Once you have kids, packing for a trip isn’t as easy as throwing a bikini in your carryon. Multiplying the planning and packing logistics by the number of kiddos in your care can feel like the most math you’ve done since high school.

Thankfully, packing lighter and smarter is more doable than ever with technical fabrics and gear that packs down small for easier, breezier travel. Start with these light packing tips before you get to packing for your next family vacay.

  1. Pack Light & Versatile

The only thing worse than under packing on a trip is overpacking. Most family vacations aren’t in remote outposts or outside the convenience of, say, a Target within a 20-mile vicinity. And usually, mid-trip laundry is an option. When in doubt, leave it out. With many airlines expecting passengers to pay for even carry-on luggage these days, packing light is more cost effective than ever.

Even in the day-to-day, kids will often only wear a few staple outfits. Pack with versatility in mind when it comes to you and your kids. For example, dark-colored swim trunks like these from BinkyBro could work for your toddler whether it’s a day at the beach, a barbecue, or even family photos. Likewise, a mid-length t-shirt dress could work as a coverup for the beach, or be paired with a jean jacket for cooler nights or a restaurant dinner.

Whether you’re home or away, sun protection is key, but big structured sun hats don’t pack down well. A soft-structured toddler bucket hat like this one is light and can be rolled up to fit in a packing cube without losing its shape.

  1. Use Packing Cubes

Speaking of packing cubes—packing cubes compress the volume of clothes (or toys, stuffies, and whatever else your kids try to stowaway) you’re packing, and help to keep you organized. Each kid can get a cube or two, or give each kid their own individual set in a separate color to determine what is whose.

There are many, many options for packing cubes at every price point that all generally achieve the same purpose. This set on Amazon gives you six cubes for $25 and has four-and-a-half stars. This set is similarly priced and includes four cubes as well as a shoe bag and a laundry bag.

For higher-end options, you can find outdoor brands’ takes on packing cubes at retailers like REI like this one from Cotopaxi.

3. Determine Duffel vs. Tote vs. Suitcase

Once the packing cubes are locked and loaded, determine what to put them in. If you’re going on a road trip you have more options. You could put everything in hard-shelled suitcases, or a duffel that will pack easier in a trunk or rooftop cargo box. Alternatively, recommendation gurus, The Buy Guide, recommend using these laundry tote bags for road trips so you can easily see where everything is during those all-too-often rest stop breaks.


Another product rec Instagram account, Tried and True Moms, recommends this innovative duffel from Tobiq for traveling with kids. It has four equally sized compartments that you can use as a sort of packing cube–duffel hybrid to keep you and your littles in order amongst the travel chaos.

Once your kids are no longer in a stroller, they’re probably big enough to roll their own suitcase if you’re headed to the airport for a flight. And if they’re over two years old, they’re entitled to their own carryon luggage. You could get them their own smaller child-sized roller suitcase, or go for a standard carryon size to maximize storage. This one from Target has fantastic reviews and the right price point to boot.

Remember—if you’re flying with an infant-in-arms, you can always bring an extra personal item like an extra backpack or large diaper bag to help schlep allllll the stuff babies (and their parents) require.

Happy travels!

August 25, 2022 — Matthew Fisler