limpach, a professional organizer in Omaha, Neb., with expertise in packing, paraded her children--14 and 18 at the time--in front of her peers at a national conference and lived to tell the tale. She brings white leather tennis shoes because they are easy to clean and go with everything, places the children's dressier outfits in her suitcase and takes mix-and-match clothes, greatly increasing the likelihood of putting together a clean outfit in a crunch.
Some of their best packing tips:
* Roll entire outfits together, from socks to hair ribbons. Consider packaging each outfit in a plastic bag, although this leaves you open to having your children use the bags for science experiments in the hotel room.
* Pack the family's swimsuits in one bag and pajamas in another since they are the clothes you will most likely need upon arrival.
* In addition to a nice outfit, carry along one garment that's meant to get dirty, such as overalls.
* Dress up attire with accessories, such as a sun hat, socks with lace trim or hair bows for girls. For boys, bring polo shirts and easy-care khaki pants.
* Bring layers to accommodate climate changes.
* In terms of fabrics, choose dark colors (the better to hide the stains) and prints (ditto) whenever possible. If you are considering hand washing, bring clothespins and take cotton-ply blends for faster drying.
* Lands' End suggests taking 21 essential wardrobe pieces to make it through a week: four T-shirts, five pairs of shorts, two pairs of shoes, four pairs of socks and the rest in underwear.
* Bring backup clothes that go with anything, such as white T-shirts and jeans, to rescue the unsoiled half of an outfit.