A family of four is packing their luggage in the car's back trunk
There are a few general rules when it comes to family vacation packing.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / pixdeluxe

These Family Vacation Packing Tips Will Ensure You Don't Forget a Thing!

Become a Packing Master

Packing for a family vacation might be the hardest part of your whole trip. After you’ve figured out how to plan a family vacation — which presents its own set of challenges— making sure you don’t forget anyone’s bathing suit or end up with stray shoes, and accounting for every eventuality, is the job of a master packer.

To help you reach master status, here is a guide to pulling together a packing list for your next family vacation.

Time It Right

Start the packing process early. Leaving everything to the last minute will only cause stress to mount, so begin putting things together about a week in advance.

You don’t have to start packing things into suitcase — just set aside things in a box or bag as you remember to pack them. Pile up the sunscreen, insect repellent, first aid kit, and other bits and pieces throughout the week, so the day before your trip you just have to take care of essentials such as toiletries and underwear.

Share the Load

You don’t have to take sole charge of packing for your family vacation. While it’s helpful to have a final checklist you can use to make sure no one has forgotten anything, you can divvy up packing duties among the whole family.

Traveling with kids is no easy task, but putting them in charge of packing will give them some responsibility and will help make them feel more involved in the trip process. Just be sure to give them some basic instructions before they start adding things to their bag.

For example, tell them to choose one pair of comfortable walking shoes and one pair of sandals, so they don’t end up with six pairs of shoes. Or, put them in charge of taking one toy or comfort item, so they can make the important decision themselves.

When it comes to the rest of the items to be packed, don’t let yourself be crushed under the load. Find something your spouse can help with, whether it’s packing the cooler, loading suitcases in the car, or making sure the house is ready to be left unattended for the duration of your trip.

Efficiency Is Key

Aim for a combination of warm and light clothing to account for changes in the weather. Clothes that can be layered and mix and matched are best.

Put comfort and practicality ahead of style when it comes to choosing clothing. Quick-dry fabrics are best as they can be washed in the sink in a pinch.

Always check the forecast for your destination one or two days before you depart. That way you can adjust your clothing accordingly, including wet weather gear or warm clothes as appropriate.

Try to avoid packing full-size toiletry products. You can often buy travel sized toothpastes and shampoos, or pour them into smaller travel sized bottles. This will help you save precious packing space.

It is usually a good idea to then put those bottles into zip lock bags, to contain any spillages that might happen while traveling.

Pack must-have items such as wet wipes, toys and spare underwear in your carry-on luggage, so you can get to them in the airport or on the plane (or, in the worst case scenario, if your bags go missing in transit and arrive days after you).

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Handy Things to Pack for a Family Vacation

There are always a few items you neglect to add to the family vacation checklist. Here’s a few things you might not remember to bring:

  • Scans of all of your passports and important documents. You can email them to yourself so you have copies and it’s always a good idea to print hard copies as well, stashed away in your luggage.
  • Trip journals are a great way for kids to start recording their travels. They don’t need to be fancy, just basic notebooks will do. Encourage them to draw or write a little in their journal every few days. They can glue in ticket stubs, feathers or leaves, and other bits and pieces they pick up on the way. When they look back on their journal years down the line, they’ll be glad you remembered to pack them.
  • Pens are invaluable.
  • A stash of zip lock bags are great for dirty clothes (or dirty anything).
  • Never go anywhere without duct tape. You can use it to repair everything, from shoes to luggage. When you’re traveling with kids, you can expect a few things to get broken, so you will be glad to have this handy.
  • Snacks are always great to have on hand. You can pack some non-perishable snack foods such as granola bars, nuts, dried fruit and crackers.
  • Chewing gum or hard candies to suck on are perfect for takeoff and landing. Helping relieve the pressure in your kids’ ears could make the flights a lot easier.
  • A deck of cards is a small enough item, but has huge entertainment potential. It’s always a good idea to take some toys and activities for younger children, but it’s not always possible to fit coloring books and dozens of crayons into your suitcase. Cards make a decent alternative — there are plenty of games that can be played solo and in groups. Bonus points if you learn some magic tricks for killing time at the airport.
  • Addresses of friends and family, for sending postcards home.
  • Remember to leave some space for souvenirs.

Family Vacation Packing List

To help you remember all the essential things on your family trip, here is an example packing list for a family vacation. You can modify this for different age groups and destinations, but the basic items usually remain the same.

  • Clothes:
    • Jeans, shorts, t-shirts and other tops
    • Active wear or other quick-dry fabrics
    • One pair of track pants (ideal for long travel days when you want to be comfortable)
    • One nice outfit for dining out (or for that family snapshot)
  • A raincoat or jacket — choose a lighter/heavier option depending on where you are headed
  • Underwear (enough for a daily change plus a few extras)
  • Comfortable shoes and one pair of sandals
  • Hats (for sun or warmth)
  • Bathing suit
  • Toiletries, a small first-aid kit, and any medications
  • A bar of soap (for emergency toilet stops and handwashing clothes)
  • Snacks
  • Wet wipes and tissues
  • A guidebook or map for your destination
  • A small backpack for day trips


Click here to print checklist

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