A family packing list to travel carry on only almost everywhere. What to pack, how to pack and what luggage to choose to travel light as a family.

Packing is always a mixed feeling activity. Excitement for the trip ahead, depression for the end of the holiday, worry about carrying too much, too little, about carrying the wrong stuff. I used to go through all of them every single time we travelled and since we do that pretty often, it got annoying fast!

Two years ago, I gave myself the mission to simplify the way we travel and decided a couple of things. First, our family would travel carry on only, no matter how long a trip we may be tackling.

Second, I would create the ‘ultimate’ family packing list and we would follow that religiously – I would make it comprehensive, reasonable and versatile and all our packing woes would go away. I am not one to shy away from organisational tasks!

It took me a while to figure out what a good list would be but I was a woman on a mission. Our last holiday had been to Florence and for a week we packed one stroller, one car seat, one big wheelie bag, 4 rucksacks and a handbag!

You can imagine how ‘pleasant’ the walk from the station to our house was, with two kids, that load and 42 degrees Celsius, so I made sure I paid attention to what we actually used, what just wasted space and what I should have brought instead.

This ultimate carry on only family packing list is the result of that day, a few experiments and a many successful trips.

Why travel carry on only as a family?

There are many reasons to travel carry on only.

Ease of movement

I have always felt that big luggage literally weights you down. When you are lugging around massive bags or rucksacks, you are clumsier and slower, you get tired more easily and your transport options are limited.

With massive bags, public transport often becomes a problem, long walks impossible and stairs hard to manage: considering how tiring getting around with kids is in itself, definitely a stress you can do without!

Money saving

Travelling carry on only as a family often results in lower expenses. Many airlines now charge for checked in luggage and taxis often surcharge for bulky bags and this quickly adds.

Time efficient

Nothing gives me more satisfaction that breezing through airport arrivals without having to wait for bags! Especially after a long flight with kids, being able to get out into the fresh air swiftly makes a world of difference and not  having to worry about lost baggage is a definite advantage.

Pack less

Another huge advantage of travelling carry on only as a family is that it forces to pack less. With kids, I always find myself overloaded with stuff (and clutter) and travelling light gives me peace of mind.

With only one bag on my shoulders, I can take the kids’ hands, drink my coffee, read a map and I can stop obsessively looking around double checking I have all my pieces! If the piece is one and it’s one my back, I feel in control.

I know for many travelling light is hard and this is why our packing list will be useful however, no list will work if you have the wrong bags so here is where I want to start.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links and if you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission, at no extra cost to you. I only include products I personally use. All opinions are based on my experience only. 

The best luggage for carry on only family travel

We travel with one backpack each (so that’s 4 in total) and 2 trunkis.

 

Our favourite carry on luggage, all piled up in the airport!

he right type of luggage is crucial for carry on only travel: this is what we travel with, the photo is taken at the gate, just before boarding

Best carry on only luggage

Our bags are the Osprey Farpoint and the Lowe Alpine carry on travel backpack.

Myself and Phil have two different backpacks and the reason is simply style. We find them both excellent and they are both approved as cabin luggage under current regulations.

I personally prefer the osprey pack as it has a waist strap to protect your lower back but Philip likes the positioning of the pockets better in his Lowe alpine.

The kids are currently travelling with their Kikki Deuter backpacks that they also use in school and one trunki each.

Best packing cubes

To make the most of the space in these bags, I recommend to pair them up with packing cubes. I did without them for a long time but once I tried them, I got hooked. I am obsessed with them, recommend them to everyone and I will go as far as saying that I love packing now because it gives me the excuse to use them!

I learned about how to use packing cubes on this packing cube tutorial and  I can tell you: they are excellent both for adults and kids. They come in several sizes and my favourite ones are the medium size ebags packing cubes. I use two for each adult and one per child.


Carry on only family travel: basic rules

I wrote this list taking into account the reality of travel. And my reality is that I don’t change outfits as many times as I think I do (a pair of shorts has a long shelf life), I don’t wear outfits as diverse from each other as I thought I did and I don’t want to spend hours looking for dry cleaning services or an iron while on the go.

Each destination requires adjustments to this packing list but overall, I call this my ‘travel everywhere packing list’ and I use it all the time for short weekend trips to long stays.

It is possible to travel long term and go on longer family holidays carry on only. The best way to travel light with kids is to follow some basic rules (and then use my packing list below!)

Basic rules for carry on only travel

  • Pack only clothes that go well together in terms of colour and shape. Lay them on the bed and create outfits you will be happy to wear, so you don’t find yourself with items that take up space but simply cannot be used
  • Prefer no-crease items. Unless you are travelling for a function or a work event (in which case this is not the packing list for you) leave shirts at home and prefer tops with a slight stretch
  • Select versatile items that can be used in several situations: a wrap around dress, a well-fitting pair of jeans, a black top can bring you from sightseeing to evening in a restaurant without any additional packing needed
  • Only pack for one week and embrace laundry on the road. This will not just minimise the number of items you need to carry but will allow you to come home with a bag of clean clothes (I always do a last load of laundry before we come back), which makes unpacking immensely more pleasant

Please note: while I call this list my ‘everywhere’ packing list, it is not suitable for special activity type holidays (skiing, for instance) or if you are travelling for an event (wedding, etc).

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A carry on only packing list for families to use on (almost) any trip! A detailed list with what to pack, what luggage to use and how to fit all you need into carry on size luggage

A carry on only packing list for families to use on (almost) any trip! A detailed list with what to pack, what luggage to use and how to fit all you need into carry on size luggage

‘Everywhere’ carry on on only packing list for kids

Carry on packing list for boys

  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 2 pair of trousers (I prefer tracksuits and soft jeans)
  • 5 short sleeve tops
  • 1 long sleeve top
  • 2 hoodies (or one hoodie and one less sporty type of jumper)
  • 1 pijama
  • 10 underwear
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 sun hat + sunglasses
  • 1 pair of sandals (we are quite fond of crocs for kids, since they are versatile and can go in water too)
  • 1 pair of runners
  • Toys (colouring books etc)
  • Additional items: jacket, gloves, scarf, hat, swimming cap, inflatable swimming device

Practical note: the inordinate amount of underwear items and socks is justified by the special talent we and many others seem to have to lose or just run out of socks. They take up little space and are the one thing I always load up on. I am fond of short sleeve tops even in cold weather, on top of long sleeve ones (to keep their core warm). Should you be travelling to cold weather, you can change the short /long sleeve ratio and the replace the shorts with an additional pair of trousers.

Carry on only packing list for girls

  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 pair of trousers (or leggings)
  • 1 dress
  • 4 short sleeve tops
  • 1 long sleeve top
  • 2 hoodies (or one hoodie and one less sporty type of jumper)
  • 1 pijama
  • 10 underwear
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 sun hat + sunglasses
  • 1 pair of sandals (like for boys, we are fan of crocs for the kids as they are super versatile)
  • 1 pair of runners
  • Toys (colouring books etc)
  • Additional items: jacket, gloves, scarf, hat if needed. Swimming caps and inflatable armbands or swimming gear if needed

Practical note (same as the one for boys, above): the inordinate amount of underwear items and socks is justified by the special talent we and many others seem to have to lose or just run out of socks. They take up little space and are the one thing I always load up on. I am fond of short sleeve tops even in cold weather, on top of long sleeve ones (to keep their core warm). Should you be travelling to cold weather, you can change the short /long sleeve ratio and the replace the shorts with an additional pair of trousers.

Carry on packing list for dad

My husband was not impressed when I told him I made a packing list for him but when he saw how neat my packing cubes looked, he stole one from me and has refused to give it back since. He will never admit to that nor that he follows my packing list for him, but this is what he should (and secretly does) bring.

  • 5 t-shirts
  • 1 no crease shirt
  • 2 jumpers
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of trousers (chinos in a neutral colour work well)
  • 1 pair of good quality jeans
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 7 underwear
  • 1 pijama
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of runners
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 sunhat
  • 1 sunglasses
  • Additional items: jacket, gloves, scarf…

Carry on only packing for mum

  • 1 pair of cotton trousers
  • 1 pair of good quality, well-fitting jeans
  • 1 Skirt
  • 1 dress
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 5 short sleeve tops, including one or to dressier ones for the evening
  • 1 long sleeve top
  • 2 jumpers (one cardigan, one hoodie)
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 10 underwear
  • 2 Bras
  • 1 pijama
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of runners
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 sunglasses
  • Additional items: jacket, gloves, scarf…

Toiletries

To comply with current safety regulations liquids containers cannot exceed 100 ml in size (this applies even if the bottle is half empty: you cannot bring on board bottles with a capacity of over 100 ml). Depending on our destination and length of stay we either buy travel size bottles or simply buy non essentials at destination

  • Shower gel (suitable for the whole family)
  • Moisturizer
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving cream + safety blades
  • Brush /comb
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Tweezers
  • Nail file
  • Sun-cream

First aid kit with: band aids, wound dressing, safety scissors, disinfectant, insect bite cream, re-hydration salts (depending on destination), paracetamol for adults and kids, lip balm, eye drops, mosquito repellent.

We use a first aid kit bought years ago and each time we restock it with new items. I find the commercial one we got very handy and still now one of the best organisational pouches we could ask for to serve this purpose

 Electronics

The ability to carry electronic on board is at the centre of recent controversy so please check current regulations applying to your specific carrier and route. Usually, we carry:

Don’t forget your documents!

Every time I have a final check of my absolute essentials, the things that no matter what happens will keep me ok. These are:

  • Passports
  • Visa, if needed (or equivalent, like ESTA documents to enter the US)
  • Children birth certificate with both parents names on it
  • Insurance details
  • Print out of transport /accommodation details
  • Cash
  • Credit cards

If, like me, you have a compulsive tendency to check, double check and triple check that you have all your documents, consider buying a travel document holder to fit in your handbag: it’s a lifesaver!

 

I hope you find my packing list useful: let me know if it works for you!

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