Family vacations are joyful, healthy and, yes, incredibly stressful. How and what you pack plays a big role in keeping everyone happy, comfortable and having a good time.
If you have a big trip coming up, start the packing process early. Last-minute packing means over packing. Begin by making a list of the core items you’ll need, it’s the best way to ensure you bring everything you need—and to reduce the what-am-I-forgetting anxiety. Better yet make several lists, one for each member of your family and one for family items. Getting a head start on the lists gives you plenty of time to add miscellaneous items as you think of them.
Then, at least a few days before, start packing the items that you won’t need until you reach your destination. This is a good way to reduce the overall chaos and make sure you have important items like sunscreen, bug spray, bandages, kids medicine, toiletries and snacks. You should also consider adding some rubber bands and zip lock bags for incidentals, an empty duffle bag for purchases, and a lightweight backpack for day trips.
When it comes to the kids in your family, we have some specific tips below. Every list is going to vary depending on where you’re going and how you’re getting there, but these items and methods will almost always help simplify the process.
Packing Tips for Infants
Just bringing an infant to the grocery store can seem to require fully packed luggage. For an extended stay away from home, your baby certainly requires careful planning and probably the most stuff.
In addition to obvious items like diapers, wipes, toys, formula and bottles, remember to bring an infant thermometer, travel size ointments, a night light, dishes and utensils, and ways to provide shade. You should also bring a few washcloths and a towel, and possibly bedding, so you don’t have to expose your baby’s sensitive skin to harsh detergents.
Packing Tips for Young Kids
To get toddlers and grade-school kids excited for the upcoming journey, get them involved in their own packing. You should start their list with primary items like clothing, toiletries and beach gear, and then have them help you add items like toys, books and a favorite comfort item if they still have one.
Break clothes into categories—casual vs. dress-up—then let them pick out most of the pieces and outfits. For toys, give each child an appropriately sized bag or container to fill with toys. Let them do most of the choosing, and then make some adjustments as needed. Prepare your digital entertainment in advance with age-appropriate shows, movies and games that will work offline.
Packing Tips for Tweens and Teens
As much as possible, put older kids in charge of their own packing. It’s not only doable, it’s good for them. It will help them develop their organizational skills and give them a little better appreciation for all that you do. That said don’t abandon them completely. Go over their list with them before the packing begins, and help out with creating a variety of outfits out of a minimum number of items.
Make sure they have at least one good book, all the cords for any devices (again with offline material), and headphones for the all-important “me” time. You should also encourage them to do some independent research on your destination. It’s their vacation too and they’ll likely find some great activities or places that you might miss.
The Most Important Tip
Relax! Remember that the most important thing is to enjoy yourselves and have fun. You’re taking a family vacation to reconnect away from hectic everyday life and make some great memories. You’ll inevitably need something you don’t have or wish you had packed something else, don’t let those little things drag you down. Show your kids you can roll with it and improvise when the moment calls for it.