Packing for family travel

Tips and insight

This week we share 13 perspectives from seasoned travel moms suggesting tips on how to pack for family travel. This is the fifth of our Family Travel Blog Series. If you missed previous posts, check out:

backpacking Europe
Traveling by train in Gulf of Naples

Saving Money on Transportation

Selecting Family Travel Destinations

Choosing accommodations

Exploring a new place

Follow the links to each of the contributor’s websites for other great travel tips and educational resources!


Our tips from World Wise Kid

One of the greatest parts of traveling is minimizing. Knowing you can survive for weeks on just the basics on your back is empowering. Packing light does involve conscious planning and investing in high quality gear.

Backpack. Unless we are travel camping, we carry on our luggage. We know our personal items are safe and will arrive with us. We love Osprey packs with their synching straps, padded electronics sleeves and thick hip belts. These packs give us maximum flexibility when finding our lodging down a cobblestone street, across a rice field or over muddy dirt roads.

Ultra-light. All items must be as light as possible – no big jackets, no heavy shoes. Down jackets are perfect (and currently conveniently fashionable!) A lightweight waterproof shell is an insulation layer and a must for day packs. We carry thin sarongs instead of bulky towels.

Educational tools. It’s hard to leave the paper travel guides and books behind but for minimalist travel, we have converted to ebooks on the Kindle and tablets. A library subscription gives us access to print resources. We use downloadable audio guides to destinations, and supplement studies with podcasts and YouTube videos. Each of the kids carry only an academics notebook and a journal/sketchpad for studies.

Traveling light means it’s fast and easy to pack up and go to a new destination. It’s easy to find what you need quickly. We off-load clothes, pamphlets and maps as we travel. We take lots of photos and few souvenirs.

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

How much do I love packing cubes? Oh, let me count the ways.

•Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes. We have little use for the large. We rarely use the mediums. But we’re crazy for all the options offered by the small and slim (long and skinny) sizes.

packing cubes
Colored packing cubes to organize.


•Because there are so many colors choices, you can color code in numerous ways. Color code each member of the family. Color code like items as in all kids shirts go in blue and all kid shorts go in red, etc. Or you might assign colored packing cubes to each day of your vacation ROY-G-BIV style. Everyone’s Monday clothes in red, Tuesday in orange, etc.

•You should make your clothes fit the cube. This may mean laying all items flat, folding them in unusual ways, or rolling them. Experiment with the cube size and the folding until you get it just right.

•Make the packing cubes fit the luggage. Experiment with various configurations until you get the most out of it. This might mean one bag uses one medium, one small, and three size slim packing cubes. While another piece of luggage uses two smalls and four slims.

•Also, packing cubes can serve as drawers whenever you go. Or you can actually unpack, then use them in reverse for dirty clothes.

Anyway you use them, packing cubes make the job of packing quick and easy.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

As our children are still young, most of the packing still falls to me. Packing is definitely something that I start thinking about a week or two before each trip jotting down items on a handwritten list. We travel a lot and the longest that we’ve spent continuously on the road with the kids is 14 weeks. I’d like to think that we’ve got our packing strategy down to a tee. One item that has made our packing and re-packing easier is packing cubes. These simple fabric/mesh zip bags come in lots of sizes. We use them to keep everyone’s clothes separate. Even the kids know exactly which cube all the socks live in!

Perhaps my favourite thing about using packing cubes is that we don’t need to unpack all the time. For example, right now in our closet, there are lots of packing cubes already filled. For example, one contains the children’s travel toys (toys they don’t play with at home). Another contains travel size washing up liquid, an elastic washing line and all the other laundry items we need only when we’re on the road. Another is a travel First Aid Kit and so on. This system saves me so much time. I know that when we go on holiday next that all I need to do is fish out the already packed cubes and add some clean clothes. Try it, it’ll save you hours.

travel for 2 month trip
Luggage for a 2 month trip with a toddler by World For a Girl.

Yamy at Go Fam Go

Aside from our set of clothes and toiletries, our luggage always has a medicine kit for the most common health issues you can encounter while traveling. One issue that I don’t want to deal with is figuring out where the pharmacy is in an unfamiliar place. Not to mention, if they even carry the medicine that I am used to. It even gets more complicated when you are traveling abroad, where the medicine might be prohibited or carried in a different formulation.

Set aside at least one packing cube for this. Make sure that if you are bringing a prescription-strength medication to bring a copy of the prescription with you. This is necessary during inspections in airport checkpoints, for example.

As a family who travels with an elderly with several health issues, we also make sure to bring a medical history packet with us. This packet includes her medical and surgical history, list of medications with dosages and frequencies, and a contact list for her medical team. That way, if something should happen while you’re on a vacation, the new healthcare team will have more time to address the health issue than doing guesswork.

Kris at Gadsventure

We recently left our home in Australia with all of our belongings packed into a couple of small suitcases for our year of travel. With 4 kids, this was no easy feat! We have a detailed list of what went into our bag here – https://gadsventure.com/travel-packing-checklist-family-edition/

Packing cubes are by far and away the number one best way to pack, especially when you have a lot of people to cater for. We got ours from Amazon. Each person has their own colour coordinated set, with one bag containing 5 sets of clothing, and a smaller bag for socks, underwear and swimwear.

Family travel duffel bag
One large check in bag is a great investment. Photo from Gadsventure.

Now 2 weeks in, we are able to cull anything we haven’t been using in order to make our bags even lighter. We always find that you only really wear the same few items over and over again.

When travelling for a long time, less is more. Have as few bags as humanly possible. There is nothing worse than getting off a plane with a bunch of kids, all refusing to carry their own backpacks, so Dad ends up being a pack horse while Mum headcounts the kids and the bags!

Shannan at Captivating Compass

Get ready to teach your kids life skills that will last a lifetime by teaching them to pack when they are young for camping trips or overnight sleep-overs. Teaching kids to pack for an entire trip, regardless of length or destination in just a carry on is doable! I’ve used the same checklist for nearly 15 years and it has never failed me (or the rest of the family). It’s simple and easy enough for most 7-year-olds to do practically by themselves. The key is to give the kids the list and let them create their ‘outfit piles’ according to the list. Then, before it all goes in the carry-on, it is checked by an adult. Finally, outfits are put into a zipper-lock bag and it’s done! This method has worked so well for our family that we have been able to pack for 3 weeks in Switzerland (in the winter) using just a carry-on and backpack! You can grab the full packing tutorial over at CaptivatingCompass.com

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

We travel frequently to Greece on a low cost airline. The flight ticket allows one carry on each and any extra bags need to be paid for. We usually just pay for one bag and then each take a good sized carry on. Usually we can check in the carry on at the travel desk for no extra cost which saves a great deal of money. My tip is to divide the families clothes between the bags and then if one is lost at least you all still have some clothes!

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

Packing for a family of 7 is a daunting task but we have figured out a way to make it as simple as possible, especially when taking a flight. When we are choosing lodging, we make sure that they have a laundry facility available to its guests. That way we can pack a few outfits and do our wash on a night while the kids are swimming in the pool. We can usually pack one carry on per person. This way we avoid any fees that are associated with airline baggage. It’s also very nice if we are driving because our luggage takes up so little space and leaves extra room for all 7 of us.

Make sure you check your kids bags if you let them pack themselves. You don’t want to arrive in Hawaii and have a bunch of winter clothes and no swimming suits packed! I usually make a checklist of things they need to pack so they can feel like they are independent, but I have them lay everything out on their beds and go and make sure they made good choices before they pack their bags. It’s a time-saver for us to do it this way. I also have a tricky way to pack your jewelry so it doesn’t get all tangled. You can read that post over on my blog.

Melissa at Disabled Disney

As a person with a lot of medical problems and disabled my packing is a little different then a normal healthy person. I have to make sure I have my medications and in an adequate amount for my trip and whatever equipment I need. I travel with a shower stool and a wheelchair. I also bought a foldable cane for travel so if I don’t have a lot of room to store it, it folds up!

My best tip is make sure your medications are in your carry on because if your luggage could get lost or held up you may not have your medications when you need them. We also travel as a family and when you have kids you have to take Ziplock bags with you! They are great for half-eaten snacks or if your kids are prone to motion sickness can be used in a pinch for those moments. We also go to Disneyland quite a bit. If you go on the water rides having a plastic baggy can protect anything you don’t want to get wet!

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

To check a bag or not to check a bag? That is a continual battle. As airlines continue to add fees for everything, the largest cost is still a checked bag. No worries, you normally can get away with just a carry on for everyone. How you might ask, well easy, don’t try to pack the kitchen sink when you travel. Lets look at what is needed for a week long family trip.

Quick hitting packing list for each person: 2 (maybe 3) pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 7 pairs of underwear, 1 swimsuit, 7 pairs of socks. Some might think, no way can we pack so little. Remember most of the time you will be doing different activities so you can wear those pair of jeans more than once. And, if they do get dirty, just wash them in the sink or the bathtub. You can easily hand wash the clothes and hang them to dry. Viola, clean clothes!

One last tip… Buy different color packing cubes. I usually can get the above clothing list into one cube per person. The larger cubes are great for the adults and then as you move on to the kids you can use the small and medium ones. I love packing cubes because I quickly can locate each person’s clothes and not have to pull everything out of the bag to located that one item that is hiding at the bottom.

Sarah at State by State

The best tip for packing, whether it’s for a family vacation or living in an RV full-time, is to pack light. This can be a challenge when you have kids. They just seem to need a lot of stuff. Diaper bags, toys, books, extra clothes, it all adds to the space and weight when packing.

When we decided to move into our RV we had to do some major downsizing. It was difficult to decide what would come with us. The decision ultimately came down to how useful an item was. If something has multiple uses it makes it that much more appealing. Consider how you will use the item you are packing, if it is absolutely necessary, bring it.

Often we think we will need something, then end up never using it. It is amazing what we really can live without. The less you bring with you means the less you have to keep track of and the less you have to bring back with you. Try to stick with the necessities and not over plan for every possible disaster.

packing the minivan
Packing the minivan for family travel.

Shannon at Grab My Passport

Even as a seasoned traveler, I’m still guilty of overpacking. We love packing cubes and zip-tight storage bags to keep things organized, but one of my latest discoveries is grocery delivery services! On our recent week-long trip to Orlando, and our first with our newborn, I discovered Instacart and it was the greatest! I packed enough snacks and baby formula to get us through two days. Then, our first night in the hotel we signed up for Instacart’s free trial and placed our first order. We bought snacks, milk, bananas, yogurt, and baby formula. It arrived at our hotel lobby so quickly and everything was fresh! There are a lot of these types of services in the US, so check out what’s available in your travel area before you head out to help save some room in your suitcase.

kids love to pull their own luggage
Kids love to pull their own luggage.

Another quick tip we learned on our Orlando trip was all about taking advantage of checked car seats. Most airlines let you check a car seat for free, but they don’t specify that if you place your car seat in a protective carrier, that you can only put a car seat in it. We were able to toss a week’s worth of diapers in there with plenty of room to spare! Just tuck the diapers (or whatever) in the seat, buckle them in so they don’t get tossed around, and voilà, more space saved in your suitcase!

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

I’m an optimist, but with airlines having lost my checked luggage more than once (my bags went to Paris and Hawaii without me!), I try to pack light and use only carry-on bags. If I do need to check a suitcase, I use it to pack things I could replace if I had to. What stays with me includes everything my family will need within our first 24 hours at our destination:

packing list
A written list is a wonderful resource to keep organized for family travel!

– My child’s lovey (can’t sleep without it!)
– Our toiletry bag
– Debit or credit cards, passports (for international travel), IDs, and insurance cards
– One day’s worth of clothes if they fit in the bag, or at least new underwear and socks
– My itinerary and confirmation numbers
– Phone charger

I also pack my packing checklist so that if I lose everything, I know exactly what I need to replace. In a nutshell, if it’s critical travel gear, it stays within reach. Everything else can go in the checked bag just in case it decides to take its own adventure!

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Saving Money on Food while Traveling.