More Tips for Packing for a Family Vacation

June 17th, 2011 by Dionna | 3 Comments
Posted in Homey Goodness, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family

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Kieran splashing in at Clearwater, FL at sunset.

Almost two years ago, my family of three took an eight day/seven night vacation to Orlando, Florida. More recently, my three year old and I made a return visit – this time for five weeks of fun in the Florida sun. Packing was a bit of a challenge on both occasions. The first time because I had more gear (with my then almost-two-year-old toddler), and this time because we were packing for such a long vacation. Below are a few tips on packing for vacation – first general packing tips for families (regardless of length of stay), then tips for packing with a toddler.

General Packing Tips for Families

Whether you’re leaving for a weekend or a month, here are my tips to help you keep your luggage orderly and easy to pack and unpack.1

1) Pack outfits in bags by day: I packed our large suitcase with several bags. Most bags were marked with a date (“Wed. 1/28”); in each dated bag I packed one outfit for each of us (including socks, underwear, and extra diapers). I also had one bag marked “extra for Kieran” that had diapers, his Superman cape, his swim trunks, and his nice shirt, an “extra for Dionna,” and one more for Tom (both with similar items). When I unpacked at the hotel, the outfits were hung in groups and there was never any scrounging around in the mornings for clothes to wear. After I did laundry, the clothes simply went back on the hangers in groups. Easy!

I reused the bags to pack the dirty clothes; any clean clothes I folded neatly. When we got home, I hung the clean clothes and took the bags downstairs to toss in the laundry. It made unpacking incredibly fast and painless.

2) Pack small toiletry items, especially liquids, in clear plastic Ziploc bags: If you really want to be fancy, pack them in logical groups. For example, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, and mouthwash together; contact case, saline solution, and glasses together; shampoo, conditioner, razor, and q-tips together; baby items together; etc. I put all of my toiletries in the inside zippered section of our checked suitcase. Packing toiletries in waterproof bags not only keeps your other belongings safe from spills, but it makes it easier to set everything up in the hotel and to put away later at home.

If you travel often and use small toiletries (or have a spare set that you travel with), just keep these packed – that reduces the amount of time you spend packing before each trip. I just refill my travel bottles when I get home, and they’re ready to go for the next time.

3) Pack all of your electronics in one location: We put all of our electronics (laptop, Garmin, camcorder) in our small carry-on suitcase and the cords for each in the carry-on’s zippered section. Our camera and phones were in the backpack for easy access. We felt the electronics would be safer with us than they would being tossed around by airline personnel. After we’d been in Florida for a few days, it was nice to know exactly where to find the cords when it was time to recharge batteries.

We keep our camera handy for impromptu photo opportunities like this one: the pilots invited us to sit down in the cockpit after I told them how excited Kieran had been to fly and say hello to the “pi-pi.”

4) Pack shoes and a couple of heavier items (like jeans) in the outside zippered compartment of your checked bag: When we weighed our checked bag at the airport, it was four pounds over the maximum allowed without an extra fee. We easily transferred our sandals and a pair of jeans from the outside of the large bag to the carry-on suitcase. We avoided a hefty overweight fee and the hassle of unzipping the main part of our suitcase and rummaging through it in the middle of the busy airport.

5) Pack anything you’ll need quickly in your carry-on or backpack/diaper bag: In our backpack we kept: diapers, changing pad, and wipes; a change of clothes for Kieran; fun things for Kieran to do while traveling; our camera, phones, IDs (including a copy of Kieran’s birth certificate, just in case), and wallets; a few “just in case” items for Kieran (teething tablets, a burp cloth); snacks and a bottle of water. (Even though TSA says formula or juice only, we were allowed to bring one bottle of water through security. Airports differ in how strictly they enforce the regulations.) And if you have a little one in diapers, stick a couple of extra ziploc bags in your carry-on, just in case.

6) Pack less and plan on doing a load of laundry: In 2009 we were in Orlando for eight days, but I only packed for five. One of those outfits was a “nice” shirt for each of us in case we ate somewhere classier than Shoney’s; I also kept an extra outfit for Kieran in our backpack. Halfway through the week we did a load of laundry at our hotel (I made sure to book a hotel that had laundry facilities). Most of what I packed for me and Tom were shirts – we have no problem re-wearing shorts or jeans several times between washings.

When Kieran and I visited Orlando this summer for five weeks, I packed five pairs of shorts and seven shirts for each of us (plus one extra outfit in the carry-on for Kieran), and we each wore pants and long sleeve shirts on the plane for any cool nights that might occur (and there were quite a few!). My biggest problem in packing for such a long trip was shoes, so I tried to coordinate all of the outfits I did pack in order to only bring 2-3 pairs per person.

Tips for Packing with a Toddler

Bringing a toddler on a trip sometimes requires you to haul around a couple of extra items.2 Since we rented a car in Florida in 2009, we brought our own car seat (I did not trust the rental company to provide us with a decent one). We also brought a full sized stroller (the kind with storage underneath), because we planned on doing a few parks and had brought a soft-sided cooler with us to pack our own lunches. A car seat and stroller are bulky and inconvenient, so I wanted to keep the rest of our luggage to a minimum. We ended up bringing one large suitcase to check, one small suitcase to carry on, and our backpack (which functioned as our diaper bag).

1) Pack snacks and fun things for your toddler to do: We had a short layover and about three hours on the plane each way. Here is what we packed in 2009 to keep Kieran occupied after the novelty of the plane wore off: stickers, construction paper, twistable crayons, a couple of new books, a stuffed animal, a Doodler Travel, and snacks (Annie’s bunny crackers and some organic soft granola bars). The stickers were a hit – he enjoyed sharing them with a little girl across the aisle. The books were also a success, I got an “I Spy” book (to hold his attention) and a Dr. Seuss classic (long and engrossing). He never touched the Doodler or the crayons, but he has on other trips.

Here are many more ideas for things to do with toddlers while traveling. But rest assured, pack less toys than you think you’ll need, simply because the airplane and airport and hotel and your destinations will be so interesting.

2) Pre-buy souvenirs and bring them along: If you’re traveling to a big park or another destination that is simply screaming with souvenirs, you can often buy some for much cheaper before you leave. We did this for our Disney World trip, and our toddler never knew the difference. The nice thing about packing souvenirs before you leave home is that you won’t need to budget extra space for them on your return trip.

3) Don’t forget your sling in the airport: When you’re running around the airport looking for your gate, you do not want to be dragging a toddler (or preschooler) along behind you. I love the Ergo for heavier kiddos.

I hope these are helpful, feel free to share your packing tips and tricks in the comments!

This post has been updated and expanded on from a previous version originally published on Code Name: Mama.

  1. eHow has a good, basic article with tips on how to pack your suitcase. For more on packing light for extended trips, see Go Green Travel Green’s great compilation of articles.
  2. Simple Mom has a great piece on packing light with kids.

3 Responses to:
"More Tips for Packing for a Family Vacation"

  1. Allie Proff

    The best packing website I ever found was My husband and I went to Europe for two weeks (Rome, Paris, London) and only packed one carry-on bag for each of us.

    He has lists and packing methods that help keep things literally in one carry-on (although I do like your daily plastic bag method, as we usually are okay with expanding into checked luggage as well.)

    His Traveling with Children page isn’t very detailed, but has some useful links.

  2. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    I love the buy-ahead souvenirs idea :)
    We do almost the opposite of the daily bag thing though-we try to ensure everything we pack is mix n matchable so it doesn’t matter which ones we grab each day and it’s easy to replace part or all of the outfit in case of spills etc. Other than one dressy outfit, everythin can go with anything else we brought pretty easily.

  3. Lisa @Granola Catholic   granolacatholic

    I would also add pack some “friendly” food. Something that can be eaten on the plane easily by hungry children, and mom and dad, such as protein bars, fruit, this food can be eaten for breakfast the first day at your new location. Also bring an empty water bottle per person. You can always fill it after going through security. One optional item I always bring when traveling with kids is some sort of “goodie” for the flight attendants. Small chocolate bars, cookies. The skies are friendlier when you are nice to the flight attendants.

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