Travel Tips

15 Packing Tips For Your Next Family Vacation

I don’t know about you, but I love to daydream about packing, but can feel overwhelmed by the thousands of packing tips out there, so I’ve put together a list of some of my favorites. From the tiny toiletries to the capsule wardrobe to the snacks – I love it all! As we prepare to transition from road tripping around the US and Mexico, where we’ve had space in our van to bring more than just the bare essentials, to flying to Europe with just a carry on and backpack each, I’m thinking through packing strategies and what I can live without. And of course, searching the web for the latest and greatest tips and tricks. 

Family Travel Packing Tips

Without further ado, I’ve compiled a list of packing tips for you (and for me!) to implement for your next trip.

1. Select the right type of luggage

When deciding what type of luggage is right for you, start by considering what you need from your luggage. Will you be checking your bags, or using carry on only? Is this a short getaway or a longer trip? Will you be maneuvering mostly flat, even terrain, or will you need a bag that can convert from a spinner to a duffel or backpack with ease to climb stairs or navigate cobblestone streets? Once you decide on the type of luggage, remember to check the size and weight guidelines for your airline, if flying, to avoid any surprises or unplanned fees on your travel day. Then start shopping! I like Amazon or Google for this, so you can compare prices and read reviews. You want to invest in luggage that will hold up well as you make all of your travel dreams come true!

2. Consider your destination and itinerary

It’s a good idea to do a bit of research when planning what to pack. Check the weather for your destination and think about the activities you’ll be doing so you can pack the appropriate wardrobe and gear. If your itinerary includes water, you might want to grab a couple of waterproof bags for wet swimwear. You may want a small, battery-powered fan for warm climates or a small umbrella for rain or sun protection. For our trip to Costa Rica, bug spray was a must. You can’t pack for every possible scenario, but if you can be prepared for what you’re likely to experience, it can make your trip less stressful and more enjoyable.

3. Create a capsule wardrobe

I love the concept of a capsule wardrobe and have used it for a few years now to keep my closet minimal and functional, so it’s no surprise that this is my favorite part of packing for a trip. A capsule wardrobe is a collection of clothing pieces that can be mixed & matched or worn several ways to help you get the most out of a minimum number of items. For example, a simple slip dress can be worn alone, or you can layer with a t-shirt or cardigan and a pair of sneakers for a casual look, then dress it up with a jacket and heels for dinner out. Choose a color palette and stay within it to easily mix and match. Lay it all out so you can visualize what you have and how you can wear each piece. This will help you eliminate pieces that don’t pull their weight and identify any gaps you may need to fill. I can’t wait to get home to Phoenix and hit the local thrift stores for a few items I need for our upcoming trip to Europe, though I suspect I’ll still have to resist the urge to overpack. Don’t forget about shoes! For summer, I love a comfy pair of classic, white sneakers for long days of sightseeing and a dressier pair of sandals for evenings out. You can use the same technique for your kids, too. Lest you think I pack for all 5 of my kids, let me assure you, I do not. But I give them some guidelines, like our color palette and how many pairs of shorts and t-shirts to pack, and have them lay it all out. Then we go through it together to determine if the items they’ve chosen can be worn in multiple outfits, make sure it all fits and to see if we need to purchase anything else before the trip.

4. Use packing cubes

A packing tips list would be incomplete without the mention of these magical packing cubes. I got this set for Christmas (thanks, Dad!) and it’s been a huge help. For our road trip to Mexico, we spent one night at an Airbnb along our travel route, so I used a small packing cube as an overnight bag. It easily held pajamas, a change of clothes and a few toiletry items. I organized the remaining packing cubes by category: jeans and dresses, pajamas and workout clothes, shorts, t-shirts and sweaters, and socks, undergarments and swimsuits. But you could easily organize by outfit if you prefer, or if traveling with kids, pack all of the swimsuits together in one cube, for example. No matter how you choose to use them, packing cubes will save space and help you stay organized before and during your trip.

5. Roll, don’t fold

Rolling your clothes takes less space than folding, even in packing cubes. Plus, it helps prevent wrinkles. I like to fold my clothes in thirds and then roll them up, which makes it really easy to unpack when we arrive at our destination. Just unroll and keep in thirds to fold and put away, or undo completely to hang in the closet. If you want to make the most out of your space, then this may be the mother of all our packing tips.

Here’s a quick video with a demonstration

6. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane

Pic of Josiah with a lot of clothes on

We all want to travel in comfort, and when flying, that means layers. You’re likely to bring a sweatshirt, cardigan or jacket on your trip, and these take up precious real estate in your bag, so rock them on the flight! Now, keep in mind your destination. It may be snowing when you leave Colorado, but hot & humid when you arrive in Florida. If that’s the case, leave enough room in your purse or backpack to stow your jacket at your destination, or be prepared to carry it.

7. Use the pillowcase hack

This genius idea may be the biggest hack on our packing tips list. Take a zippered pillowcase and stuff it (or pack it gently) with your bulkier clothing items, zip it up and fit it inside a regular pillow case. Most airlines don’t consider a pillow a carry-on, so you can bring more, plus you’ll have a pillow to use on the flight!

8. Plan to do laundry on your trip

If you’re traveling for more than a week or utilizing a capsule wardrobe, you’ll need to do laundry. With our large family, we normally stay in vacation rentals with a washing machine, but many hotels offer laundry services. If not, scope out laundromats beforehand so you’re prepared. You may want to bring a few laundry detergent sheets and a portable drying line, in case you need to do some laundry in the sink in a pinch. I also recommend bringing a travel sized stain remover pen or spray to help keep your clothes looking their best.

9. Simplify your beauty routine

We often think that we need it to take it all when we’re on vacation, but I promise, you can get by with just the essentials. In preparation for long-term travel, one of the first things I did was simplify my makeup routine. I paired my makeup bag down to 7 items and can apply my everyday look in just 7 minutes. I’m pretty proud of myself! Now, I’ve always preferred a minimal, natural look when it comes to makeup, so I really focused on products that do double duty and/or take less space. For example, I use a tinted sunscreen for my face rather than foundation. I also chose eye brightener sticks in two different colors that are applied directly to the eyelid and blended with a finger – no brush required. In addition to those, I have brow gel, a blush stick with built-in brush, an eyelash curler, mascara, and eyeliner (the only product I don’t use every day). The key when it comes to beauty is to be really honest with yourself. I brought my curling iron to Mexico, but I’ve only used it twice in a month. Was it really worth the space it takes up in my bag? Probably not.

10. Make a list

My husband is a serial list maker – I am not. As a result, I almost always forget something. Don’t be like me. These days, it’s really easy to find packing lists specific to your destination, season, etc. They also usually include other packing essentials, like important documents you’ll need when traveling abroad. You can print the list and check off items as you pack them, or even copy & paste as a checklist in your notes app. Using a list really is the best way to ensure you don’t leave anything important behind.

11. Maximize your personal item

Most airlines allow you to bring a carry on AND a personal item on your flight for free, so you’ll definitely want to use that personal item to your advantage! Instead of bringing a purse or briefcase, why not bring a backpack or tote bag? There are so many options to choose from, but to maximize its packing power, opt for a bag that has a padded pocket for your laptop and lots of internal sections to keep you organized. You’ll want space for your sleep mask, headphones, book or e-reader, charging cables, sanitizing wipes, reusable water bottle, snacks, medication and anything else you might need within easy reach for a comfortable flight.

12. Never check essential items

Whether you’re checking a bag or going carry on only, pack essential items like prescription medication in your “personal item”. There have been many times we’ve gone the carry on route only to have the airline insist we check our bags at the gate. And on the off-chance that your checked bag gets lost or misrouted, you don’t want to be without the medication you need. Avoid the potential hassle of having to replace it by keeping it on you. It’s also wise to have a photo of the medication label and bring a prescription from your doctor with you, just in case.

13. Pack a flat backpack or crossbody bag for day use

When you’re out for a full day of sightseeing, you don’t want to be lugging a heavy bag around with you. We recommend packing a lightweight backpack, crossbody bag or fanny pack for everyday use. Pickpocketing can be a problem anywhere, so while you should always leave any non-essential valuables at home, you might consider an anti-theft bag to keep your cash, cards and phone safe while you’re out and about.

14. Bring a voltage adapter

When traveling abroad, make sure to bring a voltage adapter. Whether you’ll be using a hairdryer or charging your devices, it’s safe to say you’ll have to plug something in. An adapter like this works on most outlets in foreign countries, giving you many options in just one device.

15. Leave room for souvenirs

This one is so hard for me! Not because I don’t like souvenirs, but because I tend to fill every available inch in my bag. Ugh. Give some thought beforehand to what you might want to bring back from your travels. Do you collect coffee mugs? Keychains? T-shirts? Leave space for that. Since we’re doing lots of travel these days, we’ve decided to collect magnets from each place we visit. But I also want to fill our home with decorative items that are authentic to the places we travel. And pictures, of course. So I guess I’ll either need to keep it small or be prepared to ship things back home.

Bonus Tip: Check TSA Website

Wondering if your son can bring his Xbox with him? Can you bring your root touch-up spray? Exactly how much wine you can bring home from Italy? Check out the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” page for the latest on what’s allowed in checked and carry on bags. Better safe than sorry!

Well, there you have it – my favorite packing tips to implement on your next adventure. What would you add to the list?

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