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….
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.