How to Pack Lightly When Traveling With Kids

There is something about traveling with kids that makes you want to embrace staycations until they are teenagers.

Whether you’re preparing to see relatives for a holiday, travel to visit friends or go on a vacation you can’t avoid packing. And how you pack can determine how stressful your trip with your tiny people is.

Maybe you spend the week before looking up packing lists to make sure you don’t forget anything. You swear to yourself that this year will be easier than the last. And then you drag those suitcases out to the car, realizing with a jolt that you have no idea how to jam everything into the trunk.

I know how it feels.

I’ve traveled to 39 of the 50 states with my family. And it hasn’t always been Instagram-worthy bliss. (Airport meltdowns, anyone?) But if I’ve learned anything, it’s how to pack lightly to keep the trip fun without making you or your spouse feel like a pack mule.

Here’s what you need to know to make your next trip less stressful?

Why is Traveling Lightly with Children Difficult?

Traveling with children doesn’t need to be difficult. We only think it is because everyone wants to bring everything they own with them.

Your kid will want to bring 12 of their favorite stuffed animals. You’ll want to bring that special top “just in case” you have time for a fancy dinner. But while you may feel the need to bring all these items you might need, the reality is we rarely use them. And we need to ditch the dead weight. Like that t-shirt in the bottom of your drawer that you haven’t worn in five years but can’t throw out.

This need to bring everything is what makes it difficult to travel. The first step to traveling lightly is to break down what you actually need and what you don’t. If you don’t have a clear need for an item, don’t bring it. Worst comes to worst, you’ll do a load of laundry at a local laundromat or buy an extra book when you get there.

Now, once you have a list of things you need, the next steps become easier.

Lightly packed woman's purse

How to Pack Luggage Lightly

Packing your luggage is the most important part of traveling lightly. No amount of prep for the TSA line is going to help if your bag weighs 50 pounds. But if you plan it out properly, you will be able to save space and have a stress free trip.

1 – Decide on Clothing

You can pack one set of clothing per day of travel plus one extra set, and pajamas. If you have the ability, you could even take less if you will have access to laundry facilities.

The best way to pack clothing is to roll the pants, t-shirt, socks, and underwear together. Now when you go to get clothing, it will be quick and easy. Your child can pull out a whole outfit at once without riffling through their bag.

2 – Minimize Toiletries

Only bring what you need.

There have been times when I want to bring extra toiletries for myself and the kids, but in reality, we never use it all. Just pack the basics in your toiletries bag.

Plan on taking: travel shampoo, conditioner, a hairbrush, toothbrushes, and other necessities. If you’re staying in a hotel, you may not even need shampoo and conditioner.

3 – Limit Toys

Give your children a number of toys they take or a bag that all toys they are bringing must fit in. Leave it up to them. But nothing beyond the limits you set is allowed to go.

This keeps them from wanting to bring everything from their toy box on your trip.

4 – Keep Snacks Together

When traveling, it is always smart to bring snacks. Preventing kids from getting hangry can only make everyone’s trip more fun. And it will save you money.

Keep snacks in a small tote to keep the food from getting crushed. But think carefully about whether you really need a cooler. Do you need to bring drinks with you or can you just drink the water or juice at room temperature until you get to your destination?

Stick to the Packing List

The key to traveling lightly with children is to plan. When you are preparing for a trip, make a packing list based on what you know you need and stick to that list.

Remember, the less stuff you have to worry about the easier your life will be. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that one more toy will avoid a meltdown. It won’t make a difference, except if your child decides to have a tantrum, you’ll just be carrying more stuff while shuffling a crying child through the airport.

Child flying on an airplane reading a book

Traveling Lightly on the Plane

Flying with kids was always a huge stressor for me.

It was overwhelming to haul our stuff into the airport, get checked in, through security and where we needed to be.

Meanwhile, everyone wants food and use the bathroom. It’s like their bladders have a “we board in five minutes” trigger.

Not to mention when you arrive and have to carry your kids around while searching for a rental car. Insanity.

After doing this for a while, I began to follow three simple rules while flying.

1 – Minimize Clothing Struggles

The trip will go smoother if everyone is wearing comfortable clothing. An uncomfortable kid is a cranky kid.

For example, stick to a short sleeve shirt with pants, socks, shoes that are easy to get on and off, and a light jacket. Layering can make it easier to keep the kids warm or cold depending on the temperature changes.

You may want to dress this way as well, since carrying luggage and kids isn’t compatible with high fashion.

2 – Organize Everything

The TSA rules seem to be changing constantly. Tablets in the bag, out of the bag. What do you people want?! You’re best off checking the TSA website before you leave to see what you can bring in your carry-on and what the TSA agents will want to see separately. 

TSA typically check electronics, liquids, and anything that might look suspicious.

I make it simple by organizing everything into large, plastic storage baggies. Put the electronics into one bag, toiletries in another, and anything that may be questionable into another.

I will put it all this into my backpack so we aren’t searching through multiple bags for what needs to come out while that person behind us without kids sighs loudly.

You can also make it easier to access identification cards, birth certificates, and boarding passes by keeping them together. This makes it easy for you to reach and avoid digging around and stressing yourself out.

2 – Everyone Has a Bag

I keep items that TSA might need to check into my bag, but when I get through security, I organize everyone’s stuff back into their own bags.

Pack a small container of tissues, hand sanitizer, chapstick, and lotion for each person. In the kids’ bags pack their chargers, a pair of headphones, a pad of paper, and a small box of crayons. You can also pack their favorite snacks, to save money on expensive airport food. For longer trips with smaller children, you may want to pack a change of clothes.

Once you get through TSA, you can any drinks your kids may need. I like to get one juice, one water, and a small snack as a special treat.

Road trips with kids

How Can You Travel Lightly in the Car?

The biggest problem with traveling in a car is that we assume we have more space. And then we inevitably fill it up.

But traveling in the car can be just as organized as traveling on the plane. You can still minimize the clothing struggles, organize baggies, and have each person bring a backpack. But there are a few extra things you can do to make traveling in the car even easier.

1 – Plan for Messes

Bring a few plastic grocery bags to use for trash. Along with this, also bring baby wipes and a few paper towels in an easily accessible location.

Planning for messes prevents you from having to unpack the whole car to find a change of clothing or something to clean up spilled juice.

2 – Bring a First Aid Kit

Buy a pre-made first aid kit to keep in your car or make your own with your favorite products.

Hopefully, no one hurts themselves running around. But having a kit on-hand makes the little issues that can arise with kids easy to handle.

3 – Plan When You Pack

Once all the luggage is ready to be packed, take time to look at what you have and think through how to organize it in the car. If you can get everything to fit perfectly, and make sure you can reach everything you’ll need, the trip will be even more enjoyable.

Enjoy Traveling With Your Kids

Getting on the road may seem stressful, but if you can limit the luggage you bring along the whole process will be less overwhelming. Travel may not look like it did before kids (what does?), but it’s an incredible opportunity to create happy memories as a family and give your children new experiences.

Safe travels!

What is your biggest trick to making traveling with your kids less stressful? Share with other moms in the comments! 

How to Pack Lightly When Traveling With Kids

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