Packing Hacks for Traveling With Kids That Will Make Your Vacation SO Much Easier

I’ve always been something of a minimalist traveler. I find that setting off — whether to another city or to a country across the world — with one bag and one pair of shoes can work wonders for both travel spontaneity (why not book a last-minute detour when you don’t have shit to carry?) and for back pain (I don’t have shit to carry!). And when I had my son, I was determined this part of my travel personality would not change — at least not too much.

But, of course, kids come with shit. Both metaphorical and literal. You can’t just forgo a carseat when driving around LA with a baby; nor can you guarantee there’s going to be anything in Africa that your picky kid will eat. That’s why adding toddler-toting to my globetrotting has made it more important than ever for me to pack smartly and efficiently. And no, that doesn’t mean bringing every possible snack food and a week’s worth of extra kid outfits.

What’s my biggest packing-for-kids tip?

Don’t pack shoes.

For me, my biggest packing-with-kids tip is the same as it was pre-kids: Don’t pack shoes. Seriously. No matter where I’m going, my son and I each wear (wear, don’t pack) one pair of all-purpose shoes the whole time. In winter, it’s comfy boots. For a beach vacation, Birkenstocks. If a hike will be involved, sturdy sneakers I don’t mind wearing the rest of the trip as well. Honestly, as a single mom who’s already hauling an entire small human on my travels, wearing rather than packing shoes for both of us saves me packing space and weight — and leaves suitcase room for the inevitable box of Clif bars I have to bring because I can’t trust that my toddler will eat Moroccan food.

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But hey, that’s just me. And you don’t have to listen to my packing tips; we tapped a bunch of the most well-traveled moms out there for their own hacks for packing when kids are involved. So read on and pack smarter!

Pre-wrap travel toys.

“We travel a lot with our kids, and have since they were babies. My number-one advice would be to prepare plenty of age-appropriate entertainment for the kids. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying or driving; you’ll still be looking at several hours stuck in a cramped space with nothing to do. Depending on the age, we bring coloring books, magnetic games or puzzles, a Kindle (or other tablet) and lots of snacks. For the younger kids, I’ve also found that wrapping the toys ahead of time can be magical, because they have the whole distraction of unwrapping a gift first!”

Pack coloring books instead of toys.

“My favorite tip when it comes to traveling with kids would be to carry a roomy backpack, especially if your child I not in a stroller anymore. This will allow you to keep your hands free at all times. Another one is don’t let your child take too many toys along. They’ll get too tired to carry them around pretty soon, and guess who will be stuck with all of their treasures? I prefer to take washable markers and coloring books. They entertain for longer than toys.”

— Yana of Smile Is It

Carry-on only.

“Carry-on-only packing for flying saves money so we do not have to pay for luggage on flights or trains. Plan travels in countries where your dollar goes further (for example Portugal over Spain) so that you can either extend your vacation or upgrade your options on accommodations and activities.”

— Kathryn of KathrynAnywhere.com

Take advantage of Ziplocs.

Gallon Ziploc bags: An entire outfit goes inside (underwear, socks, bottoms, top). If I’m sending the kids to Grandma’s or Auntie’s to stay, they don’t have to rifle through my son’s suitcase; I tell them to grab a Ziploc and then my son can go change and put all his dirties back in that same bag when done, so nothing gets left behind. Works like a charm, and when you let the air out and zip it close, it saves so much room in the suitcase! It’s a space-saver and time saver. I also use two colored bags for long car rides: The green bag has snacks and drink pouches, and the blue bag has car-safe toys. No throwing toys all over trying to find fruit snacks or vice versa.”

— Erin of Parentinghealthy.com

Involve kids in toiletry shopping/packing.

“I never leave home with the kids without a headphone splitter. Now, my kids have their own devices, but sometimes they want to play together, and I want them quiet. It has been years since I have had a baby, but I still buy baby wipes because I don’t leave the house without them. I wipe EVERYTHING down with baby wipes. My kids know to ask for them too. I can wipe down a hotel room, the plane seat, you name it! We also buy travel-sized everything so we can toss them at the end of the trip and pack more on the way home (like souvenirs). The kids love picking out their own toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste.”

— Lauren of Fountain of 30

Pre-pack water…as ice.

“Pack a cooler bag of water with ice packs for any long-day theme park trips. This way everyone has a fresh cold water after a long day! We have two bags that always go with us inside the car for road trips. One bag is for kid toys, sticker books, readers and coloring. The other bag is a snack bag packed full for everyone. The kids (ages four and eight) now pack their own suitcases and then I check each bag before it’s closed up and put in the car.”

— Bri of BriGeeski

Color-code packing cubes.

“When I travel with my kids I use different colored packing cubes (the large-sized ones and everyone gets a different color). This was so helpful on our trip to Israel last winter, as I traveled with three kids; I could tell them to go into their color and find their clothes. Also, when my kids were younger, I’d buy diapers and wipes, as well as shampoo when we got to our destination — so I wouldn’t have to pack so much. We’d make sure there was a place nearby that would be open, and we only traveled with a little more than we needed.”

Pack outfits in rolls.

“Two tips in one: saving space in your suitcase by rolling your clothes in rolls, and your outfit is completely rolled in one bundle! Kids can remove the roll and have everything they need for that day. This is a great tip for those young kids going off to camp, making it easier for them to keep their clean and dirty clothes separate.”

— Melissa and Shelley of Stockpiling Moms

packing hacks for kids
Image: Halfpoint/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

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