You know the classic “family vacation” comedy where a frazzled dad pulls his hair out while his wife and kids pile half their earthly belongings next to a modest station wagon, expecting him to work some sort of magic trick to make it all fit?
We have been there!
Except for the “frazzled dad” part. My husband loves the challenge of fitting an impossible amount of belongings into a car, and I am shocked at his skill every single time we travel! He once fit all our luggage, plus a child-sized, battery-powered pickup truck INTO OUR MINIVAN for a trip home from Kentucky. And we didn’t even have to leave any two-year-olds behind.
But when we started traveling with our kids, our packing style was the opposite of “minimal”. We had two toddler boys and one infant the first time we took a serious trip (read about our journey to Charleston here!). That means multiple pack n’ plays, booster seats, baby gates, potty chairs, bulk packages of diapers and wipes, and enough clothing for three messy little boys. And food. And more food.
Taking our family anywhere was quite a production.
However, over five and a half years of traveling with kids, we’ve discovered that traveling with MORE actually just adds more stress. Not only do you have to pack it all and cram it into your vehicle, but you have to unload it and put it away at your destination, and THEN repack it and unload it again at home! If you’re crazy like us you might have multiple destinations on a trip, which means the packing and unloading process gets tripled or quadrupled. It can be A LOT.
When the joy of a trip is overtaken by the burden of the stuff we bring along, it’s time to reconsider how we pack.
So over the last couple years, Jordan and I have given ourselves one big challenge when preparing for a trip, whether with kids or just the two of us: How little can we bring?
When we travel alone, we don’t even pack a suitcase. Last year, we took a trip to Europe for six days with nothing more than a backpack each, and my small purse. The ease of getting on and off a plane with everything we need, no waiting around at baggage claims, and not having to wrestle heavy luggage around on public transportation makes this the only way to travel for us. It helps that we are not fashionistas, and wearing the same outfit multiple times doesn’t bother us in the least!
When traveling with our whole family, we’ve developed systems and tips that help us immensely.
As our kids have gotten older, we no longer need all the baby gear, which makes packing much simpler. But I will say, if you have babies and toddlers, this part of minimal packing is not something you need worry about! If an item makes your life with a little one easier, you cram that thing into your car and bring it! The point is to be able to relax and have fun on a trip, and that baby gate or Bumbo seat can make all the difference.
Here is a list of ten packing tips for making traveling with kids less stressful, and more delightful!
1- The day before you pack, wash, fold and put away all laundry.
Don’t waste time setting aside the things you want to pack, even though it seems like it will save you time. Having all clothes put away in their proper places will make it a breeze to simply take them out of the drawers/closet, and place them in the suitcase.
2- Put together full outfits for the kids and pack them together.
Instead of throwing everything they own into a suitcase, be intentional. Pair shorts and t-shirts, sundresses with matching sweaters, etc. This way, you spend less time on vacation digging through clothes to find things that match.
3- If at all possible, book a hotel or Airbnb with a washer and dryer!
If you do, then pack only half as many clothes as you need for the days you’ll be there–four outfits for an eight-day trip, etc. Do laundry a time or two during your trip, and you’ll be all set!
4- I you have more than one child, pack all their pajamas in one stack.
That way, when you get to your destination late at night with a bunch of tired kiddos, you can pull out a complete stack of jammies and get those babies to bed! The same goes for other categories like swimsuits and the oh-so-dreaded socks.
5- After packing outfits, plus the basics like socks and underwear, allow yourself to be very minimal with the necessary extras!
For a summer trip, I bring along one sweatshirt, one pair of flip flops, and one pair of sneakers for each kid. If I know we’re going to be doing a lot of activities outdoors where it may be muddy or wet, I’ll also pack their rain boots (although as a southern girl who grew up on a farm, I say just ditch the shoes altogether and go barefoot!).
6- If you’re taking a trip in cold weather, pack an extra small bag that has gloves, a hat and a scarf for each kid, plus snowpants and boots, if needed.
That way, it’s all in one place and easy to find. When you’re coming and going at your destination, make sure that all the winter gear ends up back in the bag at the end of the day so you’re not spending time hunting down that tiny pink mitten that got away.
7- When you arrive at your destination, always, always unpack clothes into dresser drawers or a closet shelf.
It only takes a few minutes when you pack minimally, and then all their outfits will be easy to grab out quickly each day. Living out of a suitcase gets messy and frustrating, even if it’s only for a few days, plus you’ll feel more at home wherever you are if your clothes are put away.
8- Travel cubes are a great way to keep your suitcase even more organized!
I haven’t made use of these much yet, but I hope to collect some and use them more for future trips. Travel cubes are zippered pouches that come in varying sizes. You pack your clothes into the cubes and then tuck them into your suitcase. You could do one cube for each child’s outfits, then have one for swimsuits, one for pajamas, one for socks and underwear, etc.
9- Simplify and save time is by dividing kids clothes up by days.
Travel cubes would be great for this, but we’ve even used grocery bags! I make stacks of one outfit for each kid for each day of our trip, including socks and underwear, then place the stack into a bag and into the suitcase. When we arrive at our destination, we place all the bags into a dresser drawer. Each day, all we have to do is pull out a bag and get the kids dressed! It’s definitely more work up front so I don’t always do this, but having it done makes those vacation mornings so much more relaxed!
10- If you feel up to it, or need to conserve space, challenge yourself by selecting a smaller suitcase!
There are all kinds of brilliant folding techniques to allow you to fit a large amount of clothing into a small space. I’ve been using the KonMarie folding method, created by the precious Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” and star of the new Netflix show “Tidying Up”, to fold our clothes at home. I’m excited to try it on our next trip and see how much space it will save us!
Most importantly, while packing at home, be mindful of what will make your life simpler while traveling. If you put in the extra work on packing day, your vacation days will run more smoothly, and you will be less frustrated and stressed about the little things.
If you don’t find packing to be exciting and fun like I do, just take it slow. Implement one or two of these ideas at a time, and see what works for you!
If you want more tips and ideas for traveling as a family, make sure you’re subscribed to my blog. I have future posts planned about all kinds of things, including how to stay on a budget while traveling, prepping food for a long trip, and how to simplify the ‘on the road” portion of road-tripping with small kids!
Happy journeying to you!
More posts you may like:
How to Choose an Airbnb for Traveling with Kids
Beginning Early – Traveling with Young Kids
Why We Are Choosing Day One