Our best tips on how to pack light with kids and travel packing tips for families with children.
What kind of packer are you: the ‘always be prepared one’, who doesn’t mind carrying around many bags if this means feeling equipped for all travel might throw at you, or the ‘travelling light’ kind of packer, who whizzes through security with one carry-on bag for the whole family?
I belong to a category in between these two: I like to feel prepared (and to feel somehow fashionable when travelling), but I don’t like to carry around tonnes of stuff.
You know when you are in the airport and you trip on your own luggage, you keep counting how many bags you have to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind and keep adjusting the straps to relieve your sore shoulders?
I know this feeling well and I can tell you: few things are able to put me in a bad mood as quickly!
Bad mood is always awful but when you are travelling with children, it is poisonous (it spreads to the kids in no time!): so since our first trip as a family, I decided I would devise some kind of strategy to travel light and looked long and hard for advice on how to pack lights with kids in tow.
This packing light obsession came from a practical consideration:
when travelling as a family, you need to hold your children hands, to run after them if they suddenly dash ahead (they will!) and this simply cannot be done if you are busy trying to balance pieces of luggage one of top of the other or you are weighed down by a backpack as heavy as yourself.
I know the objection to this: ‘with kids, you need to be prepared!’ And it’s true, you should be prepared but I promise: you can do it! You can travel with children AND small bags: actually, you can try with children carry on only! All it takes is a bit of planning and following some tried and tested travel packing tips that work.
If you have doubts about what carry on means, have a look at this carry on luggage size chart with weight and size of allowed cabin luggage (airlines are listed in alphabetical order)
How to travel light with kids
How to pack light with kids: packing tips for family travel
Packing tip 1: make a minimal list of must haves
To pack light with kids, without leaving anything important behind, I always start by making a list of bare travel essentials. This is an absolutely minimal list that answers the question: what do I absolutely NEED on this trip?
Stripped down to the very basics, this list is made of:
- Documents (find here a list of great family passport holders)
- Prescription medicines
I know this sounds like very little, but this is for me an anxiety busting technique that really works if applied to packing and is at the core of all my travel packing tips. If I have my list of essentials, no matter what I leave home, I know I am prepared: with kids, the list is a little longer than the one outlined above, but the principle still applies: what do you absolutely need with you? Bottle? Soother? Nappies (how many to the next shop)?
Make a minimal list of things you really cannot do without ( be ruthless!) and make sure you have them in your luggage.
Remember: this is not the list of all you will bring, but the list of things that, no matter what, will STAY IN YOUR LUGGAGE, your non-negotiable items.
Tip 2: be realistic about what they will/will not wear
Once you have your list of essentials, you can move on to clothes and niceties.
In this case too, I start from bare essentials: swimsuit for a beach family vacation, coat for cold destinations etc. Once those are taken care of, I select additional items asking the following questions: as cute as the outfit may be, does your child find it comfortable? Is it appropriate for the country and the temperature, can it be easily washed, can they easily take it off?
If the answer to any of this is no, you might want to reconsider: have you tried negotiating a child overall in a plane cubicle? Trust me, you don’t want to.
The best way to get this right, I find, is to involve your children in the selection: I always ask my kids what they want to bring and anything that encounters a clear ‘NO’, stays home!
Tip 3: mix and match
This is one of the good pieces of advice that applies to adults as well. If you want to travel light without feeling you are living out of a suitcase, bring clothes that do go well together.
For kids, I usually start with a pair of comfortable trousers or leggings and choose tops that can go well with them – this way, I can use the same trousers over and over again (or at least, until a massive stain of sauce falls onto them).
Make sure everything you bring can be worn with something else and make sure things are not redundant: if two items serve the exact same purpose, chances are you can leave one at home (with the exception of underwear and socks – I always pack those in abundance!).
If you want a practical example on how to pack light with kids, have a look at out spring in Europe packing list
Tip 4: embrace laundry
Because the massive stain of sauce is a fact of life, when you have kids, you will inevitably find yourself washing their clothes more often that you would your own.
Laundry is one of the pains of my daily life, but to try to avoid it simply packing in more stuff won’t work: eventually all that stuff will need to be washed anyway and a pile of dirty clothes on your first day at home is sure to kill your mood.
I usually pack clothes for a maximum of one week, no matter how long we are travelling for. And make a point of washing stains off as soon as they happen – avoid jeans to shorten drying times.
On a side note: I find that coming home with a bag full of clean clothes is a great way to make unpacking easier.
Whenever possible, I now wash and dry all clothes on my last day of holiday (think washer and dryer, no slaving on a sink!): this means that when I am home I can unpack everything and put it straight away in the wardrobes without having to sort out much. A good way of separating the inevitable last minute dirty items from the rest is to always travel with ziplock bags – I always bring a couple with me and somehow always find them useful.
Packing tip 5: pack clever items
I am not a huge fan of gadgets: I find that many things that promise to solve a problem, usually create a new one in the process, but for some clever travel accessories I made an exception: I find the following items really useful, lightweight and perfect if you are looking for easy ways to pack light with kids without having to ‘do without’
Quick dry Lightweight towels are maybe the best travel accessory I have ever bought. They take up very little space, dry very quickly and make towels, beach towels and bathrobes redundant. Basically, thanks to them you are already one bag lighter!
I also find them excellent if your children use a stroller: especially in hot climate the materials of the strollers can get very sticky and feel awful on the skin: these towels make a great extra layer and your child ride much more comfortable.
You can find a good selection of microfiber towels here.
I love what I call ‘universal’ shoes or shoes that can be worn with almost anything.
For women, I love shoes that are stylish and comfortable: over time, I have fond brands that truly work for travel and that you can find on this list of great travel shoes for Italy (this works for city travel in general too)
For warm weathers, my kids adore their crocs and their Clarks sandals and for cooler temperatures we usually bring waterproof runners. Socks for indoors. If temperature allows, we always travel only with the shoes we have on, which saves an incredible amount of luggage space (and weight)
I am in love with my kindle and am passing the love on to the next generation. As much as I love paper books, on holidays an e-reader will save you from lugging around kilos of paper and the choice of kids books on it is very wide. For the kids, we signed up to amazon unlimited and while I don’t love it for adults, I find it great for children titles.
Tip 6: encourage imaginative play
Toys are probably the biggest obstacle when trying to pack light with kids in general and with toddlers in particular. We always bring toys with us but never more that an amount that can fit in the children luggage. We usually give one bag to each child (the trunki is perfect – fun, easy to carry children luggage with wheels, have a look at our Trunki review here) and that is the space for clothes and toys – once that is full, the selection of toys is over.
I find this a good way to pack light but also to get the kids to engage with the reality around them and with us: games like ‘I spy’ or ‘who can spot a…’ are great to get them noticing their surroundings, with no clutter in sight!
Finally, to pack light with kids, embrace the fact that even if you have forgotten something ‘very important’, you will probably survive without: this is why you started this process with a minimal list of essentials!
Packing light with kids: best luggage choices
Packing light with children is easier if you have the right luggage. With kids ages 4 and 5, we find Trunki the best luggage choice for kids, while for the adults we love travel backpacks: I use one by Osprey and Phil prefer one by Lowe Alpine .
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