Packing Light… With Kids!

It’s one thing for me to throw my own stuff in a suitcase and head out the door on an adventure. It’s a totally different thing when I’ve got the kids in tow! But a little planning can make traveling with little people just as light!

Travel with Kids

Note: This post includes affiliate links for items that I use and love. 

It’s no secret that I love to travel. There is something magical about seeing all the varieties of people and places that exist on this planet we inhabit. That’s why I’m not about to sit at home waiting for my little ones to be “old enough” to travel. Kids are portable! And there are things you can do to make traveling with kids a little lighter.

The first time I ever took an international flight overseas, I was toting along my 22-month old daughter and my 4-month old son. We headed to South Africa for the summer and it was an experience I will always treasure.

Sure, it takes a little more planning to bring the kids along, but it’s totally doable. And while I’ve talked about many of the ways I make packing lighter, this post will specifically focus on how to make it lighter with kids.

Let’s start with…

The Suitcase

  • Basic Clothing – One of the best things to do is pack wrinkle-free clothing in similar dark colors. Wrinkle-free makes it easy to throw it on and go. Similar colors mean you can mix and match without too much thought. Dark colors… well… show less dirt!

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The items on the left roll into the little packet on the right!

  • Roll Clothes in Sets – By rolling up a pair of pants, shirt, socks, and underwear, not only does it fit in the suitcase more easily, it’s also easier to grab one roll and be ready for the day. No more hunting for an outfit or a clean pair of undies. Which brings me to…

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  • Laundry Bag – Stow a lightweight bag in the suitcase to put the dirty stuff in so that it doesn’t get mixed into the clean clothes. When it’s time to wash on vacation, you can just grab the bag. And when you get home, dump the bag into the washer!
  • Cover the Shoes – While we typically only bring 2 pairs of shoes and one is on our feet when we travel, one will be in the suitcase. To keep clothes from getting dirty, tuck the shoes into a plastic bag.
  • Minimal Extras – The only other things we pack for the kids than their clothes and toiletries are a few things that help them to sleep in a new location. We have this sound machine that they use at home and sends them off to dreamland quickly no matter where we are. If your little ones are used to a night light, that’s something else to be sure to pack. We also let the boys bring one small stuffed animal to sleep with (same as they do at home).

The Carry-On

The items that go into the carry-on bag are the things that we will need while we are traveling to our destination. For the boys, this means:

  • Water Bottle – We just got this one in the hopes that it won’t leak on the plane. I’ll let you know how it does! *Update: no leaks!

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  • Snacks – I try to pack semi-healthy snacks such as granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, jerky, mandarin oranges, etc. I also try to include one chewy candy, such as Hi-Chew, if they have trouble popping their ears on take-off or landing.
  • Activities – We love these little LCD drawing boards. The boys love to draw and erase on them. We also love activity books. Don’t forget a few crayons in a container! Other fun items include travel games, water wow, reuseable sticker books, magic ink books, seek and find books, and magnet sets

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  • Headphones – My boys are totally allowed screen time while on a long flight. We purchased these headphones when they were small and they’ve been marvelous. They’re a little bulkier than earbuds, but much easier for the little boys to use. 
  • Blanket (or something warm) – Sometimes this just means we have them wear their coat and they can use it as a blanket or pillow if needed. There are also smaller, packable blankets that are easy to tuck into the carry-on. For overnight flights, we use these travel pillows for the boys. 

There are a few more items that go into my carry-on that are super helpful when I’ve got the kids with me (or just plain helpful no matter what!)

  • Wipes – It’s impossible to stay away from all of the germs while traveling, but there are at least a few things you can do to get rid of a larger number of them! Wipe down the seat and tray table when you get on the plane. Use wipes or hand sanitzer when returning from the bathroom. And wipes are just helpful to have around when you’ve got kids who inevitably spill the cup of juice that was just set down on their tray table.
  • First Aid Kit – A mini-kit with the basics (bandages, ointment, pain meds, etc.) is super helpful to have on-hand in your carry-on. You always hope you don’t have to use it, but it sure is a blessing to have if you do.
  • Plastic Bags – I try to use reusable bags as often as I can. But while traveling I’ve found it invaluable to carry just a few random plastic bags. You’d be surprised at how many uses they have! When someone’s socks get wet and you don’t want to put them in your bag without being covered… stuff them in the bag. When you can find a trash can for everyone’s apple cores… stuff them in the bag. See?

The Gear

  • Car Seats – As infants, we brought the boys car seats along with us since they were so portable. Once they graduated to toddler seats, we rented them with our rental car. Now that they can sit in booster seats, we purchased these for less than it cost to rent for a week! Hooray for getting bigger!

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  • Strollers – Again, when the boys were infants, we used the stroller that fit their car seats. Once they were bigger, umbrella strollers were the way to go. Now we just make those little legs walk everywhere! (Who am I kidding..? They run!)
  • Other Gear – Try to find accommodations that include any other gear you need for your kids. I would always book hotels or rental homes with cribs to save me hauling multiple pack-n-plays. 

That looks like a big list. But really, it ends up being pretty light!

Most of all, I’ve learned (the hard way, ’cause I’m really good at that apparently) that the most important thing I have to do to get ready for traveling with kids… is keep my expectations realistic. 

We’re going to get tired. Or bored. Or sick. Or grouchy. Or squirmy. Or flat-out furious. So be it. All I can do is do my best to be prepared and try to make it the best experience we can with what we’ve got. Good enough.

Are there things that you do to make traveling with kids lighter?

Packing w Kids IG

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