Packing for Kids - all the tips and tricks
We are about to embark on our most ambitious trip with our kids yet and I have just discovered that packing this time around has been hard work…..so I decided that I want to make it much easier for you all with this article on how to pack for your family holiday as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Even though my two kids are now relatively independent and don’t require half the gear that they needed as babies we are about to take off for six weeks backpacking through Europe using solely public transport.
We will be navigating two kids safely and happily (always the optimist!) through 6 flights, 4 ferries, 6 bus trips and several long-haul train rides. Adding to this complexity is that our trip requires clothing to suit the heat and humidity in Asia, city explorations in Europe, beach days through Croatia and Alpine adventures in Switzerland. This means we need to pack everything from bikinis and sunscreen to thermals and winter coats.
Like most mums I am up for a challenge and am keen to prove that I have the packing creds to make this happen. I have set myself the task of attempting to pack everything for myself and the two girls into one 70L backpack.
Hmmm am I completely kidding myself?
Here are my steps for seamless and fast packing:
Start with a packing list
Check out my packing for family travel list here which can be adapted to the age of your children – find a list that works for you and then use repeatedly when you travel. There is no point starting from scratch each time and you can modify the list as your children get older by scratching off what you no longer need.
Assess your travel plans to write the number of items you realistically need for your trip
You should take into account:
How many days you are travelling
Are their variations in the climate/weather so that you might only wear some items once or twice, or every day of your trip
Do you have access to a washing machine - and do you want to be bothered washing clothes? For short trips, I despise spending time on anything domestic so I am happy to take a couple of extra items of clothing.
Assess your list for culls
Cross off anything that is a ‘nice to have’ – unfortunately most of these little luxuries are just not going to fit
Consider which items or clothing could be scrapped by substituting something else on your pack list. I always travel with a Turkish towel which is lightweight and can be rolled up into a small bundle but it has multiple uses while travelling – towel, blanket for budget airlines, picnic rug, rolled up as a pillow.
What can be purchased at your destination? I still have to travel with nappies for sleeps for my youngest child but nappies are a huge drain on suitcase space. I always only travel with enough for the first week and then buy them as we go along. Toiletries are the same. Buy the small travel items as there isn’t much point getting home with half a bottle of your jumbo shampoo.
Kids entertainment. This is a big one for families and something that I am sure will raise different opinions. For us, I carry the absolute bare minimum as most of what I have packed or travelled with in the past is not used so we cart it around like loaded mules in Santorini with no real purpose to it.
Kids will generally find entertainment in unassuming things when you travel and this includes long haul flights. I can recall flights where supposed entertaining ‘things’ have been strewn underneath seats and in backs of chairs whilst all the kids wanted to do was play with the plastic cups.
Often the slowest part of packing is actually grabbing the items out of the cupboards. Best advice ever is to not overthink the process and just get it done.
If you have followed steps 1-3 above then you should have a very clear idea of how many and what items you need to find. My method is to go room by room getting everything required for each person and then piling everything for each person onto the bed completely unsorted at this stage.
A little hint before you start – be completely up to date with the washing. Packing becomes very complicated if you are waiting for items to be dry as you then end up with secondary lists of things that need to be added later.
Firstly, remove the outfit for each person that they will be wearing on the plane or travel day (see you have already saved space in your bag!) – don’t forget the shoes.
Remove 2 sets of clothing per person for the first destination or stop and place these into your carry-on bag (I recommend a designated roller case for carry on). From personal experience airlines regularly lose bags and it’s a killer arriving somewhere without bags, tired and not being able to at least put some fresh underwear on after a shower
If travelling with kids I also put items that you definitely need to use in the first 24-48 hours as well into the carry-on. For me this usually includes nappies, snacks, swimmers, hats, change of shoes if arriving in a totally different climate etc.
A bonus tip – if your first destination is a short stopover for a day or two then try packing everything into your carry-on trolley bag and keep the large suitcase zipped up saving you time unpacking and packing until you reach your end point.
Identify what needs to be in your small carry on and pop it into the relevant bag. This is usually your personal things like passports, wallet, phone, medications, camera, travel documents. For parents, it also includes the essentials such as nappies, formula, wet wipes, disposable bibs, snacks etc.
Space saving packing
Now that you have fundamentally located all of your items and removed everything that will be taken as carry on all that is left to do is pack the checked suitcase/bag. For all the best quality travel accessories that made packing for my trip possible visit Kathmandu.
Previously, I was an old-school packer utilising my backpacker skills of rolling and squishing. I was a huge sceptic of all the packing cells and products that had come onto the market and thought it was just another way for marketers and stores to get more of your hard-earned cash from you.
I have to admit though that I did give them a try and am now a complete convert. If I was travelling solo then I doubt I would be using them but with kids and packing for multiple people it is such a massive time saver.
The most troublesome and annoying part of packing for kids is that I always have three people’s clothing in the one bag. As my girls are quite close in age and size this meant one gigantic, jumbled mess that required I pull out everything to find the one thing I was looking for.
Using the large packing cells from Kathmandu which are two sided and spacy enough to fit the clothing for each person I can now leave everything packed at each stop knowing exactly where to find what I am looking for. For this upcoming trip, I have loaded all of the summer clothes and underwear into one side of a packing cell and then all the winter clothing into the other side.
For larger items, it is helpful to use the Kathmandu compression bags to reduce the bulkiness. We won’t be requiring our winter coats and beanies until the last couple of weeks of our trip so have compressed them into a bag and packed them in the base of the pack where they can stay until then.
Roll, Roll, Roll - still the most space efficient way to pack even when using the cells.
So now you should be packed and ready to go with the minimal of fuss.
Don’t forget to make a note as you pack of any items that can only be packed just prior to leaving the house. This will give you peace of mind that you won’t forget anything in the heat of the moment.
We all know the scene, the taxi is running late, your friend hasn’t picked up the dog who is running through the house thinking she is coming on holidays too and the kids still haven’t been to the toilet yet. Don’t worry they will be ready for the toilet precisely as you step foot into the airport terminal juggling your pyramid of suitcases!
I hear you asking whether I managed to get everything into my 70L back pack for five countries in five weeks with two kids? Well currently after much oomphing and grunting, and sitting on top of things trying to configure a miraculous way of fitting everything in I have just rolled out a spare carry on trolley bag.
But I am determined, maybe I will try one last cull before conceding defeat….if only I wasn’t so damn stubborn.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small payment at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running this site. I only ever link to brands and products I use and like. Thanks for your support!