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5 Packing Tips for Family Vacations and Travel

This year I’ve done more traveling than I’ve ever done. Most of it has been roadtrips, but I’ve flown around three times this year. Not all of those trips were for leisure, but the way I pack still applies. Some of these tips may seem intuitive, but I didn’t always put this much thought into it. As I’ve needed to bring MORE stuff along within the same amount of space, my packing process had to change.

I really wish I’d taken a picture of our suitcase before going to BlogHer12. Brian, Rissa and I all flew to New York City with ONE checked suitcase, a stroller, and three carryons… packed with everything we would need for 5 days. It was kind of crazy, but it worked. On the way back we flew with TWO checked bags, a stroller, and three carryons. I did find out I wasn’t the only one good at packing when I read how Gina packed like a boss for BlogHer without checking any luggage. My style is similar to her’s but not exactly the same.

Here are my 5 packing tips:

1 – Pick out a complete outfit for each day you will be gone, then add a couple extras

I used to just randomly throw clothes in, not really thinking the outfits out. I’d count jeans and shirts, but find out I was stuck with mismatched outfits or I’d forget a pair of underwear (okay that still happens to me sometimes!). Now I count the number of days we’ll be gone. Each of us gets one outfit per day with a couple extras to account for special activities or accidents. If there is extra room, then a few more outfits make it in, but for BlogHer I ended up ditching a few dresses I wanted to bring.

2 – Roll, don’t fold!

I know it sounds crazy but folding does not optimize space very well. Rolling everything (underwear too!) into small tubes of cloth really saves space. I prefer to roll each article of clothing individually while others will roll groups together (like several shirts at once). I have found this is helpful for baby and toddler clothing at home too. Folding such little clothes is a pain, but rolling them creates more room in dresser drawers and keeps creases away.

3 – Save space for souvenirs

I knew I’d be bringing back items from each place we traveled, so I made sure there was space to pack them for the trip home. Roadtrips are a little easier, but when flying it can get trickier. For BlogHer I packed a smaller suitcase inside of a large suitcase. I put our clothes and toiletries in the smaller one and around it. Coming home we had an extra suitcase to fill with STUFF. We knew we’d have to pay an additional baggage fee, but we planned for that. Also, we could have taken on a fourth carryon if needed.

When packing luggage as full as possible, it’s important to keep an eye on the weight limit. I believe most airlines have a weight limit of 50lbs per checked bag. If you go over that it can be REALLY expensive or they might make you ditch stuff. This is where a luggage scale comes in handy. I have a small one that is takes up very little space, the Voyager Digital Luggage Scale. It attaches to the handle and I just lift it to see how heavy my suitcase is… easy peasy. Unfortunately, I did not have it for my BlogHer trip! I was a little scared without it, but everything turned out fine. (I admit to putting our suitcase on my bathroom scale to get an idea of the weight and it was 48 or 49lbs!)

I packed much lighter for LA as you can see.

4 – Keep a spare set of toiletries packed

I haven’t quite switched over to all travel sized toiletries yet since I generally don’t mind checking luggage when flying, but I hate trying to remember everything as I’m scrambling around in the morning getting ready. It drives me batty to leave things unpacked because I need to use them before leaving, but then relying on my memory to grab them. I’ve been keeping a set of spare toiletries all packed and ready to go so I can just toss it into the suitcase. I keep them in a Ziploc bag to prevent leaking/spilling issues.

5 – Limit the toys

I learned this lesson the hard way! I can’t believe how much extra crap I was packing for road trips to visit my parents. It was really unnecessary. Now I have a better sense of how many things Rissa needs to keep her entertained and what books and toys will give me the most mileage. We try not to take too many favorite toys along (depending on where we are going) in case they get left behind. Lots of favorites can visit Gramma and Grampa since we can retrieve those easily. But, I am pretty sure I lost one of Rissa’s favorite books in NYC.

What are your packing tips and tricks?


Disclosure: I received a luggage scale to review. No other compensation was provided for this post. Yes, this is really how I pack!

Peter Lee

Thursday 27th of September 2012

I would say it is better if you don’t pack items which you can easily buy overseas, like snacks or a giant tube of toothpaste. Take small bottles of toiletries, and when you run out you can enjoy the experience of shopping them in local stores. It is better to pack only things which we cannot afford to leave without.


Wednesday 26th of September 2012

I love my luggage's so helpful and I do try to pack light just in case I end up picking up stuff at my destination that I want to bring home. LOL


Thursday 27th of September 2012

Especially when we know we'll be getting goodies! :)

Heather - Acting Balanced Mom

Tuesday 25th of September 2012

I agree! Compact and light is the way to go... instead of a lot of toys I bring a few 'new' toys on the road trip so that my kids don't tire of them as quickly


Thursday 27th of September 2012

Oh yes! New toys are a great distraction.


Tuesday 25th of September 2012

I totally HAVE to try the rolling. I honestly think it will save me a lot of packing space grief!

Ashley @ Freckleberry Finds

Tuesday 25th of September 2012

We're going on vacay in a few weeks -- totally bookmarking this!