Travel With Kids: 3 Real-World Tips for Packing Light

The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Emily at So Damn Domestic.

Travel With Kids - 3 Real-World Travel Tips for Packing Light

Traveling with kids.

To some of you, it sounds like an exciting adventure.

To others, maybe it’s as frightening as being trapped in an episode of Hoarders. (We all like organizing here, right?)

Because kids can come with a lot of baggage. Pun intended.

They’ve got endless toys, 27 favorite books, can’t-live-without lovies, special kid-shampoo, bubble gum toothpaste, sippy cups, and on and on… and that’s before even thinking about their clothing.

So how can we travel with our kids, keep a light load, focus on having a good time together, and leave the stress behind?

Want to travel with your kids without going crazy or packing the whole house?

I learned so much while traveling cross-country for three months with my family last year, as I wrote about in Finding the Awesome: 3 Steps to Doing More & Stressing Less. (Click to get it for free.) Plus, the year before, I traveled cross-country (by plane) by myself with our baby and toddler.

And as we gear up for our next family travel adventure, I’m keeping these three space-saving tips for packing light in the front of my mind.

Travel With Kids – Packing Light Tip 1

Pack individual outfits in gallon zip-lock bags. They keep all of the little bits together (socks, underwear, hair accessories, and so on), and let you squeeze out the extra air to keep things compact.

If it’s a longish trip, or if you have a big family, using so many zip-locks can seem pretty wasteful, but I mitigate that by reusing the bags every time we travel. After a trip, I store them in the front pocket of our empty suitcase, ready for the next time we travel.

I also stopped labeling the bags to make re-use a lot easier too (but if you need to label them, you can write on the BACK of a post-it note, then stick the note on the inside of the bag before filling it with clothes. You’ll be able to read the label through the clear plastic, and the sticky note won’t get rubbed off in the suitcase.
But here’s the biggest Travel With Kids – Packing Light tip about clothes: Don’t pack extra outfits.

I know it sounds scary, but unless your trip is only a day or two long, you can use clothes from previous days as your spares. It’s not the end of the world if something that hasn’t been really dirtied gets worn again. So if your baby’s diaper explodes on Tuesday, but on Monday she only drooled a little on her shirt, go ahead and reuse Monday’s outfit. Plus, most hotels (and relatives) have on-site laundry facilities, so you can wash a small load of clothes if you need to, once you settle in for the night.

Travel With Kids – Packing Light Tip 2

Share toiletries. Can you use your kids’ shampoo and still get your hair clean? Or can the whole family use a fluoride-free toothpaste during the trip? Are there any products that can pull double-duty during your trip, even if they usually don’t?

For example, my family uses coconut oil with lavender essential oil mixed in as both sunscreen and lotion. It’s so simple to just pack one jar of that, rather than lotion for me, lotion for the kids, adult sunscreen, and kid sunscreen. One jar can potentially replace four items.

How can you consolidate? Can you use your conditioner as shaving cream, even if you don’t normally? What about sharing a hairbrush with the kids?

Packing four separate toiletry bags takes up a lot of space with redundant items. Sharing saves a ton of room AND keeps our temporary bathroom much tidier.

Travel With Kids – Packing Light Tip 3

Leave the toys at home.

I mean it. Take one special can’t-sleep-without-it cuddle thing for each kid, but leave the play things at home.

They take up so much room, and you have to keep track of all of them, trying not to lose small pieces or forget them in the hotel when you depart.

Plus, why are you traveling? To have the kids play with the same things they have at home? Or, more likely, to see new and exciting parts of the world, and to get to know their relatives?

This was a huge lesson for me during our cross-country road trip last year. I brought one plastic tote full of favorite toys and books, which I thought was “packing light” for two kids over three months.  Nope. We had so many adventures and barely used the toys. I won’t make that mistake again!

And if you absolutely feel like you need toys for a certain reason (and grandma doesn’t already have a stash), check out a toy rental company at your destination.

When I went to Charleston alone with both kids in 2012, I knew I wouldn’t be able to adventure as much as I would’ve wanted to, since I was exclusively pumping for my son (kind of a full-time job), and on my own. BabysAway delivered some age-appropriate toys to our rental condo and picked them up again when we left. They also rent equipment like strollers, high chairs, cribs, and more. Such a cool service for helping families traveling with kids!

So, are you ready to travel with your kids this summer?

Where are you going this year? What’s the objective of the trip? To explore the country, to bond with grandparents or cousins, or to enjoy an attraction?

Packing light will help you focus on the goals you have for your family, the fun you’re having, and the memories you’re making.

Which was your favorite tip? Do you disagree, or did I leave out an important one? Comment to share your insights.

Emily Chapelle headshot

Emily Chapelle is an expert homemaker, having set up six different houses in seven years of military moves. She’s also the mother of two adorable curly-haired kids, wife to a Navy fighter pilot, and a former teacher, childcare provider, and nanny. Now she works from home to spread encouragement and inspiration to other homemakers with a no-nonsense attitude and lots of tough love. She blogs at So Damn Domestic and leads a community of real homemakers making real changes at Hardcore Homemaking. Get her free eBook, Finding the Awesome: 3 Steps to Doing More & Stressing Less for more inspiration and guided, broken-down exercises to find your Awesome.

Linking up: Thirty Handmade Days, Design Dining and Diapers, Your Homebased Mom

Filed under: Emily, Guest Bloggers, Kid Stuff, Travel/Auto Organization


21 Responses to Travel With Kids: 3 Real-World Tips for Packing Light

  1. 1
    Nalani says

    We usually fly with out girls back to the US once a year to visit family.It’s about a 20/25 hour trip! I don’t worry much about checked bags, but for carryons each girl gets a small Zoopack backpack and that’s generally filled with a, 8 pack of crayons, a few sheets of stickers, small notebook, 2-3 snacks, a hoodie, headphones and a diaper/pullup and wipes. It’s not as heavy as it sounds!

    My husband and I also sit separately with one kid. This stops meltdowns and fights and each gets our individual attention. We also pack extra snacks. hand sanitizer, iPad, a few sandwiches, a super small thin blanket and some Arm and Hammer scented bags for diapers. These also double as trash bags when we need to clear the tray tables of food while waiting for them to come and take our trays. My oldest at 3 has been arcoss the Atlantic about 12 times already, we are Pros!

    • 1.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      That’s a LONG trip! I totally agree about the paper/stickers/headphones… that’s basically what I took on the way back from our cross-country trip in 2012 (the one I linked to in this post). You do NOT want to be stuck on an airplane – especially a long flight or a delayed one – with a toddler who has 0 things to do. Babies don’t really need anything other than mama or dad though!

      But paper and stickers takes up very little space, as you said.
      Bringing trash bags is a great idea. I’ll do that next time we fly… it was frustrating sometimes to have to wait so long for the attendant to pick up our empty cups and stuff, and have nowhere to put them in the meantime. Thanks for that tip!

  2. 2
    Marcia Francois says

    We do the ziplocs too – I can’t even tell you how often those have been re-used. My twins can grab any bag of clothes when they wake up and get dressed without my intervention (great for extra parental sleep!)

    I agree about the toys! We went to the beach in Jan and I took quite a bit that they didn’t even use. In April, we had a mini break and I took one folder with a colouring book, plain notebook and some pencil crayons/ markers for each kid. I’m going to do exactly the same in future. Somehow the outdoors is much more exciting than toys 🙂

    • 2.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Ooooh kids who can get dressed on their own! That sounds nice. hehe. Someday. (Well, my daughter is halfway there, but can’t do shirts or socks on her own yet.)

      Coloring is always a favorite, you’re right. When I was a kid, and my family traveled, I mainly would take paper and pencils/markers in my carry on bag. Endless entertainment.

      • Marcia Francois says

        hang in there, keep encouraging independence and they’ll get it 🙂

  3. 3
    Brandy E. says

    We recently took a cross country road trip with 4 nights at our final destination. We packed one larger bag for when we arrived there, but I packed one outfit for each of us in a small bag for each night at the hotels along the way. I tied a label around the strap so I would grab the bag that said “night 1# Colorado”, rather than bringing everything into the hotel. Then the next night “night #2 Arizona”, and so on.

    • 3.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      That’s a great tip too! We did similar when we were road tripping. I had one storage bin in the car full of individual bags (I used my reusable grocery bags) with an outfit for each of us in it. Then a smaller bin for toiletries and nightclothes. So we just grabbed the small bin and one bag (and the kids’ lovies and water cups) when we got to our hotel for the night!

      Car travel is definitely way more flexible with that kind of thing than airline travel, don’t you think?

  4. 4
    Elizabeth says

    Great tips! We’re headed to our family’s “rustic” (think camping inside a house but with plumbing) Mexico house next week. I usually use packing cubes for all our clothes, but the zip lock bags are a great idea for compression. We usually consolidate everything, but I’m hoping to make it with just two small clothes bags for the 4 of us for a little over a week. Great tip on sharing sunscreen/lotion, too! The only toys we’re bringing are the kids bikes, while small are still going to be a space killer. Thankfully most of the beach toys (boogie boards, sand toys etc) are already down there. Here’s to fun, flexible kid adventures!

    • 4.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Good luck! It sounds like it’s going to be an awesome trip.

  5. 5
    Joe K says

    I LOVE Babyaway! We have worked with that company in a couple of different cities, but the one in Charleston was super helpful and the service was great. Totally worth the money.

    • 5.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      They’re really great. 🙂 They brought the wrong crib for me at first (a big crib and I only needed a pack & play) and swapped it out the next day with no issue. The toys were great and clean and I loved not having to pick up or drop off.

  6. 6
    Gail says

    Awesome tips, thank you. I travel extensively for work and am a recently converted carry-on flyer. My daughter traveled with me everywhere her first year and I can’t tell you the amount of stuff I brought. She and are headed for Florida in a few days and I am sticking with my converted self. I never fly without are Ziploc freezer bags (already mentioned) they get used a trash bags, organizing kits, just about everything. I also never fly without Kind bars and headphones, both of which I will use with my daughter this trip. A few things I have added in prep for a cross country flight and a place famous for thunder storms in June are mess free Crayola paint pens (and paper of course), card games and kid card holders, reusable stickers and I just made a large photo copy of the Candy Land game board, got it laminated and stuck that the other Candy Land pieces in my bag of tricks. Viola! Instant board game. This trip will include a small carry on and backpack, that’s it!

    • 6.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Sounds like you’ve got a system that’s working well! Small carry on and a backpack sounds perfect. Go, Gail! 🙂

  7. 7
    Dina Farmer says

    I think the number 1 thing is to leave the toys at home and only allow for 1 special toy to bring that that’s it! They can’t take anything more than that.

    • 7.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      I think that’s a big one! Learning to get AWAY from home for your getaways also means getting away from all the toys. 🙂

  8. 8
    Warren Andrews says

    When traveling with a baby or even a toddler, bring a carrier to put the child in so that you can pull the folded stroller to the plane. This way you are not trying to hold the baby and close the stroller at the plane door.Well before boarding time, go to the front desk and ask for a stroller tag so that you are ready to go. Do not ask when it is time for boarding.

    Wholesale Escapes

    • 8.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Babywearing is the best for airline travel with little ones!

  9. 9
    IR says

    We are pretty good about 2 & 3. If we will be staying in a hotel, we bring along crayons, markers, scissors and paper, and perhaps one small game. These are meant to keep the little ones busy in the morning until baby makes me get up and until we are ready to head out for the day.
    But I find number 1 to be a real challenge. Laundry in the hotel is not always easy for me. I would happily wash in the bathtub, if only there was a convenient place to dry. Some children have frequent accidents – those clothes cannot be reused without washing! We also did some really wet activities, and found ourselves a little short on clothes for some people the last day!
    But I will continue to work on this one, and certainly dream of it!

    • 9.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Washing in a bathtub is pretty easy, and you can dry things over the shower curtain rod, but drying TIME can be kind of a problem. It definitely helps when the kids get better about those accidents too. 🙂 You’ll get there. Packing light isn’t the only way to go, you know? It’s fine to pack “heavier” for this season of life if that’s what works better for you… but boy is it freeing when you don’t have to anymore!

  10. 10
    Linda says

    For long overnight flights, pack PJ’s for young kids and loose clothes for older travelers, toothbrushes and paste or the pre loaded one. After dinner was served, we all “got ready for bed” and settled down. In the morning, fresh clothes. We still change into more comfy clothes. Preload movies on the ipads or bring along a portable DVD player with extra charged batteries. You can check what kind of plane it is. Often the movies available will be posted. It made all of our flights much better.

    • 10.1
      Emily Chapelle says

      Love the “get ready for bed” thing, even on an airplane! That’s so cool. I haven’t done an overnight flight with the kids, but I did have to sleep in the airport with them… totally unplanned. I made a “bed” out of my daughter’s stroller, and my son slept in the sling. It was a crazy situation that night, but the kids handled it well.

      OUR attitude sets the pace for them, so much of the time. I love that you just go ahead with the routine.


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