Remember the days when you’d pack for a trip 30 minutes before dashing off to the airport? You’d throw in an assortment of clothes and toiletries, and if you happened to forget something, c'est la vie! Maybe it’d be available in the gift shop, maybe not—no biggie. But once you enter parenthood, your easy-breezy, toss-everything-in-a-bag packing days are over. Nowadays, you’ve got to be a packing ninja, rolling, tucking, folding and shoehorning every must-have and what-if item into carry-ons, duffles, rolly bags and teeny kiddo-size backpacks. It’s not only your job to make everything fit—it’s your job to remember every last detail, because you won’t be finding any forgotten loveys in the gift shop, sister! Here, we’re sharing our best pro packing tips to help make your next family trip actually feel like a vacation.
How to Pack for a Family Trip
From worrying whether everything will fit in your suitcase to stressing about checking the stroller, prepping for a trip with the kids can bring about its fair share of anxiety. When the bags are finally packed, you’re more than ready for a vacation. To help you streamline the process, we’ve gathered up our top savvy traveler tips for how to approach the art of packing.
1. Make an All-Inclusive Packing List
If you’re big into lists, this one may seem like a no-brainer, but even if you’re not, trust us—you need a packing list. Before you jet off on your family vacation, have a running don’t-forget list that always sits where you can easily find it. (Or just yell it into your Amazon Echo if you’ve got one.) You’re bound to remember random items at random times, so jot them down as they come up. It’ll save you from scrambling day-of.
2. Give Packing Cubes a Go
Running out of suitcase space is every traveling mama’s nightmare. To maximize your room, try packing clothes into zip-up fabric containers before shoving them into your luggage. Not only do they compress your belongings, allowing for more room in your bag, but they also help keep your family’s clothes organized, so you can always find what you need without emptying the entire bag onto the floor. (We like that you can peek inside these mesh packing cubes.)
3. Look Into Checked Luggage Rules
Most airlines let parents check approved baby items for free, like strollers and car seats—but it’s smart to research your airline’s specific policies so you know what’s what before getting to the airport. Some airlines require that you to check your gear at the ticket counter, others at the gate, and some let you choose. Pro tip: Pack your stroller and car seat into protective travel bags, and take off all your stroller accessories (cup holders, hooks, organizers and the like) beforehand. The last thing you want is to retrieve your stuff, only to find parts broken or missing.
4. Brush Up on TSA Breast Milk Rules
Yes, you can travel with breast milk (and no, baby doesn’t need to be with you). Per TSA rules, breast milk—and formula—is allowed carry-on bags, even if it’s more than the 3.4 ounces typically allotted for liquids. You just have to remove the bottles or bags from your carry-on to be separately screened. Ice packs and frozen gel packs are also allowed in carry-ons to keep milk cool, but if they’re partially frozen or slushy, they’ll need to be screened too. (Pro tip: Try using frozen peas instead.) As a precaution, print the rules and have them with you in case any TSA official tries to tell you otherwise. If you’d rather avoid the hassle, you can have your pumped breast milk sent to your destination (or home) with companies like Milk Stork, which offer special cooler units and can ship your milk overnight.
5. Ship Baby Items Ahead of Time
If you’re flying or don’t have any more room in your car trunk, figure out what basic baby items, like diapers, wipes and baby food, can be shipped directly to your destination ahead of time. Fun fact: Most items found on Amazon can be shipped to more than 100 countries outside the US.
6. Rent Gear at Your Destination
Another great way to cut down on your packing list? Rent gear once you’re there! You can reserve bigger items, like cribs, car seats, strollers and highchairs (and even smaller items like toys, swings and gates) through services like The Traveling Baby Company, Baby’s Away, BabyQuip and loads more. But before you turn to rentals, check to see what baby gear your hotel or vacation home already offers (like a crib or highchair).
What to Pack for a Family Trip
Your pen is poised to start drafting that packing list—so where to start? What you pack of course depends on where you’re headed and what your kids’ needs are, but we’re betting you’ll be glad you grabbed these items for your next family trip.
1. Pack Mix-and-Match Outfits
It’s hard (like really, really hard) not to pack the absolute cutest clothes in baby’s wardrobe. But don’t bother taking items that don’t match everything else you’ve packed. Perfectly planned vacay outfits get quickly derailed with weather snafus, ill-timed blowouts, mealtime mishaps and more. Make sure you’ve got options that all work together.
2. Have Suckers Handy
Whether it’s a pacifier, bottle, lollipop or straw, if you’re traveling by air, pack something your child can suck on during take off and descent. Sucking and swallowing helps equalize pressure changes, staving off ear pain (and, hopefully, the fussies).
3. Bring a Baby Carrier
It’s often infinitely easier to strap a babe to you than push a bulky stroller, especially when you’re navigating congested areas or unfamiliar territory. If you’re flying, not only is it way easier to get through security while babywearing, but a baby carrier also a comfy spot for your little one to snooze. Plus, it gives you a free hand to carry your multitude of luggage.
4. Give the Kiddos Backpacks
Toddlers, preschoolers and big kids alike love to take responsibility for packing their own personal must-haves. Have them choose their travel toys, and toss into their backpack some won’t-get-mushy snacks and a water bottle. (It’ll need to be empty for TSA check-in, but important to have once you’re through security.) Also, think about adding one or two new surprise toys or activities to their bag to keep the excitement—and distraction—up.
5. Spring for a Deluxe Changing Pad
If your little one is still in diapers, a changing pad is a must-have. You never know what the changing table situation will be while away from home, so it’s best to be well prepared. Whether you go for one that keeps baby’s hands from the mess, transforms into a hanging changing station or boasts other fancy features, this is the time to bust out the deluxe changing pad.
6. Opt for an Easy-to-Clean Bib
Take only one bib with you—but not the cloth kind. When and where are you going to wash them? Instead, toss a silicone bib in your carry-on. They’re durable, easy to wipe clean and perfect for travel. (The Happy Healthy Parent bib has a food pocket and an adjustable neck band, which is awesome.)
7. Make a Mini First Aid Kit
If you’re spending a week a nana’s house in the burbs, you’re probably fine. But if you’re in a foreign country, camping in the woods, spending a week trapped on a cruise ship or otherwise nowhere near a 24-hour pharmacy, fill a small bag with a thermometer; children’s fever reducer, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol and Dramamine; pain reliever (like a cold pack), hand sanitizer, bandages, antibiotic ointment and anti-itch cream, plus any prescriptions you might have. (If you’re flying, keep those in your carry-on.)
8. Remember the Puke Kit
If your little ones are prone to motion sickness, you best be prepared. In a Ziploc bag, carry: kid-size Sea Bands; ginger candy; extra bags to yack in; disinfecting and wet wipes; travel-size Lysol spray; change of clothes; paper towels and a trash bag.
9. Grab a Laundry Bag
If you’re driving, a laundry bag is an absolute must. Who wants to pack dirty clothes—especially kid-level dirty? Even if you decide to skip the laundry bag, you should still toss into your luggage a few plastic grocery bags, Ziplocs and/or reusable wet/dry bags. They’re perfect for packing up puked-on, pooped-on clothes and still-damp bathing suits.
10. Bring the Right Pumping Gear
For some traveling mamas, trading their bulky hospital-grade breast pump for a smaller manual breast pump may be the easiest option. But if you prefer the big guns (and don’t own a cord-free pump), bring a battery pack adapter (like this one) so you’ll be able to use your electric pump no matter the outlet situation.
Published November 2018
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