Packing Light(ish) for Kids

Traveling with kids. Some people love it. Some people think it’s torture. I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. When we had my daughter, we continued to travel without hesitation. R was on her first flight at four months old, and she was on a total of 14 flights in her first 14 months of life, including two international trips. Once we had D, all traveling came to a halt. Part of it was circumstantial due to work schedules, but much of it was my own trepidation of traveling with two children. Determined not to be home bound for the next few years, I opted to face my fears and book some travel. Whereas I used to have a You-Can’t-Be-Too-Prepared attitude about traveling with kids, I now realize that unless I’m planning a trip to a remote locale, even with kids, less is definitely still more.

Clothing. This one’s tricky. I’m all for reusing outfits, but when you’ve got little ones, you have to account for blowouts, spilled juice, or finicky toddlers who surprise you by refusing to wear their favorite blue pants. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a washer/dryer, use it. Don’t pack outfits for every day unnecessarily. If you don’t, here are a few ideas to maximize use out of minimal clothing pieces:

  • Weather-appropriate outfits for each day in mix and match colors + 2 spares maximum.
  • 2 sweaters/jackets in neutral, interchangeable colors.
  • 2 swimsuits (my daughter won’t be caught dead putting on a wet bathing suit so this guarantees I can always have a dry one on hand).
  • 2 pairs of shoes: one sneaker and one sandal. Add water shoes if necessary.
  • 3-4 pairs of socks.
  • 2 pairs of pajamas.
  • Underwear for each day + 1-2 spares (more if you’re potty training).
  • Sun hat. I have this one for the baby and this one for the toddler so they can’t take it off and can wear them while in the pool.

Everyday Essentials. I could fill an entire suitcase just with diapers, wipes, and toiletries. I try to bring just what we need, and I remind myself that there is always an opportunity to buy necessities in local stores or hotel gift shops in a pinch.

  • Diapers/Wipes: We pack for about five diapers per day plus a few extras, but you can always buy more at your destination, so no need to pack the economy size box. Pro tip: always bring more than you think you need on the plane. You’ll thank me when your flight gets delayed by three hours and you miss your connection while your baby is in his last clean diaper. Bonus for the really light travelers: use a shipping service like Amazon to send these essentials to your destination ahead of time. Just confirm your hotel will accept and hold deliveries on your behalf.
  • Children’s Tylenol: We aren’t in the habit of dosing our kids with medicine often, but this comes in handy for a teething baby.
  • Toiletries: Toothbrush/toothpaste, baby soap/shampoo, brush and hair ties, sunscreen, hand sanitizer.
  • Travel-sized laundry detergent: Don’t underestimate the power of a hotel sink and a blow dryer as laundry service.
  • Travel-sized first aid kit: If you have an accident-prone toddler like I do, or a toddler who insists on a band aid at even the hint of an “ouchie,” keep this close.


Gear.  We’re fortunate that when we travel cross-country to my mother-in-law’s house, she stocks everything we need—from car seats, cribs, and strollers to diapers, wipes, and snacks. But in almost any other setting, we’re lugging 2 car seats, a portable crib, and a stroller, and that’s just the bare minimum. Depending on how much you travel, you may consider investing in travel-specific gear.

  • Car Seats: For our upcoming trip to Mexico, we only need car seats for the trip to and from the resort. Unfortunately, we could only confirm guaranteed access to car seats one way. Our regular car seats are heavy and bulky, so we opted for travel-friendly car seats—Cosco Scenera Next for the baby and Evenflo Maestro for the toddler—because they are extremely lightweight (<8 lbs. and <13 lbs., respectively) and cost effective given these are our 5th and 6th(!!!) car seats. Both car seats fit together in our car seat cover for easy toting through the airport and checking at the gate.
  • Stroller: Our everyday stroller is too bulky to take with us and we don’t actually own an umbrella stroller. I recently opted to splurge on the gbPockit stroller because I could literally pack it inside my suitcase, and at 13 pounds, it doesn’t take us over weight limits for checked luggage. This was ideal for us. We didn’t need a stroller in the airport, so this was more for strolling through the resort and poolside naps. It is not good for rugged terrain or serious stroller trekking, so consider your destination.
  • Baby Carrier: When possible, we use our Ergobaby baby carrier to schlep our son, and this is what we have used in the airports with both kids as babies. Unless they’re visibly old enough to walk, TSA usually lets me walk through the metal detector while wearing the baby and swabs my hands for their chemical test. Even if they make me take it off, it’s easy to do, and less of a hassle than lugging the stroller through the airport.
  • Portable Crib: Always call ahead to your destination as I have found that many hotels and resorts have portable cribs available, often at no extra charge. Make sure to ask if you can guarantee it, though. For our most recent trip, the resort informed us that it’s first come, first served, and there is no way to know until we get there, so we opted to bring our own. Our daughter has even slept on a blanket on the floor surrounded by pillows when needed.

Toys. I’d like to believe that traveling to a new and exciting destination is entertainment enough, but it’s nice to have a few things on hand, particularly for the toddler.

  • Coloring books/crayons: My toddler loves to color and is learning to read and write, so she can sit with paper and crayons for a good long while. I try to bring the mess-free markers to avoid any unfortunate furniture art that might lose us a deposit. These are also easy to pack in a carry on for airplane entertainment.
  • Lovey: This is THE. ONE. ITEM. I implore you not to forget like I have. Do not leave the blanket/stuffed animal/pacifier at home. It’s easy to forget because you obviously don’t pack it ahead of time. My children aren’t even that attached to their lovies. Until you go on a trip without them.
  • iPad: I’m sure I’ll get flack for this, but it’s such an all-inclusive item. We download movies for long-haul flights and have educational games that don’t require internet access, so there’s always something to entertain the toddler, if needed. Use headphones manufactured for children so they can’t turn up the volume to hearing-impairing levels.

Ultimately, unless you’re heading to the Amazon, you can probably grab what you need at a local store, so don’t overdo it. It’s okay if they wear their favorite pants three days in a row. Give yourself a break. And don’t forget to pack for yourself as well.