This is my family. We are missionaries in Haiti. If you are thinking about bringing your family to serve on a mission trip with my family, the task of packing for this God-glorifying and life-changing adventure may seem a little daunting to say the least. Let me tell you, sometimes, even for me--we go on mission trips together when my husband leads teams--it is. But it doesn't have to be! Although young children like mine are welcome on mission trips, most parents bringing their kids are not thinking about diapers and wipes and how to do bath time when sleeping in tents in a community, so I will skip over that stuff and jump right into what will help you.
Think about what you want to bring back home and how you want it to get there. This will help you to pack things in a way that you won't have exploding bags and have to unpack and repack every day of the trip. For example, put all your bedding, towels, little fans, air mattresses, and maybe some toiletries in one bag, so when you arrive and set up "camp" for the week, you will already have a bag empty that you can use for collecting laundry all week long. At the end of the week, the bag(s) that had your clean clothes in it(them) will be available for you to pack up camp or for you to leave behind.
Think about where you will be sleeping. If guys will be with guys and girls with girls, make sure you pack all the guy stuff in one bag and all your girl stuff in the other bag. If you have more of one gender than the other, offset the unbalanced suitcase with shoes, toiletries, or things that are easily transferred to the other gender.
Think about what you want to leave behind. Having kids on a mission trip isn't always easy, but one thing I have found that will help is having things that you will leave behind for your kids to play with with the kids in the community or with the rest of your team. These things may be jump ropes, bubbles, frisbees, balls, crayons and paper, or chalk. The ideas really are endless. You won't want your child to bring his or her favorite toy with and leave it behind, so get some new things. Your child will love it and so will the kids in the community. Keep in mind to tell your child before you arrive that they will have to give the toys to the pastor in the community, not the kids they will be playing with so the pastor can bring them out for all the kids to share when there are events at the church for kids.
Think about the weight of it all. Most airlines allow (when you are traveling internationally) 1 free checked bag that weighs 50 pounds or less and a carry on plus a personal item (such as a backpack) per person. This means that you have some weight to work with, but not a ton! My advice is check as much as you can without being charged extra. When you are traveling with a family, the less you have to juggle, the better. We try to get away with no carry on bags if possible and then just backpacks. If you have too much to fit in just your first checked bag per person, use the carry on allowances before paying for that second checked bag.
Think about sharing things to cut back on weight and space used. Shoes, jeans, toiletries, and air mattresses can get pretty heavy, so think about ways you can cut down on the heavy things. Obviously, you will need the air mattresses, but you can cut down on some of the other things. Shoes are a tough one as each person will likely have to have 3 pairs of shoes: work shoes, church shoes, and sandals or flip flops. When you are traveling, wear the heaviest/bulkiest pair of shoes you have to save on space and weight. If you have space and weight to spare, wear flip flops--it makes going through security so much easier. Toiletries can be shared, so for your family I would recommend bringing generic shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste that you all can use. This little tip saves so much space!
Think about what you will be doing and how much you should bring. For me and my family, I know that when we go on a mission trip together, we will be getting dirty, we will be playing hard/working hard, we will have to represent Christ well with whatever we are wearing. For example, if you have a day planned where you will have school ministry right away in the morning, construction until around 2, kids ministry from 3-5, and a prayer service that night, I would make sure that each member of my family has 3 outfits for the day: 1 for school ministry and kids ministry, one for construction, and one for the church service. (The goal here is to make sure to change the little ones quickly after the school ministry time so they don't get the outfit dirty for kids ministry.)
Typically, for a week long trip when you don't have access to laundry, I would recommend bringing at least 2.5 sets of clothing per day that you will be serving. That goes for mom and dad too! One thing that would help to stay organized and think through your packing process is separate the clothes into labeled with name and day of the week gallon sized zip lock bags or the roll out packing or storage bags. Each person would then, on the Monday of the trip, select their Monday baggie with the appropriate clothing. Pack an extra "emergency" baggie of clothing just in case. If the day-by-day method is too much, do it by ministry type such as "construction," "kids," "church," etc. If you are planning to be serving for a longer period of time, the most I would pack per person is enough for 1.5 to 2 weeks as you will likely have a chance to do laundry from time to time.
Think about the airport and travelling with your family. I was really worried the first time we traveled internationally with two kids instead of just one, but I found that giving Bityah something useful to do--like pushing the empty stroller or rolling her own carry on bag--made it much easier. She is a runner, so these things slowed her down and helped her wear off the excess energy she had from sitting in the plane for so long. In the plane, she had books and snacks and I downloaded one movie for her to watch. She is two now, but she felt that she was responsible for making sure everyone was buckled up around her. Keeping kids busy while traveling is tough, but can be done. I highly recommend giving them as much time to walk as possible when they are not on the plane to get them tired out so they won't be as antsy. Things like books, paint with water, magic markers and activity sets, and the always popular tablet are available everywhere and don't take much space.
Focus on the mission. A lot goes into a mission trip. So much good comes out! Packing may be crazy, but while you are organizing and shuffling things around and going through the checklist of things to bring one last time take a minute and pray over the stuff. Pray over the lives that will be touched by your children while they are wearing those clothes. Pray over the feet that will be in those shoes as they are walking into the church. Pray over fans and air mattresses that will give your family rest so they can continue serving the next day. Pray over it. Pray while you pack. Once you are done, you will have a great mission trip serving the Lord with your family.
Praying Pelican Missions' staff members are giving away lots of packing tips for people serving on mission trips. You can find out What Not to Pack and what to wear when you are on a mission trip in The Good Ole USA. There will be more to come in the coming weeks and you should also check out The Ultimate Mission Trip Style Guide. Hope you find some of these helpful!