How to Pack for Kids for Vacation

by Carrie with Children with 12 comments

Packing for vacation is hard work, and even more so when I’m packing for myself and my girls. We are getting ready to head out on our third cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines this week and I couldn’t be more excited.

With that said, I’m busy wrapping up loose ends around the house and entering ‘prep mode’ for vacation.

Vacation Prep Mode How to Pack for Kids
Make A List… And Check It Twice

I’m a list-maker. About a week before we leave home, I make a list of the essential clothes for each family member with each person getting their own list. The number of nights away from home, equals the number of outfits plus one extra – when traveling with little ones you’re always bound to need a spare change of clothes. I like to lay out one person’s things at a time. Once everyone’s clothes and necessities are laid out, they get checked off my list as they are put into the suitcase.

Suitcases and Packing for Vacation
My 5 Must-Haves

Here’s a look at some of my ‘must have’ travel items:

1) Plastic grocery bags – We always end up with wet bathing suits, clothes or a souvenir that could use a little more protection in the suitcase.  And the good news – the bags don’t take up much space.

2) Zip-top plastic bags – I’m a big believer in taking snacks on the go and the sandwich-sized bags work great for us. If we visit the beach or pool, I put my phone, room key and money into a bag for safekeeping – I don’t want them wet!

3) Baby wipes – Even if you don’t have a baby, these wipes come in handy for quickly cleaning surfaces, washing hands when you’re in a pinch or even just using oneas a cooling cloth.

4) Activity kits – Before each trip, I stop by the dollar section at the store and pick up a few activity kits. Just coming prepared with a mini-coloring book, a few crayons and stickers is a great way for the girls to spend time when they get restless or bored. It’s small, affordable and easy to pack too.

5) Dish soap – When my girls used bottles and sippy cups, I always traveled with a tiny bottle of dish soap. Each night, I’d spend a few minutes in the bathroom washing cups.

How to Pack for Kids for Vacation


Take Your Own Bag

With my girls, I allow them to each have one small bag of their own. They can bring a few small toys, as long as they can fit into their bag and it is their responsibility to be in charge of it.

I usually end up putting their extra change of clothes in there too. They love being responsible and showing off their own mini-suitcases too.

Suitcases for Children
Packing – It Does Get Easier

It took me a while to get in a rhythm of packing for my family, but surprisingly, it’s getting easier. I’ve found the more we travel, the easier it is to pack. I’m learning more and more about what we use and most importantly, what we don’t use too.

I’ll never forget on our first cruise a few years ago, I forgot to pack bibs. On our first night in the dining room, Molly ended up with ketchup and crumbs all over her new, cute dress. We tried to use an oversized napkin as a bib, but it just didn’t work well. It was a hard lesson to learn, but now I pack bibs for all trips.

The one item I’ve decided to no longer take with us on trips is my hairdryer. It takes up way too much space in the suitcase and typically most places provide them in the room. I miss not having my own, but using the one provided saves me more room in the suitcase for souvenirs.

What are your tips for packing for kids? Are there things that you can’t leave home without? Do you have a special way you like to pack the suitcase? Do you set guidelines for what toys they can or can’t bring along on the trip? I’d love to hear what works for you…

 What are your packing tips? 

** This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival. As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own. **


  • Nikki

    For smaller children, pack each outfit in a gallon size Ziploc bag. Undies, socks, pants, shirt, the works. Then they can ‘pick’ their own outfits just by grabbing a bag. This helps avoid those end of the trip mismatched looks, and saves space in your luggage if you squeeze all the air out.

  • Lynnette

    I’m always paddling a little pill box with a couple doses of ibuprofen, pepto, and benadryl you never know when you going to need it and purchasing it when on vacation isn’t always cheap or convenient

  • Erica

    Disposable bins were awesome for vacations when my kids were little. We even had a portable potty with bags for road trips. Cleaner than most gas stations 🙂

  • Melissa

    When I choose outfits, I organize them in “color families” so things can be easily mixed and matched. So if we are going for 9 days, I will pack 10 outfits around a common color, a few outfits each color. I might have 3 different shirts (long and short sleeved) that go with 2 different pants/shorts, and 1-2 sweatshirts to go with. Bring at least 1-2 really neutral hoodies to go with anything. When I pack them, I sandwich the shirts between hoodies and wrap the pants around them. Then everything is organized and I can pop it into a drawer at the hotel. I only pack white socks, all the same brand if possible. No ending up with clashing socks & pants at the end of the trip. For a road trip, I pack overnight bags for each night of traveling for all of us, just one bag. So when we stop for the night on our way, we grab one smallish bag, whatever comfort objects the kids need, and toiletry bag (separate). No unpacking the whole pile/dragging all suitcases for one night. This also means I can mix kid and parent clothes in our big suitcases so we haul up only 2 big suitcases at destination, and not 4. I also put jammies in a ziploc on top so I can grab it at our bedtime rest stop and change them into jammies if we are driving late. Then they are ready to sleep when we get to the hotel.

  • Marybeth Bluhm

    Great tips! I have twin 6 year olds and also am a travel agent. I believe they have been on 18 cruises already. We live in FL and it’s just the BEST vacation with kids! Anyway, if I might add to your list…
    We alway pack a white kitchen garbage bag for dirty clothes. Once they are dirty, they go right in. I also do gallon sized zip locks for wet suits etc. We alway book adjoining cabins for the double bathroom and double space. In the afternoon we’ll put them in the kids club for a couple hours and get our showers in before we pick them up and then before dinner one kid goes in each shower with their own bath toys and some plastic cups and they play forever sitting on the bottom with the handheld shower. If it’s a mess no biggie. And it gives mom and dad time to relax and maybe have a glass of wine!
    We alway pack some antibacterial soft soap for their room. And a sound soother for happy sleep. You can also pack a nightlight if they are used to it!

  • Kenzie

    I bought the space saver bags that you can vacuum or squeeze the air out of for my last longer trip when my daughter was small. Then just toss the bag in the suitcase. I vacuumed the air out at home and on the trip I just squeezed the air out. Also Downy wrinkle release was a good investment!

  • Jane

    If my daughter has on a nice outfit while eating she still manages to wipe her messy fingers where the bib doesn’t reach. I pack one of my small t shirts. I will put that right over her head and it covers everything!

  • Eileen

    I have 5 children and have found it easier to organize things by putting socks and underwear for everyone in a shopping bag, bathing suits in a shopping bag and pj’s….easily accessible when living out of a suitcase. I also pack shoes in shopping bags. I now leave a toiletry bag / medicine bag packed and stored away so all I have to do is grab it and put it in a suitcase. I found the toiletry bag the most time consuming and the bag with the most room for forgetting things!

  • Marcy

    I have 3 kids and they each started traveling at 6 months. They are now 14,11 and 7. You live and learn! I take a bag with a thermometer, motrin and cold medicines. They also all started bringing a bag of their own at 2. I would pack an extra outfit, a snack pack and they would add toys, crayons and coloring books. Now that they are older they pack their own bag minus the outfit and I always ask before security if they have anything they want to declare to me before going through!!

  • Tracy

    I also travel quite extensively and don’t have kids but I worked in a daycare with toddlers and a lot of the parents would spend the night doing last minute packing keeping their kids up longer than usual and then putting them to bed for a couple hours before getting them up for an early flight to which often they would be back asleep before the plane took off..same thing with the parents who were taking long car trips. Keep them up longer the night before travel and let them sleep off the ride…when I was little my mother also never traveled without starlight mints which were a triple threat they tasted good, helped to “pop” my ears and settled my stomach.. She learned very quickly I was not a good with air travel after I threw up airline lasagna and was in severe pain with my ears that starlight mints were key for me traveling well on a airplane

  • Stacey

    My kiddos are 8 and 10. I still pack their outfits in plastic ziplock bags. They have a complete outfit and if items are still in the bag when they return they are clean.. Just wrinkled!!
    We do a lot of camping so all camper items are one color.. Towels, kitchen stuff… That way if it makes it in the house I know immediately it needs to be in the camper..great for the end of season…
    Wa also take a fold up hamper… Packs easily and all the dirty clothes go in and straight to the basement. Perfect if you’re not flying!!
    For business trips I pick one color and match one pair of shoes and a jacket…usually black. For a female I pack pretty light…

  • Brenda

    As a well seasoned traveler with children who are now 19 and 13, I learned years ago to have bags ready to go. Each child has her own bag which is pre packed with socks, under wear, casual shirts and shorts, these are changed out as they had growth spurts and enough for a 4 night minimum additional clothes added if needed. also prepacked is toiletries at least 1 sample size of everything needed, there are many times we are sitting around and will say “road trip” bags are pretty much ready to go and we are gone. Everything get washed when we return repacked and put away ready for next trip… where every that maybe. Happy traveling.