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.