How to travel with kids and pack 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. 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.


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.


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. Which tip did you most need to hear?

I think #3 is hard for a lot of families, but every time we travel, it’s reinforced more and more, so it’s become an easy one for us to wrap our minds around now.

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  1. I should have read this before our weekend away we just had.

    I think it would have been nice to have the ziplock bags for putting the dirty clothes in. I do feel like I pack light for the kids, but I always bring one extra outfit. And really, how dirty do the kids get on a long weekend. Bathe them before we left, and then tossed them right into the bath when we arrived home.

    I always only allow one pair of shoes per child that they wear, and only one toy per child. For car trips, one coloring/activity book. I packed all the kids things for 3 days into one backpack, and all the things for hubby and I in another. I’d say it was fairly efficient.

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