tips for packing with kids!

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after coming home from our latest trip as a family of 5, i feel like we’re slowly but surely figuring out our groove in terms of traveling with 3 small children. i’ve blogged before about tips and tricks for flying with kids as well as this big blog post on traveling abroad with little ones, but i thought i’d focus on the packing part today, because that part is kind of critical when it comes to having a successful trip or not. we’ve partnered with tom bihn today, whose luggage we love and have been using for several years now, to share 9 of our biggest tips on how we pack and travel with three little ones….

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every trip is very different, but i think our biggest lesson we’ve learned the past few years is that traveling light is everything! i understand that it’s not for everyone, and of course it depends on the kind of your trip you’re taking and how long you’re staying, but finding a way to bring less stuff and fewer bags makes the entire trip, from start to finish, far more enjoyable, easy, and managable with our family.

1. WAYS TO PACK LIGHT WITH KIDS
a few things tricks we’ve found work well for us here include only taking the right amount of diapers and wipes with us for just the day of travel, but purchasing the rest of our diapers when we arrive (and using them all up besides the amount you need for your travel day back home, before you leave.) i realize this can get tricky depending on where you’re traveling, but most places still carry diapers of some sort!

another big one is taking versatile clothing, things that can pack small, and can be worn a few different times, a few different ways. shoes tend to be a big one here! if you can find one pair that work for several kinds of occasions, and you wear them during your day of travel, that can be one of the biggest packing saves.  (i find this harder to do in the summer, but easier in winter with a boot you can dress up or down and is comfortable for lots of walking.)

we have also found that if you are traveling to a place where you can wash clothes, you don’t need to take as much, and it makes a huge difference. (although if you choose to do laundry at your hotel, check their pricing out first! i will never forget when we had laundry done at our hotel in rome and the large bill afterwards that made me feel like jim gaffigan when he said they must have washed everything in champagne. haha!) pretty much anywhere you travel will have a local laundry mat though.  i also often bring a bleach pen and small travel size container of detergent like woolite because – with kids and their incredible ability to get dirty while not even touching or holding a thing – it’s sometimes easy to just wash a few of their pieces by hand in your hotel bathroom at night and hang them to dry.

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2. ON LUGGAGE, CARRY ONS AND CHECKED BAGS
whether your bag is a carry on or a large bag you’re checking, finding a bag that helps you stay organized is important. we look for bags and organizational accessories that make sense and work well together.

after josh did tons of research on luggage a few years ago (he sorta got obsessed with reading about one bag traveling), we invested in a few tom bihn backpacks and travel bags before we left for our first international trip with kids.  the main reasons we chose them was because we loved that their super sturdy travel bags can be backpacks and how it frees up our arms and hands for other things like the kids. (josh has worn it on the front, too!) it is also the maximum legal carry on size, so we can use it as a checked bag or a carry on.

the packing cubes by tom bihn were the biggest game changers though. they make these part mesh cubes that come in different sizes specifically for each bag’s compartment and help you pack things tighter, in more organized ways. it helps us keep track of everyone’s separated clothing better. the stuff sacks are also wonderful for this reason (we can even stuff the kids bigger puffier coats into them) as well as use them as laundry bags during the trip.

occasionally this last year, we’ve also traveled with a large duffle bag we can check when we arrive at the airport for when we choose to travel with our more bulkier items (like the kids puddle jumpers or their tennis rackets) if we’re going somewhere where we’ll be using them.

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3. WHAT TO PACK
this one varies so much for each individual person and family member, as well as the kind of trip you’re taking! with the mentality of packing lighter, we try to plan outfits ahead of time and bring just a few for each of us. we usually double the amount of outfits for the kids, because they tend to get dirtier and go through them faster. wearing our heavier, more bulkier clothing when traveling (sweaters, coats, hats, etc) helps free up a lot of valuable packing space.  as i mentioned above, bringing less shoes is also a big one!travel59767965

4. ON PACKING CRIBS/PACK N PLAYS/CARSEATS
it’s different for every family, but we don’t travel with any of these things. we once brought our own carseats with us, and it was just really hard lugging those through the airport with all of our luggage plus our kids. props to those of you who do it! if we plan to use a car during our trip, we rent car seats from the rental car company. i think the days you set aside to travel to your destination with kids can be really fun or really exhausting, and schlepping 3 car seats around with you for a day is never any fun. it’s just less of a hassle this way.

we also haven’t ever brought a crib or pack n play with us, either. most hotels will have cribs handy if you’d like one, and they can even set up in your room for you before you arrive.  we usually co-sleep while traveling though, because that is what works best for our family.

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5. ON PACKING COMPUTERS AND CAMERAS 
josh is always in charge of carrying our computers and cameras and lenses while we travel.  he loves his tri-star for packing all of that stuff along with his clothes and things. we just started using the night flight travel duffle which can come with padded organizational dividers to protect our camera gear.

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by the way, i’m wearing the tom bihn aeronaut 45 in this photo above, and just wanted to say if you are ever traveling alone with a baby, a backpack type bag like this one saved my life when i traveled alone to DC last month with just conrad. i use it as a backpack, over the shoulder, or carry it as a duffel. because there are lots of compartments and packing cubes, it all stayed organized even when it was on my back, and made all of my traveling and train riding a whole lot easier since everything was comfortable on my back.

PS. here is a throwback photo of me almost 3 years ago carrying samson on the front of me instead of conrad while wearing my aeronaut! eek!! i can’t believe how little samson is here!naomibackpack-540x540travel947578

6. ON COMING HOME WITH MORE STUFF THAN YOU LEFT WITH
it might just be me, but sometimes we tend to accumulate “stuff” as we travel. we try not to do a lot of shopping while we travel, but little trinkets or books or other sorts of souvenirs tend to show up as the days go by.  we always try to keep this stuff to a minimum in general (since we don’t have much space in our apartment for it anyway) but we try to have one side compartment in our bags left empty when we start the trip, so we have a bit of wiggle room for anything we pick up along the way.

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7. ON THE KIDS BAGS
eleanor and samson have been using little backpacks since they were basically walking (these photos of eleanor as a baby with her new bag are some of my favorite.) they don’t carry all their own clothing and supplies in their backpacks (YET!), just a few things for the airplane to play with, their water kanteens, books and stuff.  sometimes i think it’d be easier to just carry everything in my bag and not have two little backpacks to try to keep an eye on as well, but i like the idea of eleanor and samson contributing and helping in some way by carrying something. and i think they like that it gives them an important task that they are in charge of.

here is a post all about airplanes and little ones i wrote last spring. it has lots of information on travel times, what to bring to feed them and entertain them on a long flight!

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8. ON PACKING STROLLERS AND CARRIERS
we have traveled all over the place with our double stroller. coming from a place where we use a stroller every day around the city, it just feels natural.  as eleanor and samson have begun to walk more and stroller less, we’ve been traveling with our smaller and lighter bugaboo bee stroller for baby conrad with an attached ride board lately for the older two (although they all tend to rotate through the stroller seat quite a bit).  if you’re taking a stroller, i find it most helpful to use it throughout the airport and check it at the gate after you walk down the ramp while boarding. it’s one of the main reasons we bring a stroller, is for the airport. haha! if your stroller doesn’t come with a travel case, we usually bring heavy duty black garbage bags with to put the stroller in at the gate to give it better protection for when they put it under the plane.

we also always have a baby carrier handy for the airport, airplane, and the trip in general.  our kids do really well in them, and they often make all the difference in our time traveling.
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9. ON PACKING AN EXTRA BAG FOR ALL YOUR EXTRA LOOSE ITEMS/THE CAR/AIRPORT DAY
no matter how well you plan, there are always those few things without a home! we really like tom bihn’s shop bags, which you can essentially crinkle up and stuff someplace to not take up much room, and then pull out at the airport, or in a rented car for all those loose toys/food items you begin to accumulate as you go.

hope this helps in some way! i don’t think there is only one way to do any of this, but this is what has been working best for our family! we’d love to hear all of your tips and tricks when it comes to packing and traveling with little ones in the comments below! we are always trying to improve the ways we travel and i’m sure we can learn more from all of you.

  1. Meghan

    I picked up some old ladies wallets at a flea market and before every plane trip I fill them with little card games, stickers, little pens and paper, coins, cut our paper dolls, really whatever you can come up with! The kids spend so much time opening up all the compartments and “discovering” all the treasures, they just love it.

    As far as plane travel I also always wait until the last moment to board, the less time we are sitting in our seats the better as far as I’m concerned.

    For road trips we have activities to do at rest stops, like who can run the fastest around a spot you pick, time them and then get them to do it again. Takes turns leading in acting out various animals, do some fun yoga, etc. The more active we are at rest stops (so the opposite of rest!) the better off the kids are.

  2. Catherine

    Hi!! Could you tell me where is your white and blue striped top is from please?? beautiful family!!
    XX

  3. Annie

    You are truly a super mom!!! Thanks for all the tips. I think so many people think that once you have babies, you are stuck at home forever, but you show us that with the right tricks that doesn’t have to be the case <3

  4. Cat

    Beautiful family!! Where is your white and blue striped top from please? Thanks !!
    Xx

  5. Jenny

    We actually find traveling with our son’s car seat vital to a successful flight-especially a longer one. He’s a very active 3 year old and has been on many flights so this is what works for us. We bought a car seat travel roller that your car seat attaches to and it serves as a great “stroller” while cruising through the airport. Since our son knows exactly what to expect while sitting in his car seat (as it’s almost a daily routine for us), he does beautifully on longer flights sitting in one-and sleeping in one! Just make sure your car seat is FAA approved. The car seat roller folds up really flat and small (as the handle adjusts) so it fits in the overhead compartment very easily. You can also buy a travel tray that attaches to their seat and folds up really small so that they can have a flat surface to eat and play on with their toys (the airplane tray is useless with a car seat which is the one challenge for us with bringing the car seat on long flights). We love traveling with our kids-it’s something we hope they will continue to love and value as well!

    • TAZA

      that’s awesome to hear! i imagine traveling with a car seat could be a dream if your child knows what to expect and is used to it like you said! that way they are buckled and happy during the flight which i imagine would be amazing! it might just be because we don’t drive often where we live so our kids hate carseats and aren’t used to them that we prefer to just forget about it during the airport part of our travel since it’s more of a hassle for us. it’s amazing how different each family can be with those types of things! thanks for sharing this comment jenny!

  6. Katie

    Great tips! I was wondering where your striped top is from? Striped shirts are sort of my jam ;)

    • TAZA

      it’s from love, hanna!

  7. vivian

    such an informative post! thanks! i’m always in awe of how brave you guys are to travel everywhere with your three kids!with one kid i was definitely brave to venture, but now with my second at 1.5 yo and hates to sit still, i’ve been more hesitant to go on trips!

  8. Britta

    After you posted about one bag travel a few years ago we bought a set of Tom Bihn bags. They are fantastic and I would highly recommend them, especially the packing cubes and stuff sacks you mention here. I would love to hear more about what beauty products you pack and how you keep it simple on the road. Thanks!

    • TAZA

      that makes me so happy to hear britta!

  9. Great post! It’s my goal to travel with only carry ons on my next trip, for my family of four (but sometimes it’s just easier to check them in at the gate). I tried rolling my clothes rather than folding them for the first time ever this summer, and it was brilliant! We have a 4 year old girl who would love that ride board on her baby brother’s stroller, but we find that making her walk the airport lets her fall asleep easier on the long flight ahead.

    xo Anna of The Analog House
    http://theanaloghouse.blogspot.com/

  10. CC

    Thank you! Great post!! Looks like you have 4 of the Aeronaut’s. Wow, do you check them in?

    I want to get my littles those backpacks too. So adorable.

  11. Joy

    What a great post! Definitely pinning for the future. My question is about co-sleeping in a hotel room, especially with a baby + kids a little older. Does that mean you all go to sleep when Conrad goes to sleep? It just seems like it would be hard, timing-wise, and for parents who might want to stay up later than the kids!

    • TAZA

      i don’t know if it’s because my kids are used to noise since we often have sirens blazing or horns honking outside our windows in nyc throughout the night, but they are really sound sleepers. especially for the first half of the night when they are in their deepest sleep. so we usually dim the lights down after one or more of the kids go to bed, but we haven’t had trouble staying up working on our computers or watching a movie (obviously the volume isn’t as high as it’d be in a movie theatre, but you know…)

  12. Kellie

    This post came at the perfect time! We’re going on a trip this weekend with our little and we drive a fiat so we have pretty much no space. I’m totally using some of these tips for packing light!

    http://www.thekellie.com

    • TAZA

      i love that you drive a fiat! DREAMY!

  13. Morgan Thrall

    After reading your previous post about travelling abroad with littles my husband and I bought the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 bags to go to France for two weeks with our 8 month old. What a DREAM they are! They made the trip less stressful and freed us up to have lots of fun! Thank’s for the recommendation!

    • TAZA

      oh that’s so great to hear! i’m so glad and hope you had the best time in france!

  14. tracy

    so timely as we plan for a trip in a couple weeks! random question: where did you get those travel toiletry screw-top containers? i’ve been looking for something like that, instead of just the squeeze tube bottles…

    • TAZA

      they come with the travel cubes made by tom bihn! they also have velcro so they can sit attached to the bottom of the cube when it’s hanging in a bathroom!

  15. Jenn

    Where did you find Eleanor and Samson’s back packs? And what do you store in them?
    The Pepper Express

    • TAZA

      i shared the name of them in the post! they are fjallraven kanken! we store things for the plane rides in there, like their water canteens, art supplies, a little book or toys and snacks.

  16. Kristin

    Great tips and great photos!!!!xoxo

  17. kristen

    Ladies… her top is from hannahanderson.com.. she mentioned it in a previous post. :) cheers!

  18. Veca

    Very practical advice which I especially appreciate as we’re planning oltwo trips this year with a 3yr-old and a 3-month-old. I was considering bringing the co-sleeper but now i think I’ll just get one from the hotel and bring my own crib bedsheets. I also love the look of those Tom Bihn backpacksand travel cubes. Must get my hands on some before we go! Thanks again.

  19. Jen

    Awesome post! I’m always looking for tips on traveling with kids and am actually considering a Patagonia bag that’s a combo duffel/backpack but I will definitely look at the Tom Binh bag as an option.

  20. pat.

    My boys carried small, cute, light teddy backpacks from the time they could walk. Stored inside were snacks, toys, light jacket, swimsuit, change of clothes so we did not have to open luggage in an emergency or return to room for a change of pace.

  21. Sassy

    Thanks for sharing. I do very similar things with my 3 young ones. Baby carrier is a lifesaver. I really like the idea of using a packable bag for loose items while waiting or for lengthy car trip without having to put everything back…less hassle May I ask where your striped top is from? I’ve been searching for something like that for quite some time.

    • TAZA

      it’s from love hanna from the hanna andersson line! thanks so much!

  22. Emily

    I love this because I want to still travel when I have kids. Definitely saving this for the future :)
    EmmyJake

  23. Christina

    Could you (pretty please!) say who your sunglasses are by? They are so lovely and I would really appreciate it so much!

    • TAZA

      of course! they are from free people!

  24. jacqueline

    dear naomi
    great tips! my daughter is 13 yrs already and we travelled a lot as a family when she was much younger (mostly by car), would have appreciated your tips a lot back then…
    keep your fantastic blog up, i love reading your posts, you’re always spreading a good feeling and your photos are great! best wishes from switzerland (georgeous country für traveling…) xoxo jacqueline

  25. Sarie

    Was so fun to see throwback pics–espesh loved your boots! Makes me excited for fall and boot weather! BTW I am smitten by Conrad’s little red sweatpants.

  26. Dora

    Can I ask, what would you suggest packing for a weeks holiday in NYC in the first week of November? I am completely confused about how warm/cold it will be and sort of clothing I’ll need. Please advise!

    Thank you Taza

    Dora,
    Bath – England.

  27. Naomi Hess

    Wow! Thanks for taking the time to give that feedback. Super helpful! Going to put some of your tricks of trade into use.

  28. Crystalyn

    We are traveling to Italy for 2 weeks with our 2.5 year old and 9 month old in September. I was so inspired by your trip to Italy where you packed light and just your travels with kids in general. I am interested in those Tom Bihn bags based off of your recommendations but my question is, is it convenient without the rollers? Also how did you feel about a double wide stroller in Italy with narrow streets? Would you recommend a single? Thanks for your advice, you’re awesome!

    • TAZA

      i was skeptical about not having a rolling suitcase as well, but because the bag can convert into a backpack style, you aren’t dragging it everywhere like a duffle, and you still get to have both your hands free!

      as for the stroller, our double did just fine along the streets in italy! if i recall correctly, it didn’t fit into one restaurant in venice, where we locked it up outside, but it isn’t much wider than many single strollers, so it fit everywhere great! have the best time in italy!!!!

  29. bri

    i just traveled alone cross country with my two littles and i was sitting here nodding vigorously as i read every tip. they have their own little backpacks too and it’s so cute to see them walking around with them and knowing they’re doing their part. even if it’s just their headphones and some stickers ;) although,i do bring carseats with us, i check them when i check my luggage because it’s free and if they lose them they’ll give you new ones to use until they recover them. we’ve never lost anything yet but i’m pretty confident that we’d be able to figure something out. but a big YES to having a stroller just for the airport. such a lifesaver.

  30. Olga Korolev

    Hi! Thank you so much for this post. It comes at the best time – we are planning a trip to Mexico with our little one for December. May i ask what brand is your baby carrier? We are outgrowing our bjorn.

  31. Allison

    I love seeing pictures of you wearing your littles! I have loved carrying all three of mine, everywhere we go! But every time I see a picture I can’t help but think… she needs a Tula!!! Have you seen Tula brand carriers? They’re so prettyyyyyyy and fun! I totally think they would fit your style!

  32. Kristen

    On accumulating souvenirs – one thing I’ve found that helps keep that to a minimum is starting a tradition that the only souvenirs we bring home are Christmas tree ornaments. Of course not everywhere you go will there be Christmas tree ornaments available, but for the most part, I’ve had good luck. A trolley ornament from San Francisco, shell ornament from Hawaii, declaration of independence ornament from D.C., Mickey ornament from Disney World, etc. It’s fun to bring them out every Christmas and have those memories as part of our Christmas tree.

  33. Vinaya

    What are your thoughts on the absolute shoulder strap and some of the extra add-on options? Are they worth it? I already have some eBags packing cubes and the TB Aeronaut 45. Is it really that much better to get all Tom Bihn everything?

  34. Sheila Lo Monaco

    Love your blog just found it on Instagram, I have been reading all day at every break I get , I have an fifteen month old baby,and an four and half old girl we are current living in Atlrlingyon VA, love your tips about DC.
    I may never stop coming by!

  35. Sheila Lo Monaco

    ove your blog just found it on Instagram, I have been reading all day at every break I get , I have an fifteen month old baby,and an four and half old girl we are current living in Arlington VA, love your tips about DC.
    I may never stop coming by!