Tips for Packing Efficiently for Travel with Kids

I just returned from a trip to Florida and the Bahamas with my husband and two kids. I’m the first to admit that i could have packed more efficiently and as I unpacked I resolved to pack more efficiently next time. Below are my tips based on what I did right and what I could have done better. I also polled my Instagram followers and members of one of my Facebook mom groups for their tips and included them below.

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Plan Ahead, Make a List and Lay Everything Out

Think about your destination, activities and when you will have access to laundry and then make a packing list.  I also find it helpful to lay out each person’s clothing before packing it so I can see it all in one place (I lay everything out on a giant yoga mat.  ).  This is similar to Marie Kondo’s Konmari system of laying out all your items in a category  (click here to see my home organizing tips). 

Organize and Color Code Your Bags

Packing Cubes / Ebags

We travel with one suitcase for the adults and another for the kids.  Within each suitcase I pack each person’s items in a specific color packing cube (aka ebag).  This makes it easy to pack, unpack or even live out of a suitcase.  Amazon has loads of packing cubes, I recommend investing in a set per family member (so a family of three would get three distinct colors).  I like this set because you can easily see the contents.  If you don’t want to make a big investment, you can buy a couple of mixed color sets and designate one color per person.   

As an alternative, one mom suggested packing daily outfits in the pockets of a shoe rack and just hanging it up at the destination.  These have lots of other great uses as detailed in my article on organizing the home

Giant Ziplock Bags

If you don’t want to invest in packing cubes you can instead pack clothing in giant Ziplock bags and press out the excess air to buy you more space. 

Pre-Organize Destination Clothing or Even Daily Outfits

I always pack one ziplock bag with whatever the kids will need immediately at our destination — this might be swimsuits or pajamas, depending on our destination and time of day.  Kids can be impatient after a day of travel and it’s nice to get them settled quickly (whether to an activity or bed) without needing to sift through your entire suitcase.

Lots of moms take this a step further and pack a bag per day that contains outfits,swim wear  or pajamas for all kids. 

Clothing Efficiency

One Piece Outfits and Easy to Coordinate Outfits

I like to pack one piece outfits (dresses and rompers) or tops and bottoms that all coordinate.

My friend Carmen from Top Flight Family loves to travel and take coordinating family photos.  She recommends deciding on a color palette for the entire trip and packing everyone’s outfits in those 2-3 colors. That way you all look coordinated in your photos without having to stress each morning as everything works together. 

Conserve Outfits

At the resort in the Bahamas, I took my son to breakfast in his pajamas and then changed him into swimwear and went straight to the pool.  I knew he would get dirty at breakfast, so figured why waste an outfit.  If your child is a little neater you can alternatively do dinner in pajamas.

Organize the Diaper Bag and Carryon

Keep a Fresh Set of Clothes Handy

I always keep a change of outfit for the kids on hand.  I like this sturdy pouch — it takes up a little extra space but the clothes stay fresh and pressed.  It’s a bit pricey, but mine looks brand new after four years of almost daily use.

Compartmentalize Your Diaper Bag or Tote

I love these washable, weightless wristlets for organizing my diaper bag (they would work just as well in a tote or never full bag).  The set includes five color-coded pouches with embroidered icons to represent different uses —  Diaper Bag (Includes Changing Pad), Snack Bag, Clean & Dirty Clothes Bags (Wet Bag), and Toy Bag (more about them in this article on tips and trips for keeping organized with a toddler). 

Tips for Minimizing

Pack Travel Size Versions of Your Favorite Toiletries

I use only Native deodorant (it’s natural and effective) and whenever I place an order I include a couple of their minis (it’s usually offered as an add on at checkout).   

You can also make travel sized versions of your toiletries in small containers like these.  I recommend labeling the caps with erasable labels to help you keep track of contents.  Erasable labels have lots of other great uses as detailed in my article on organizing the home.

Pack a Dual Wall Charger

We inevitably need to charge multiple items at a time between our two phones, an iPad, Mophie and sound machine.  While some hotels offer charging plugs, I always bring my own.  I like to pack a dual one instead of two singles, as well as an extra long cord in case I want to use my phone in bed. 

Minimize Baby/Kid Gear

Use a Ride Safer Vest as a Car Seat Alternative for age 3+

The Ride Safer Vest is a compact and lightweight yet safe car seat alternative.  According to the manufacturer, The RideSafer is certified starting at 3 years old and 30 pounds. It comes in two sizes to fit children from age 3 to when they can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test — usually at 4’9”.

I’d been considering one to use for taxis and rideshares locally (I live in Manhattan).  The brand was kind enough to send me one and provide you with a discount code  — 10% off the Ride Safer Vest when you click here and use code BEST10 (check out more of my exclusive promos here). 

The Ride Safer Vest comes in a little backpack and was incredibly convenient.  We saved time by putting the vest on my son before getting into the car or for example while our luggage was being loaded into a car.  We got stopped by so many people in the airport who wished they had one (note that it’s not for use on the plane)!

If your child isn’t ready for the Ride Safer Vest, consider Cosco Scenera Next (we used this for travel until my son hit 40 lbs and it can be used on planes) or the Immi Go.

Use a Travel Stroller

I’ve been around the block when it comes to strollers…. This really deserves it’s own blog post… but here are the key considerations:

  • do you need a recline (for naps)?

  • do you need it to be compatible with an infant car seat or convertible car seat?

  • Minimum and maximum age, height and weight limits?

  • Do you need it to fit in the overhead compartment (I rarely take advantage of this as I find it easier to gate check)?

  • Do you need sun coverage?

Note that on my most recent trip I brought a Colugo, which my four year old used in the airport and the baby used otherwise. At the airport my baby used a snap n go so car seat compatibility wasn’t important for me.

Here are some popular choices and details.

  • Colugo: Great stroller, for age 6 months+, generous sun canopy and basket, included travel backpack. Not compatible with any car seats. The Colugo stroller is sold direct to consumer only (click here).

  • Minu: Another solid choice, for age 3 months+ (or newborn with bassinet attachment), compatible with select infant car seats. I recommend purchasing at Nordstrom for the most generous return policy. Also available at Amazon (for fastest shipping) and Pish Posh Baby (to avoid sales tax).

  • Nano: This is a basic lightweight stroller that is compatible with all infant car seats and the Cosco Scenera Next convertible car seat.

  • Babyzen Yoyo: Great handling, slightly annoying fold, tiny storage basket, compatible with select infant car seats, low height and weight limits (and I know multiple kids that outgrew at age two before reaching the stated limits). Buy at Nordstrom for the generous return policy.

  • Other strollers worth exploring: Contours Bitsy, Qbit (see my review), Pockit (see my review) and Zoe.

If you are gate checking a stroller, unless it comes with a bag, you will want to purchase a bag to protect it.

Secure a Crib at Your Destination

Ask the hotel to guarantee a crib and if they won’t, try pushing back. Our hotel in the Bahamas wouldn’t guarantee a crib and I pushed back. They eventually did but I’d already left for the Florida leg of our trip.

In certain areas, it’s also possible to rent baby gear. If you're traveling to NYC or New Orleans, consider contacting Swaydle. they rent baby gear from brands like UPPAbaby and Nuna. To add to the convenience of renting, Swaydle also delivers all rentals to wherever you’re staying, and picks them up at the end of your visit (gear is cleaned and sanitized between rentals).

If you can’t secure a crib at your destination, consider the Guava Lotus crib. It folds into a backpack and they offer a shade that blocks out the light and view, which is conducive to sleep for the baby if you share a room. I wrote about it and included a link for a free crib sheet here. My understanding is that airlines allow you to check a stroller or car seat free. I’ve checked the crib many times and just vaguely said “it’s a baby item.”

If you have crib other than the Guava Lotus , consider the Slumberpod. It is the first portable, privacy sleep nook that allows babies to sleep in their safe and familiar playard or travel crib with room to sit up or stand up inside. Great for room sharing when traveling. Check out my Instagram post to see how it looks set up. Head to my exclusive promos post for a discount.

Use a Kidco Sleeping Tent for Age 1+

We have traveled countless times with our KidCo PeaPod Plus Infant Travel Bed.  My son used it for the first time at age 1.5 on our Chicago trip.  It’s almost weightless and comes with a handled carrying pouch.  If you ever have a layover, you can even hang it from your stroller (these are my favorite stroller hooks) for your child to rest in the airport. 

Use My System for Formula Feeding On the Go

I have a great system for efficiently pre-measuring and packing formula.  You can check it out here

Use FizzWizz for Easy / Mess-Free Bottle, cup and Pacifier Cleaning

For cleaning baby bottles, sippy cups or even covered bowls on the go, I’m obsessed with FizzWizz (see my exclusive discounts post for a promo code).  I simply drop a tablet in with two ounces of water, let it dissolve like Alka-Seltzer, shake it up and rinse it out.  You can also use their wipes to clean the outside of the bottle and pacifiers.  It’s super easy and eliminates the potential messiness of traveling with liquid dish soap. 

I found FizzWizz especially helpful in hot weather.  Dirty bottles can get nasty quickly but you don’t always want to do a full wash on the go.  The tablets dissolve quickly in warm water but take more time with cold water.  I’d typically drop one in and leave it to dissolve and then rinse it out the next time I was at a sink or even at a clean water dispenser at the pool. 

I now keep FizzWizz in my diaper bag for use on the go even when not traveling.  Also, my tether trick above makes it less likely for pacifiers and toys to fall on the floor but if they do, FizzWizz wipes make cleanup quick. 

Pack a Weightless Beach or Tote Bag

I like to use a mesh beach tote.  It fits a ton but takes up almost no space or weight in my suitcase.  I got mine as a gift from a resort in Thailand, but this one is similar.  Look out for my upcoming post on what to pack for a beach vacation. 

Pack Lightweight / Space Efficient Toys (for airport, plane and destination)

For my 9 month old I packed lightweight favorite silicone toys like the OgoSport Bolli - Flexible Teether Ball and Matchstick Monkey.  See my post on traveling with a baby or toddler for more great travel toys. 

My four year old brought some mini Play-Dohs, lots of stickers, Water Wow,  a scratch art doodle pad (this was a favor at his third birthday party), and Spot ItWikki Stix is another great travel toy.

In the past we have traveled with removable window cling stickers, which work both at the airport and on airplane windows. We have loads of Melissa and Doug ones, but other brands are good too.

Pack a Toy / Cup / Pacifier Tether

I also always use these silicone toy/pacifier tethers. I tether one side to a toy, pacifier or even my portable Marpac sound machine (I have a discount for you in my exclusive promos post) and the other to a high chair, stroller or carrier to keep them from going overboard.  You can also attach a toy to each end to make them easier to find in the diaper bag and keep from rolling down aisles. This plastic tether works better for for cups and bottles

Speaking of being tethered — I’m obsessed with my Loopy phone case — I can slip the loop over my finger and still manage to push a stroller or hold a bunch of gear.  Check out my exclusive promos post for a discount code. 

Ship Items to Your Destination

Save your back and some carbon emissions by shipping items like diapers, wipes, pull ups, sposie booster padsbaby formula, swim diapers and beach gear directly to your destination. 

What are your favorite tips for traveling and packing efficiently?