Even the savviest travelers struggle to pack everything they need for a trip. I personally have probably spent hundreds of dollars on items I always seem to forget to pack — usually phone chargers and sunscreen — that are 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 (as well as your partner) 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.
I hit the road as often as possible with my husband and our two young daughters in tow. Together, we’ve hiked the mountains of New Zealand, rode elephants in Thailand, walked the tulip fields of Amsterdam, and much more. Throughout it all, I’ve learned the value of utilizing a packing list so I won’t forget what my family of four needs.
Here’s a breakdown of an overall vacation packing list for a family of four – including a PDF version you can print out or save for later. There are extra items to remember for specific vacations throughout (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 luggage. I generally 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. If we’re traveling for more than a week, I plan to do laundry midway through.
The best way I’ve found 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). I combine everyone’s swimsuits into one packing cube, and pajamas into another. I’ve found this makes it easier to locate clothing when you’re living out of a suitcase.
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 by outfit to make sure you’re not over-packing)
- Active/workout clothes (for adults)
- One dressier outfit
- Pajamas (I make one pair last 3 days for kids)
The Secret to Packing Shoes
I always have everyone wear their largest pair of shoes, usually casual/athletic shoes, on the days we’re taking airline flights. Sandals can easily be stacked on top of each other. I pack shoes in a bag before I put them in the suitcase, because even if they are clean when we leave, they can get dirty during our trips. I never bring new shoes on a trip and always try to pack versatile, comfortable shoes that don’t cause blisters.
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 Travels?
No matter where we go, I plan for us to spend some time outdoors. Sunscreen and bug spray can cost a fortune at gift shops or airport pharmacies. I keep a stash of stuff like that, only for travel, stored in a large clear bag (there’s another set of products we use just at home). And so I don’t forget to bring them, I keep the bag together with the suitcase.
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:
- Wool hats
- Hand warmers
Mandatory Medical Stuff
Medical items may be an after-thought for some, but they have caused me so much trouble, especially when traveling abroad! Now they’re always the first things I pack. This list will vary greatly from family to family, so make sure you carefully consider each family member’s needs and be sure you have enough medication/supplies to last throughout the trip.
Medical stuff you should pack:
- Insurance card
- Children’s Tylenol/Ibuprofen
- Motion sickness medication if necessary
- Hand sanitizer (I keep one hanging on my 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. As a woman who loves her beauty products, it’s difficult for me to limit these, but very important because … they are HEAVY! And, I’ve found that buying travel-size versions (when I can) can help minimize spills and save space.
The essential toiletries to bring:
- Shampoo/conditioner (if we’re staying in hotels, I never pack these and just ask for extra when we check in)
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste (make sure you bring the children’s versions too!)
- Hair accessories
- Razor (shaving gear)
- Hair supplies (dry shampoo is my best friend when I travel!)
- Skin cleanser and moisturizers
- Contact solution and case if necessary
Personal Items to Pack
As the name implies, personal items are 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 (we’ve included spaces on the PDF for you to fill in your own most-used travel items).
Possible personal items you’ll need to bring:
- Passports/documents (make sure they’re up-to-date!)
- Chargers for all electronics
- Reusable day bag (we often use my husband’s carry-on backpack, but you may want a purse, beach bag, fanny pack, etc.)
- Cork screw
- Playing cards
- Retainers/mouth guards
- Outlet adapter if traveling abroad
Carry-on items are also personal, but I have discovered a few things that I absolutely love to have on long flights. Feel free to include your personal items here — or add your own preferences on the PDF print-out.
Critical carry-on items to bring with you:
- Cash/credit cards
- Warm socks
- Jacket or hoodie
- Lysol wipes (to wipe down the plane tray and window)
- Books or magazines (I read so much on trips it’s more efficient for me to bring an e-Reader to save space and weight)
- Eye mask
- Inflatable pillow
- Snacks, gum, food
- Refillable water bottle
- Any essential toiletries (following TSA regulations)
- Any essential medications
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. Call ahead of time and arrange a crib or bed. Most often, they also have sheets or blankets, but be sure to ask.
Here are some things you’ll need to pack if you have babies or toddlers in tow:
What to Bring for Babies
- Baby carrier (I like the Ergo for day trips/walking, and the Solly Baby Wrap for travel days)
- Diapers (we often buy these at our destination but make sure to bring enough for 2-3 days until we have time to do it conveniently)
- Diaper cream (travel size)
- Food and snacks
- Bottles or sippy cups
- Swim diapers
- Special items like favorite blankets and stuffed animals (I can’t tell you how many nights we’ve had tears because we forgot to pack bunny. Now it’s the first thing in my daughter’s carry-on!)
- Car seats (if we’re traveling domestically we often bring these. Abroad, we either take public transit or, if renting a car, we rent car seats too)
Children Carry-On Items
If my child is old enough to carry a backpack, I have them pack their own. They love having their own bag and it actually really helps keep things organized.
Here’s what I pack in them:
- Comfort items (special blanket/stuffed animal)
- Sippy cup (empty to give to the flight attendant when taking drink orders)
- Melatonin gummies (shhh!)
- Small coloring book
- Travel games
- Small books
Be sure to download the PDF version of this vacation packing list for a family of four, so you can print it out and save for later to make your next trip as smooth as possible.