Packing for Trips with Kids: What to Bring and How to Pack

With all of the family travel we have planned this summer, I decided it was time to create a great packing strategy for traveling with kids. I had three goals in creating this plan: I wanted to my kids to carry their own belongings, I wanted to fly without checked luggage, and I wanted clothing and other items packed as neatly as possible.

Traveling with kids can be rewarding, done right! Careful packing for trips with kids pays off big time. Great tips in this post!

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We leave on our first of two flights today! This trip is relatively short – we are flying to Colorado for my brother’s graduation and wedding. The second trip, later in June, will be quite a bit longer. We are flying all the way to Edinburgh, Scotland! This is the city where Emma was born, and we are so excited to show her around now that she is old enough to remember! Thankfully I have plenty of tips for flying with kids from my many flights growing up plus a decent number flying with my own kids that I can refer to as I get ready for both trips. Traveling with kids is always an adventure, but with good preparation it is also a joy. This is why packing for trips with kids is so important!

Packing for Trips with Kids

When I am packing for trips with kids, one of the things I look for is easy ways to get the kids to carry as much of their own stuff as possible. This is our first time traveling with really nice luggage for the kids. Nice luggage combined with school-aged children means that I will, for the first time ever, be carrying only my own belongings! I wanted to avoid checked luggage, and I was delighted to find these inexpensive two-piece luggage sets. The bright colors made them irresistable!

The little shoulder bags are the perfect size for my older kids. The rolling suitcases hold up beautifully – they have now been checked on several flights, but still look brand new. The Trunki was a very generous freebie from a random stranger who posted it on one of our local neighborhood boards. I have thought for years that those were brilliant for traveling toddlers and preschoolers, but I couldn’t quite justify the cost. Free works brilliantly, and Anna is absolutely thrilled with her luggage.

I was able to fit all of Anna’s clothes inside – secured in packing cubes so that when she opens the case to get out her sticker book we won’t wind up with clothes everywhere. The older kids each have an inflatable Bubble Bum booster inside their suitcase, along with their clothes. No  more checking bulky plastic booster seats! I was tempted by this portable car seat alternative for Anna, but it didn’t seem worth the price for only a couple of flights. It also seems to be quite a bit less user-friendly than you standard car seat. I am still thrilled that people are coming up with creative solutions like this!

I had some printable business card paper that I used to print out luggage labels for the entire family. I ran them through our laminator for durability. Then a punched a hole and tied them on with yarn.

Packing Lists for Kids

There are some great packing list apps out these days, but so far I have stuck with paper and pen lists. Here are the standard items my kids pack:

  • Enough shirts, pants, and pajamas for every day of the trip, or long enough to last between laundry washings for longer trips.
  • An extra pair of socks and underwear.
  • One jacket – even in the summer the weather is sometimes surprisingly cold.
  • Sun hat in summer.
  • Hair brush
  • Hair ties
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • One soft toy.
  • One sticker book for the plane. Usborne sticker books are my favorites, both because of the quality of the books and because the stickers are sticky enough to stay on the paper but not sticky enough that you can’t peel them off of things your children stick them to that they don’t belong on.
  • A pad of paper and a pencil. We are partial to these small legal pads and mechanical pencils.
  • Something for the kids to chew during takeoff and landing. Gum and Tic Tacs are the current favorites (Tic Tacs only because Emma can’t chew gum with her braces).

If you plan to check your main luggage, I highly recommend packing a full change of clothing for the entire family in your carry-on. This includes clothing for mom and dad! I always bring along children’s ibuprofen and diphenhydramine. Ibuprofen for unexpected aches and pains and the diphenhydramine just in case we get an allergic reaction. I haven’t ever needed either, but it’s good to have them on hand. I bring them in chewable tablet form, which is often easier for kids to take and much less messy. It’s also a great idea to bring along a pack of wipes and a Tide To Go pen for spills..

What are your top tips for packing for trips with kids?

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

11 thoughts on “Packing for Trips with Kids: What to Bring and How to Pack”

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    All carry-ons – what a huge win! And I love those bright colours. :) Your list is great and very comprehensive. Of all of the things you listed, packing cubes have been the biggest game-changer for us. The bubble bums are very convenient, too.

  2. I love the brightly coloured luggage and they are so reasonably priced but a word of warning if you’re travelling on budget airlines in Europe (particularly the big names like Easyjet and Ryanair) you can only take ONE PIECE of hand luggage (even women aren’t allowed a purse as well as case, and if you have a computer bag that counts as one piece) so these would have to be checked in. It’s very tedious!

  3. Super impressed you did it with all carry ons!

    Looks like we have similar packing lists. I always give my kids a lists of number of days and then have them bring an extra pair of underwear and socks or two.

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