Packing for a Vacation

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Aahh summer. It is full of family reunions and various trips/vacations. Three months of crazy fun (and sometimes not-so-fun). Remember back before you had kids and you only had to pack for yourself? Remember when you could fit all you needed in a little duffel bag?

Well, packing with a baby involved requires a lot of thought, planning, and space. It actually does get better with the older children, but for a baby, you basically need almost as much space for a one night trip as a one week trip!

How do you pack the right amount of stuff? You don’t want to over pack, but you don’t want to under pack, either.

Packing Tip #1. My number on packing tip, whether you are packing for yourself or a child, is to close your eyes and walk yourself through your day. What do you use? Write those things down. Here is an example for me doing that with McKenna.

I would close my eyes because I am visual and it blocks out distractions. Then I think through her entire average day. The dialog would be similar to this:

“Okay, I go in her room and get her up from bed. I check her diaper and change her if needed. I need a diaper, wipes, and diaper ointment.” Pause to write those things on my packing list. “I might need some plastic bags to put dirty diapers in.” Write it down. “Then we go to breakfast. She sits in her highchair. Where is she going to sit to eat while we are there?” Write down anything needed. “She drinks from her sippy cup. I will probably want a bib. I will need spoons and bowls. What food do I need to pack for breakfast?” Write these things down. Continue for your entire day. Don’t forget to think through sleeping and things like pillows, beds, and special sleeping friends.

Packing Tip #2 is to think through your worst case scenarios. Your baby isn’t sick right now, but she could get sick, right? I always like to pack along Tylenol, maybe a bulb syringe, etc. Now, for some vacations, you might find it easier to purchase those items if needed rather than pack it all there and back. That is for you to decide based on your preferences, familiarity with the area, and easiness to reach the store.

For Brayden’s first Thanksgiving, we were in Wyoming. He and I both got colds. I couldn’t take what my grandmother had on hand because of nursing, and we had nothing for Brayden, so my husband took off on Thanksgiving day to find us medicine. Well, in many parts of the United States, this would be an easy task. But in Wyoming, they still believe in shutting down the stores–even gas stations–so family can be together. Fabulous, right? Absolutely. But my husband ended up driving 45 miles before he found the lone gas station open that day. Not the picture perfect holiday you would hope for. So think through these things and be prepared as needed.

Packing tip #3 is to pack as you get ready the day you leave. The day I leave to go somewhere, I pack as I get ready so I don’t forget stuff. So let’s take the example of getting ready. I wash my face and lotion up, then put that in my travel bag. I get dressed, then pack enough under garments and clothes for the trip and put them in my suitcase. I do my make-up, then put it in my travel bag. I do the same for the children.

Packing tip #4 is to envision your trip and pack accordingly. You have envisioned what you use in a day at home, now you need to envision what you will need on a your trip. What will you be doing? Will you be swimming? If so, envision getting your children and yourself ready. What will you need? What will you want while you swim? What will you need when you are done swimming? Remember to pack accordingly for weather changes. If you are like us and go camping in the Rockies, you will need summer clothes for the day and winter clothes for the night.

Packing tip #5 is to pack extras. There is an excellent chance you will need extra clothes for your kids. I usually pack enough pairs of underwear for the children for each day, plus 1-3 extras. Same for socks, shirts, shorts, etc. Do keep in mind that often, you can have them wear things more than once in a pinch, so you don’t need to bring the entire closet. But kids can be messy so I think at least one extra of things is a good idea.

Packing tip #6 is to pack some books and toys or activities. Even when we go camping, I bring McKenna’s little tote of toys. It comes in handy randomly throughout each day. I also bring a little Melissa & Doug Deluxe Farm in a Box Puzzle kit that Kaitlyn tends to play with like crazy, and all the kids like books. Just bring things that can keep your children busy when needed. And don’t forget to pack for the drive or flight there!

Wow, I am tired just thinking about all of this. Packing for a family is a big job.

If you have any packing tips, please share!


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. ashley
    July 19, 2010 / 5:15 PM

    Thank you for this post. We are packing for an upcoming trip now. Our car was full for a day trip to the pool with our 7.5 month old, so I can't imagine stuffing it full for a week long vacation! Any thoughts on portable highchair vs. bumbo with tray? He has outgrown the bumbo for every day use, but I'm thinking it'll be better than eating in our laps at each meal and is slightly smaller than the portable highchair.

  2. Stephanie Rawlins
    July 19, 2010 / 6:30 PM

    Love the packing tips as well! The only thing I would suggest is if you are planning a roadtrip, try to have as much packing (including putting everything in the vehicle) done the day before. That way you can get out and get some energy out of the kids the day of the trip without having to stress about packing.As for Ashley's question, I recommend the bumbo chair simply for space concerns. He'll probably be fine for just those few meals you'll use it, and like you said, way easier than laps 😉

  3. Amanda
    July 20, 2010 / 3:08 AM

    This is very similar to what I do too, I always walk through our typical day together in my head to make our lists. One thing I always make sure to do beforehand is get any and all laundry done 2-3 days before leaving. Then I set aside clothes for the trip as I fold and keep them in the suitcases, otherwise I'll accidentally have Tobias wear them the day before or something. I also try to think through what can be substituted while we're there. For example, although we used baby spoons at home for Tobias, I know that DH's parents keep a few smallish spoons that work just fine. They also have small bowls, etc. on hand. I am a HUGE fan of keeping spare pairs of items at close family's homes when/if they are willing.

  4. Becca
    July 20, 2010 / 3:29 AM

    I pack as I do the laundry like Amanda and it works great. I can usually get Caleb and my husband completely packed that way.I do a walk through too, but typically after I've done clothes. It helps me ensure all non-clothes items are packed and allows for a double check on clothes.We travel so often that I have a permanent toiletry bag. I never unpack it. It has everything except my contacts. I just make sure all the bottles have enough to make it through the trip..or bags have the cotton balls,…I do the same for our plane bag. I have a backpack that is used for plane travel and never gets unpacked (except for the trash!). I replenish diapers, wipes and snacks. The toys/activities are only used for plane trips so no need to unpack them

  5. Shari
    July 20, 2010 / 4:13 PM

    I made a packing list in Microsoft Excel – I have one for my daughter & then one for my husband & I. It is split into categories – Toiletries/Entertainment/Clothes, etc. I have different ones depending on where we are going – my parents own a beach home & we have toiletries & other items there, so we don't need as much. I print it out every time we are going some where & then check off everything as I pack it. It REALLY helps. It is very specific so I rarely forget the little things, like cell phone charger, etc.

  6. Laura
    July 20, 2010 / 5:26 PM

    We just took a family vacation to Washington state for five days with our two children. We had to fly so I was hoping to be able to pack as much into as few bags as possible. I dislike having a disorganized suitcase. By the time you finally find what you need, you have destroyed the once organized suitcase and have to repack. I purchased gallon ziplock bags and put an outfit and diaper in each bag. THen I put my son's clothes on one side of the bag and daughters on the other. It was GREAT!! No digging around and repacking everything! No wrinkled clothes and diapers were always handy! I tried to remove as much air out of each bag, and we were able to pack everything of theirs in one suitcase.

  7. Plowmanators
    July 26, 2010 / 5:30 PM

    Ashley, I used to take a portable booster seat for Brayden (he was a baby pre-bumbo). I had a bumbo for the girls, but by the time they came along, we just were at the point where one of us would hold the baby and the other would feed. Or we would sit baby in the car seat or on a blanket on the floor…If he can fit in the bumbo, it sounds like that would be your best bet–either that or get a portable booster seat (unless that is what you mean by portable highchair 🙂 ).

  8. Plowmanators
    July 26, 2010 / 5:32 PM

    Thanks everyone for adding your packing tips!

  9. LaChelle
    March 3, 2011 / 10:33 PM

    I'm flying to Orlando from Tx this coming May with my 2yr old son. It's a 2.2 hr flight. My in-laws are driving over but my son cannot handle 14-16hrs in a carseat without everyone being bald(from pulling our hair out) and him having no voice from screaming! So we will fly! He will sit in our laps. I'm thinking I should bring coloring items, dvd player, snacks, drinks, pillow, blanket, etc. Any other ideas? Would it be wise for vacation puroses to pack his utensils/plates? I will pack snacks & breakfast items. I will also have the in-laws bring an ice cooler to keep milk in the resort room. I appreciate the idea of walking through our day & the suggestions of packing things just in case! Thanks for those! Anything I might be forgetting regarding travel so far from [email protected] Laura- I love the ziplock bag idea! then you have a place to put the dirty clothes back in to! Luckily there are washing machines at our resort! thanks again!

  10. Plowmanators
    March 21, 2011 / 9:41 PM

    LaChelle, I think you can use plates there, but I would bring his size spoons and forks. Have fun!

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