How to pack light for kids: Week away

You’ve got yourself down to the one carry-on (give or take) and you know how to get through airport security like a boss, but what’s a parent to do with little ones in tow?
Believe it or not, packing for kids doesn’t have to be any harder than packing for yourself. In fact, I find it easier! Let’s face it the kids will never know you left out the second pair of shoes (until you get there) – you’re going to know before you leave.

pack kids

There are a few key things to keep in mind when packing for kids:

Pack Light for kids| Packing Tips

1. Give them a list
For a week away in a sunny destination my list looks something like this:

4 t-shirts
2 longsleeve casual shirts
one pair of jeans
one dressier pant (khakis)
3 shorts.
two pairs of socks
one pair of sandals
one pair of running shoes (wear)
7 underwear
swimsuit & goggles
personal medicines

jacket (wear)

baseball cap (wear)

This is the list I start with but of course things may change slightly depending on the age of the child.

2. Keep toys to a minimum
There are no toys on this list but I usually let them bring a book in some form. If it’s a paperback I’m hoping we can leave it where we go. Preferably we’ve just downloaded a few into a tablet. They also usually have a deck of cards between them (we love UNO) and when they were younger it was a “one toy car each” rule. Do you know what kids do when they don’t have all their toys from home to play with? They play with each other, use their imagination and meet other kids.

pack light

Keep Calm and Carry-On

3. Kill the darlings

Writing retreats will always  tell you to “kill your darlings” when you’re editing. The   “darlings” are the things you love but don’t need. Same goes for packing. You don’t need every summer dress you own or six choices of jewelery per outfit and neither do the kids. I don’t pack dressy clothes for the kids  (read: any clothes that are going to cause me to hyperventilate if  they tell me they slid into home plate in them ) unless we’re headed to a wedding or special event. The fact is no one is expecting the kids to dress up at dinner. As long as they are clean you’re fine. Keep it casual.

4. Limit their territory

Their bag is intentionally small. I love when they say it can’t fit because then they have to try again and that’s usually when we discover the giant transformer robot toy that “somehow” made its way into the bag. Nice try, son.

5. Start them young

Except for infants, chances are that if you’re wondering if the kids can help pack their own stuff, they can. It’s almost never too early to teach them to pack light. Too small to read?  Add pictures to your list. Not quite getting it? Sit with them and have them gather the stuff as you read off the list. The earlier the get involved, the more they are going to feel like it’s natural and normal to do it. Start them young and you’re set for life.

pack light

6. Don’t double pack
Notice that there aren’t a whole lot of toiletries on this list? We keep those things communal. In one of our bags you’ll find a couple small tubes of toothpaste to get us through. You won’t find shampoo or body wash in our bags. Most hotels have them and if not, we can grab a bottle when there.  “Pack light” doesn’t mean leave important things behind. You will want to bring anything you know you’ll absolutely need. Never leave that to chance. Use small travel-friendly bottles if you need to carry special hair potions with you.

7. Compare what you’ve got with your itinerary before you pack it

If there’s an itinerary for the trip I match the kids’ clothing to the activities on the list. I literally write right on the document.
We won’t follow it. Chances are VERY slim that the kids are going to wear the shorts on “Monday at the hike” that I said they would, but it means I’m covered by having something in the case that will work. It’s also a great way to make sure I haven’t forgotten some much needed speicialty  item like their swim goggles and helps to avoid duplicates and unnecessary extras.


Did I miss anything? What would you add? Anything you’d take away?