This blog post was updated on September 28, 2022.
Even the savviest travelers struggle to pack everything they need for a trip. It’s common to spend hundreds of dollars on items we end up forgetting to pack — usually phone chargers and sunscreen — that are especially expensive abroad or at gift shops.
But packing for when you’re traveling as a family is different. On top of all the stuff you need to remember to bring, you’ve also got to think about what’s needed for your babies and/or children…who are notoriously difficult to pack for because they require so many extras!
That’s why it’s so important to come up with a packing list so we won’t forget what our family needs. Here’s a breakdown of an overall vacation packing list for a family of four. There are extra items to remember for specific vacations, although you may need to tailor the list to your destination. So, read on to learn everything you need to pack for your next family vacation!
All the Clothing You Need to Bring
Clothing usually takes up most of the space in your luggage. It’s generally best to bring one outfit for each member of the family for each day, but always bring a couple of extra outfits for the mess-prone baby or toddler. This is especially easy if you’re planning out your weekend travel packing list. But, if you’ll be traveling for more than a week, plan to do laundry midway through and pack accordingly.
The best way to pack for each family member is to divide tops and pants into separate packing cubes (gallon-sized Ziploc bags also work for children’s clothing). Keep everyone’s swimsuits in one packing cube, and pajamas in another. This makes easier to locate clothing when you’re living out of a suitcase.
Here’s a rundown of all the kinds of clothing you should pack:
- Bathing suits
- Bathing suit cover-ups
- Casual tops/shorts/pants (It helps to sort your clothing into individual outfits to make sure you’re not over-packing!)
- Active/workout clothes
- One dressier outfit
- Pajamas (one pair last 3 days for kids)
The Secret to Packing Shoes
Make everyone wear their largest pair of shoes, usually casual/athletic shoes, on the days you’re flying. Sandals can easily be stacked on top of each other. Also, pack shoes in a bag before putting them in the suitcase because, even if they’re clean when you leave, they can get dirty during trips. Try not to bring new shoes on a trip: pack versatile, comfortable shoes that won’t cause blisters.
Here are all the kinds of shoes you might need to bring on a trip:
- Casual shoes
- Dressier shoes
- Flip flops/sandals
- Athletic/hiking shoes (if needed)
- Water shoes (if needed)
Trekking Outdoors on Your Trip?
No matter where you go, you’ll probably plan to spend some time outdoors with your loved ones. Sunscreen and bug spray can cost a fortune at gift shops or airport pharmacies, so keep a stash of stuff like that in a large clear bag. And keep the bag together with the suitcase so you don’t forget to bring them!
Below are some outdoor recreation essentials you should keep in your bag:
- Bug spray
- Hat for each family member
- Lip balm
- Swim goggles
- Aloe vera gel
For cold-weather destinations, don’t forget to bring:
- Wool hats
- Hand warmers
Mandatory Medical Stuff
Medical items may be an after-thought for some. But being without them can cause so much trouble, especially when traveling abroad! Medical items should always be the first things to pack. This list will vary greatly from family to family, of course, so make sure you carefully consider each family member’s needs and that you have enough medication/supplies to last throughout the trip.
Here is some medical stuff you should pack:
- Insurance card
- Children’s Tylenol/Ibuprofen
- Motion sickness medication
- Hand sanitizer (keep one hanging on your backpack at all times – and the spray version is especially good for kids!)
- Small first-aid kit (include anti-itch cream, Band-Aids, tweezers)
Toiletries to Take
Toiletries can take up a lot of space if you’re not careful. Buying travel-sized versions can help minimize spills and save space.
The essential toiletries to bring include:
- Shampoo/conditioner (If you’re staying in hotels, you may not don’t need to pack these. If you are going to rely on the hotel shower supplies, ask for extra when checking in)
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste (Make sure you bring the children’s versions too!)
- Hair accessories
- Razors (shaving gear)
- Hair supplies (Dry shampoo can be your best travel friend!)
- Skin cleanser and moisturizers
- Contact solution and case (if necessary)
Personal Items to Pack
As the name implies, personal items are…well, personal! What one family or individual might need may not apply to others and vice versa. Here are some ideas for things that you may need when traveling.
- Passports/documents (Make sure they’re up-to-date!)
- Chargers for all electronics
- Reusable day bags
- Retainers/mouth guards
- Outlet adapters if traveling abroad
Carry-on items are also personal, but there are some things that you’ll absolutely love to keep handy on long-haul flights. Among the critical carry-on items you should bring with you can pick:
- Cash/credit cards
- Warm socks
- Jackets or hoodies
- Lysol wipes (to wipe down the plane tray and window)
- Books or magazines
- Eye masks
- Travel pillows
- Snacks, gum, food
- Refillable water bottles
- Any essential toiletries (following TSA regulations)
- Any essential medications
You may also like: How to Create Traditions Your Family Will Cherish for Generations
Essential Add-Ons for Families
Kids require more gear than adults, and you can’t always count on your hotel or lodging to provide them. So call ahead of time and arrange a crib or bed. Most often, they also have sheets or blankets, but be sure to ask just in case.
Here are some things you’ll need to pack if you have babies or toddlers in tow:
What to Bring for Babies
- Baby carrier (Try the Ergo for day trips/walking, and the Solly Baby Wrap for travel days)
- Diaper cream (travel-sized)
- Food and snacks
- Bottles or sippy cups
- Swim diapers 9if necessary)
- Special items like favorite blankets and stuffed animals
- Car seats (If you’re traveling domestically, be sure to bring these. Abroad, you can either take public transit or, if renting a car, rent car seats, too.)
Children Carry-On Items
If your children are old enough to carry a backpack, you should encourage them pack their own. They love having their own bag and it actually really helps keep things organized!
Here’s what to pack in them:
- Comfort items (special blanket/stuffed animal)
- Sippy cups (empty to give to the flight attendant when taking drink orders)
- Melatonin gummies (shhh!)
- Small coloring books
- Travel games
- Small books
Did we leave anything off the list? What else do you bring on your family vacations? Tell us in the comments below!