How to Pack for a Family Vacation

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Oh goody!  Today I get to talk about my very favorite thing – how to pack for a family trip.  Is it too crazy that I just LOVE packing for a trip?  It’s one of my favorite things.  It’s the one time I can really dig into my hyper-organized side.  I’m not terribly organized in the rest of my life (except my PURSE!) but my suitcase is pure bliss.  I know exactly what I’ve got and where to find it at any given moment.
And don’t get me started on hotel rooms.  I LOVE hotel rooms, especially if I’m doing a solo trip!  I mean, my family is great, but I’m the only female, so the chance to have a space of my very own that isn’t cluttered up with dirty socks, mail, shoes, and dishes, etc. is pure bliss.  I can read a book in peace, have sole possession of the remote control, go to bed and get up exactly when I want to.  It’s HEAVEN – but don’t tell my family.  It’s my little secret!   That’s weird, isn’t it???
But I can’t stand to be without something I might need, so I really put a lot of thought and effort into it when I pack for a trip.  These are my very best tips on how to pack for a trip.  Hopefully, they’ll help you too.


To me, how to pack for a trip is at least 90% mental, so I choose my packing time very carefully.  I prefer to do it when I’m alone in the house and won’t be rushed or interrupted.  Interruptions usually come fast and furious when my sons and husband are home, so this is absolutely necessary for my sanity.   Find that little slice of time in your life when you can completely focus.

How to Pack for a Family Trip



Every single family vacation is completely unique.  Different destinations, different modes of travel, different activities, different weather, different family members.  So you’ve got to plan around all those variables.  And especially if you are flying, you’ve got to think about what you’re wearing on the plane.  I always plan my heavier shoes and jackets for the plane to save room in my suitcase, but you’ve also got to pick ones that are easy to slip on and off.

The weather can be tricky.  I’m actually headed to Alaska in a few weeks and I’m anxious about how to pack for a colder climate without gobbling up all the room in my suitcase.  That’s where those squishy bags come in handy where you can roll them up and squeeze all the air out of them.  We love those things.  They take up so much less space and the clothes don’t wrinkle at all.


Once I’ve gotten some of these basic parameters figured out, I can start putting my outfits together.  It’s important to plan by outfits rather than just random clothes.  You don’t want to end up with a too-long pair of pants with a short-heeled shoe, or a skirt without the matching top.  It helps if you can pick complimentary colors so you can mix and match outfits to save space.

I usually lay my outfits on the bed so I can swap out items easily and plan the order I will want to wear them based on what we’ve planned for each day.  Then I stack them in my suitcase in more or less the same order.  Don’t forget to add in a few scarves, necklaces and accessories to perk up your outfits, especially if you’re doing the mix and match thing.

I say stack, but really after doing some Internet research, I’ve started “ranger rolling” my clothes – click link for how-to video.  They don’t wrinkle as much and it takes up a lot less room.


A word about packing with kids.  I usually teach my kids to pack for themselves (with my supervision) starting at about age 6.  I start them with their basic outfits, plus three basic requirements:

  • Something to sleep in
  • Something to swim in
  • Some kind of a jacket

Doesn’t matter if it is hottest summer, or coldest winter, these items are non-negotiable.  You never know when the weather is going to turn chilly, and you never know when you might get a chance to swim or go in a hot tub and a swimsuit takes up very little room.  Then throw in some basic toiletries – a comb, a toothbrush, and a bottle of shampoo is all boys need and in a pinch, you can usually skip the shampoo.  No clue what you need for little girls….


This is my best technique for kids to get their outfits together.  What’s a clothes kid you ask? A clothes kid is an outfit they lay out on the floor in the shape of a kid.  It includes shoes & socks, underwear, and everything else needed to make a complete outfit.  It makes it so much easier for them to visualize if they can see the whole thing top to bottom.

So if we are going on a five day trip, I just tell my son to make five clothes kids.  Once he has them all laid out on the floor, I go through and inspect them for cleanliness, holes, weather-appropriateness, and general desirability.  I generally have to change out a few items, but it’s a good start.  And it’s a great technique to teach kids how to pack their own suitcases and they LOVE it!  Makes them feel so independent.

Then we take a rubber band, roll up each outfit with the socks & underwear in the middle, and pop it into the suitcase.  Then each morning, they just take the entire rubberbanded outfit into the bathroom and get dressed – voila!  Easy peesy.  You can even tell what is clean because anything that is not in a rubber band has obviously been worn.  It’s makes things SO easy!


One of the big things pulling together your toiletries.  I try to keep this as simple as possible.  I have a toiletries bag that I keep in my suitcase with all my basic items that I use on every trip – travel sizes of shampoo, face wash, or special soaps I like, an extra comb, toothbrush, & hairspray.  I also keep a few other things handy, rain ponchos, bug spray, sunblock and a small baggie of basic over-the-counter meds for tummy troubles, sinus problems, or sleep issues.

So basically, all I need to add are my current prescription meds (in a handy pill organizer to save space), my jewelry, and a few other odds & ends.  Toiletries done!


The last thing to get are all the darn chargers and gadgets.  Since we can’t go anywhere without two or three cell phones, cameras, iPods, my Kindle, DS2’s, and everything else under the sun, I make sure everything is charged up the night before and the necessary cords and chargers are all neatly packed in a ziplock bag.  Having this stuff all organized was a lifesaver on one of my trips.  I’d set the alarm wrong, but fortunately, I had every single thing pre-packed and sitting by the door, including all of the electronics, so I was able to grab and GO.


Couple of other rules I have – everything must be containerized.  Each person has a backpack for any books, electronics, chargers, loose accessories, stuffed animals, and snack items.  Anything not in immediate use needs to remain in the backpack.  My older son literally explodes into a hotel room and it is murder trying to make sure he doesn’t leave important stuff behind.

And I never buy that line about oh, I’ll just grab my whatever on the way out, Mom.  If it isn’t in a suitcase or a backpack that is sitting by the door, it isn’t going.  Usually coats are the most frequent items left behind, and that is the one thing you really can’t do without.  I’m married to someone who went to Yellowstone for a week in November without a single coat, jacket, or a sweatshirt in sight!


The final step is getting from place to place with all your stuff intact.  Every time we leave a hotel room or a relative’s house, I go on a total treasure hunt!  Every drawer, under every bed, every inch of the bathroom, every closet.  I don’t think we’ve EVER left anything behind on a trip.

By sticking to these basics, I can usually have a trip where I have everything I need with me, nothing gets lost, and I can put my hands on whatever I want in about 30 seconds.  What are your best travel organizing tips?

Here are some other posts you may enjoy:

25 Fabulous Tips on Packing for a CRUISE

5 Tips for Cruising for Chubby People

7 Socially Distant Travel Options In The Western US


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  1. Hi Adrian, I tend do things almost the same way, however I do have lists for packing – a his and a hers. I had the lists laminated so we can use a whiteboard marker to tick items off as we go. The lists stay with the suitcases until the packing is complete. I take a photo of the completed list & the open, packed suitcase on my ereader to make sure everything returns home, especially if doing a longer holiday.

    We do cruise a lot so I have made pouches for things like travel adaptors and charging cords plus the cruise necessities – like those listed in your 25 Fabulous Tips for cruising – they are all in pouches and ready to be thrown in the suitcase. We also carry two charged power banks for the egadgets for flights along with one adaptor with two (or four) outlets for the gadgets and power bank charging overnight or during layovers at airports.

    Like the idea of the no vacuum space saver bags especially for dirty laundry when packing to come home.

    1. Laminated lists? You are massively more organized than I am. I love having all my STUFF when I travel.

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