We’ve all been there. You dream about taking your kids on a vacation, but are suddenly paralyzed by the thought of packing. Why do kids need so much stuff? The short answer—they don’t. While we tend to think our children can’t travel without everything (and the kitchen sink) in tow, you can actually pack you and your children up in one suitcase, even for a five-week trip to Europe. Yes, it’s true, and we are going to show you how.
Use the Rolling Method
There are generally two camps when it comes to packing. You are either a “roller” or a “stacker.” Stacking keeps everything in a nice tidy pile, but doesn’t always save space in your bag. If you want to maximize the square footage, you need to go with the rolling method.
Every single item gets rolled into a little line so it can be neatly stacked. Socks are crammed into the gaps. Underwear are places in crevices and bras are tucked on the ends to keep their shape. If you are trying to share your suitcase with two children, this method can work well and still keep you organized. Everyone gets a row in the suitcase. Underwear and socks can go in the zipper slots at the top of your bag for easy access, or you can place toiletries up there. When you unpack, you will know which row goes in which drawer at your hotel. Or if you are bouncing around to difference locations, you simply go down the suitcase grabbing shirts and pants for you and the kids from each row. Easy peasy.
Invest in Packing Cubes
However, if you want the ultimate in organization, go with packing cubes. This color-coded system for packing gives everyone their own packets for large and small items. This way you don’t have to stick to rows in the suitcase; you simply stick to colors.
Undergarments can go into a small cube, while larger items, like shirts and pants, can go into a larger cube. You can even place outfits together into cubes for easy access on the road. Garments can still be rolled and placed into the cube for maximum storage too.
When you go to place the cubes into your suitcase, you can cram the small cubes around the larger cubes to make the most of the space you have. Some of our favorite packing cubes include these Eagle Creek and eBag cubes that come in a variety of colors that will cover a number of family members.
Just remember—everyone gets their own color. Let the kids pick their favorites so they are invested in the packing process.
Pack for Only Half the Length of Your Trip
When you want to fit you and your child(ren) into one bag, you need to get very particular about what you are going to wear on your trip. You need to learn the fine art of mixing and matching tops, wearing the same pair of trousers twice, possibly three times, and accessorizing like a pro. The same goes for your kids.
Plan on packing enough clothing for half of your trip, especially if you will be gone more than a week. You can pack enough underwear and socks to keep you covered, but the rest should be worn more than once, or washed along the way. No one will see you again. You don’t need to be stressed that anyone will judge you for wearing the same shirt twice in one week.
This rule also applies to toiletries and shoes. Ladies, you probably don’t need that pair of heels you just threw in your bag. At most, everyone will need two pairs of shoes—one you wear on the plane and one you pack. Toiletries should be stashed in three ounce or less bottles. Refills can be grabbed on the road, or use the toiletries the hotel provides.
Take Advantage of “Free” Bags
When you’re traveling with babies and toddlers, there is always a plethora of stuff you have to pack up to take with you. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Chances are, you will be bringing a car seat. Car seats travel free on airlines. Pop that car seat in a car seat bag (like this one), and then add in a pack of diapers, a small life vest if you will be swimming, a pack of wipes and anything else that is lightweight and doesn’t add too much bulk to the bag.
The key is to make sure these items go unnoticed. While most ticket agents don’t care, there are some agents out there who will make you remove anything that isn’t the car seat. So, take out that foldup baby crib you just tried to cram in the bag. It won’t work. You will need to check that crib separately for a fee, or use the hotel crib.
Plan on Doing Laundry
Laundry is your best friend as a parent, especially when you travel. If your hotel or rental property has a washing machine onsite, take advantage of it. Many towns also have laundry service or self-service laundry mats. Yes, you may have to spend an hour or two doing laundry, but it’s better than spending the next few days in the car with stinky kids.
You can also opt to do laundry in your hotel sink or bathtub if you’ll have enough time to let these items dry. Laundry detergent pouches make it easy to carry a little detergent with you, or you can fill up a toiletry bottle to take on the road. Just don’t mix this up with your shampoo! That’s a different sort of freshness you might not want in your hair that morning.
Buy It There or Ship It
You can buy just about anything at your destination, depending on where you’re headed. Diapers, baby food, snacks, water—it’s all there. Don’t pack two-weeks’ worth of diapers. You won’t have space in your bags for anything else. Buy diapers once you arrive, or better yet, ship a case of diapers to your destination hotel so the box is waiting for you upon arrival. Make sure your hotel knows you will have a package coming. On the shipping label, add “HOTEL GUEST: Your Name” so the hotel knows where to sort it.
Watch Your Weight
While packing everything into one suitcase sounds like a dream, you do have to be mindful of weight. No, not your weight, your bag’s weight. That 50-pound limit will sneak up on you quickly, which will have you scrambling at the airport as you repack and throw items into a carry-on bag.
Packing everyone in one bag gets especially tricky as your children get older. While traveling with babies and toddlers, it’s easy to share a bag. They have such tiny clothing. Teenage boys are a different story. Once those clothes (and shoes!) get bigger, dad may have to share with one kid, while mom shares with the other. Either way, you will save big when you only have to check two bags instead of four. Just make sure you weigh that bag using a luggage scale before you head out the door.
Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.