family, parenting, Travel

Packing For Kids: the basics


How do you pack for travel companions that change clothes multiple times a day, drop dinner in their lap like it’s hot and have sensory concerns?  I know a lot of people think, “Just don’t travel.”  Let me be blunt – that’s ridiculous.  Life is all about adapting and overcoming and we can certainly figure out how to do both when it comes to packing for kids!  Besides, I’d rather risk forgetting a few things than regretting I skipped a trip.  With these tips and a little organization you will be able to feel confident and prepared AND enjoy your journeys.

Chillin’ in a rental car waiting room in Chicago with their bags like old pros.

The first rule to packing for kids is PACK EARLY AND OFTEN.  I know, that’s a voting joke in the US but it applies so perfectly to packing for kids AND adults that I am using it here.  Weeks before a trip (if we have advance knowledge) I start making lists and figuring out what to set aside to bring along for the kids.  As they get older they are growing more involved in this process.  Getting involved helps them develop skills in preparedness and not procrastinating (like their momma does with some more important, less fun things).   Together we consider climate, activities we will be doing, whether we are restricted to carry ons for flying or just loading up the trunk for a road trip…you get the picture.  It also helps prevent doing it all at the last minute turning the night before a trip into an all-night laundry fest!

Don’t just do prep work for your kids or you may end up in random $12 jeans like the ones I purchased in Asheville, North Carolina because I threw my own things together and forgot my pants (!!!) after packing for my girls.

This leads me to my second and equally important tip which is FIGURE OUT THE LAUNDRY SITUATION.  Will you be in a hotel with laundry facilities or a service?  Will you be staying with family who will let you run a load during your visit?  Will you be staying at an Airbnb that has a washer and dryer?  If the answer to all of these is no you can still pull off some sink washing with the help of this magical set that turns any sink into a washing machine.  Or close enough.  Most undies will dry overnight and other items can be hung to dry on basic hangers in the shower.  It’s doable and could save you from overpacking which is always a win.

B helping me fold laundry that dried outside in Sevilla. It’s always nice to have a helping hand and kids take pride in pitching in…and think twice before throwing a barely worn shirt in the wash pile when they play a part in the process.

Next I’d like to cover some of our favorite clothes for travel and if you slowly work them into your kiddos’ closets you will be able to pack light and cover all your bases when it comes to layering, keeping kids warm in cooler climates and having versatile options for multiple situations.

I am obsessed with Land’s End for kids.  (I love their stuff for me too but this article is about the kids and you KNOW it’s easy for me to get distracted so let’s focus!)  They offer items that are packable, wrinkle resistant and comfortable which is imperative for my oldest who is function over form all the time.  My favorite purchases from them in the past few years have included a packable jacket that is lightweight but surprisingly warm, vests and their line of Thermaskin shirts.   All the items are easy to wash, comfortable and work in many situations.  I am not working for Land’s End but genuinely love these products for making my life easier and keeping my girls warm and comfy.

A vest is a great way to keep little cores warm without restricting movement in a bulky coat. Takes up less room in luggage too.

Do your kids wear Toms?  My girls love them and I love their lightweight, flat awesomeness in a backpack!  The color and print options are adorable and the prices aren’t bad, especially on sale.  I think they work with jeans, shorts and dresses making them a great option if you are trying to minimize bulk when packing.  They are machine washable which is a game changer when you have a kid who has stinky feet like one of my dainty princesses.  Bless.

T in her Toms on Oahu.

Aside from Toms and a pair of easily packed sandals (even in cold climates we alway bring at least one pair of flip flops) I typically have my girls travel on planes in their athletic shoes because it’s a safe and comfortable option that means their bulkiest shoes are on their bodies and not in my bags.  Win, win!

We try to pick and choose what we pack based on where we are going but something we don’t leave home without is a bathing suit for each person.   In our earlier travel days I was caught off guard by awesome pools and was instantly very unpopular with my brood for having forgotten their suits.  Sometimes plans unexpectedly change and much like the time we ended up at a beachfront hotel in Cadìz I am grateful we are prepared.

Always bring a bathing suit because you never know when you might find a great bucket in which to shove your bum!
Unexpected time in Cadiz meant 2 fun days on the beach! So glad we had our suits.

I mentioned the time I forgot my own pants but haven’t covered what bottoms I bring for the girls in much detail.  No matter how long we will be gone we seem to find great success in packing a pair of jeans, a pair of leggings, and a dress or skirt (along with multiple tops to mix and match).  The jeans are good for all sorts of situations in cities and in nature and protect the girls’ legs on cooler hikes.  Leggings are extremely versatile for girls to wear under dresses and skirts or with longer sweaters or tunics.  They pack well, taking up very little room and weigh next to nothing.  They also dry overnight when washed in the sink.  Hooray!   For boys, I think warmup pants are great, lightweight and easy to wash and hang dry but may not be as useful in nicer settings as leggings under a dress etc.  Definitely something to think about when planning.

Leggings are a versatile and space saving item to pack for little girls. Here T found them comfy while we picked lemons in Morón.  Her boots are from Toms.

Now you have everything picked out but how do you bring it with you?  Call me crazy, but I love fitting everything into one bag or suitcase.  The perfect way to do this is with travel cubes.  I’m a huge fan.  My husband is not which is ok by me because it means I can have them all in fun colors like pink and purple and there are more to split between myself and the girls.  We do actually have pink and purple cubes which is perfect for dividing up the girls’ items by color.  Thank goodness they don’t share a favorite hue.  I typically pack each of their undies, socks and night clothes in a long slim cube and then the bulk of their clothing in another, larger cube.  When we check into hotels it comforts me to unpack by simply placing the cubes in drawers leaving everything organized, clean and tidy.  Considering it takes me exactly zero seconds to make a mess this is a massive plus.  So far my favorite cubes are from eBags and come in a variety of sizes and colors.  Trust me, if you struggle to get organized, this could really help.  If you don’t want spend the money on cubes my friend Saddie loves the Ziploc gallon bag method and she’s an avid traveler.  There are multiple ways to do most things and packing is no different.

Once you have their clothes set aside it’s time to start considering how to keep them busy during downtimes.  The obvious answer is technology but obvious can be so boring and under stimulating to their wee brains.  I would love to cover this in more detail in another post but more than anything want to convey how much more you can do with less and how good that is for kids.  When we went to Spain for 3 months they used paper to build houses, create families and furniture to put in the houses and drew beautiful landscapes to fill the down times.  I often put together activity binders for them to bring along so we can cover school subjects while traveling and reinforce geography and history they are learning about along the way.  This is easy to do and I promise to give more step-by-step info in a future post!  Keep in mind that they are creative and imaginative beings who crave the opportunity to express themselves.  Traveling can be a great time for developing those skills into strengths they can use later in life.  But I digress…my point is you don’t need a lot of space to bring the things they need to stay busy and entertained.  I promise.

A travel journal full of maps, coloring sheets and information from a road trip we took through the mid-west USA.

As you put these tips to work and consider what I’ve shared please fill me in on what you think is missing and what else you’d like me to cover.  This is just a starting point!  I want to be comprehensive but concise.  Please comment and let me know if this helps you feel more confident preparing for your next adventure with kids.  Thanks for making it this far and best of luck to you as you pack!

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