Find the right balance between meeting your needs and limiting your load.

When preparing for family travel, the key to packing is finding the right balance between taking everything you need and limiting your load so that you don’t have too much to carry. The general rule — less is better. If you are traveling with infants or young children, you’ll want to have the right equipment, such as car seats, but consider renting a crib (which takes up a lot of space) at your destination. And although planning is key, don’t fret too much about forgetting something, because chances are you can buy or rent whatever you need at your destination.

Moms may want to consider carrying a fanny pack or backpack rather than a purse to leave hands free to carry other items, or to hold on to young children’s hands. Children can carry their own backpacks, too. It’s a good idea not to pack these too full, so that your child won’t complain about the load, and to leave room to pick up treasures along the way.

Don’t pack anything too valuable in your backpack or your child’s, however. Innocent tourists can be easy prey for pickpockets, so it’s best to keep money, passports and valuables where you can see and easily access them.

Packing light on my own family travels has come to mean looking forward to “the laundromat experience” on longer trips, especially in foreign countries. The laundromat is a great microcosm of the local culture, and sitting in one provides an opportunity to slow down a bit, and meet and observe the locals and fellow travelers.

Basic packing tips

Vicky Lansky, author of more than two dozen books for parents including Trouble-Free Travel With Children, offers these helpful tips in her book:


  • Plan on taking not less than three complete outfits: one to wear, one in the laundry, one in reserve.
  • Select travel clothing with an eye to layering so you’ll prepare for sudden changes in weather. Make easy washability the main consideration when choosing clothes and choose clothes that don’t show dirt.
  • Carry a stain-remover stick in your diaper or travel bag so you can apply it to fresh stains before they set when you know you can’t launder right away.

Useful items

  • Plastic garbage bags: Line your suitcase with plastic garbage bags, which will keep your clothes free from outside moisture and provide you with bags that will come in handy for everything from packing laundry to lining bed mattresses. (Warning: Never let children play with plastic bags. They are dangerous and cause suffocation.)
  • Zip-locking bags of various sizes
  • A big beach towel that can double as a blanket.
  • A clip-on reading light. It can double as a night light or for finding items in the car when it’s dark.
  • Nonperishable finger foods
  • Insect repellent, lip protection and sunscreen
  • Tweezers and needle for the inevitable splinter

Cathy Lanigan, author of the Lonely Planet’s Travel With Your Children, offers this tip from parent Louise Anderson of Australia: “Always remember to pack wet wipes for dirty hands, ice cream mouths, pen marks and seat cleaners at toilet time.”

Don’t forget to pack a few favorite toys and books, and maybe a surprise or two to unwrap while on long plane or car trips.

Other useful items you may want to tuck in your luggage are a roll of toilet paper and a small container of hand sanitizer.

If you are traveling by airplane, remember to keep liquids and gels out of your hand luggage. Take a moment before you pack to review the most up-to-date information on banned substances. By keeping current on allowable carry-on substances you avoid having to dispose of them at security checkpoints.

Most important, try not to stress and keep your sense of humor. Things that are forgotten or that you end up searching for as you travel often become the basis of interesting adventures and memorable stories.

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Updated: March 7, 2016