We love traveling together as a family, but it took us over 2 years—and many trips across the country—to realize that traveling light with kids is the way to go.
Learning how to pack minimally has made the biggest difference!
I’m naturally a planner, and I used to plan for all kinds of worst-case-scenarios. This, of course, led to chronic over-packing—and having a baby just made it worse!
As a frustrated over-packer, I wondered… “Is it possible to pack minimally and still be prepared?”
Unfortunately, I discovered the answer to that question the hard way.
I remember a cross-country flight where Benj and I were completely overburdened, struggling through the airport.
We were running late for our flight even though we’d arrived at the airport early. It had taken ages to check our giant, 50-pound suitcase at the luggage counter and wind our way through security.
Benj was hauling a rolling suitcase, a bulging backpack, and a giant shoulder bag (complete with laptops, books, food, etc.)—all while trying to wrangle Jack’s big, awkward car seat.
I was trailing behind carrying Jack’s backpack, my camera bag, and my shoulder bag while trying to wrangle Jack.
Every piece of luggage we’d brought was completely stuffed, and it all weighed a ton!
Amazingly—after rushing as fast as we could manage through the airport—we made it onto the plane mere minutes before the door closed!
Benj, Jack, and I were the last people on the plane.
Yup—we were those people…
After situating Jack’s car seat and stowing our luggage, we collapsed into our seats completely exhausted, out of breath, and stressed.
Right then and there, Benj and I promised each other that we would never bring that much stuff again!
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Packing Light with Packing Cubes
After that experience, I spent some time learning about tips and tricks for traveling light with kids. My research led me to a really cool discovery—packing cubes!
Packing cubes are small, cube-shaped bags designed to help organize and compartmentalize clothing inside your luggage. They’re self-contained, so taking them in and out of your suitcase keeps everything tidy.
The concept behind packing cubes intrigued me, and it seemed like the perfect first step toward traveling light with kids! I knew I had to try them.
Once my packing cubes arrived, it was time for a trial run.
My brother and I were flying down to Florida for 3 days to spend some time with our grandma. Frontier Airlines charges for carry-on luggage, which meant that I could only bring one personal item—and nothing else—if I wanted to save the money.
I decided to only bring the single personal item—a backpack that would fit under my seat.
Once it was time to pack for our trip, I laid my clothes out and began tightly folding and rolling them.
I was able to fit all of my clothes, undergarments, a swimsuit, and a pair of flip flops in the two “slim” packing cubes. These “slim” packing cubes are only 13.7″ x 5″ x 4″, so I was pretty impressed by how much I was able to squeeze inside!
It was everything I needed.
My clothes stayed organized the entire trip, and I could easily locate whatever I needed—no digging around in a disheveled backpack!
And there was plenty of room for everything else in the other half of my backpack—toiletries, snacks, a small purse, etc.
Bringing only a backpack on that trip was truly eye-opening. I was amazed at how little I could get by with! Packing like a minimalist that trip turned out to be a total game-changer for me.
It was freeing to bring only the essentials, and I was instantly hooked on traveling light!
Minimalist Family Packing Tips
As a chronic over-packer turned minimalist packer, here are the most helpful things I’ve learned so far:
1. Set the Limit
Decide upfront how much luggage to bring. Can you make do with the smaller suitcase? Do you want to fit everything into a backpack?
If you’re flying, backpacks and rolling suitcases are definitely the easiest luggage to maneuver through airports when traveling light with kids.
Most airlines charge for checked baggage, so if you want to save some money, try limiting yourself to one carry-on bag for both a parent and child.
Add a personal item for a longer trip—or simply to have snacks, activities, and other essentials handy.
Road trips are trickier because you’re technically limited to what you can fit in your car! That’s why it’s especially helpful to set limits when traveling by car.
We took a 3,000-mile road trip and slept in 9 different Airbnb locations along the way, so the amount of loading and unloading was intense. Packing lighter would have made that trip much easier!
2. Make a List
I highly recommend making a list of everything you want to bring. Not only will it keep you from forgetting something important, but it will help you not to over-pack.
(See below: “Our 2-week Packing List with a Toddler” —I’m sharing a complete list of what we brought on our most recent trip.)
3. Lay Out a Capsule Wardrobe
Putting together a simple capsule wardrobe for your trip will also help you to pack lighter. A well-put-together capsule wardrobe will afford you more options, not fewer!
Lay everything out on your bed, and choose a variety of tops and bottoms that coordinate. Pick a basic color palette, and keep clothing styles similar. Layers are also helpful, especially if you’re not sure about the weather.
Personally, I love bringing some comfy dresses because I don’t have to worry about putting an outfit together—easy peasy!
We use capsule wardrobes even when we’re not traveling, so this exercise is typically a breeze.
4. Try Packing Cubes
I know I’ve already touched on packing cubes, but seriously—do yourself a favor and give them a try!
They will keep your clothes and paraphernalia organized, and you won’t be constantly digging through a messy suitcase. Plus, if you tightly roll your clothes or fold them Kon-Marie style (my personal favorite), packing cubes will help you to condense them into a smaller space!
Packing cubes are certainly helpful when you’re staying in a single location, but they’re indispensable on road trips when you’re stopping at multiple locations!
5. Analyze Each Item
Be thoughtful when creating your packing list. Try to analyze each item and article of clothing.
How many “just in case” items are you bringing?
Could you easily purchase these things during your trip if the need arose?
Is this item essential to improving the quality of your trip? If not, leave it at home.
If you’re on the fence about bringing something, chances are, you’ll be just fine without it.
Complete 2-week Packing List with a Toddler
We just completed a two-week trip to the Pacific Northwest visiting family and attending Benj’s brother’s wedding.
Because we saved a few hundred dollars by taking two different airlines home (an awesome travel hack!), we couldn’t check any bags.
Everything we brought had to come with us on the airplane!
I thought it might be helpful to share exactly we packed for a longer, 15-day trip.
Packing notes from this trip…
- September is a tricky month to pack for when visiting the Portland area because it could either be warm and sunny—or sweater weather! We also have a wedding to attend, which means we had to bring several clothing items we’ll only wear once.
- We’ll be able to do laundry when we need to.
- Benj and I both need our laptops for work purposes, so leaving those at home was non-optional. They’re heavy, but having them in a backpack helps.
- No physical copies of books this time—just audiobooks on our phones!
- We sleep much better with our pillows, so we brought them along. They take up quite a bit of space (over half a suitcase!), but better sleep is worth the tradeoff.
- Jack’s car seat was creatively strapped to one of the suitcases with paracord, so rolling it through the airport was a breeze! We learned our lesson there.
Alright, here’s everything we brought on our 2-week trip!
Lauren’s Shoulder Bag:
- FOR LAUREN
(This bag will double as my purse.)
- DSLR camera
- micron pen
- bag of snacks
- FOR JACK
(Most of these will be in their own small bag that I can easily pull out.)
- blank coloring pad
- sticker sheets
- stuffed animal
- water bottle
- extra shorts (in case of an accident)
- LAUREN’S CLOTHES
- 4 pairs boot socks
- 3 camisoles
- 2 pajamas
- set of workout clothes (top + leggings)
- 1 pair jeans
- 1 pair leggings
- 4 tops (a mix of short + long-sleeves)
- 2 sweaters
- 2 cardigans (casual + wedding)
- 4 casual dresses
- 2 dressier dresses (church + wedding)
- 3 pairs shoes (boots + tennis shoes + rose gold sandals)
- JACK’S CLOTHES
- 6 pairs underwear
- 4 pairs socks
- 2 pairs pajamas
- 1 pair shorts
- 3 pairs pants (grey & blue jeans + grey dress pants)
- 1 pair joggers
- 6 shirts (casual short & long-sleeved + white dress shirt)
- 3 sweaters (burgundy + striped + grey)
- 1 burgundy bow tie
- 1 pair shoes (+need to buy dress shoes in WA)
- Benj and Lauren’s pillows
- BENJ’S CLOTHES
- 5 pairs socks
- 1 pair sleep shorts
- 2 sleep shirts
- 4 undershirts (including crew-neck)
- 2 pairs jeans (blue + khaki)
- 1 pair shorts
- 2 button-down shirts
- 4 casual shirts (short + long-sleeved)
- 1 sweater
- 2 pairs shoes (casual shoes + brown dress shoes)
- 2 belts (casual + brown belt)
- Benj’s laptop + charger
- Lauren’s laptop + charger
- iPads + chargers
- DSLR camera charger
- 2 pairs earbuds
- Berkey filtering water bottles
- SHARED TOILETRIES
(*Indicates that item should be in a clear plastic quart-sized bag.)
- bar soap*
- Jack’s toothbrush
- BENJ’S TOILETRIES
- hair gel*
- shaving cream*
- LAUREN’S TOILETRIES
(Pack everything except liquids inside makeup bag.)
- hair gel*
- 2 clips
- bobby pins
- deodorant stone
- 3 essential oils (peppermint, blood orange, lavender)*
- nail clippers
- makeup bag (only the essentials)
- disinfecting spray*
Traveling Light with Kids Really Works
After returning home from our trip, Benj and I both agreed that packing minimally with kids is the way to go!
Neither of us felt deprived of anything. In fact, I didn’t even wear all of the clothes I brought, and probably could have packed a little less!
Navigating through multiple airports and boarding 5 different planes was a much easier, less stressful experience.
We had everything we needed. Turns out, it wasn’t much.
If you’ve never traveled light with a baby or toddler, I’d highly recommend giving it a try! Managing less stuff removes a good deal of stress from the traveling experience, and frees you up to be more present.
You can do it!
If you already pack minimally, what’s you’re best tip for traveling light with kids?