This blog post was updated on September 15, 2022.
From car seats to diaper bags, from snack provisions to extra changes of clothes, packing for family travel usually involves a lot of grit and gear. Not only can you end up overpacking, but you can also find yourself in some uncomfortable situations on the road if you don’t pack up your crew just right. If you you often find yourself in foreign parts with way too much stuff, or not enough of the right stuff, these family travel hacks should help alleviate the stress and worry of traveling with your pack!
Make a List
Family travel requires planning and organization. You’ll have a mess on your hands if you try to pack the night before without a plan. Putting a pen to paper can help you organize your luggage before you even put anything in it. You also might be able to visualize areas where you are forgetting items or where you might be overpacking. At least a week before your trip, make a packing list for each family member. tat way, if you need to pick up a few items before departure day, you won’t have to make the mad last-minute dash to the store. Not a list maker? You can avoid forgetting necessary items by going through your normal day-to-day routine — thinking of everything you put on and use throughout your day and pack each item accordingly!
Use Checked Car Seats for Extra Space
If you’re traveling with smaller kids on an airplane, most likely you are going to be checking a car seat. Checking a car seat is free of baggage fees, so if you aren’t using your car seat to stash extra items, you’re missing out on saving money and space. You can purchase a particular bag that covers your car seat during travel. It can also act as a space to stash bulky jackets and other items that you won’t need in flight and don’t mind checking.
Share a Suitcase
While some family members might complain, sharing suitcases is one of the easiest ways to lighten your load when traveling with a big group. Rather than packing one bag per child and adult, it’s best to see if you can combine suitcases so you’ll have either fewer bags to check or just fewer bags to handle. You can even designate one bag for bulky items like shoes and coats, which can free up space elsewhere.
Color Coordinate Packing Cubes for Each Family Member
If you’re going to share suitcases, you don’t want each family member having a hard time finding their clothes when you reach your destination. Packing cubes can be great for families as they can help you stay organized on the road and they also save space. Packing cubes usually come in various colors. If you assign each family member a set color of packing cube, you’ll be able to tell each family member’s items from another.
Pack an Extra Travel-Day Outfit for Everyone
Be sure to designate separate outfits for travel days. This way you’ll always know you have something clean for what can turn out to be a stressful day. You probably know your toddler will need an extra outfit, but don’t forget about yourself. Spills seem to occur automatically on travel days and they usually wind up on the parent and not the toddler. Everyone in your party should have an extra change of clothes on hand if an accident should occur, no matter if you booked cheap flights in September or scored a great vacation package for the hottest summer months. It’s also a good idea to throw in a few extra outfits for your trip in general. You’ll inevitably go through more outfit changes than you thought, so it’s best to be prepared.
Pack Snacks Together So They’re Readily Accessible
While it’s not an official TSA rule, more and more agents are asking passengers to pull out all of their food items. Since families usually need to travel with an abundance of snacks, this can be problematic if you have packed all of your snacks across various bags. If you are flying with a family, have your snacks ready to go in a clear plastic bag so you can pull out your food items if an agent asks you to on the security line.
Keep Everyone Entertained
You will avert a good deal of potential meltdowns if you pack along plenty of entertainment options for your children. Start with books, stickers, activity sheets, and art supplies. A deck of cards is also a good idea for older children. Bringing out entertainment items that are new to your child will give them something to look forward to and will likely hold their attention for a longer period of time.
If you are packing electronic devices for entertainment, be sure to bring the appropriate charging devices. You can also download movies and games ahead of your travel so that you do not have to rely on an internet connection to get it done.
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Make the Most Out of Ziploc and Vacuum-Sealed Bags
One of the easiest ways to simplify your travel experience as a family is to lean on the many uses of Ziploc and vacuum-sealed bags. Use the vacuum bags when packing to maximize space and keep all of your travel essentials organized. The bag will shrink and take up less space after you pack it with clothes and suck out the air. You can also use these bags to keep toiletries secure and to prevent leakage in your luggage. These versatile bags also make great wet bags for swimsuits, dirty laundry holders, or trash receptacles throughout the trip.
Ziploc bags will come in handy when toting snacks on your travel day or out on day trips. Staying at a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast? Throw some dry cereal in a bag for your kids to snack on later if they get cranky.
Carry Reusable Water Bottles
Savvy travelers always carry reusable water bottles with them on their adventures. Although you cannot take a full water bottle through airport security, you can certainly take a reusable and empty bottle anywhere with you on all legs of the journey. Use a water fountain in the airport to fill your bottle after clearing security, and you will save loads of money keeping your family hydrated. The savings can really add up when traveling with a large family.
You also will not need to worry about finding your kids something to drink if they complain that they are thirsty. Heading to the beach for the day? Fill up your water bottles before you leave the room for maximum savings and convenience. As a bonus, using reusable bottles is also better for the environment.
Bring Comfy Outfits
The days of dressing up to travel are long gone. Nothing will make a child crankier faster than being uncomfortable. This is not the time to be worried about coordinating outfits for cute pictures. Comfort should be the ultimate goal when traveling with children. Dressing in layers is always a good idea when traveling so that you can easily add or remove layers to adjust to the temperature. For example, even if you booked cheap flights to and from a warm destination, airplanes tend to run cold.
So don’t hesitate to dress your children in pajamas if you think that will make them more comfortable and will encourage sleeping. This is particularly important if you are taking a red-eye flight. Loose-fitting and soft clothes are what you should aim for when dressing yourself and your children.
Do you have your own family travel packing hacks? Share your tips with us in the comments below!