How is it that kids seem to require exponentially more stuff than adults every time you leave the house—but especially when traveling? While you could easily pack your personal items into a carry-on, you need multiple, extra-large suitcases to carry all the clothes, toys, and gear for your children.
Sure, there are necessities you simply can’t leave at home when traveling with kids, but it is possible to pare down and make do with less. Here are some strategies for packing for your next family vacation.
How to bring less kid stuff with you when you travel
When packing for your kids, consider how you pack lighter for yourself. Ask what you really need, what you can leave behind, and how everything you bring can do double duty.
Choose less (and multipurpose) gear. Having all of the gear you’re used to, especially for babies and toddlers, may make your trip more comfortable, but do you need it? A stroller might be nice in the airport, but a carrier or backpack would work too. Maybe a single blanket can be used in multiple ways. If you must bring everything, consider investing in lightweight items that fold, deflate, or otherwise pack down tightly.
Rent or borrow gear at your destination. Most hotels have cribs available for guests upon request, and you can filter your Airbnb search to properties that have cribs as well (and ask your host what else is kid-friendly in their home, like toys and booster seats). Family-friendly restaurants often have high chairs. When visiting family members who also have kids, you can probably share some items.
When using rideshare services, you may have the option to request a car seat, eliminating the need to bring one. Both Lyft and Uber offer car seats for a $10 fee per ride. Rental car companies generally offer car seats as well—these get expensive with per-day surcharges, but you may be able to get them for free from some companies with a AAA membership.
If you need bulkier gear that you don’t want to bring, try a baby gear rental service. These companies will deliver strollers, highchairs, car seats, cribs, and more right to your hotel or rental home.
Buy standard items when you arrive. You do not need to pack enough diapers to cover your entire trip. Promise. The same goes for anything you can easily purchase at a grocery store or drugstore, like extra snacks and toiletries. Plus, rental homes and hotels usually have standard items like shampoo. Unless your child has a specific need, or you’re headed to a remote place, you can save space by restocking at your destination.
Don’t (necessarily) plan for all contingencies. If there’s only a tiny chance of bad weather, you probably don’t have to pack full rain gear for every family member. You can buy ponchos or extra layers if you absolutely need them.
Organize outfits ahead of time. A little bit of planning goes a long way to bring only what you need. Lay out outfits day by day—and maybe even bag and label them individually—so you don’t end up with a bunch of random items or all t-shirts and no pants. Limit shoes to only the absolute necessities that work for most activities. Consider darker colors and patterns that don’t show dirt and stains as easily in case you need to re-wear things.
Depending on your kid’s age, your plans, and your access to laundry facilities, bring just enough extra to get through.
Choose accommodations with a washer/dryer. If you’re staying somewhere for an extended period, look for an Airbnb or rental home that has a washer and dryer. You’ll be able to bring fewer outfits for each person, and you won’t need a whole suitcase for dirty laundry to take home.
Give kids a space limit. If your kids are old enough to pack their own bags—or at least to help—give them a limited amount of space in which to do so. Once their backpack or packing cube is full, they cannot bring any additional personal items. Of course, it’s probably a good idea to check what they’ve collected so it’s not all toys and no underwear. Similarly, if you’re packing for them, try to limit each to a single packing cube.
How to pack smarter when traveling with kids
So you’ve cut out everything extraneous—now it’s time to pack it up.
Bag and label everything. We’ve already mentioned organizing outfits and limiting the allotted per-child space. Grab a packing cube or large Ziploc and label it with your kid’s name. All of the cubes or bags then get packed in either a large family suitcase or their individual backpack and placed into individual drawers or room corners when you arrive.
Bring extra plastic bags or cubes. Toss in a few extra Ziplocs to fill with souvenirs or things acquired on your trip. This keeps everything contained and organized. Also, bring a handful of supermarket plastic bags for collecting dirty items and separating them from the rest of your belongings.
Pack a shared toiletry and first aid bag. Again, with the Ziplocs: collect basic first aid items in one place, so if bandaids or Neosporin or OTC medications are needed, you can grab one bag rather than searching through individual toiletry kits.
Bring a pop-up hamper or laundry basket. If you’re on a road trip and have the space, consider bringing a pop-up hamper you can use to collect dirty clothes while on vacation so you can either do laundry or haul everything home at the end rather than repacking it into suitcases. That hamper or a laundry basket can also be used to hold pillows, towels, or other shared items that don’t have a place in individual bags.