family travel packing tips

A parent’s guide on what to pack

family travel packing tips

Packing clothes for all kinds of situations is one of the keys to keeping the kids content when travelling, writes family travel columnist Nicole Keck. (©Julia Pelish/

Story by Nicole Keck Family Travel Columnist

In the movie “Chaos Theory,” a man’s life revolves around the many lists he keeps and how he uses them to keep things running predictably … that is until his wife decides to give him some extra time in the morning by setting the clock ahead 10 minutes. She mistakenly sets it back 10, making him late, thereby missing the car ferry and launching him into a life of, you guessed it, chaos.

I really related to this character and his inherent drive to keep order in everyday life by way of lists. And when it comes to travel, I usually go on a list-making rampage; writing them, adding things, checking things off, revising and re-writing. It gives me peace of mind while tackling the head-spinning job of packing for a family trip, and I’m not ashamed to say, it gives me a little thrill to cross things off as they go in the suitcase.

Below is a list of items you should consider bringing when travelling with children. Whether you pack a week ahead, or you like to throw it all together the night before, feel free to print it and see if we over-enthusiastic list-makers can’t win you over.  As they say, “Come over to the dark (or rather, systematic) side – we’ve got cookies!”


  • First aid, including a thermometer
  • Prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines
  • Vitamins
  • Motion sickness wristbands for any puke-prone family members
  • Sunblock
  • Water bottles (if you’re flying, leave them empty until you’re past airport security)
  • Disinfecting wipes for hotels
  • Baby wipes — for so many things
  • Hand sanitizer for meals on the go
  • Roadside emergency kit for car trips
  • Roadside assistance phone number
  • Passports and sufficient identification
  • Medical insurance cards or info
  • Money kept in more than one place
  • Emergency contact info of friends and family
  • House and car keys left with someone
  • Itinerary left with someone
  • Stamps and addresses for postcards
  • Email addresses and phone numbers you may need
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Gum/mints, lip balm
  • Instant oatmeal packets — you’ll just need hot water in a pinch
  • Raisins or squeezable apple sauce pouches, pureed prunes for babies (to help keep things moving; if your kids are anything like mine while travelling, you’ll understand)


  • Mix-and-match outfits, less than 1 per day
  • Comfy, quick-dry clothes for the kids
  • 1 jacket and long pants (even in summer)
  • Bathing suits and swim shoes
  • Sun hats, sunglasses
  • Slip-on or Velcro shoes for the kids, especially for airport security lines


  • Research family-geared phone apps (to find clean restrooms, healthy restaurants, etc.)
  • Portable games, activities, deck of cards
  • Notebooks and pens for keeping journals (kids too)
  • Lightest weight stroller you have
  • DVDs, headphones, music, audio books
  • New/surprise toys, or bring out ones they haven’t seen lately
  • Make your own scavenger hunt based on your destination
  • Binoculars and cameras for kids


  • Travel-size laundry detergent
  • Coins for tolls
  • Smaller bills for tipping, etc.
  • Plastic bags in a few sizes
  • Plastic spoons and straws (surprisingly useful)
  • Adapter plug (if you’re travelling internationally)
  • Back-up batteries & charging cords, consider an all-in-one charging bag such as this one

Are you a mom or dad who has trip-planning tips of your own? Share them with — you might even win a travel prize!


Nicole is currently a homeschooling, stay at home mother of three young boys, (a.k.a. the three stooges, the little rascals – you get the picture.) Her passion for writing was sparked at a young age when an English teacher said, “It is a noble thing for one to have command over his or her own language and to use it for good.” Nicole studied at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and before the children came along, she and her husband enjoyed active travel such as hiking, backpacking, canoeing and kayaking. The detailed journals and poetry she wrote during those adventures remain among her most treasured possessions. You can read more about Nicole at

Leave a Reply