- A jacket
- Five shirts and trousers / dresses and tights
- Five underwear or fifteen diapers
- Four socks
- Two sweaters
- A jacket
- Two trousers
- A pair of shorts
- A shirt
- Three tee shirts
- Four underwear
- Three pairs of socks
- A jacket
- One pair trousers
- One pair tights or leggings
- One pair shorts
- A sweater or hoodie
- One dress
- A shirt
- A tee shirt
- Four underwear
- Two bras
- Four socks
The big three
- Car seat / booster
- Pram / stroller / carrier
- Baby bed
- A small new toy, like a puzzle or a doll
- A favorite small toy or stuffed animal
- Three small books, preferably new
- Coloring book
- Wet wipes
- Kid toothpaste
- Adult toothpaste
- Kid soap
- Band aids
- Chewable pain reliever
- Sun cream
- Bug repellent
- Hair bands
- Glasses or contacts
- Feminine hygiene products
- Prescription medication or other medical needs
- Sippy cup
- Phone cables
- Earphones or headphones
- Wallets and cash
- Portable battery
- A backpack for each person
- Five packing cubes
- Two packable day bags
I reviewed eight family packing lists on the internet to try to identify the core items that a parent should pack. The packing lists were from Mum on the Move, Family Vacation Critic, The Telegraph, Backpacking Light, Swiss Family Fun, Allianz Travel Insurance, Trips with Tykes, Parents.com. I also reviewed three of my own lists from past trips.
The packing lists I found on the internet were all good and comprehensive. The list above is supposed to be the minimum that you can reasonably pack while traveling with kids. As you can see, it’s still quite a lot of stuff. I have a few thoughts here about further reducing but it’s difficult to travel light with kids.
Your biggest items to deal with are the stroller, car seat, and baby bed. Airlines tend to have fairly child-friendly policies towards these items but they will still be a pain and inconvenience to lug around.
Stroller. For the stroller, you can live without it if you bring a baby carrier and have fairly unambitious plans. For our baby carrier, we use a Didymos sling (disclosure: This is an Amazon Associate link, so I will receive a commission if you click through the link and buy this sling).
I recommend a sling – a length of fabric which you use to tie your baby onto your chest – as the simplest and most ancient way to schlep an infant around. It took a few tries to master it but soon became part of our routine. Your baby can sleep comfortably when you’re walking. Even awake, our kids were content for hours in the sling. They are safe and you are fostering closeness and trust. Tied correctly, the sling should be good for their physical development. Best of all for our purposes, the sling packs up to the size of a sweater and can double as a blanket.
The sling won’t work so well if you’re doing a ton of walking, if you’re stopping and sitting too much or if your kids are past a certain age, maybe two or three.
Baby bed. We generally live without a baby bed and will instead make do with whatever is available – a cot provided by the hotel, a side bed, co-sleeping, etc. We’ll only bring a bed if we’re driving anyways and even then it often goes unused. When we’re traveling, the kids are usually really exhausted at the end of any day and getting them to sleep isn’t our biggest problem.
Car seat. It’s really hard to leave the car seats behind however. The only solutions seem to be (1) rent the car seat from the car rental agency or (2) take public transport and walk everywhere. Renting from the agency is usually really expensive and sometimes results in the wrong size car seat or a disfavored brand.
Just taking public transport everywhere is great if you can do it. Again, the secret is unambitious plans. For instance, you can only go where short bus and train rides will get you, you stay close to the hotel or Airbnb, and you get back at a reasonable time every evening. You shouldn’t even take taxi rides without a car seat, although we’ve occasionally broken this rule of desperation.
An alternative to bringing the big three with you is to buy these things secondhand at your destination and then donate them at the end of your trip. It takes an afternoon on either side of your trip, so it’s not ideal. We’re starting to see rental services for the big three as well. They’re still expensive but must surely get more efficient and cheaper every year.
Toys and books
I have found that we don’t need that many toys when traveling. Your kids will pick up toys or random objects at all stages regardless. Besides everything on the road is more interesting than their old toys anyways, so most toys just stay in the bag round trip.
Nevertheless, I try to have them choose a favorite toy to bring with them, partly to have something familiar on the road and partly to involve them in the packing process. It’s difficult to direct them towards something small. It’s also difficult to enforce a limit of just one or two things. But it’s worth doing because it can give them some kind of control over the trip: where is teddy going to sleep in the hotel room, where will he sit on the airplane, what did he like best about the zoo, etc.
I’d also recommend buying a new small toy to bring out at a critical moment, like a five hour queue at customs. Silly putty was once quite successful, for instance. We’ll also buy a few new small paperback books or magazines to be introduced over the course of the trip.
Finally, we always bring crayons or colored pencils with a notepad, and that’s one item all the packing lists seem to agree on.
Beyond that, you shouldn’t need too many toys because the kids will be so busy in their new environment: pouring shampoo onto the floor, jumping over the railings at the museum, etc.
The exception is if you have a long flight to get where you’re going. In that case, you need a few more toys and a few snacks. We pack these flight toys and snacks in two separate packing cubes. The first cube we bring out about an hour into the flight when the boredom sets in. About halfway through the flight, we pack all that stuff up and take a half-hour break. Then we bring out the second cube which has more toys and even junkier snacks. Having two parcels helps to structure the flight and evens out the pacing.
The clothes in the child’s list above represents one outfit for every day of the trip, one spare outfit, and pajamas. We’ve never really gotten away with anything less. It’s hard to re-use the kids’ clothes on the road because everything is thoroughly dirty at the end of the day. And we don’t typically have time to wash things in the hotel sink.
The spare outfit is usually something comfy and informal and can double as pajamas if the pajamas get soiled.