Tips for Trips: 7 Ways to Make Family Packing Easy and Organized

published Feb 17, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman

It’s a correlation I didn’t quite see coming: the older the kids get, the more we find ourselves on the road. From weekend-long soccer tournaments and camping trips sprinkled throughout the moments where we don’t have soccer games to road trips to visit family and explore our state, we’ve logged many, many hours in the car. In addition, since my extended family lives thousands of miles away in California, long flights with kids for prolonged family time are also a regular occurrence. 

All this to say, I’ve packed for our family of seven many, many times. I feel like I’m packing and unpacking every other week! 

While packing is in no way my favorite part of traveling (I’m sure it isn’t anyone’s!), packing well definitely impacts how smoothly a trip unfolds. As we all know, when traveling with kids, we can use all the efficiency and simplicity we can get!  Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up that make our trips just a little bit easier: 

1. Catch up on laundry beforehand. 

My first tip might be my biggest one. Too, too many times I’ve been tossing loads into the washer or ruffling through clothes in the dryer while I’m trying to pack or wondering if I can dry that favorite sweatshirt by hanging it out of the car window while we drive. No joke. It is so. stressful. Do yourself a huge favor and make it a point to catch up on the family’s laundry a few days before you need to begin packing — and consider packing as soon as the drawers are full, before needed items get worn and thrown in the hamper again. This is the number one thing that makes packing easier for me, and it’s taken me a long time to get into this must-do pre-trip habit. 

2. Create a master packing checklist. 

Once you’ve gone on a few similar trips, you realize you need the same things every time. Eliminating thinking and decision fatigue by having a packing list template begins any marathon packing session on a good foot. I have a few different lists, including, for example, a camping list and a summer beach trip list. I tweak these as necessary for the specific trip and trip length I’m packing for, as well as for each child. 

I use the Notes app on my iPhone to make packing lists and I copy them when I want to use and/or tweak them. I can also share a list with my husband, which is convenient. If you’re having trouble coming up with an initial list, there are tons of resources to get you started.

3. Have older kids pack from the checklist. 

Letting kids who are old enough pack for themselves is a dance between letting go and maintaining control. These days, I’m straddling the line by having the kids pack from my list and then having them place everything on my bed so I can make sure they have each item and that it’s “acceptable.” (Nothing stained or too small and that their definition of a “nice shirt” and mine are lining up.) I print a copy for each child straight from my phone. 

4. Use a separate bag for each member of the family. 

If possible, packing each family member’s items in their own carry-on, duffel bag, or backpack goes a long way in simplifying family travel. This way, everyone has their clothes, activities, etc. in their own possession. They can get what they need and put it back with their own stuff. Not getting clothing mixed up and being able to find what everyone wants and needs at any given moment means you aren’t aren’t digging through things or running late. This helps keep the whole atmosphere peaceful. 

5. Get color-coded packing cubes. 

Packing cubes are a total game-changer for any kind of packing, and packing for kids is no exception. I’ve used packing cubes for years, but I only had two colors, and while they were useful for organizing clothes and keeping things neat and contained, it got old to have to unzip each packing cube to see whose clothing was inside. 

So one year, I bought each family member their own set of compression packing cubes. It was an investment, but we use them every single time we travel and there’s no more guessing about whose items are where, even if we have to pack multiple family members’ items in the same suitcase. The compression component means we can pack more into a smaller space, a huge plus when you’re traveling as a group. 

I usually pack like items together in our packing cubes. For instance, I’ll put all the pants in one, the underwear and socks in another, smaller one, and the tops in another. 

6. Or use ziplock bags. 

Another strategy, which is particularly useful with younger children, is to pack a whole day’s worth of clothes, from undies to hair accessories, all in one ziplock bag. This keeps you from having to wrangle up each item of clothing from different packing cubes and (hopefully) saves you from any meltdowns about what to wear every day.  Another version of this method of keeping outfits together is to fold tops and bottoms together, with underwear sandwiched inside. These “outfit packs” could be put in packing cubes or straight in a suitcase if you’re not using cubes. 

7. Have a separate bag for outerwear (and PJs). 

If you’re traveling somewhere colder than the climate you’re leaving, you’ll want to have jackets and possibly hats and gloves at the ready. If everyone’s outerwear is packed in a suitcase, getting them out and getting the kids bundled up is a logistical nightmare. We like to stuff all of our puffy coats into a large drawstring mesh bag. This way, when it’s time to get out of the car for a potty break, we can easily grab coats. Bonus tip: If you’re going to be driving at night and you have little ones, pack a small bag with their pajamas so you can change them along the way. They’ll be more comfortable and you can put them straight in bed when you get to your destination.  

Want more great ideas for families with kids? Sign up below for Cubby’s Thursday newsletter or get one weekly text featuring our best meal ideas, editor-approved product recommendations, and all the kid’s room decor ideas you needWe’re also on Instagram!

Cubby: A Weekly Newsletter for Families at Home

Whether you need smart solutions or fresh ideas, our editors at Kitchn and Apartment Therapy are here with our best meal plans, organizing and design tips, toy recommendations, and more.