Packing for Travel with Kids

A Guide for What and How MuchSuitcases stacked in rows at airport arrivals baggage claim

  • What: How I pack for travel with kids
  • When: Traveling
  • Why: Pack just the right amount of clothing
  • Where: On your next trip

For the purposes of this list, I define a shorter trip as a week or less, and a longer trip as over a week, and up to month. For each kid, I run through a brief list in my head of necessities, and toss in the following items.

Fleece pants folded to pack

Pants/Bottoms: I pack three or four pairs of pants or some combination of pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses, for shorter trips. For longer trips, I pack seven to eight. I always include one or two more for infants or anyone potty training, because yarp and blowouts happen and I do not want to be caught without pants. Literally.

size 3T shirts folded into squares to pack in suitcase

Shirts: I use the same math for shirts, subtracting any if I pack dresses for anyone. I always have at least one short sleeved and one long sleeved shirt no matter the weather forecast, but I also have at least one kid who wears nothing but fleece pants and long sleeve shirts year round regardless of the outside temperature.

Toddler underwear stacked in pile

Underwear: I pack one more pair of underwear than pants. I like the ones labeled with days of the week, especially for traveling, because I don’t even have to count them.

Toddler socks in pile

Socks: Socks vary. If it’s cold, I pack one per outfit and usually throw in an extra pair. Especially if we do laundry on the road, socks tend to go missing. And while my kids are happy to reuse socks, I prefer fresh ones. If it’s summer and they wear sandals or other footwear that doesn’t require socks, I cut the number by about half.

Three honest company disposable diaper different designs

Diapers: I take a minimum of a one day supply of disposable diapers because you never know where you might land and how long you might be stuck there. The rest, except any swim diapers, we buy at our destination.

Kids pajamas regular and fleece folded side by side for packing purposes

Pajamas: I often take two pairs, one warm and one lighter pair, because it’s hard to predict how cool lodgings will feel overnight in any season. If I need to par it down, I go with a lighter pants and shirt combination because if it gets unusable, I can substitute regular clothes and add multiple layers as needed. The opposite also holds true. I’m not at all above using clean pajamas as a spare outfit in a pinch.

Preschooler swim suit shorts and long sleeved shirt

Swim suit (you never know): I’ve learned my lesson on this one. Toss in a swimsuit even in the middle of winter. You never know and it’s much easier than trying to find three suits that won’t fall off in the water while you’re traveling. For diapers, I always pack a reusable swim diaper because finding a pack of disposables in the right size in the middle of the offseason has never been a winning game plan for me.

Reusable iplay swim diapers in pink and flag patterns

Fleece or sweater: Even in the warmest climate, even in the middle of summer, I toss in a fleece or warmer layer that can go over other shirts. I learned my lesson the hard way on that one. We had one trip where we got sunburned and froze to death, and one of my kids spent the entire trip wrapped up in oversized clothes trying to keep warm. Air conditioning inside can change the temperature dramatically. Cold kids are no fun. And fleece adds very little weight.

Patagonia fleece hooded full zipper cardigan in bright blue

Shoes: I take two pairs of shoes, usually sneakers or boots depending on the weather conditions at our destination, and a backup pair of crocs because they’re super lightweight. Nothing ends a trip faster than a lost shoe, and shopping for new shoes when you’d rather be at Disneyland is only slightly better than trying to find swimsuits off season in the right size.

Crocs Classic K Clog plastic floating kids' sandal shoe in turquoise

Outerwear/Coats/Jackets: I usually force my kids to wear their outerwear, because jackets take up so much room in the suitcase. They take their jackets and hats off the moment we walk inside and I stuff them into an outside pocket of my checked luggage for easy access once we land at our destination, or into a weird corner of the car beside a car seat when we travel by car in case of pit stops.

Toiletries: I have a bag packed with their toothbrushes, toothpaste, a comb, and any other hair accessories that I never bother to unpack. When they were smaller and had more sensitive skin, it included unscented shampoo and body wash. Now I just toss in Badger Baby Balm and Aquaphor in travel sizes and call it good.

Spare medications: I made this mistake once, too. Always pack their medications. If you think you might forget it, put what they need to consume before you leave in a smaller container and pack the prescription vial with their name and birthdate just in case. These always go in my carry on luggage or on top of the car pile in the trunk just in case.

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