A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Minimalist Mailbag: Traveling Light with Kids

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Question: What tips or suggestions do you have on traveling/packing light especially when you have a baby. We’re going on a road trip for the holidays and we’re trying not to over pack. – Rachelle

It seems like a given that traveling with kids means traveling with tons of stuff. After three kids, I’m finally getting smarter at traveling light with kids. When we went on trips with our firstborn we had the giant diaper bag, the bag of toys, tons of extra outfits “just in case”, the economy pack of diapers and wipes to get us through the trip, a stroller, a car seat, blankets, we can’t forget the snacks, and of course the pack-n-play for the baby to sleep in. My back starts to hurt all over again just making that list. If you’re smiling to yourself right now, it’s because you’ve either seen that kind of parent or you are that parent.

It’s no secret that traveling with kids complicates the packing routine, but it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. Adam Baker from Man vs. Debt moved with his wife and baby to Australia with nothing more than a couple of backpacks. Now that’s what I call inspiring when it comes to traveling light with kids!

Tips for Traveling Light with Kids:

Pack mix and match clothing. Stick with the basics whenever possible. This is a good plan for your clothes as well as your kid’s clothes. If things can go together, you can easily substitute a shirt that gets dirty.

If you can wash clothes while you’re gone, pack less. This is pretty straightforward, but you don’t need to fill your suitcases with extra clothing if you have the chance to wash during your trip. This has really helped us on our trips.

Remember that babies are unpredictable. Do plan for emergencies within reason. Thankfully babies have tiny clothes and it’s good to have extra outfits on hand.

Pack the small version. This applies to many things when you travel. Take the small stroller, the small diaper bag, the travel size toiletries and leave the giant toys at home.

If you need more, you can usually buy more instead of packing more. If you need more diapers, more milk, or something else don’t try taking all you need for your whole trip. In most cases, it’s a better idea to buy what you need when you need it.

Limit the number and size of your bags before you start packing. It’s a proven fact that you’ll expand to the amount of space you allow. Before becoming minimalist, we would allow everyone one duffle bag for clothes and toiletries and one backpack for books, toys, etc. Going forward I’m hoping to cut this down even further.

Borrow a Pack-n-Play if you can. If you’re staying with friends or family, call ahead and see if someone has access to a playpen so you don’t have to bring one. Simple Mom has some great travel tips in this article and mentions that most hotels offer pack-n-plays for available as well.

Keep tweaking. Every trip is a chance to learn what worked well and what still needs adjusted for next time. Take note if you didn’t have enough of one thing or way too much of something else. I have learned the painful lesson that I need to have supplies on hand for a toddler who gets car sick whenever we travel farther than 30 minutes away.

These are just a few things that have worked for us. If you have travel tips to share for traveling light . . . with kids or without . . . please share them in the comments below.


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photo by clix

Article originally published on 11/12/2010

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  1. When I saw the title of this post, the first thing I thought of was Adam Baker, lol! The second thing I thought is, diapers take up a whole lot less space than they did when my kids were little!
    One of my all time favorite “toy” accessories for travel and any other time baby is not necessarily in your reach. The oval (c-shaped) plastic colorful links. They can be used as an actual toy themselves, or they are very handy to connect small toys to the carseat/stroller.

  2. I am slightly obsessed with traveling light with kids! We don’t bring toys, usually a blankie and one other favorite item. Kids will find something to play with anywhere, why waste space!

    We make do. When my baby #3 was 3 months old we went to Disneyland, baby #2 was only 22 months old and needed the pack and play provided by the hotel. The back seat of our double stroller folded down completely flat, so she slept there the entire trip with the 3-point harness on so she couldn’t wiggle down.

    Doing laundry is a must for me, we can go for a week with just what will fit in our backpacks if we do laundry a couple of times. One of us does laundry while the kids are napping, it would have been down time anyway. That being said… we leave the cloth diapers at home- disposables are just so much smaller!

    We also don’t plan for every contingency. Bringing a travel size of everything we may possibly need takes too much space. If we have to, we buy the one thing we end up needing (tylenol, diaper rash cream, band-aids) while we’re there.

    Yay packing light and minimalism! Keep it up!

  3. When my chidren were younger I found that we could travel quit comfortably with very little. I don’t think I ever took a stroller as we were always able to borrow one when we got to our destination, same with most other baby equipment. I was a big sling user so I would often be seen with a baby in sling and toddler riding on the carry on bag. My essentials would include a change of clothes for each of us, a basic toiletry bag, enough diapers for travel time plus a couple of day(never know when you will have a delay), water bottles (empty- fill after security checkpoint) food for me and the kids and favorite toy and coloring book. As for packed clothes we only took enough for 3 days no matter how long we went for. You can find laundry facilities in most places, even foriegn countries. Now that my children are older 12, 10 and 6 they can pack for a short trip in a backpack and still have room for a favorite snuggly toy.

    • That’s great. I can’t wait to travel more with our kids. Oh, maybe some nice backpacks would be a great Christmas present!

  4. Faith, great post! Thanks so much for the suggestions and tips. I have seen that other moms can relate and just as with other things in life you learn as you go (on more trips). We’re on our first trip away from home as I write this and I can say that we did pretty well. I was totally smiling as I read the first paragraph especially when it came to the giant diaper bag! One thing I already see that I could have done without was bringing multiple baby food jars, sippee cups and so many toys (its not easy to keep track of them all). Thanks again! Learning on the go-Rachelle

    • You’re so welcome, Rachelle. Now don’t forget to take notes of things you didn’t need and things to remember for next time. I hope you had a pleasant trip!

  5. Nice Post. Thanks for the suggestions and tips to play traveling Light with Kids

  6. We just did a 4-day trip to visit friends in another country with 1y 9months old. We had a piece of hand luggage each, and baby had no luggage as he did not have a seat.We had still much unused clothing and nothing missing. We had diapers for the trip, and bought new ones on arrival.

    We’ve been travelling with kid quite a lot and have learned to do it with least possible stuff. There is really no need for that much, given you have something to eat, a bottle of water, and diapers.

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