As our little family grows and matures, we have come to realize that travel is such an important component in teaching our kids to become citizens of the world. Travel opens their eyes to new cultures, new experiences, and new ways of living. One of the challenges we’ve found in family travel, however, is how to minimize the amount of stuff we take along with us, and prevent our vacation packing list from getting too long.
This post was updated on March 24, 2020.
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Putting together a vacation packing list
When we first started traveling with our kids, we made the typical new parent mistake of over-packing. Our vacation packing list back then was filled with items we didn’t really need.
On a road trip across the United States with our then three month old daughter, we stuffed our car with her bed, play mat, extra diapers, extra toys, and blankets. We definitely had yet to perfect the art of packing minimally.
Over the years, we’ve learned through our travels that most of the things that we think we need can actually be bought on the road. This is usually the case whether the items are diapers, a new article of clothing, or extra wet wipes. These days, we are much wiser in our packing, and have whittled down our vacation packing list to only a few essential travel items.
Below are our six vacation packing list items for family travel.
Essential #1: A few books or toys
We like to let our kids pick a toy or a book to bring along on our family trips. These types of vacation packing list items can be a stuffed animal that they can sleep with, some legos to play with, or a few small books to read while on the road. If your kids are older, they may enjoy taking along some travel card games to occupy their time.
Having something familiar on the road helps our kids cope with being in a new environment. And it gives them something to play with during layovers or down time. Try to pick toys and books that are small and lightweight, and make sure it’s something that you’re okay with potentially losing.
Essential #2: Comfortable shoes
It’s easy for us to remember to pack comfortable shoes for ourselves, but sometimes we forget to do the same for our kids. When traveling, we tend to do a lot of walking, and for kids who are wearing cute but non-functional shoes, that can mean a lot of little blisters on their feet.
Comfortable shoes are important packing essentials for little kids. Remember to pack shoes that they can walk around in, like sneakers or open-toe shoes that have a lot of support. We like getting Keens for our kids, as they provide a lot of support while still being durable.
Essential #3: Sippy cups and snack containers
Although you can probably buy sippy cups and snack containers on the road, it’s helpful to have one or two of these on hand while you’re traveling. My toddler son still has trouble drinking from a restaurant cup, and drinking a juicebox without squirting its contents all over himself is still something he has yet to master.
If your kid is like my son, using a sippy cup can help a lot. Just remember to wash and dry it out at the end of the day. Similarly, having snack containers on hand makes it easier for the kids to share snacks without having them fighting over who gets to hold the bag.
Essential #4: Crayons and a journal
As someone who loves to journal, I like the idea of passing on this habit to my young ones. Whenever we go on a trip, we like to bring along notebooks for our kids to doodle and sketch in. These items are always part of our vacation packing list.
When picking a journal for your kid, try choosing journals with paper covers or pocket-sized journals, as they are easier to pack than their hard-backed counterparts. Also, rather than bringing the whole crayon box, select a few crayons to carry in a snack size ziplock bag.
Essential #5: Headphones
I actually don’t mind giving my kids an iPad during travel. I think it helps to pass the time and gives you, as a parent, some needed rest time. One of the items we like to bring along, though, is a pair of kid headphones.
There are plenty of kids headphones on the market, but the one we like the best are the headphones with an audio sharing port. This allows our kids to plug into each other’s headphones and share an iPad if they need to. Plus, they are comfortable for our kids and fit their heads perfectly. During plane rides, they can use these headphones for the iPad, or for using the inflight entertainment system.
Essential #6: Lightweight stroller or baby carrier
For us, travel usually involves a lot of walking. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, bringing along a stroller or a baby carrier can be a tremendous help, and is one of the most useful items on my vacation packing list.
The key, however, is to choose something that is lightweight and easy to pack, since you’re going to have to carry it with you throughout your trip. Umbrella strollers are an excellent choice, as are baby carriers such as Baby Bjorn or Ergo Baby. I buy my umbrella strollers at Target or Walmart, which sells them for under $20. Alternatively, hiking carriers like Kelty are great for toddlers that are a little bigger, but may get tired for longer walking distances.
Think about the type of travel you’ll be doing (outdoors versus city) to help you decide whether to bring a stroller, a baby carrier, or both.
Minimizing your vacation packing list
As is the case in all types of travel, packing minimally helps relieve some of the stress that comes with travel. Having fewer items on your vacation packing list means having fewer things to keep track of.
When you’re traveling with kids or infants, packing minimally can make a tremendous difference in lightening your travel load. With these six essential items for family vacation packing list, your next family trip can be a breeze.
What are some of the vacation packing list items that you and your family have? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
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