The Ultimate Family Packing Guide

Summer travel is upon us, and in honor of our partnership with Zugunruhe Experience, I wanted to share some of my packing tips and tricks. For those who don’t know, I spent the ten years prior to launching The Kindness Cause as a corporate retail buyer. I traveled frequently and always carried on my luggage no matter how long I traveled. I now pack for my entire family when we travel. It is difficult to travel light when traveling with children. I should also note that while I love to travel, I really dislike packing. However, over the years, I've learned a few things to help make packing for the entire family less of a burden. Here is how I do it:

First things first, you are going to need a packing list. I recommend that you create a packing list by family member specific to your family in excel. For toiletries, I will pack one bag for the entire family, or one bag for the adults, and one bag for the kids. I also create a list of items to be carried on to the plane (if flying), a list to pack in the car (if driving), and a list of any additional items that are specific to the trip (golf clubs, car seat, beach towels, ect). Save this excel document on your computer, so you don’t have to create your list from scratch every time you travel. I have separate tabs on my list…one for air travel and one for road trips. Make sure you take the weather into consideration when putting together your list.

Excel Packing List for the Family

Once you compile your list, determine what you need to buy for your trip and buy it. You'll want to make sure you have everything you need before you start packing. I've compiled a list of travel essentials below that have been incredibly helpful in all my travels. I keep most of the items below in my luggage all the time, so that they were always in my bag ready to go. Here are the items I never travel without:

  •  Foldable & Lightweight Tote- Whether you are heading to the beach, the pool, the market, or bought too many souvenirs, an extra tote always saves the day.
  • A Digital Luggage Scale- No more re-arranging your stuff at the check-in counter. Know exactly how much your bags weigh before you get to the airport and adjust accordingly.
  • A Microfiber Beach Towel- If you are traveling to the lake, the beach, or the great outdoors, you need to have a good microfiber beach towel. They fold up small and don’t take up a lot of room. They also dry quickly.
  • A Power Strip with USB Ports- Hotels never have enough outlets, especially when the entire family has electronics to charge. This amazing gadget is one thing I won’t travel without, even when traveling solo.
  • An Umbrella- We hope it does not rain on your vacation, but don’t be caught off guard because you weren’t prepared. Better safe than sorry.
  • A Reusable Water Bottle- Avoid paying $6 for a bottle of water at the airport. Fill up your water bottle after going through security, and your wallet will thank you.
  • Packing Cubes- Packing cubes are a great way to stay organized when you travel. They also help condense space in your luggage. Once you use them, it is hard to travel without them.
  • A Travel Hair Straightener- This might be non-essential for some but to each their own. The smaller straightener is easy to pack and takes up less room in my luggage. It’s another item that always stays packed.
  • Lint Brush- I frequently traveled for business and having a lint brush saved the day more times than I can count. I also recommend that you travel with an unused make-up sponge. The sponge easily wipes off deodorant from clothing.
  • Identifiable Luggage Tags- If you check your bags, having luggage tags you can quickly identify saves a lot of time in a sea of black suitcases.
  • A Collapsible Selfie Stick/Tripod- Get great family photos without worrying about the photography skills of the stranger you just found.
  • TSA Pre-Check- If you travel frequently, TSA Pre-Check is worth every penny. Trying to pull out all the electronics, liquids and remove shoes from children while in line for security can be a nightmare. The great part about TSA Pre-check is that if you have young children traveling with you, they will also have TSA Pre-Check. If you travel internationally frequently, you’ll save a lot of time and frustration by getting Global Entry. 

Packing for The Kids

I pack for my children first. My children are ages 4 and 6, so I pack them in one suitcase. I use color-coded packing cubes to pack for my kids so they can easily identify which cube is theirs. I fold their outfits together and place them into their packing cube. I’ve seen other moms pack each outfit in an individually labeled zip lock bag with the day of the week, which also works. I don’t do this because I try to launder and wear clothing several times on long trips. I pack their shoes in a separate packing cube to keep their clothes protected. I also include a mesh laundry bag in the luggage to keep dirty clothes separated once they have been worn. My kids’ suitcase is usually lightweight, so I pack any items specific to the trip in their luggage too.

Packing for Myself

I start by planning my outfits for the trip. I note outfits for specific events during the trip first. Then I plan mix and match outfits around a neutral color palate. I clip outfit ideas from Pinterest based on what I own. I use excel to lay out my outfits daily. I like to include footwear and accessories when I do this to minimize my risk of overpacking. You can also lay out your outfits at home and take photos of them to remember how you put things together. I try very hard to travel with no more than three pairs of shoes. 

plan outfits by day

I also pack my suitcase using packing cubes. If you know how to fold like Marie Kondo, you'll maximize how much you can fit in a packing cube. If not, I recommend that you roll you clothing. Rolling your clothes gives you more space and reduces wrinkles. I save the shoe bags that often come with my shoe purchases to pack my footwear. You can also use a shower cap to put over your shoes if you don't have shoe bags. Lastly, I also include a mesh laundry bag for my dirty clothes to keep them separated in my luggage. 

Packing Your Carry-On

Maybe it is because I am a mom or because I've had unfortunate circumstances, but I like to be prepared. I prefer to use a backpack for my carry-on luggage because it does not hurt my back like a tote bag. Here is what I like to include in my carry-on: 

What to pack in your carry-on luggage

  • Electronics (laptop, tablets, headphones, chargers)- I like to work on the plane, so I always make sure I have my laptop and charger packed. 
  • Jewelry- You should never check anything of value in your checked luggage, which is why I also include a small jewelry case in my backpack. 
  • Handbag/Wristlet- I pack a small crossbody purse at the bottom of my backpack, but I also pack a small wristlet with my ID and travel information in an easily accessible location in my bag. 
  • Make-Up- You might disagree on this one. I lost my luggage once and had to go buy new make-up on the trip. For this reason, I carry it on the plane with me. 
  • First Aid & Medications- You can never be too prepared, especially when traveling with little ones. 
  • Hand Sanitizer and Wet Ones
  • Masks
  • Snacks
  • Zip-lock Bags- I keep a few gallon-size bags in my backpack for soiled clothing or any other unexpected issues. 
  • Lip Balm & Hand Lotion
  • Water Bottle- Bring your own water bottle and fill it up after security to avoid overpriced bottles of water at the airport. 
  • Notebook & Pen- I like to travel with a notebook to keep notes about the trip and write down ideas that came to me while relaxing. 

Packing The Kids' Carry-On

 I let my kids each take a backpack for a carry-on. They love wearing their backpacks and helping to pack them. We pack their backpacks light to avoid any meltdowns. Here is what we pack:

What to Pack in a kids carry-on bag

  • Tablets & Headphones- We don't allow our kids to use their tablets unless we are traveling. It makes traveling that much more exciting. 
  • A Change of Clothes- Accidents happen. Always pack a spare change of clothes. 
  • Their Favorite Stuffed Animal
  • Coloring Books & Crayons
  • Snacks
  • Water Bottle
  • Pipe Cleaners- We have family challenges to see what we can create. It is fun for the whole family. 

Once you finish packing, you will want to use your digital luggage scale. You can adjust your luggage as needed to avoid any overweight baggage fees. We travel with car seats and use a backpack-style car seat bag to help us carry them to the check-in counter. We also pack swim vests in our car seat bag. I look forward to the day when we do not have to travel with car seats. 

Car Seat Travel Bag BackpackSwim Vest

I hope you found these tips useful. Click here to support Zugunruhe Experience and shop travel inspired merch. Let us know your tips and trick in the comments below. 





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