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8 Packing Tips for Family Vacations

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Packing Tips for Family Vacations

Heading out on one last family vacation this summer?  Packing for a family trip can often take as long as the trip itself, especially if you have young kids.  Here are my best tips for making the packing process for your next family vacation as painless as possible.

1) Make a List!

Long before you are packing for a trip, you should get a packing list together.  This is the best way to make sure you don’t leave anything important behind.  Our family has a master packing list that is as broad as possible.  About a week before a trip, I go through the master list and trim it down to fit our specific destination and length of trip.

No clue where to start in making your own list?  No problem!  Check out my master packing list for kids of every age that covers a number of different destinations (beach, skiing, etc.).

2) Keep Travel Size Toiletries In Stock at Your House

If you travel a lot, you are going to come to rely on sample size toiletries.  These are important for packing light and are essential if you need to take some liquids with you in your carry on bag.  Raid the Target or Walgreen’s travel size section on your next visit and grab toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, and any liquid medicines you might need.  Keep a small stash for trips so you don’t need to make a midnight run to the store the night before your next trip.

3) Keep a Pre-Packed Toiletry Kit Ready

If you travel semi-regularly, it is probably a good idea to take your toiletry packing to the next level.  The best way you can do this is to keep a small pre-packed bag or dopp kit for each person in your family with all the essentials (check our our daughter’s pre-packed toiletry kit).  You can always add specialty items to the kit for a particular trip.  But if you have the basics packed, you won’t need to scramble for the vast majority of what you will bring.

When you return from a trip, replace items that you have used as you are putting the toiletry bag away so it is ready for the next trip.

4) Start Packing Several Days in Advance

One of the most common ways to get your travels off on the wrong foot is by staying up late the night before your vacation, frantically scrambling to pack.  Packing ALWAYS takes longer than you would expect, even if you are a travel pro.  When traveling with kids, double or triple the packing time you might expect.

For weekend trips, start your packing at least two days before.  For vacations of a week or so, give yourself at least 3 or 4 days.  If you are traveling internationally or on an extended trip, start the packing process at least a week in advance.

5) Get Laundry Done early and Set Clean Clothes Needed for the Trip Aside

Ever packed the night before a vacation while also trying to do four or five loads of laundry so you have something to wear on your trip?  Not fun.  Just like you should start packing in advance, start your laundry well in advance too.  If there are specific clothes you know you will need for your destination, get them clean days before.  Then, set them aside for a few days so they are ready to go in your suitcase without last minute laundering.

6) Let Your Kids Help (…But Not Too Much!)

Learning to pack is an important life skill for kids and a chance for them to demonstrate independence and initiative.  It is important to teach them how to do it.  But know their limits (and yours!) as you scramble to head out on a family vacation.

I’ve found my five year old daughter is definitely ready and excited to start helping with the packing process.  She has been picking our her own outfits for a while (with guidance from me as to weather-appropriate attire).  I also let her help cross things off our packing list as we add them to the suitcase.  She definitely likes lists (like her mom!).

7) Share Suitcases

I’m a big believer in packing light.  If you are traveling with young kids and the inevitable car seats and strollers that come with them, then you need to bring fewer suitcases so you can navigate through airports successfully.  The best way to cut down on luggage is to share suitcases with your kids.  Our family of four normally travels with two checked bags.  One child shares with one parent.  This cuts down on airline checked baggage fees and makes us more nimble as a group.

It is also a good idea to put a few items of your clothing in your spouse’s suitcase.  This way, if one suitcase is lost, all of you still have at least one change of clothing.

8) Ship Items Ahead

One of the first posts I put up on this blog was “Ship Items Ahead to Your Destination.”  This tip still holds true today if you want to pack successfully.  For destinations you visit often (e.g., grandma’s house), there is simply no need to pack everything and the kitchen sink for each trip.  Buy duplicate baby and child gear that makes sense and leave it at your destination.  We’ve found that an inexpensive Pack N Play and a cost-effective car seat like the Cosco Scenera has been well-used and completely worth the cost at grandma’s house.

What other packing tips do you think are essential for family vacations?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Rebecca Gardner

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Thanks for explaining that we should allow several days for packing since it will always take longer than we think it will. My husband and I think it would be really fun for our family to book a stay at a riverfront vacation home before our daughter starts school. I'm glad I read your article so I can use your tips to stay relaxed and enjoy the trip as much as possible!

rachel frampton

Monday 11th of May 2020

After this quarantine, I am planning to take my family into a nice vacation, probably a beach park will do. I am not an organized person when it comes to packing, that's why I'm glad that you shared this; I'll make sure to keep a small stash of shampoo, toothpaste and shaving cream. Also, I like your idea of distributing a Dopp kit for each member of the family, so it'll be more organized.

Cheryl Free

Thursday 21st of August 2014

Love these smart tips -- thanks for sharing!


Monday 18th of August 2014

I have never shipped ahead of time before, but I am considering it for an upcoming trip. Thanks for the tips on how to do that.


Wednesday 13th of August 2014

Shipping items ahead!? I never would have thought of that, but I like it! #typeaparent