Tips for Packing for Kids

Packing for children can be quite tedious and leave you questioning every choice. You don’t want to be bogged down by heavy luggage but you also do not want to be stuck without a spare outfit when you need it most. The first step to deciding how many outfits your child needs is to figure out what their normal daily needs are at home. Do they get dirty a lot? Are they toilet trained? Then consider where you are going and what your activities will be. Will you be outside? Any special outings that require a nicer option? What will the weather be like? Do you need to layer to accommodate changes throughout the day?

My oldest child is 15 so her needs are similar to an adult. I tell her if there is weight/space limitations. She typically brings an outfit for each day of a short trip plus a couple extra options. She may wear jeans or shorts more than once if it’s a city or mostly indoor trip. She will bring one nicer outfit to change into before a nicer dinner or outing. She will bring an extra swimsuit and sundress. Teens are capable of packing their own bags with little to no guidance. Travel is a learning experience. Packing and planning ahead is part of that learning. Make sure to give your teen ample time. When a teen makes poor choices, fails to plan, or waits until the last-minute, you must decide if you are going to bail them out or use it as a learning experience.

Children between 5 and 12 need more guidance. They can and should help with planning and packing for their personal needs. I tell my 6-year-old where we will be going and what type of outfit that requires for each day. She lays out her choices and I check to see if they are appropriate. I pack the good choices. I explain why inappropriate choices will not work and give her a chance to try again. Set very clear limits on toys. This may include the number of items, the size/weight of the toy, if it’s an electronic toy, if it needs to be quiet, and the space within the bag that can be allocated to toys. You may need to offer guidance and supervision depending on your child’s personality, age, and level of experience with these sort of tasks.

Babies through preschool age children require more thought into what to pack. How much to take will really be child dependent. A baby with reflux or frequent diaper blowouts will take extra planning. Can extra bibs help offset some of the need? Do not forget to take this into consideration when packing for yourself. I carry an old shirt for myself in the diaper bag at all times since I had the pleasure of driving home in a sports bra after a diaper blowout in a baby carrier at a park. Assume that a toddler and preschooler will get dirty or wet if the opportunity presents itself. You can let toddlers and preschoolers help by choosing between two items or by handing you things. You can also give preschoolers the ability to pick out favorite clothing pieces to build an outfit around. The more involved they are at this age the more independently they can pack later.

We aim for a couple extra outfits per week/trip for school age children and 1-2 extra outfits per day for babies through preschoolers. There are ways to work these extra items in without feeling like you have majorly over-packed. I typically pack 1-2 extra sundresses for my girls when going someplace warm because they are lightweight options. A swimsuit top can be worn in a pinch. I pack comfortable clothing to use as pajamas that can double as regular clothing in case of emergency. This is my go to for short trips and camping. Do you need your kids to be clean for dinner but don’t want to pack a ton of extra clothing? Consider having them wear the next days clothing to dinner. This has worked for us for normal dining options many times. Casual dresses and button downs with khakis can work on a child at nicer restaurants and still be comfortably worn for sightseeing. A clean onesie is all that’s needed for a baby in warm areas and a sleeper is acceptable in cooler ones. Babies are cute no matter what they are wearing so no need to stress over the perfect outfit for everything.

Beware of buying new clothing for little kids for a trip. It’s a lot of extra pressure. They may not like the way it feels. It may get dirty or even ruined. It may get lost. Remember that this is supposed to be enjoyable. Relax your standards a little. A stained shirt is not the end of the world. Let the kids be kids. Let things go so that you can enjoy yourself.

Spontaneous Family Travel

There are a lot of books, blogs, and articles about planning family travel. They detail how easy travel can be if it is all planned in advanced. The problem with this is that it takes all of the spontaneity out of travel. I’m not telling you to kick all planning to the curb. There is a time and a place for a step-by-step plan. You don’t want to wing a trip to Disney world. On the other hand, you do not need a plan to enjoy a random Saturday in your own neighborhood. It is good to have some things in place for emergencies but I promise you that you can leave your house unscripted with children and survive. You may even enjoy yourself!

We have had many adventures simply by leaving our house without a single plan. To go out on a completely spontaneous trip you will have to decide on two things. The first thing is how long your trip will last. Do you need to be home by bedtime or before work on Monday? The second thing is how are you leaving the house. Will you be walking, driving, or riding public transit to start your trip? That is it.

We typically drive because of where we live. When we get to the end of a road, stop sign, or a light we take turns deciding which way to go. We have stumbled upon some great parks, restaurants, and outings that have resulted in some amazing memories. The extreme planning that goes into most family travel is confining. Sometimes you just need a little spontaneity to really relax and enjoy your family time. Go have yourself a little adventure. Even if it’s a bust you end up with a great little story and some life experience. Going out on a whim gets easier the more you do it. Eventually you will know everything in and around your neighborhood. At that point you have to hop on the highway for a little distance (or you just move to a new area). When we first move to a new area we start at our front door. As time goes on we often get on the highway and drive to a nearby town or city before starting our random adventure. This is a great way to learn your surroundings and to find those little places that you would never see in any guide book.

Tips For Traveling With Children

  1. Bring a bike lock for the stroller. They are not welcome in many restaurants and some shops. Best to be prepared.
  2. Check to make sure that restaurants are kid friendly before you visit. If there are no high chairs it is best to know up-front. Also kids and long lines do not mix. Make reservations for places you want to visit that have long wait times whenever possible.
  3. Do not over plan! You need a plan with kids but it must have additional time in it for the inevitable issues that come up when traveling with kids.
  4. Be flexible! (We once went to a restaurant for dinner only to find that they closed at 4pm! We had 2 hungry, cranky kids and we were 6 hours from home! We walked up the block to the first place that looked kid friendly. It turned into one of our favorite places.)
  5. Pack their “special” item. It is a common tip to bring a small child’s lovey or blanket but nobody ever mentions the importance of bringing something for older kids. Your tweens and teens need their favorite items to feel secure on the road. Don’t forget their Ipod or DS! You want them to be comfortable as well.
  6. Many hotels have crib rentals. It is often not only cheaper but more comforting for your child to bring a pack & play from home. I must stress this is only an option for car trips. Do not try to bring one in a plane!
  7. Pack a spare. Bring a spare of all basics when kids are involved. Spare outfit, shoes (we once lost a shoe while strolling around), socks, toothbrush (new in the pack for whoever loses theirs along the way), and a memory card for the parents! Nothing like a full memory card to make you mad!
  8. Do not let your kids eat drastically differently than they would at home. If you do not normally allow junk food and sweets than you must limit them when on vacation as well. Kids have sensitive little tummies (as do most adults!). When you change their diet to all fast food or way more sweets a day; you are asking for trouble! Nobody has a good time when part of the family does not feel well.
  9. Consider how active your family is. I have no problem with active trips! We are a very active family. That being said: If your family or even one member of your family is inactive or very out of shape then taking them on a highly active trip may indeed be too much for them. Think of the whole group when picking out what to do. Also consider a child’s abilities. Even children can go hiking as long as you pick an appropiate place to take them.
  10.  Learn about the history or culture of a place before visiting. This helps to turn the trip into a learning experience like no other. Make sure to see one historical or cultural point that goes with what you have learned.