Packing for Travel with Kids

Organized packing for vacations

As a minimalist, I hate “stuff.”  By “stuff” I mean items that are unneeded, unloved, cause stress, take up space, and require maintenance.  Also, I don’t know about you, but I want to spend my vacation time on the beach, not digging through my suitcase.  Using minimalist thinking, I believe I have discovered a very efficient packing method.  Please look over my post on my post on traveling with kids for extra tips.  Hopefully, this will take some stress out of traveling with kids!  And of course, check out the printables at the end.

Preparation (taken from this post)

There are certain items that you use only when you travel such as airplane pillows and travel hygiene items (you can find the full list on the packing list printable from this post).  I also keep copies of the following in my suitcase at all times: emergency contact information, government-issued IDs, health insurance cards, credit cards.  You can also keep an extra copy of your packing list in your suitcase to make sure you don’t forget anything when you’re packing up to return home.  If you have an extra phone charger that you don’t use often, you can keep that in the suitcase as well.  Keeping these items in your suitcase, even when not traveling, makes packing easier.

Pack as much as possible the day before you travel.  There will be some items that you’ll need to use the day of your flight and then pack (such as deodorant and toothpaste), but you should try to minimize this.  Therefore, take a shower and dry your hair the night before your flight so that you can pack your hair dryer and any shower items you plan to take on your trip.  You can also charge your phone the day before, pack your phone charger, and then keep your phone turned off the night before you leave.  Keep a list of everything that you cannot pack until the last minute, and check that list before leaving the house.  When you usually have plenty of an item and will only need a small amount for your trip (such as medication, vitamins, hair ties, bibs, or wipes), you can just pack what you need ahead of time, rather than at the last minute.

Easy Ways to Pack

If possible, bring only carry-ons when traveling.  This will save you money if the airline charges checked baggage fees (Southwest Airlines is the only airline that I know of that doesn’t charge checked baggage fees) and will save you time from having to check in at the gate and waiting at baggage claim.  It may also save you a headache if the airline loses your baggage (I once had an airline lose two car seats – that was not a fun ordeal!).

Keep all family members’ documentation you need for check-in and security (passport, driver’s license, birth certificates for “lap children”, boarding passes, and credit card if you are checking bags) in one small bag that is easily accessible inside one of the carry-ons.  This will keep you from having to dig through lots of bags.

Keep another separate, easily accessible bag for items that must be run through security individually.  This includes laptops, phones, and portable DVD players.  If you’d like, you can even keep your belt in this bag (just make sure your pants will stay up on their own until you get through security!).  Everyone behind you in security will thank you.

Be aware of what you are allowed to bring in your carry on.  You are allowed liquids or gels in 3 ounces or smaller containers.  These containers must be kept in a 1-quart, clear plastic, zip-top bag.  You may keep multiple 3-ounce containers in the bag, but each traveler is only allowed one bag.  Anything that is greater than 3 ounces must be in checked baggage, with the exception of medication, formula, or breast milk.  The list for what is prohibited from being included in carry-on luggage changes frequently, but you can find the most recent list here:  When in doubt, don’t bring it or put it in your checked baggage.

If you are packing jewelry, makeup, and hygiene items, there are a few ways to avoid anything getting lost or tangled.  I suggest putting your necklaces in straws (to keep them straight) and your earrings and rings in pill boxes.  Keep makeup and manicure tools in a small bag or glasses case.  You may not need certain hygiene items such as lotion and shampoo, especially if you will be staying at a hotel or with friends or family.  If you do pack such items, use travel size items.  I like to use the empty travel size containers for hygiene items, and then fill them from the bottle of the product I have at home.  Be sure to keep these in their own separate bag in case they explode during the flight.

If possible, buy bulky and disposable items, such as diapers or formula, at your destination.  This will save lots of space in your suitcase.

Utilize every space of your suitcase.  Stuff socks and underwear into your shoes and roll up shirts and pants so they take up less space.  Also, pack empty bags to use for dirty laundry throughout the trip.  This will help separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes so that your clean clothes stay clean and make it easier to do a few mid-trip loads of laundry if feasible.

Be sure to pack your house keys in an easily-accessible place!  This way, when you get home, you can easily grab them and unlock your house to bring in your bags.  Once, when traveling only with my two-year-old, I left all my keys at home, not thinking that I would need them.  My husband was at work when we got back, so we were locked out!

Finally, pack as little as possible, especially with clothes.  Bring layers (or wear them at the airport to save room in your suitcase) in case of weather changes.  I play a game with myself where I try to have a few unused items on a trip as possible – the last few times I’ve used every single thing I packed!  All the clothing you really need for a week-long trip is a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a pair of nice pants, three shirts, a cardigan, a pair of pajamas, underwear, socks, and possibly an extra pair of shoes, a dress, and a swimming suit.  Try to coordinate your clothes so that they’ll all match one pair of shoes, one belt, and one purse.  As much as I love bright teal shoes, I would never pack them on vacation.


There are plenty of products to help pack light.  I’ve found that they’re mostly unnecessary if you pack light, but they may be helpful for people who like lots of options.

Space Compressible Bags – to use this product, you put your clothes into the bag and suck the air out with the vacuum.  If you’ve ever watched TV after 1 AM you know exactly what I’m talking about.  These do save some space, but it’s time-consuming to always vacuum, unpack, and re-vacuum when you pack your suitcase to return home.  Also, my clothes always came out wrinkly, despite what the commercials say.

OneSole Shoes – if you’re a shoe lover, and the thought of going a week with only one or two pairs of shoes sounds like torture, you might want to look into these.  These shoes have one sole, and you can change the tops.  Some tops are casual, and some are dressy.  You can find more information here: One Sole.

Miche Bag – these bags work just like the OneSole Shoes, only with purses.  You have one purse “case”, and can change out the outside of the purse.  If you’re a purse girl, I would recommend these for traveling.  You can find more information here: Miche Bag.

Tip:  Consider taking a waterproof bag with you for storing items on a balcony for extra space.


First, I am providing my packing list.  Please note that this is an overly comprehensive list.  I don’t suggest that you pack all of these items each time you travel!  Your packing list will always change based on where you’re going, with whom you’re staying, with whom you’re traveling, and what you’ll be doing.  What I do is print out this list before packing, then cross out any items I don’t need for that trip.  Using the list is important though so that you don’t forget to pack anything.  There’s a key underneath the printables, which is also listed in the Excel version.  Don’t forget to put this in your Family Notebook!

Here’s the Excel version so that you can customize your own: Master Packing List

Here’s the pdf version to keep in your Family Notebook: Master Packing List


Carry-on items are in blue

Frequently forgotten items are in bold

Items to keep permanently in the suitcase are preceded with an asterisk

Items you may need to pack the morning of your travel are in italics.