Traveling with Your Child: What Should You Pack?

When we tell people that we took an eight-and-a-half-month trip with our toddler, we inevitably get a lot of questions—but there’s one question that’s the most common by far. And that question is…

How did you pack for that? (for The 2 Idiots Comprehensive Packing List for Kids scroll to the bottom of this article) 

Well, today we are going to give you an answer—and hopefully also provide some packing tips you can use for your next family adventure, whether it’s a one-week vacation or an eight-month trek.

To start with, we just want to lay out our basic packing philosophy: When you travel with your child, you’re definitely going to be bringing a lot of stuff with you—a car seat, a stroller, and the list goes on. So when it comes to actually putting together items for your luggage, we recommend packing as few things as you can. Stick to a basic rotation of outfits; keep the toys you bring small and lightweight.

Remember: People all over the world have kids, which means you can always buy things like diapers and snacks. If the worst thing that happens on your trip is that you don’t pack enough crackers, or you’re a day short on pull-ups, well, that’s easily rectified with a quick trip to the local store.

Start with the Right Gear

Our biggest tip is something we actually didn’t do on our long trip, but have done on some subsequent trips. That’s using packing cubes. If you’re not familiar with them, you can buy assorted packing cubes in various sizes; these are fully transparent and allow you to section off the items you’re packing—so, for example, you can get a big cube for each parent, a smaller cube for your little one, a cube for swimming gear, perhaps one for underwear and socks… you get the idea. The upshot is that it’s always easy to find exactly what you want, without having to do too much rummaging around or getting your stuff all disheveled.

And incidentally, if you don’t want to invest in packing cubes, we know some people who just use variously-sized Ziploc bags. This is something of an ongoing debate between the two of us, so we’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s something you’d want to consider. (Ahem.)

We’d also recommend having a big bag in your luggage that you can use for laundry; as you wear clothes and change out of them, just throw them into the laundry bag, ensuring they are kept separate from the clean outfits.

Natasha carrying Aarav’s essentials in a (stylish, of course) backpack while touring Budapest

Something else you should have is a backpack for your child. It doesn’t have to be anything special—we just used a normal North Face backpack we found on Amazon—but make sure it’s reasonably spacious. Try to pack all of your son or daughter’s accessories here—toys, books, milk or juice, and so on. One advantage to the backpack is that it’s easy to hang on your stroller, so it’s incredibly portable. And, assuming your kid is old enough, you can have them carry it their self!

What’s more, using the backpack puts some limits on how many toys and books you can bring on your trip—and that can definitely be helpful! Finally, note that these little backpacks can be your child’s airplane carry-ons, so it’s one less bag you have to check.

Another must-have is the medicine bag. Stock it with Band-Aids, bug spray, sunscreen, antibacterial ointment, Tylenol/Motrin/Benadryl (including kids’ versions), and some decongestants. A diaper rash cream is also useful to keep here. We always have our little medicine bag with us, even when traveling domestically.

We would also recommend a small baby monitor, which may come in handy as you settle into an unfamiliar dwelling space; you can use the monitor to make sure your child is falling asleep properly the first night in the Airbnb, for example.

Pack the Right Clothes

In addition to having the right packing gear, you’ll also want to make sure you select the right items to bring along. The hardest part is making sure you bring the right clothes for your child.

Using our baggage straps

You don’t necessarily want to go overboard and bring everything in your child’s closet, but do plan for some easy layers. Bring some light pants, even if you’re going to a hot area; choosing pants over shorts can provide some good protection against the sun. We also recommend packing at least one jacket—and if you’re going anywhere there’s even a chance of colder temperatures, pack both a smaller windbreaker and a heavier winter coat.

Always pack swimsuits, too—no matter the season or the weather. You never know when your hotel or Airbnb will have an indoor pool! Our son spent a lot of time swimming throughout our travels—a great way to keep him entertained! (Relatedly, pack any floats your child needs to stay buoyant; our son likes a particular puddle jumper.)

What About Food?

Any time you’re packing for kids, you obviously want to bring along some food. We always packed our son’s favorite snacks, even things that are easy to find in stores, just so that we’d always have them handy. We’d recommend Emergency Chocolate, too—or whatever food items help your child calm down during a tantrum.

Also bring along some quick meals you can make on the fly for your child, especially if you show up to a hotel or Airbnb late one night and just need to get some food on the table ASAP. For us, little packets of noodles, requiring only hot water, worked out well.

With all our luggage during our trip to Scandinavia in 2018

Our child happens to really like milk, which is something that really can be hard to get in certain parts of the world—so we’d always pack some milk in extra bottles or sippy cups, just to make sure we had some within reach. On occasion this caused a slight delay as we went through airport security, but it was never really a problem; you just may need to let the security folks scan those cups before you pass through. While you’re traveling, you can usually find milk in coffee shops, if you really need to stock up.

Speaking of which, pack some extra sippy cups, because these can be hard to find overseas—and you never know when your child might throw or lose one!

Don’t Forget About the Potty

The most disgusting aspect of packing for your child is thinking about bathroom needs.

If your child is not potty trained, you clearly need diapers and wipes. Depending on which one of us you ask, you should pack for either a couple or four full days, but rest assured that you can travel anywhere in the world and get diapers or pull-ups of some kind. We never had any problem locating diapers for our son.

If your child is potty trained, you’ll want to bring along a portable potty seat. We also tend to bring along a few pull-ups, just in case; these can be especially helpful if you’re on a long day of walking tours, bus rides, etc. Our son was potty training during our trip, and we would generally just put him in a pull-up when we were out for long stretches of time, ensuring we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of cleaning up big messes. (Traveling with a potty-training child is a whole other post!)

Our Carry-On Philosophy

A final point of discussion: How should you pack your airplane carry-on bags?

We feel like it’s best to stick with the essentials: Your medicine bag, the portable potty seat, diapers (if needed), a change of clothes for everyone, perhaps some minor toiletries—whatever you’d need to survive if your luggage (God forbid) gets lost or delayed.

Also bring along anything you need to keep your child entertained on the plane, like the iPad and a few favorite toys.

Aarav is reading his book which we packed in his toddler backpack

That’s what we think about packing for a trip, and these tips have all worked out well for us; again, our biggest piece of advice is to relax and remember that, if you need to stop into a store and grab something, that’s usually going to be no big deal.

The 2 Idiots Comprehensive Packing List For Kids

To wrap this one up, we want to offer up our checklist—the things we think are absolute must-haves for your next trip with a little one.

  • Travel Stroller
  • Stroller Rain Cover (optional depending on weather)
  • Travel Car Seat
  • Travel Crib
  • Travel flight harness
  • Packing cubes
  • Youth toy backpack(s) with all their toys/books
  • Medicine bag (sun screen, bug spray, antibacterial ointment, Tylenol/Motrin/Benadryl, decongestant, diaper rash cream, band aids, thermometer, anti-bacterial wipes/hand santizer, snot remover)
  • Travel baby monitor
  • Food
    • Snacks (chips, fruit bars, dry cereal etc.)
    • Emergency chocolate (like M&Ms to give during a tantrum)
    • Quick meals like instant noodles (just in case you need it)
    • Milk/Baby Formula/Water
  • Milk Bottles/Sippy cups
  • Spare plastic bags (trust us it’ll come in handy)
  • Not potty trained child: 3-4 days worth of diapers, odor controlled diaper bags/plastic bags
  • Potty trained child/in potty training: 3-4 days worth of pullups, portable potty seat
  • Toiletries for child (brush, toothpaste, baby wash, baby lotion)
  • Devices—fully charged—to keep child busy, and charge cords (iPhone, iPad, Kindle etc.)
  • External battery charger—fully charged
  • Swimming clothes and diapers (swimsuit, puddle jumper)
  • Child clothes
    • Must include light jacket
    • Might include light pants
    • Extra pair of shoes

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