Packing Tips for Traveling with Kids

Honesty is the best policy, right? So let me start out with an honest confession: I’m not a light packer. I don’t think I’ll ever make it into that classification. I do however think I’ve finally moved out of the over-packer column. So hey, that’s progress. Because we travel so often I’ve had a lot of practice and I’ve found a pretty good system. Let me walk you through my process.

MAKE A LIST. The first thing I do is make a master list. Just in case you forgot that I’m your typical type A personality, this should refresh your memory. This is the list of all lists. It includes the tentative itinerary for the trip, the weather forecast, and a list of the items I think I need to pack.

It’s important to have a general idea of what you plan to do on the trip before you start packing. If you have one-day at the beach, one-day bike riding, and one-day hiking a trail you’ll likely need multiple pairs of shoes. I don’t want to get to my destination and have to miss out an adventure because I forgot the appropriate shoe attire.

You can also note anything you may need to purchase before the trip. If you wait to pack until the night before you leave and then find out none of your kid’s sandals fit them; your kids may have choice words for you as they clamor down the beach in their snowboots.

WASH EVERYTHING. I do every stitch of laundry in the entire house, including all the sheets and towels before we leave. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I need to see all the options to know what to pack and the second is that when I come home I know I’ll have suitcases full of dirty clothes and we’ll need clean items to wear upon returning. Plus I’m not sure there is anything better than getting home from a long day of traveling and crawling in a clean bed.

PLAN YOUR OUTFITS. I hate this one. I don’t like to be boxed in. I like options. So believe me when I say I’ve learned this one the hard way. The fewer suitcases you travel with, the better. We typically travel with Southwest so our luggage is free. Each person can take 2 bags free of charge- that means I could bring 10 suitcases, 5 carry-ons, and 5 personal items to a location and have options galore. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve come very close to hitting that limit a time or two. But the logistics of getting that luggage on the plane, in your rental car, and to your hotel is not worth having a few more options each morning when you get dressed.

I take an outfit a day plus two extras for every person. Remember I’ve already made an itinerary so I pretty much know what we will be doing each day and what outfit is appropriate for that outing. Lots of travel blogs suggest to pack lighter and do laundry while on the road. I think that is more practical for adults than for couples traveling with little kids. Kids are messy. What happens if I forget to do laundry? What happens if the laundry I have accessible doesn’t work well? I don’t want to run out of clean clothes. While I like options, I don’t like unknown variables. I don’t want to have to do laundry while we are gone, so I try to avoid that if at all possible.

I also bring multiple bathing suits per person. Ain’t nobody want to put on a wet sandy bathing suit!

ROLL SOME, FOLD SOME, PACKING CUBE SOME. This is a very hot topic among regular travelers. Are you a roller or a folder, maybe even a packing cuber? Well, remember I don’t like to be boxed in, I like options so I do it all. While rolling everything is probably the best way to fit the most amount of things, I find my clothes are more wrinkled with the roll. And this girl is not about to iron on vacation, so I roll what doesn’t matter and fold things I want to avoid having noticeable wrinkle lines.

I was recently introduced to packing cubes and let me just say: game changer. Packing cubes let me pack more in a smaller space AND keep it organized. Not too mention, how easy it was for everyone to access their belongings once we arrived at our destination. Here is the link to the ones I purchased.

BRING AN EXTRA BAG. I tend to pack my suitcases pretty full and I feel so accomplished when I finally get them zipped. The problem with this is that there isn’t room to bring anything back. No souvenirs, no cheesy t-shirts, no rocks for a rock collection (don’t ask). If you pack an empty duffle or backpack you then have room for the overflow if you need it.

BUY WHAT YOU NEED THERE. Things like diapers, swim diapers, pull-ups, wipes, baby food, snacks, even most toiletry items can be purchased once you arrive. You will save lots of space if you can avoid bringing these space-sucking items. However, you do want to bring enough to get you through the first day or two, that way you can get settled before needing to rush to the store.

Note: This one applies only to domestic travel. If traveling international – do your research first. Some destinations have higher costs for these items. We just recently traveled to Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. While it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to date, it was also one of the most expensive. A box of cereal cost $10 (US currency!). That’s what happens when you visit a small island and everything has to be shipped in. In this case, I packed a suitcase full of just food to last the week. We still had to purchase our perishable items upon arrival but this saved us big time.

BE PREPARED. I always pack children’s Tylenol. Sure you can buy it there, but usually, fevers and headaches strike in the middle of the night and it’s much easier to have what you need on hand then trying to find the closest drug store.

I also always bring a few toy items for my kids. When you are getting ready in the morning, or if there is downtime in the evening – your kids will get bored quickly in a hotel room. I have found that bored kids are whiney kids. A few favorite toys or activity books will keep them busy during that downtime.

I’m always in the market for new tips or ticks when it comes to packing. If you have one sharing is caring, drop it in the comments so we all benefit.