The Ultimate Checklist for Packing Light with Kids

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Yes, it’s true that you can pack light with kids and you don’t have to sacrifice your sanity to do it.  No, I’m not talking “I’m a crazy backpacker and I wear the same clothes for a month” light, I’m talking reasonable light.  You know, something real people on a real vacation can manage!

Whether you’re trying to avoid paying for baggage, trying to save space, or just want the freedom that comes from having less “stuff”, learning how to pack light and SMART will be a sanity saver on your next trip.

the ultimate checklist to packing light with kids

Recently, we spent almost a month in Europe and for the 6 of us (2 adults +4 kids), we only took 2 suitcases.  Can you imagine how nice that was?  Not having to haul 6+ suitcases into every apartment and hotel we stayed in.  Actually being able get through the airport easily carrying all our own things (we also brought a stroller and car seat for the baby).  I actually really enjoyed having less so that I could focus more on what mattered most – spending time with my family (not just being a pack animal to haul all their junk around).

So, here’s the list.  It’s short and simple, and that’s exactly what makes it great!  (Notes in blue are my suggestions.)  Here’s the printable version: The Ultimate Checklist for Packing Light with Kids



When you’re packing clothing, make sure to take into account how bulky thing are and how fast they dry.  We are huge fans of quick dry/wicking t-shirts, nylon pants, zip-off trousers, wool mid layers and light and packable outerwear.  This will help you be prepared for any weather conditions and will be a lifesaver if you need to do some laundry in your hotel room.  We pack 3 changes of clothes, which means that if your trips is much longer than a weekend, you’ll need to either wear some things twice or do some laundry along the way (likely in a hotel sink).  
3 tops – short or long sleeve depending on climate.
3 bottoms (pants, shorts or a combination – convertible pants are fantastic for this)  NO JEANS
4 pairs of underwear
Packable wind/rain jacket
1 warm top for layering (synthetic or wool – we like these ones)
1 pair of baselayer bottoms
3 pairs of socks preferably lightweight wool
2 pairs of shoes – one light sandal and one heavy duty waterproof sneaker or hiking shoe
2 pairs pajamas



It’s really easy to get carried away by taking too many toys and other things to entertain your kids on the trip.  Although these things are fun, your kids can also have a great time just taking a few.  Always be cautious taking irreplaceable or incredibly special items as those are the ones that you’ll likely end up losing!  We also find that if you give kids a space limit (we only let them fill up this Eagle Creek quarter cube).  Remember that once you get to your destination your goal is to get your kids excited about where they are, so try and limit the things that you take to keep them busy – keep them busy exploring instead!

  • Coloring supplies (small pad of paper and crayons)
  • Small bag of toys (no larger than 1 quart)
  • Paperback books 3-5 small ones
  • Kid camera
  • Water bottle
  • Backpack (child sized so that they can carry all of their own things EVERY DAY)
  • Snacks for the plane ride (buy all other snacks on arrival)



 When we decide what kind of hygeine items to take, we carry two types of things with us:  things we use every day, and things that we would reasonably use in a minor emergency.  Although it’s likely that you’ll find bandaids everywhere you go, do you really want to have to run to the store while Billy is on the ground screaming about his scraped knee.  Plan ahead and carry some basics with you!

  • Powdered laundry detergent (premeasured and separated into one load Ziploc bags)
  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, brush, hair elastics, hand sanitizer, sunscreen)
  • Basic first aid kit in a sandwich size ziploc (bandaids, childrens pain reliever, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, and anti-diarrhea medicine)


Unless you’re going to a third world country or an incredibly isolated island, remember that if you run into any problems, you can probably buy whatever you’re lacking on your trip.  Trust me, it’s better to have to take an unexpected trip to the store than to carry everything you own preparing for a “what if” situation.
To keep things organized, we are convinced that packing cubes are a life-saver (we especially love the super light Pack-It ones from Eagle Creek).  It keeps everything compact and organized so that instead of a suitcase explosion at each stop, you can actually find what you’re looking for.


 What are your families travel essentials???

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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