Helpful Tips For Packing For Family Vacations


Posted by Alicia Sell

It is summertime and many families are getting ready to go on vacation.  In fact, as I write this, we are heading out on one of our biggest vacations to date – Hawaii.


Short stop over in Colorado to pick up Uncle Corey.

We are going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with Randall’s family, which includes his parents and his older brother, Corey.  That means a lot of people and a LOT of packing to keep organized.

So today I will share with you my completely unsolicited advice on how to efficiently pack for a big family vacation.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is Alicia an expert on this subject?”

Well, to be honest friends, I don’t know that I fall into the category of “expert” but I do travel a lot for work and I love to be in charge of big organizing projects such as this (I have been called “bossy pants” from time to time) so I like to think of myself as a highly skilled traveler who likes to share advice.

So here, in no particular order, is my advice on how to pack for trips, whether big or small. I should mention that this advice is somewhat specific to air travel, though similar rules can be applied for any kind of vacation.  And, if you would like to see how we are doing on our exciting summer adventure, follow us on Instagram or Facebook.  Happy travels!

1. Lists are your best friend

Since I was in kindergarten I have been a lover of list making.  It drives Randall crazy, but it is my fool-proof way of making sure everything that is needed gets packed.  My lists are very detailed.  I list out the exact number of under pants, socks, short and shirts that are needed.  I jot down how many days will require fancy, slightly fancy or casual attire.  I list out every possible toiletry that needs to be packed, including cotton balls.  This seems silly, but having traveled overseas and finding out how hard it can be to replace necessities, making sure you have everything is really critical.

When the kids were little I used these lists to pack their stuff but now they are old enough to pack for themselves (hooray!).  I still double check to make sure they each get everything on their lists, but they have become pretty good at pulling their lists together themselves.

2. Lay everything out in neat piles on your bed

Laying everything out on the bed really helps you to see if you are missing anything.  It also gives you the chance to organize your suitcase efficiently.  I organize mine by the days that I know I will wear outfits, so I just need to grab the next thing off the top. Also, I always pack a pair of PJs on top so I can get comfortable as soon as I get to the hotel.  Not too complicated.


3. Bring a laundry bag

My kids throw dirty clothes EVERYWHERE.  The concept of keeping their personal stuff organized in a neat pile is foreign to them.  In fact, it is our trademark to leave at least one sock behind on all of our journeys.   Our hotel room always turns into a jumbled mess where no one knows which clothes are dirty and which are clean.  I finally figured out that if I packed a laundry bag and said that it is where everyone needs to puts their dirty clothes, the mounds of mess are reduced by 75%.  We will still leave at least one sock behind, but that is okay with me.

4. Don’t bring your entire closet

Every time I travel I panic that I need to bring everything in my closet in order to feel comfortable on a trip.  The truth is having a big heavy suitcase and tons of stuff to keep track of equates to a ton of unnecessary stress. Pack only what you need, and think about ways to use items multiple times on a trip.  For instance, jeans can be worn more than once.  Can I wear that sweater a couple of times?  Do I need 5 pairs of shoes?  Probably not.  I know this seems odd, but fewer options means less stress and more time to enjoy your adventure.


5. Take one thing out of your bag

I read this in a flight magazine once and I thought it was so strange.  But the truth is, even if I pack light, I rarely end up using everything that I bring. So, just as Coco Channel said to remove one piece of jewelry before leaving the house, I encourage you to take one item out of your suitcase before heading to the airport.  For me, I removed my fancy sandals.  I love them a lot and I know I could have found a reason to wear them, but I didn’t really need them.

6. Pack a light carry-on…and only one

As a frequent traveler I realized that you want to have just the right amount of stuff in a carry-on bag. I also realized that having a purse and a carry-on is a pain to keep track of so I never bring a purse on the plane with me.  I condense everything into one bag that my purse usually goes into.  There are some essentials that I make sure to always have:

  • A light sweater
  • A scarf.  This sounds odd, but I have a favorite infinity travel scarf that I always bring with me.  It was a present from my mom and it is a lifesaver.  On past trips it has served as a pillow, neck warmer and a blanket.


  • Socks (if I am not wearing them).
  • An e-reader, book or magazine. Or, if you are a nerd like me, all three.
  • A pen. Just in case you need to fill out forms.
  • Hand cream (Kiehl’s is my absolute favorite)


  • Chewing gum. I know this sounds strange, but chewing gum while taking off or landing really helps relieve pressure in your ears.  This is especially good when traveling with little ones who are bothered by the change in pressure.
  • A hat.
  • 1 change of underclothes. (just in case your checked bags get lost).

7. Little kids get to wheel their own suitcase

I have no idea why, but little kids (up to age 18) love to have their own suitcase.  They love wheeling it around.  This can be frustrating, but it is also a great way to keep them entertained.  I learned the hard way to be patient, let them wheel it till their arms hurt, and then offer to take over if they get tired.  They give it up pretty easily, but sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes of painfully slow rolling through the airport.  It is a small price to pay to make sure your little one feels like they have an important role in this big family trip.

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