In case you’re new to my blog, I travel a lot! In just the past four months I’ve traveled with my wife and kids all around Turkey and Greece, I’ve visited South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Iceland and the Faroe Islands with my 11-year-old son, I’ve gone on animal adventures in Manitoba, Canada with my 9-year-old daughter, I’ve done a road trip to Coronado with two of the kids, I went to a high school reunion in Colorado, I flew to Beirut, Lebanon solo, and I attended travel events in Sweden and Italy.
It’s extraordinarily easy to overpack, but if we do we regret it. It’s simply more of a hassle moving around and finding what we need at each destination. Last summer I posted our typical packing list, but given that every destination is different (with activities and weather especially), I wanted to take a step back and offer overall packing guidance to make your next family trip easier.
FYI, I’ve now created a vacation packing list for adventurous destinations!
The Fewer Bags, the Better
Our rule of thumb is that we never have more bags than we have people. That way everyone is responsible for one thing, or zero things, and if we need to run off a plane because of a tight connection, or exit a train in thirty seconds during a quick station stop, we don’t leave anything behind. Typically for a multi-week family trip we’ll consolidate everything in two half-filled medium-sized rolling duffels, check them and travel light through airports with just a small carry-on or two. And we’ll have extra space in case we purchase things. If we’re traveling to a warm-weather destination and can get by with only carry-ons, or if we’re going around the world and don’t want to check anything because of the risk of a bag getting delayed and never catching up with us, we’ll take as few pieces of luggage as possible. And we always have a day pack inside our carry on, just in case we unexpectedly have to check our bags. We can quickly throw my laptop, power banks, etc… in the pack and carry it on.
Use Packing Cubes
We love packing cubes! Each parent gets to use one or two and each of the kids gets one. Not only does that limit what each person can take, it also makes it easy to distribute clothes when we get to our destination. We each take our packing cube, put it in a drawer in our room, unzip it and we’re essentially unpacked.
Choose Your Clothes Wisely
Our general guidance on clothes:
- Think through pants, shorts, shirts, dresses, etc.., take just 1-2 of each item, and make sure that everything goes together.
- Bring clothes that layer in case it’s cooler than expected.
- Opt for synthetic fabrics over cotton. They dry faster.
- Don’t bring extra clothes “just in case” there’s rain, or a cold snap, or a formal evening.
- Minimize shoes. We never take more than three pairs for any of us (usually hiking/walking shoes, flip flops and a pair that looks a little nicer), but a lot of trips we restrict ourselves to one or two pairs.
- No one cares if you wear the same thing several days. Honestly, no one will even notice.
Buy the Right Men’s Clothing
Mizzen+Main shirts have been a game-changer for me. My wife loves for me to look nice, whether at home or while traveling. And I like button-down shirts, especially worn in a casual way with the sleeves rolled up and with shorts (when appropriate in hot climates). But cotton shirts are a hassle to travel with – not only do they wrinkle, but they take longer to dry when I wash them in the sink (below), and if I’m not able to wash out small stains immediately, I can easily end a trip with a shirt that’s not really wearable again. Mizzen+Main doesn’t use cotton. Their shirts don’t wrinkle. And they quickly dry when I need to wash/rinse them during a trip. I’ve been living in their shirts the past few months and they’ve done more to simplify my packing than anything else.
In the past year we’ve had a seven hour delay on a flight to Tokyo and a five hour delay getting to Bodrum, Turkey. In both cases we were unable to leave the plane, and there was no food service. And we’ve had many travel days where lunch or dinner were far later than normal because of our activity/sightseeing schedules. If we hadn’t had snacks (typically granola bars), we would have been hungry. Always be prepared for delays.
Do Laundry in the Hotel Sink
When we’re traveling, the kids know that if a piece of clothing doesn’t look dirty, it gets reworn. Once things truly are dirty, we wash them in the hotel sink (we bring detergent packets, but the body wash or shampoo at the hotel can work too).
We’re fine with the kids using electronics during plane flights and train rides, and if there’s downtime in the middle of a hot day. But we also bring a Frisbee and a deflated soccer ball (with a small hand pump) for parks or the beach, and paper, pens and tape for crafts. Note: if you’re bringing electronics, remember headphones, charging cables, plug adaptors and power banks as well.
Opt for Medications over Toiletries
It’s not always possible to find medications for kids when you travel – things like children’s ibuprofen and stomach medicine. And it’s even harder if you’re somewhere remote. So bring those with you, along with a small thermometer. Skip excessive toiletries though. The shampoo and conditioner in your hotel may not be amazing, but they’re good enough for the trip. If you really need to bring your own conditioner, put a little in a 3oz bottle. And we always pack an antibiotic kit since we’re not always near good healthcare.
What am I missing? What are your best packing tips for family travel?
Jill Eisfelder says
I would only add that one should check each airline before flying for the dimension allowance of carryons – used to be 22 inches on most airlines and now some are at 21 inches and I have seen people have theirs taken to be put in the hold. Same with how many items which depends on class of service. Safe always I believe with a 21 by 9 inch and a large over the shoulder bag. ANd,I always carry in my purse one of those nylon bags that folds up to nothing but opens to about 20 by 15 by 6 just in case and also helpful when buying items.Just whip out the bag and open. Never go anywhere without at least 1. And yes, snacks, but check the sugar content on the bars – some are 5 grams and some are 15 grams. Ugh. Friends have told me I should do what you do but I work mostly full time and don’t really have the interest except for my daily diaries. IF you ever decide to go to Israel and Jordan (we just came back) I can give you some great suggestions. Take care and thank you. And our travel companion who is in the men’s fashion business wears those shirts when we travel!
Eric Stoen says
Great thoughts Jill. I honestly have never measured our standard Patagonia Black Hole carry-ons. They’ve always been allowed on, so I haven’t thought about it. And yes – my wife always has the nylon bags with her – a result of living in California where grocery stores no longer give you sacks to use.
I’ve been to Israel and Jordan but haven’t taken the kids yet. Hopefully soon!
And great to know about Mizzen+Main!