The main challenge of family travel for me has been packing. I travelled enough as a solo traveler to learn that I could live without a lot of things, but as a mom, I have to fight the instinct to pack EVERYTHING in case of emergency or out of fear of the kids being uncomfortable. But one thing about traveling with babies and young children is they cannot be relied on to carry their own stuff. So with this in mind and after a few family trips, I learned that kids are very adaptable and don’t need much to be happy or entertained as long as they are fed, clean, and have a chance to sleep. So here’s some tips and things I’ve learned the hard way that I thought I would share to save you the trouble!
First, the cardinal rule of traveling, don’t over pack! Travel becomes more of a hassle with more staff. In addition to carrying your children, you will be carrying everything you’ve packed to and from the airport, to and from your accommodations, and everywhere in between! To avoid over packing, use a small or medium suitcase instead of the biggest one you can buy because filling a bigger suitcase will almost always mean packing unnecessary items simply because you have the space then finding out at the airport that it’s overweight and paying extra baggage fees going and returning from your trip. If you’re concerned about finding space for souvenirs and other purchases you make while on vacation, pack a duffel bag in a front pocket or zippered middle part of your suitcase to check on your return flight or buy a reusable bag at your destination to carry your purchases on your flight home. Packing cubes can also be very useful for organizing your suitcase and saving space for important items.
Don’t forget to pack medications and medical devices that you and your kids need. Definitely keep them with you in your carry on in case you need them while en route to your destination or your checked luggage is lost or delayed. Also be sure to pack an extra set of clothes, in your carry-on bag and diaper bag to have in case of delayed or lost luggage or potty-training mishaps or blowouts. One benefit of baby and small children’s clothing is that it is very small and won’t take up much room.
One way to save some room in your checked luggage is to wear layers to the airport. Instead of packing your hoodie or favorite sweater, wear it to the airport. You can always put on or take off layers if you become uncomfortable on the plane. This becomes even more practical when traveling from one climate to another so you’ll be prepared for the weather upon arrival. I have also used my sweater as a blanket for my infant, and unintentionally, as a burp rag during my flight…
Another way to save space is to download digital books for reading, guidebooks, or language references to your phone or tablet. This makes them very accessible and you’re free to download as many as you like without taking up any additional space in your bag. Travel reservations, maps, and tickets can also usually be downloaded and saved on your electronic device as well.
No-spill toiletry items are convenient and great space savers, and I am comforted by the fact that I won’t arrive at my destination with shampoo on most of my clothes because the cap popped off on the way. Most bathroom products have a non-liquid alternative. One of my personal favorites for the kids is the Think Baby sunscreen stick. I’ve found it to be much easier to apply than liquid sunscreen. Also Lush has great natural products including shampoo and conditioner bars and you can also find them on Etsy as well. Hand soap and face wash comes in sheets and there’s even a wide variety of mouthwash and toothpaste tablets available for your travel convenience. You can also try hand-sanitizing wipes instead of antibacterial gel to prevent spills in your bag. Another personal favorite travel item is my hanging toiletry bag. It’s so convenient for keeping all your bathroom items in one place when away from home.
One final piece of advice, as you go through a typical day as a family at home, write down all the things you use from your morning routine until bedtime, then scratch off all the things that you don’t need to pack for vacation. Then cross off things that are easily replaced or substituted once you arrive at your destination. Then you’re left with the packing list for your trip! Hope you can learn from my mistakes and remember to keep it simple and take only what you need so you can lighten the load for your family vacation.
To help you get started on your vacation packing list, below are downloads available for parents and another packing list for the kids: