Family travel packing tips

Learn how to pack a suitcase for the whole family. Two mom bloggers share their expertise.

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While growing up, Claudia Laroye’s parents didn’t leave the kids behind to travel, leaving her with lots of memories and an appreciation for travel. When she took her first trip as a parent, her eldest son was only five months old. “It was nerve-wracking as a new mom. I was stressed about packing his essential things, clothes, supplies, little toys and medicines, especially going overseas […] I was less concerned about me,” she says. Now, her sons are a few weeks shy of 13 and 15 years. The B.C. mom travels with her kids and husband six to 10 times a year, including weekend and weeklong trips, and chronicles their adventures and tips on her blog The Travelling Mom. We spoke to Laroye and travel writer and mom of two Colleen Lanin and asked them to share their tips for packing a suitcase and travelling with kids (while staying sane):

What not to forget

Medicine

Both Laroye and Lanin recommend bringing medicine, especially prescription medicine or anything that could require a doctor’s note.  Check whether you have everything you could possibly need, and the expiry dates.

Sounds dramatic? “It’s important to have all that with you, especially if you’re going to a foreign destination and you don’t know what will be available,” says Lanin, founder of and editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. “If in the middle of night your child gets sick, you want to give them something that will soothe their fever or ease teething – not worry about finding a pharmacy,” says Lanin.

Take the small version of liquid children’s medicines on the plane in case kids get sick while aboard.

Travel accessories

For comfortable travel, Laroye also recommends bringing ear plugs, travel pillows and eyeshades, in case the plane is bright and you have a hard time sleeping.

Baby gear

“When travelling with babies and toddlers, you’ve got bottles for feeding, spoons and dishes for baby foods […] There are so many little things that babies need, and it’s easy to forget [items],” says Lanin. She recommends printing a checklist of everything you need for each member of your family to ensure you don’t forget anything, including those oft-forgotten toothbrushes.

Get help from the kids

When Laroye’s kids were around 10-years-old, she let them pack for themselves but still does a final check to ensure they bring what they need. “It’s great to give them that bit of responsibility and purpose. And it helps them get excited about trip and understand that [trips] don’t happen by magic – there’s work involved in travelling,” says Laroye.

“With bigger kids, even starting at age three or four, they can start rolling their own [carry-on] suitcase and they take a lot of pride in helping to pack and carry the suitcase,” says Lanin.

Keep kids happy

As someone who travels once to twice a month, sometimes with her kids, Lanin knows how to keep kids entertained. If you travel often, she recommends having a few toys specifically for trips. “Kids get tired of toys very quickly and if you keep these toys separate from their regular toys, they forget about them between trips and get excited about them again,” she says. You could also buy a few affordable surprise toys, like an activity book or craft project, which Laroye does, too.

How to travel light

Whether you’re taking a weeklong trip or an overnight one, the same rules apply.

Create multipurpose outfits

“You can really stretch your clothing by pairing it with accessories like jewellery, scarves and belts,” says Laroye. For example, accessorize a summer dress with a statement necklace to change up the look for a dinner out.

Do laundry on longer trips

If you have access to laundry appliances or a laundromat on a longer trip, take advantage of it. “Help kids realize that they may not need 10 tshirts for a week holiday where you might be able to do laundry,” says Laroye.

Plan, plan, plan

Laroye lays everything she and her kids want to take on trip on a large table or on the bed. “Stack items according to category – underwear, shirts, etcetera, and see what you can mix and match. Then edit from there,” she advises. Measure the items you have against the space in your suitcase, and be prepared to prioritize. “Everyone has faves that have to come along – for me its shoes – you have to prioritize based on need and space,” she says.

Use carry-ons when possible

“I took five week holiday to Europe with the same small suitcase that I took on a weekend trip,” says Laroye. Lanin opts for carry-ons, too, as it helps with check out time. Once kids are old enough to roll their own carry-on, this helps with space restraints.

How to pack the suitcase

Make use of every space

“Place heavier items like shoes and souvenirs at the bottom, and fill those shoes with items like rolled up socks. Use them for storage.” Then Laroye layers clothing on top, like jeans and sweaters.

Keep items clean and dry

To prevent shoes from dirtying other items, Laroye recommends bringing plastic bags for each, or using hotel shower caps. For bigger liquids, hair spray and shampoo, she places them in large Ziploc bags to prevent spills while travelling. She also uses resealable plastic bags to store any wet swimwear from the last day on a trip. Normally she doesn’t check her bags, so she has to pay attention to liquid limits, too.

Choose the best method for clothes

When it comes to folding versus rolling clothes, she stores items flat, and doesn’t find that it makes much of a difference in a flat suitcase. “But if you’re backpacking, rolling works really well. Flat it would make a mess,” says Laroye.

Meet security requirements

Avoid hassles when passing through airport security, and consult the Canada Air Transport Security Authority for information on what is and isn’t allowed on-board. For those who use only carry-ons, ensure liquid medicines meet any liquid volume limitations.

Give yourself time

If you’re going to a far destination for a lengthy period of time, Lanin recommends prepping further in advance of when you usually do. “If you’re going on a cold ski trip, check whether the kids have the necessary gear and warm clothing. For tropical destinations, children may have outgrown their swimsuits and sandals,” says Lanin. Look through closets to see whether you’ll need to borrow or buy anything. If you’re visiting somewhere similar to where you live, there might be less prep work involved. For her own family, Lanin would love to have a home exchange and stay in France for a month, and says she’ll plan much further in advance than she usually does if they go.

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