I’ve been asked quite a few times how I pack light for my entire family, so today I’ve rounded up a few of my very best tips for traveling light as a family of four. I can’t say that my tips will work best for everyone, but these are what works best for me whenever we travel.
Just as packing for any other trip, plan ahead. Here’s a handy list of questions to ask yourself:
How long is your trip?
We’ve taken our kids on trips anywhere from a weekend to a few weeks. Each time packing is different because our planned activities are different, but really the length of days is really important for packing.
What will the weather be like?
Weather will obviously determine how you should pack, I check it frequently leading up to the day of the trip using the 10 day forecast on Weather.com. Sometimes it makes it more predictable for you if you know more about recent weather instead of only looking at the days you’ll be there.
What types of activities will you do?
Do you need to pack special gear? If you’re going to the pool or beach you’ll probably want water friendly shoes.
What kind of gear will you need?
I wish I were talking about cameras, but I mean baby & kid stuff! This question can be kind of complicated, as it will depend not only on where you are going, but how you plan to get around as well.
We now take a carseat on planes even if we’re not planning to drive at our location. It makes it easier for us to take a car to the hotel, and safer on the plane. We would never check or gate check or rent one for risk of unseen damage. We use this one and have never had a problem with taking it on a plane. I use this seriously amazing strap called a traveling toddler to attach it to one of our carry-on suitcases. Be sure it’s not the one your liquid bag(s) are in or it will take extra time in security. On a tangent, I usually place our liquid bags in my tote/purse until after we go through security so they are very easy to remove for scanning.
Søren just outgrew his stroller, but we used to check our larger one (Bugaboo Cameleon 3) or gate check our smaller (Bugaboo Bee). Each had their own padded carrying bag to help keep them safe on their journey. For some trips where we knew we wouldn’t do as much walking or had a rented car, we didn’t bother to bring a stroller. For our Alaskan Cruise, we brought it because we knew we wanted to do a lot of walking to explore each port.
We’ve never taken a crib (travel or portable) with us, but I know plenty of hotels provide a crib upon request. Søren slept in bed with us when he was younger, and now sleeps in a normal bed at the hotel. For some time when he was in between, we’d make a floor bed for him.
When Søren was younger and we really needed the use of a high chair, I purchased this one to take with us. It’s light, attaches to any seat (do not use on plane), easy to wash, and rolls up very easily for travel.
My absolute favorite travel light item with my youngest son was an Ergo. It was light and easy to store when not in use, and easy to put on during travel. I also used a Sakura ring sling, but it wasn’t as easy for me to put on while managing my little one. I did love that I could use it as a scarf or a cover for nursing though.
I am not a big baby blanket packer. I would normally bring a single swaddle blanket when we travel and use it as a scarf, a breastfeeding cover, or a clean place to rest baby while I do something. I really loved the organic Aden & Anais ones in white because they are so versatile.
Diapers & Wipes
I swear these were always the bane of my existence when Søren was younger. I always chose to pack as many diapers as I needed, instead of trying to find a brand that I liked while on the go. It made it easier and harder for me at the same time. On times we chose to bring a stroller along, I would use the stroller bag to shove diapers into the extra space (except the ones we needed for the actual travel, of course!). Otherwise I’d just learn to pack lighter.
Use the grid system from my Travel Light Method. I use it every single time I pack because it works. To modify it for a family, simply add more rows. The columns still count as days. I take a photo on my phone before I pack everything up so I can remember who is wearing what. I don’t bother with plastic bags for every single day (seems wasteful?) but I do use packing cubes. We each get one and I stack outfits in order of planned wear.
I’ve included an example below for what a family packing grid might look like. I find that using my bed as a sort of packing stage works best, and that the grid also makes it easy to coordinate outfits if you’d like. You can also print the image below to write in which clothing items and activities belong in each section/day.
For the day of travel, each of our children get their own lightweight backpack to carry. I absolutely love the Fjallraven Kanken backpacks, and Søren’s is the cutest mini size. They pack it themselves (youngest needs help sometimes) with items to entertain themselves while in transit and during our trip. Once they’ve made their selections we help them edit down to essentials, and add things like water bottles, snacks, headphones, and electronics.
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Finally, I can’t stress this enough. You know your child and your family best, use this to your advantage! Make adjustments based on your needs, and really question whether or not something will add value to your trip, or become dead weight. Happy travels!
Do you have any tips to share for traveling light with a family? I’d love to hear!