Essential Packing Tips for Family Vacations


Jo discussesPacking for a trip with your kids can be overwhelmingLuckily, I’m here to take the stress out of it! 

What makes me qualified to give you advice in this area? I travel a lot. Big time. 

I travel so much that MightyGoods asked me to participate in a travel post featuring “23 Traveling Families with Kids Share Their Best Packing List Tips. It’s a super amazing post with LOTS of tips from big traveling families – check it out! 

This article is Part 3 (of 5!) of my “Step by Step: Traveling with Kids” series. 

Part 1 |  Train, Planes, and Automobiles – Booking Travel with Kids
Part 2 |  5 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids
Part 4 |  Surviving a Road Trip with Toddlers
Part 5 |  How to Make Your Vacation with Kids FUN and EASY

So by now your trip is here, awesome!  Since you’ve been working on that packing list like I suggested, it should be super easy.

Here I’m going to show you 5 easy tips for packing, for a more detailed list check out this Comprehensive Travel Planning Checklist I put together just for you!

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links.  See our disclosure policy for more details.

1 |  Don’t Pack Extra Clothes

Everyone packs too many clothes.

It’s rare that I talk to someone who doesn’t come home with at least 2 extra, unworn outfits picked for the trip.

It’s one thing if you’re going by yourself and want to have a wide variety of options, but unfortunately you lose that luxury when you’re traveling with your family.

If you are a math person like me, use this simple formula to figure out how many outfits to bring for each member of the family.  Note: this applies to trips a week or longer

Nights Away/2  +  1  =  # of outfits you should pack

This is because you’re going to do laundry on your trip – hooray!

I know, I know…

You came on vacation to escape laundry.  Let’s face it, you’re a parent. Those days of escaping laundry are gone. Sorry Charlie.

This allows you to cut the number of clothes you have to pack IN HALF, which means fewer bags to carry.

You also cut the amount of laundry you have to do when you get home IN HALF.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Most hotels, cruises, resorts, and Airbnbs offer laundry.  I just bring some tide pods along. 

If for some reason you are staying in a place without laundry services, you should check this product out:

A portable laundry system!  Bonus, think of the amazing upper arm strength you’ll develop doing a load. 

Related Post  15 Busy Activities All Moms Should Have for Travel
Related Post  Answering the Tough Questions About Car Seats on Airplanes


2 |  Get the Right Gear

That cute brightly-colored, medium-sized suitcase may have worked well for that girlfriend’s trip to New York last year – but when you’re packing for a family you gotta think practical.

There are a few important items you have to have – regardless of your method of transportation.

First, you should have a large suitcase to hold everyone’s clothes. Emphasis on large

Packing in smaller bags means more bags, and that’s not gonna fly when you’re lugging around strollers, car seats, backpacks, etc.  More bags means more expensive checked baggage fees.  More bags means more trips from the car to the hotel.  More bags is bad.

The only downside to having a large suitcase is that it’s easy for things to get lost and messy inside, but luckily there’s an answer to that too.

If there is one thing you need to successfully pack for a family, it’s packing cubes:

Seriously, I cannot sing their praises enough.  It provides much-needed organization not only when packing, but for the entire trip.

We have four large packing cubes in different colors and each member of the family gets their own color.  In our large suitcase we have the perfect amount of room to lay shoes on the bottom, the packing cubes on top of that, and then I tuck diapers around the corners. 

In the end it looks like this:

On the trip, when I need someone’s clothes I just simply take out their cube, take out the outfit, then replace the cube.  Gone are the days where I’m searching and ruffling through everyone’s clothes creating a huge mess. 

Yes ladies, those cubes are an absolute game changer. 

Related Post  Surviving a Road Trip with Toddlers
Related Post  How to Make Your Vacation with Kids FUN and EASY


3 |  Park Smart – Take the Bare Minimum

You know that Japanese method of decluttering where you pick up everything you own and ask yourself something like, “Does this bring me joy?”

Well, this next step is kind of like that.  Instead, you go through every item on your packing list and ask, “Do I really need this?”

(Pssst… if you want to read more about decluttering and organization in your every day life, check out 10 Tricks for Keeping a Spotless House)

You want to pack light because that translates to less luggage, less to keep track of, and less things that you have to worry about bringing back. 

For a good starting checklist of things to pack, check out my Comprehensive Travel Planning Checklist.

Let me give you a few examples on this point…

On most trips I only bring enough diapers for 1-2 days.  Diapers take up a lot of room in suitcases and are available virtually everywhere.  They are one of many items easy to buy on the trip (if you’re particularly brand loyal, it’s also easy to ship to your place-of-stay ahead of time).

Be willing to compromise. 

You probably don’t need to lug around your white noise machine, an app on your phone will work just as well during vacation (like we discuss on Baby Sleep Essentials). 

There may even be things you use on a daily basis you don’t have to have.  Things like burp clothes.  Can you use a bib or baby blanket you were already planning on bringing?  Or even a paper towel. 

All these little cuts can significantly add up and make your packing (and traveling) much less stressful.

Related Post  Train, Planes, and Automobiles – Booking Travel with Kids
Related Post  5 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids


4 |  Pack Smart – Take All the Necessities

Yes yes, I know that I just said to take the bare minimum – and that’s definitely true.

You have to think critically and figure out what items are necessities, and therefore qualify as the bare minimum. “Necessities” look different for every family.

For us, the “necessities” includes my gigantic boppy if I have a baby who is nursing.  It includes these 3 trucks my son sleeps with every night.  It also includes my daughter’s favorite blanket.

If it’s an absolute necessity and there are no substitutions – then it’s coming.  Figure out how to make it happen. 

I even have a friend who packed her gigantic bouncer seat when she took her family to St. Thomas for a week.  To her it was absolutely essential for her newborn – so she put it in their empty suitcase and packed all of their clothes around it. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!  Cut down where you can, but make room for the critical items.



5 |  Have a Strategic Carry-On

Your carry-on item should be a backpack – no exception. 

By the way… this “carry-on” bag applies to all modes of travel, not just airplanes.

On a road trip, your carry-on is the bag that sits up with you and is the one you take with you when you get out of the car.  On trains, your carry-on is the bag you keep with you by your seat rather than on the luggage racks. 

It’s got to be a backpack so you can have your hands free for other things.  Things like wiping noses, carrying babies, and finishing your toddler’s half-eaten sandwich. 

Sorry, but you get very little “me” space in your carry-on.  Most of it is dedicated to the kids.  Here are some items I suggest:

  • Change of clothes (for the oldest child as the youngest could wear them in a pinch)
  • Busy toys
  • Portable changing pad (holds diapers, wipes, etc.)
  • Snacks
  • Identification for the whole family (photocopies of passport/birth certificate might be OK for the kids)
  • Bibs
  • Tablet with kid-sized headphones (depending on your comfort-level with screen time)

Every item should either be an emergency item (like diapers) or something to entertain the kids (like the busy toys).  If it doesn’t fit in one of those categories, it should be packed somewhere else.

You want a clean and concise carry-on so you can easily find things.  Also you don’t want to be that mom carrying the bag that sticks out five feet behind her. 

So now you’re packed.  Congrats! 

Be sure to pin this post so you can easily access it later for future travel plans.

This means the planning and prep is done and you are one step closer to vacation mode.  Problem is, you gotta get through the actual “travel” part first.

For more on that, check out Part 4 |  Essential Strategies for Traveling with Kids

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