How to Prepare for Family Travel (when your kids are little)

So you’ve booked a vacation. Now what? Preparing for family travel doesn’t have to be complicated. Break it down into five simple steps, and packing is a breeze. Here’s what to do to prepare for your trip!

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1. Make a Packing List!

The very first thing I do, is make a copy of my family packing list, and begin editing. When you get your packing list emailed, go to File> Make a Copy, and save giving it a specific trip name. If you tend to go on repeat trips, this will help you find your old documents so that you can just save them and spend less time make adjustments!

I will spend up to an hour going through the list and adjusting quantities and any specialty items depending on how long our trip will be! In particular, if there are any specialty events or activities planned, I like to make sure to have outfits planned out so that I am not hauling around more stuff than necessary.

When to Begin Working on Your Packing List

As soon as we have a trip planned, I begin making a packing list! As things come to mind, I slowly add items we need related to activities we are doing (e.g. pool floats if the hotel has a pool). My packing lists are generally divided into 4 categories.

  • Gear: stand alone items such as car seats, strollers, baby carriers
  • Carry on: items we need on board the plane, or for a roadtrip, in the front seat of the car. Generally- documents, electronics, food, and change of clothes.
  • Luggage: clothes and anything we need that is going to be checked in
  • Toiletries: this technically goes in the luggage, but with kids there are so many small items to remember, that I like to give it its own detailed section.

The week before the trip, I sit down for an hour or so, and make sure that my list is complete. I think through how many of each item I want to take, and make a note of anything we might need to buy before we go.

2. Make a Prep List

When you have your packing list prepared, suddenly you might realize that you still need to buy some things, or do another load of laundry! This list will serve as a reminder to finish preparing your household for a trip, and you will be able to leave on your trip, stress-free!

Some items I like to include on this portion:

  1. Try on special occasion outfits
  2. Buy (things you realized you still need)
  3. Pay bills that will be due
  4. Clean out fridge items that will go bad (move them to the freezer)
  5. Water plants
  6. Buy Travel Medical Insurance (complete guide in link)

You know your own schedule, but if you need to physically go shopping, or leave enough time for something to be delivered, I suggest attending to that straight away.

Buy Travel Insurance

In addition to taking precautions to stay healthy while traveling, this one is pretty self explanatory. We usually do this pretty last minute, but medical insurance is something we need to buy. Often times, our credit cards will cover luggage loss, but we do make sure to check those terms before we go.

3. Pack!

Obviously! For most trips I like to start packing about two to three days before we leave, depending on the day of the week and other things we have going on. If most things are settled two days before, then you still have time to attend to your last minute errands!

Since you have already made your packing list, this should be pretty easy! Just walk around grabbing your items, and check them off the list as you go. My preference is to leave everything in neat piles on my bed, and when most of the list is assembled, puzzle them into my suitcase.

The Easiest Way to Pack

When all, or most, items have been set aside, I pull out everything and lay it on our bed in organized piles. Then I fit things into the luggage, so that it will be easy to find when we arrive. In a traditional suitcase this is pretty easy.

For travel with large duffles, I find it key to have the items subdivided into bags. For example, I will have my beach tote with all the bathing suits inside of it. If the kids are sharing a duffle, they will each get an oversized ziplock or space saver bag for their clothes (one for daytime clothes, and another for pj’s and undies). 

BONUS TIP: Leave your toiletry bag always packed! All those little items take a while to collect, so having duplicates already packed in your toiletry bag ready to go will save lots of time in the long run! I take a quick glance to make sure nothing has run out or is missing since the last trip.

Involving Your Kids in the Packing

If you have older kids, get them in on the action! For my 6 and 7 year olds, I made them a list of everything they needed to collect to pack!

That said, if your little ones are still really little, I suggest packing while they are asleep or distracted so that you don’t have unsolicited “help”. Parents of toddlers, you understand I am sure!

Speaking of your kids…

When to Prepare the Children for Travel?

What does it mean to prepare your children for travel? Well that depends on their ages. Babies can be told 24 hours before or less about an impending trip. Something like this:

Tomorrow we are going on a trip. We will take our luggage and go together to the airport. I will hold you on the airplane. When we get there we will go to the beach. It will be so much fun!

Toddlers might get a little more notice, but definitely less than a week. You can highlight that their favorite toy is coming with them, mention activities you will do or people you will meet.

I suggest reading books relating to things you will be doing, so that during the travels you can mention and relate those items. (Remember when we read the book about monkeys? Here is a real monkey! Isn’t that neat?)

For older kids, you can definitely give some prior notice, depending on how far ahead of time you book the trip. Since time is becoming more concrete, you can tie the travel time to another activity. (After your school show, we will pack up and that weekend we will leave.)

Depending on their ages and interests, you may have them read books on related topics (history, art, nature etc.) 

4. Errand day

Since you already know exactly what needs to be done, the night before a trip is time to wrap things up! You have your handy list at the end of your packing list, and run through the items.

If at all possible, I like to spend some time catching up on household tasks before we leave. A quick tidy, and a couple of loads of laundry go a long way, to coming back home refreshed, rather than back into the mess of everyday life with kids! Then again, if you don’t have time, don’t worry about it! The mess isn’t going anywhere! 🙂

Leave the house as you would like to find it

The night before we leave on a trip, I make sure to go through the house and leave things at least mostly tidy. Depending on how long our trip is for, I can expect that when we return it will be slightly dusty, but I definitely don’t want to return to a house that is dirty.

If there is laundry to be done, I try to finish up the loads, even if I won’t have time to fold them. Inevitably when we come back there will be mountains of laundry, so I try not to make the problem worse.

Give a little extra love to the Kitchen!

In the kitchen I take a look at our fridge and produce situation. During the week before a long trip, we try to avoid grocery shopping so that we can finish up most of the fresh goods. The day before a trip, I go through what items are still left.

Most leftovers, and produce can be frozen! Some vegetable may lose their texture, but you can still use those for cooking. Certain fruits and vegetable can keep for a long time in the fridge, so those can just stay as is. I also put aside food that we are taking with us all in one area so we don’t forget it!

The final thing: dishes. The day of our trip, I can let go of little messes, but I absolutely must do all the dishes! There is nothing worse than coming back to a house with moldy dishes, or fruit flies! (Ask me how I know).

5. Day of Travel

By now, you have gotten everything ready to travel with your family! Put your final items in your luggage (toothbrushes, I’m looking at you)! Turn off the lights, lock the door, and go enjoy your trip!

If you will be away for a while, it might be worthwhile to invest in a timer surge protector leaving a lamp or radio on to create the illusion that someone is there. This is the exact model we have and use for our internet, to limit exposure to EMFs (electromagnetic fields) while we are asleep!

Alternatively, or in addition, you could have a security camera installed. If you don’t need one on a regular basis, a simple option you can get on amazon may be just the ticket for safeguarding your home while away. Leave home confident that you can check in at any time via your phone!


I could continue writing on for days. Just know that travel with kids is not much harder than traveling by yourself. If you have systems and organization in place you are well on your way to a fantastic trip! Happy Travels!

How do you prepare for family travel? Any more tips to add?

P.S. Are you looking for a simple no stress guide to family travel? Download my complete tips to simplify traveling with kids. Just drop your email below!

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