What’s the one thing you absolutely HATE when it comes to travelling with kids? If you are anything like me, it’s packing. I hate packing for a family trip. I love travelling, but packing suitcases? No! Having said that, after visiting many countries and covering more than 70,000 nautical miles with our son (to date), I have learned a thing or two during the many times I’ve been getting us ready to jet off. So, to make your life easier, here are my top travel packing tips for families to help you pack like a pro when travelling with kids!
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Packing for a trip with kids is not fun, especially if they like to try and ‘help’ you. But, when it comes to travelling, it’s a necessary evil. I like to think I have our packing down to a tee now. There are a few tips and tricks I have that make it a little easier and a less stressful part of travel. Read on to find out how I pack for our holidays, both before and while we’re enjoying ourselves.
Best packing tips for family travel
Travel packing tips and tricks to consider before you start
Make a holiday packing list
Anyone who knows me well knows I love a list. And none more so than a packing list. So, before we travel, I make a list of everything we need to pack including clothes, shoes, travel essentials, electronics and everything in between. It means I can cross off things as they get packed and ensures I don’t miss or forget anything.
Before a big international trip, I start my list a few weeks before in case there is anything specific I need to stock up on like mosquito repellent, sun lotions or specific clothing that might be in storage. If we are just travelling for a short period like a long weekend, I make my list a few days before.
Top Tip #1 – Make a List.
Assess your toiletries
For toiletries, I have three big tips. Firstly, consider switching to bar versions of things like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and deodorant. Not only are they more environmentally friendly with the reduced packaging, they also weigh less. I have recently heard that coconut oil can be used as a substitute for moisturiser, hand cream, conditioner, makeup remover and shaving creams but I cannot vouch for this as I haven’t tried it myself yet.
Secondly, consider whether you can buy your essentials at your holiday destination. This can save you considerable weight in your checked bag, but do your research and compare prices to the same products at home. It might not be very cost-effective.
Thirdly, bring only what you need and in miniature version if you can. For long weekends I can get away with the travel-sized mini versions of everything without compromising my personal cleanliness.
Top Tip #2 – Reassess your toiletries.
Any travel often involves documents such as passports, driving licences, travel insurance, booking confirmations and boarding passes. It is advisable to scan and email yourself the documents, so you have a copy of them. If you can, download copies to your phone as well. Ensure the scanned copies include your passport and driving licence.
It is also advisable to print out a document sheet for each piece of luggage you have with your contact number and accommodation details inside in case one goes missing in transit.
Top Tip #3 – Send yourself your travel documents and ensure contact details are in each piece of luggage.
Know your luggage weight
Make sure you double check your luggage allowance for each stage of your journey, especially if you are taking multiple flights with different airlines as they might not all be the same allowance. For instance, we flew with Emirates from Lisbon to Bangkok via Dubai and then took a Thai Airways flights to/from Krabi. For our Emirates flights we had an allowance of 32kgs each but only 20kgs each with Thai Airways. So, when it comes to suitcase packing tips, know your allowance and work with the lowest value there is.
Top Tip #4 -Check your luggage allowance for each stage of your journey.
Best travel packing tips for packing those suitcases
Don’t pack everything
Before you put anything into your suitcase, lay everything you THINK you need to pack on your bed or sofa. Apart from underwear, now halve everything and that’s probably the right number of things you need to pack.
Although I do find this hard, I often reduce our clothing before I pack it when I really think about things and reduce my expectations about the holiday. I ask myself “Do I really need four swimsuits/bikinis for 2 weeks?” and “Does our son really need one set of shorts per 2 days?”. Also, if we are unlikely to be dining out a lot for dinner, I only bring one evening dress as it is only worn for a matter of a few hours.
To get an idea of what we pack for a 2-week holiday, check out my family international travel checklist further down.
If you are only going away for a short period of time, then packing for a family in one suitcase should be easy to achieve. I’ve got an example travel checklist for a weekend away further down that we use.
Top Tip #5 – Don’t over-pack.
Roll, roll, roll
For a very long time, I was a flat packer. Everything was neatly folded and laid flat in my suitcase. Until I got learn about one of the best packing strategies for travel to save space and reduce wrinkles in clothes; rolling them instead of folding them.
Not only does rolling your clothes reduce wrinkles it also saves a lot of space. That said, it doesn’t mean you should take more but it could mean you reduce the number of luggage you take by one bag! This is by far one of the best holiday packing tips I learned and it completely changed how we pack our suitcases.
Top Tip #6 – Roll your clothes.
Use packing cubes
Another one of the best travel packing tips I learned about five years ago was to use packing cubes. I had never even heard of a packing cube and to be honest, when I first heard the term, a cardboard box for moving to a new house sprung to mind.
These are great little bags which can be colour coordinated for each family member, making it easy to recognise whose clothes are whose. They make packing easier, by rolling you can fit loads into each one, and they organise your suitcases much more efficiently than folding clothes. Plus, you don’t need to ‘unpack’ when you reach your holiday destination. They really are very versatile.
Top Tip #7 – Use packing cubes.
Don’t use one piece of luggage per person
My other piece of advice when it comes to using packing cubes and packing for a family trip is to spread the cubes between bags. Do not put all of your own clothes in one bag, your partner’s clothes in another and the kids in their own bags.
What happens if one piece of luggage gets lost in transit?
The person whose bag it is will have no clothes, that’s what!
But, if you spread your clothes (in packing cubes) between all the luggage you are taking, you ensure that everyone has some clothes for the start of the holiday until the lost bag is reunited with your family. So, be savvy and spread all your families clothes across luggage.
This might not be applicable to shorter trips but for longer trips it’s worth doing, just-in-case.
Top Tip #8 – Spread your clothes in your luggage.
Use your suitcase space wisely
If you are a family that prefer hard-shelled suitcases, use the space wisely. Fill the ‘bar’ spaces with things like rolled towels, cardigans and jumpers, and shoes before you start putting your packing cubes inside. Fill gaps in further space with smaller items such as your toiletries bag, first aid kit and hats.
The same goes for your packing cubes. Don’t overfill them but likewise, don’t under fill them. Ensure they are filled to the point where you can close the zip easily and so that nothing can move around in them during the journey. This is when you know you’ve gotten it right.
Top Tip #9 – Use the space wisely.
Leave some space for souvenirs and bring an extra bag
Everyone knows that we all like to pick up a souvenir or two to remember our travels by, so make sure to leave a little bit of room in your suitcase for your holiday purchases. If you know you’ll be doing a lot of shopping, bring an extra bag, even if it is a folded duffel bag. When we did our first big USA road trip, we had to buy an extra suitcase in Wal-Mart as we didn’t heed this expert travel tip. So, don’t get caught out like us!
Top Tip #10 – Bring an extra bag.
Have a permanently packed toiletry bag at the ready
We have a toiletry bag permanently packed for our travels which makes packing for our trips much easier. I simply assess the contents when we get home, replace anything that has been used up and leave it ready to pop into our bags when we’re preparing for another trip. It’s so much easier than getting a toiletry bag ready every time.
Top Tip #11 – Have a toiletry bag permanently packed.
Simplify your make-up mamas
One way to be savvy about packing as a mum is to reassess your make-up bag for travelling. Firstly, do you really need to bring any. On our last trip to South East Asia I didn’t bring any and I didn’t miss it at all.
If you really can’t do without any, try to bring just one small bag with you and opt for smaller versions of the essentials if you can. Decant some of your liquid fountain into a smaller travel pot, bring a small eye-shadow palette and just one or two lipsticks/lip gloss. You’ll be surprised how little you can get away with. And if you’re not sure how to reduce your make-up I suggest doing a few trial runs at home to see exactly what you use and just pack that.
Top Tip #12 – Reassess your make-up needs.
Remember a travel first aid kit and essential medicines
You cannot travel with kids without preparing for the unexpected and one thing to make it easier is to bring a small first aid kit with you with things like plasters, gauze and pads. You never know when you will need it and if you do, you’ll be glad you had it with you.
Same goes for medicines. If anyone take regular medication, make sure you have enough for your holiday and some extra in case of delays. If they are unusual medications, make sure you have a doctor’s note for them, just-in-case. Make sure you also have pain medication for everyone and other essentials like stomach medication, rehydration sachets and eye drops. Just a few are advisable until you can get to a pharmacy.
Top Tip #13 – Bring a first aid kit and medicines.
Best packing travel tips to make the journey easier
Wear bulky items on the plane
If you are travelling with bulky items such as ski wear and boots for a trip to Lapland, then make sure to wear things like your ski jacket and boots on the plane to save both on space and weight.
The same goes for shoes for regular holidays. If you are bringing hiking shoes or boots, wear them on the plane and pack your lightweight regular shoes into your hold luggage.
Top Tip #14 – Wear bulky items on the plane.
Bring a change of clothes in your hand luggage
If you are travelling with kids, it is advisable to bring a spare set of clothes for them in your hand luggage in case of accidents or illness. No-one wants to travel with kids in clothes covered in vomit. Likewise, a spare set for yourself in case you bear the brunt of their throw-up. I bring a spare top/t-shirt for my husband and I for this reason, although I don’t bring a change of trousers for us to save on carry-on luggage weight.
Top Tip #15 – Remember a spare set of clothes for everyone.
Leave the books at home and bring a Kindle instead
My husband was notorious for buying several new books at the airport to read on holidays meaning we had extra weight in our hand luggage going on vacation, and then the same weight in our checked luggage coming home. Well, those days are gone thanks to Amazon’s Kindle.
While I used to love turning pages in a new book, I love my Kindle even more. It’s much lighter and easier to carry than several books in your bags and you will never run out of something to read. So, if you haven’t already made the change, do it now. I resisted for a long time but have never looked back since!
Top Tip #16 – Bring a Kindle instead of books.
Best packing tips for preparing to travel home
Prepare for multi-stops ahead of time
If you are visiting more than one place, and especially if they have different dress codes, prepare for them and pack the appropriate clothes a day or two ahead of time.
When we went to Thailand, we were stopping in Dubai for a few days on our way home. We were also combining a few days at the beach in Krabi with a few days in Bangkok meaning our clothing needed to be adjusted slightly. In this case, I packed us for Bangkok the day before we left for the city and while we were in Bangkok I separated our clothes for Dubai and left them at the top of our suitcases when we were departing Thailand to make them easy-to-reach when we got there. A little preparation goes a long way to make packing on your trip easier.
Top Tip #17 – Prepare ahead of times for clothing changes.
Separate clean and dirty clothes
If you are not doing laundry during your vacation, make sure to use packing cubes that become available to pack dirty washing into. This will make it much easier and quicker to pack them into one suitcase which can be closed once it is full. I do this on our holidays, and it lessens the load of packing us up at the end of the holiday if I’m doing it bit by bit. It also ensures dirty clothes don’t spoil clean clothes.
Top Tip #18 – Pack dirty clothes as you go
Allocate time on your last day for packing
Make sure not to leave your packing until the very last minute before leaving for your return flight home. I tend to pack everything the day before apart from our pyjamas, clothes we will be wearing for travelling and our toiletries bag. That way, the next morning we can shower, get dressed and there’s just two things to pack, toiletries bag and pj’s. Done.
Top Tip #19 – Don’t leave things until the last minute.
Family travel packing lists
To make things easier for you, here are my two family travel packing lists, one for long-haul or international travel, and one for shorter weekends away of about 4 days.
What to pack for a family holiday checklist – International travel with kids
You’ll be surprised, you will actually use less than you think. Whether you are going to the beaches of Thailand or the snowy landscape of Lapland, you really don’t need as much as you think. And if there is washing facilities at your accommodation or hotel, you can carry even less. Here is a packing checklist that I use for our family holidays which are a week-long or more. And this is the maximum you will need.
Shirts – You only need the number of days plus 1 extra shirt/top. This includes shirts for Dad, t-shirts for everyone and tops for Mum.
Pants – This will depend on whether you will be in hot or cold weather conditions. For cold, you will need to one pants per 1.5 to 2 days, in case you get wet, muddy and do not have washing facilities. For hot weather you can get away with one for every three days.
Shorts – Assuming these are going to be used in hot weather, I take one for every two days of our holiday as we tend to get in and out of shorts in between time at the beach and pool.
Sweatshirts/jumpers – Assuming these are for cold weather, I tend to pack one for every two days and mix and match lighter sweatshirts with heavier ones depending on what the weather app says for the destination we’re heading to. If I think we’ll need something for warmer destinations for the evening when the temperature may get a little cooler, I bring one for every four days of the holiday.
Evening wear – This includes dresses for me, smart shorts/trousers and shirts for our son, and smart shorts/trousers and shirts for my husband. One for every 3 days of the holiday plus an extra one. This is mainly because we wear these clothes for about two hours before changing into our pyjamas as soon as we’re back in our accommodation after dinner, that is if we’re not dining in!
Underwear/socks – I pack one per day plus and extra two for myself and my husband and I pack five extra pants for our son, just-in-case.
Pyjamas – I tend to pack one for every 3-4 days of our family vacation, depending on whether we are visiting somewhere warm or cold, as I like to change my pj’s more regularly in warmer weather.
Swimsuits/shorts – I try to stick to two per person. One to wear and one to hand-wash/rinse. With two, you can easily rotate, and I never find myself wearing more than my favourite 2 swimsuits or bikinis on holiday. So, two is enough.
Shoes – We try to keep these to the bare minimum as well to save on luggage space and weight. Plus, if we take more, we tend not to wear them, choosing to stick with our reliable favourites. For warm weather my husband and I take one pair of flip flops for day wear and around the pool and we take a pair of sandals for our son. We also take a pair of good walking shoes/sandals for sightseeing. Just make sure the ones you choose are not new and are comfortable or you’ll regret it. For cold weather we take one pair of trainer-type shoes that are good for walking in, and also another pair of shoes or boots which are preferably waterproof for rainy, wet days such as those we often see in the UK and Ireland, and that are suitable for wearing in the evening. For evenings out in warmer weather, my husband brings a pair of smart Sketchers and I have a pair of lightweight dressy sandals. We tend to leave our son in his comfortable sandals. If we know we are not going out for dinner in the evenings, we leave these extra shoes at home.
How should I pack for a family vacation – A long weekend away for up to 4 days
Clothing – I try to keep it to a minimum here. We wear clothing on the day we are travelling and the next day too, unless we’ve had a disaster accident. So, this outfit does us 2 days. We then bring another set of jeans/trousers, shirts and jumpers for the next day days, and one extra shirt and trousers.
Underwear/socks – One for each day of the weekend holiday plus one extra for myself and my husband and three extras for our son.
Pyjamas – One each for my husband and I and two for our son.
Evening wear – One outfit each, if necessary. Most of the time we don’t pack more than a smart top to change into and we wear it with our jeans/trousers from that day.
Shoes – Unless we know we are likely to be out in wet weather, we wear comfortable shoes which are suitable for walking in……and that’s it. No more.
Additional things to put on your family travel packing list
- Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel – One the whole family can use.
- Toothbrushes and appropriate toothpaste – We have adult and kids toothpaste in our toiletry bag.
- Face wash and moisturiser.
- Shaving gel and razors – My husband and I pack our razors with one spare blade, and we share a shaving gel.
- Perfume/aftershave – One each.
- Avon Skin So Soft and Incognito – One for every three days to use as a mosquito repellent.
- Sunscreen – Factor 50 for myself and the boy, one per week of the holiday and Factor 30 for my husband, also one per week of the holiday.
- Lip balm – If we’re going to cold weather destinations.
First aid kit and necessary medicines as already mentioned
- Sterilising wipes
- Pain relief (adults and kids)
- Stomach relief – Buscopan, Imodium, Deflatine
- Savlon/antiseptic cream
- Zorvirax cold sore cream ( for me)
Electronics and gadgets
- Kindles for both my husband and I.
- Kids Kindle Fire for our son for travelling, loaded with games, films and his favourite TV series.
- Nintendo Switch Lite – You can guess who this is for.
- Headphones (more for international travel) – One pair of noise-cancelling headphones per person.
- GoPro Hero 8 Black – With two extra batteries, charging house, cables, and at least one spare memory card.
- One Microsoft Surface Pro – We mainly use this for watching Netflix when our son is in bed, or for us to get some work done while we’re away if necessary.
- Travel Adapter for plugs – Two, one for each bedroom.
And of course, all the necessary charging cables for our phones, camera, kindles, laptop and our son’s gadgets. Can’t forget these!
Printable Holiday Packing Lists for International Travel and Weekends Away for Families
I’ve also converted both my international family travel packing list and my family weekend away packing list into two printable templates for you to download or print. You can even save them to Pinterest for use at a later date. Click the images below to pin to Pinterest or download to use now.
Free printable family international travel checklist
Family travel packing list for a weekend away template
I hope you find my top travel packing tips for families useful the next time you are packing for a family holiday or vacation. Whether it is just a few days away or a full international trip, I hope these tips help you to pack like a pro when travelling with kids.
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