I love traveling!  Packing … not so much! It is kind of a necessary evil though.  Some things that are NOT necessary: packing everything but the kitchen sink and checking your bags at the airport!  I feel like we’re getting better at this with each trip we take, but I always love to hear other people’s packing tips for family trips.  Through our personal experiences and learning from others, we have found that it is actually possible to pack light, even with a big family and even for a cold weather trip!

We’ve put together some of our packing tips for family trips, and we hope they will help take away some of the dreading and stressing over packing!  

We travel light, and we never check bags.  For one, checking bags is expensive.  Also you have to wait at baggage claim after your flight instead of just being on your way.  And finally, there’s the risk of it getting lost!  SO, we don’t check bags. Whether we are flying commercial, or if Josh is flying us in a small plane (he’s a general aviation pilot), or if we are driving in a car, we always try to travel as light as possible.  No matter how you are traveling: the less stuff you pack, the less you have to worry about and deal with!  We also almost always try to get in multiple locations within one trip, so having to repack a bunch of stuff between every spot is not fun. Keeping it simple is best! Here are our tips to help keep it simple:

#1 – Tips for making the best Luggage Choice

First, let’s talk about what to pack your things in.  For us, this varies a little by the way in which we are traveling.  Commercial flight = carry-on suitcase + backpack; Small plane/car = soft duffels + backpack.

Here are our favorite carry-ons:

I splurged a couple years ago and bought an Away suitcase, and I love it.  The size is perfect.  It is super durable, and it has a great extra battery for charging that fits in it but can also be easily removed.  Check out the Away bags here: I got “The Bigger Carry-On Size.”

Josh has a Tumi carry-on that is a soft case as opposed to the hard shell ones, and it is still holding up nice after about 5 years and lots of trips!  (I don’t have a link for his specific one since it is several years old.)

For our kids’ first commercial flight, (click the link to read our funny story about that!) we needed a couple more carry-ons but needed to not spend that much on them.  We found these AmazonBasics suitcases for a great deal.  I was very impressed with these!  They are very similar to my Away case (minus the battery) for a fraction of the price.  Time will tell how they hold up, but so far so good!  They survived trains, planes, and automobiles through Paris, London, and Scotland!

Kids with Passports

Now for the duffels/backpacks:

We love the Walker Family Goods products! They are such nice quality and have lots of great colors, so each of the kids can have their own color.  The duffels have a divider down the middle, which can be unsnapped if you don’t want it, and pockets on each side.  Plus, this is a family business that wants to inspire other families to travel!  How great is that? I love it!

Teen Boy with Duffel Bag

#2 – Tips for How to Pack

We are a family of 6; we have 2 boys and 2 girls.  Unless we are using duffels, when we pack for a trip, our girls share a carry-on suitcase, our boys share one, and then Josh and I each have one.  Then everyone carries a backpack. We often will pack an empty duffel bag in our suitcase just in case we need more space for things coming home.

I try my best not to overstuff suitcases.  Things seem to expand during trips, and it is always harder to repack them.  Why is that, by the way??

I have used packing cubes before and have mixed feelings about them.  Here are the ones I have:

I think they do help to compress things a bit, so if you are bringing clothes for cold weather, they can be useful.  To me, they can get annoying while traveling though because you have all these extra “compartments” to unzip, unpack, remember what is in each one, and then repack.

#3 – Tips for What to Pack

Capsule Wardrobe Packing – Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? It is where you reduce the mass of things in your closet and just keep some basic essentials, good quality items that you love, and you can pair those items together in different ways to create several outfits.  When I’m packing either for myself or for the kids I try to pack with this capsule wardrobe method in mind, especially when packing for cold weather.  Layering the same few items in different ways can get you more days’ worth of clothing without packing as much.  Yes, we re-wear clothes on trips!  We also stay in a lot of Airbnbs when we travel, so I always check to see if there will be a washer/dryer and try to plan to do laundry once mid-trip.

Shoes – This one can be a hard one because sometimes you want a different pair of shoes for every outfit!  When traveling though, limit it to wearing one pair and packing one pair.  However, if you are going somewhere warm, you may be able to bring more.  Flipflops take up a lot less space than boots!

Here are the two pair of shoes I wore on our fall European trip and I loved: super comfortable brown leather booties (seriously so comfy!) and black waterproof duck boots. 

Kids’ Backpacks – If your kids are like mine they will want to pack their entire bedroom in their backpack … a blanket, toys, 15 books, games, colors, markers, food, etc, etc.  I make it clear to them that they are the ones that will be carrying that backpack, not Mom or Dad, and to not make it too heavy.  Here are the things I help guide them to pick out:

  • one book
  • their journal
  • one activity/coloring book (for older ones crossword/sudoku/etc)
  • pen and pencil (for younger ones either a small box of crayons or colored pencils)
  • headphones

Here are the headphones our kids have.  They can plug them into each other and listen to the same thing, which they’ve had fun with!  They also fold up and have fun color choices.

Young girl in headphones

For our toddler’s backpack I added a change of clothes and pull-ups (he’s potty-trained, but you know, sleeping on long flights …)

Essentials for the Mom’s backpack look similar to the kids’ list, but some additional items that are a must:

  • medicine (adult and kid – I’ve learned that bringing the chewable Kids’ Tylenol is the easiest)
  • band-aids
  • disinfectant wipes
  • Chapstick
  • gum/gummy bears (Gummy bears somehow became a family travel tradition.  It is the only time we get them, and we always eat them during takeoff and landing when we fly.  I think it helps the kids pop their ears and is just another special little fun thing to add to our experience.)

Other things to remember:

  • PASSPORTS and pictures of your passports as well (I cannot tell you how many times Josh and I will check to make sure we have the passports!)
  • CHARGERS.  All the chargers!
  • Outlet adapters if you are going out of the country.  We’ve tried a few different ones, but this one is by far our favorite and most convenient with double outlet and double USB ports.  

#4 - What NOT to Pack

Hairdryer – Just like extra shoes, this one was a little hard for me at first.  I really like my hairdryer at home, but everywhere we go has a hairdryer.  I always check with our Airbnb or hotel to make sure, but so far, every single time there has been one.  A hairdryer is big and heavy to pack, so it no longer makes it on my packing list.

Food – Some people may disagree with me on this one, but hear me out.  Aside from maybe one snack per person for the traveling time, everything you need for food you can get where you are going.  If you are on a commercial plane you are going to get a snack or a meal.  When you get to your destination find a local grocery store near where you are staying! You won’t be taking up a bunch of room and extra bags packing food, and sometimes you find fun local items you wouldn’t be able to get other places! Like these cookies I was obsessed with in Scotland!  Oh my gosh they are SO good!

All the “Just in Case I need it” Items – There are a lot of comforts from home that we may be tempted to bring on a trip.  There are always those – well I may want this sweatshirt too – type of thoughts.  But just decide that you will be okay with what you bring.  Sure, while you are on the trip you may wish you had that one particular dress and boots with you.  But, no big deal!  Wear whatever you brought anyway, or you may even find something to buy on your trip that you can take home and have a fun memory attached!

An outfit or more for every day – Re-wear and do laundry unless you are headed somewhere warm and have room for lots of tanks, shorts, and sundresses.  This picture from a few years ago of my son’s packing for a Florida trip cracks me up.  He is such an organizer!  Every day is laid out perfectly!

Traveling is supposed to be fun and exciting, full of happy memories!  Don’t let packing be a stressful time!  Make a list beforehand and allow plenty of time so you aren’t feeling rushed.  And in my humble opinion … the less stuff, the less stress!  I hope these packing tips for family trips are helpful!  What other packing tips do you have?  We’d love it if you’d share them in the comments!

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