What to Pack for Family Vacation

Feeling a little overwhelmed stuffing those suitcases? Take a deep breath and learn what to pack for family vacation travels with these tips for you and the kids.

Sometimes determining what to pack for family vacation can seem as complex and mind-numbing as making all the travel arrangements for getting to your destination. Cut down on the hassle and spend more time dreaming about your time at the beach/tucked away cabin or vacation rental/grandma’s house/amusement park by following these simple guidelines and tips.

1. Think multipurpose. Do you really need a fancy outfit and dress-up clothes for the kids in case you go out somewhere nice? And do your kids have to have two pairs of sneakers and two pairs of slip-on shoes for a week away? As you and your kids are packing your luggage, think through what items can be worn several times, like a fleece jacket that can stand in for a sweater or even leggings that can be worn one day and used for jammies the next.

2. Let your kids pack on their own. Terri Weeks, a certified family travel agent with the Family Travel Association and a mother of three, explains, “Packing is a life skill that kids need to learn, so my kids have been packing their own suitcases since they were little. I give them some guidance on how many and what kind of outfits to pack.” You might help them along with their packing by providing a vacation packing list they can check off as they go.

3. Load up one bag per kid. Along with having your school-aged children pack their own bags, if possible, let them manage their own bag, too. That will make it easier for them to keep all of their belongings together as you travel. Plus, they’ll know they’re in charge of their bag – in other words, getting it from place to place as you make your way from the car to the plane and/or the hotel room.

4. Create a customized first-aid kit. One way to derail a vacation quickly is if someone doesn’t feel well. To help combat the occasional sickness, I always bring a pencil-case sized bag with over-the-counter medications I might need vs. purchasing a pre-packaged one. Ours includes chewable pills for lactose intolerance, along with the more expected ibuprofen, antacids, diarrhea-relief pills, antihistamines pills and bandages. While we could purchase medications if we needed them, I’ve found my mini-medication bag is small enough to stash in my bag (and it’s a vacation saver). Other items I’ve found come in handy include anti-itch cream for bug bites, moleskin for blisters and motion sickness medication (that’s for me – in case we go out on the water or have a really bumpy plane ride).

5. Pack by activity. “Consider packing a separate bag for each activity you’ll be doing on vacation,” advises Weeks, who lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has traveled with her kids to all 50 states. “For example, on our last trip, we went to the Everglades one day and to the beach another. I packed one bag that included binoculars and insect repellant and another bag with all of our snorkel gear. It made it easy to just grab the right bag each morning.”

6. Bring entertainment to share. Part of the reason you’re getting away is to be together, right? While you don’t need to spend every moment hand-in-hand, think through ways you can connect during your travels, like listening to an audiobook together. That’s how we discovered the How to Train Your Dragon series even before it was a movie. Kalamazoo mom Jessie Voigts, Ph.D., publisher of Wandering Educators, points out her 16-year-old daughter, Lillie, “loads up plenty of audiobooks, but also a physical copy of one of her favorites, usually The Hobbit or This Song Will Save Your Life. She has extra copies in case she loses one or wants to gift them.”

7. Remember sunscreen – and bug spray. Sunburns and bug bites can quickly turn your dream vacation into an itchy mess. That’s why I always pack a sunscreen I know works for my kids – both one that’s effective and one that my kids will wear. For example, my kids have one brand of sunscreen that doesn’t get greasy so they’re willing to put it on and keep reapplying during the day, if we’re outside. Same goes for bug spray: I’m loyal to the brand I know has been effective for my kids in the past and doesn’t have a strong odor.

8. Plan for shut-eye. It seems like hotel comforters tend to be a little too thin. If we’re driving, we’ll bring a few extra blankets for the hotel room (these are great to snuggle in during the car ride, too). But even if that extra blanket is a no-go in your luggage, consider what other items might help you, or your kids, snooze better. For example, my husband and one of my daughters swear by ear plugs. Another of my kids has a favorite pillow, while another likes to listen to a certain playlist before bed.

9. Load up on satisfying snacks. “I have low blood sugar, and we definitely prefer healthy food with protein,” Voigts says. “We don’t love fast food, and so we make our own snack bars and also pack popcorn, plenty of water, nuts and fruit. That makes it easy to last until you get to a restaurant you’ve Yelped and can’t wait to eat at, or until you are home again.”

These are just a few ideas to making packing for your next family trip a breeze. Have your own tried-and-true packing tip? Share it below.


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