Your Family Travel Packing List

Leave No Essential Item Behind!

GURMEET SAPAL

Summer is well underway, and so is the peak travel season for many Americans. Whether you’re traveling to a nearby beach or water park, hopping a plane or packing up for a road trip, it can be hectic keeping track of everything that you’ll need. And unfortunately, when you don’t use some type of list, things get forgotten in the madness.

A word to the wise
Before you pack your luggage, make sure you grab the most important items you’ll need for your trip, especially if you’re flying. IDs, tickets, passes and any other documents that are required for entry into a building, destination or attraction aren’t things that can be purchased or easily replaced. Packing for a flight requires a more strategic list than that for a road trip. 

When we first started traveling as a family, I was charged with packing everyone’s luggage. Although I considered myself fairly organized, I didn’t use a packing list — and inevitably, I’d forget someone’s goggles or after-shave lotion. Eventually, I created a system and made individualized packing lists for everyone in my house. Not only did having these lists keep me organized and remind me what to pack, they also took the pressure off me to pack for everyone else. 

True, your overall summer packing list can vary, depending on destination, planned activities and mode of transportation. However, there are essential items needed for every trip. Check out these suggestions to keep your family organized while traveling.

Packing for Infants

Packing for a baby requires the most attention and planning. Formula, diapers, baby wipes, onesies and bottles are necessities that you can’t leave home without. You also don’t want to forget your baby’s pacifier, night-light and favorite blanket. 

Remember: As you're packing your baby's footies, clothes, swim diapers, visor, swimwear, cup, bowl and utensils, you may want to consider grabbing his washcloth and towel as well. Your baby’s sensitive skin isn’t ready to be exposed to the hotel’s commercial laundry detergent. And while you’re thinking about their skin, it’s also a good idea to carry a tube of A+D ointment, baby powder and a thermometer for extra precaution.

Packing for Toddlers and School-Age Kids

The key to packing for an infant is to carry any and every item that will keep them happy during the journey. This is where your Gerber snacks, Baby Einstein toys and Disney storybooks become your best friends. Thankfully, your toddler or school-age children are less dependent and can help you with the packing process. Giving them this responsibility helps build their excitement for your family vacation and also teaches them organizational skills early on. 

Remember: While your kids may remember to pack their toothbrushes, goggles, clothes and socks, they might not think about their swim shoes or even Band-Aids for those potential vacation mishaps.

Family Travel Ideas

whale watching, lindbald expedition, alaska
Alaska

Alaska

“Experience the natural splendor of America’s last frontier on a cruise ship,” says Rainer Jenss. “Book the family on a smaller ship — either with Lindblad Expeditions or Alaskan Dream Cruises — so you and the kids can get a better view of the breaching whales, foraging bears and calving glaciers throughout the Inside Passage.” On land, we recommend a road trip along the Kenai Peninsula’s Seward Highway, starting in Anchorage. Make stops for fun family activities such as fishing in Homer and hiking Exit Glacier, one of several active ice flows in the state. 960 1280

Lindbald Expeditions  

Argentina

Argentina

From the beautiful capital of Buenos Aires to the sapphire glaciers of Patagonia, locals will not only be interested in meeting your family, but they will go out of their way to make your visit pleasant and memorable. “More than once, chefs emerged from the kitchen to play with our infant son, leaving my wife and me alone for a blissful meal,” says Bruce Kirkby, a family traveler who’s featured on Travel Channel’s Big Crazy Family Adventure. Argentina offers family-friendly adventures such as gaucho day trips at the Don Silvano Ranch, hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park and helicopter tours of Iguazu Falls. 960 1280

Mick Habgood/Moment/Getty Images  

Chicago

Chicago

The Windy City’s world-class museums, art scene and diverse food culture have always been big draws for families. In June, Chicago will become an even bigger family destination when it opens the 606. This trail, similar to NYC’s High Line, will grant locals and tourists access to more bike paths and walking trails connecting the Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Wick Park neighborhoods. “Downtown Chicago is great, but its neighborhoods really are the heart of the city, offering the best food and a slower pace of life more suited for quality family time,” says Keryn Means, a family travel writer and blogger for WalkingOnTravels.com. 960 1280

Adam Alexander Photography  

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Visit the Galapagos Islands for the diverse wildlife, including sea lions, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies. Families get a rare opportunity to see animals unafraid of human proximity. Kids have unique opportunities to snap a photo of a passing whale and swim above a school of sharks. “Lodging in the past was limited to staying on a boat or in clean but homely local hotels — both great options — but the addition of the area’s first 5-star hotel (the Royal Palm on Santa Cruz) means families who would prefer a more comfortable landing can visit, too,” says Heather Greenwood Davis, a travel journalist and founder of GlobetrottingMama.com. 960 1280

Paul Kennedy/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images  

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Take the kids to Glacier National Park to see its namesake glaciers soon, before climate change makes them a distant memory. Home to 70 different species of mammals, this park offers a wide array of family-friendly activities, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating and backpacking. “This park is filled with stunning beauty, abundant wildlife, some of the country’s most scenic hikes and opportunities for families to explore and learn,” says Nancy Schretter. “For the ultimate family adventure vacation, combine a visit to Glacier National Park with a stay at a dude ranch, such as Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge or Three Bars Ranch.” 960 1280

Donnie Sexton  

Kids Sea Camp in St. Lucia

Kids Sea Camp in St. Lucia

Book your 6-day/7-night stay at the Kids Sea Camp in St. Lucia, hosted by a top-ranked Caribbean resort, Anse Chastanet. In addition to hiking, mountain biking and kayaking, parents can take their kids snorkeling or diving. “Four-year-olds can get in the water for the Professional Association of Scuba Instructors’ (PADI) sanctioned training program,” says Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association. “That’s great news for parents who thought they’d have to give up diving when the kids were born.”  960 1280

Annie Crawley/Kids Sea Camp Inc.  

Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama

Skip the crowds of Costa Rica and visit a new family-friendly destination, Panama. We recommend exploring Panama City’s colonial history, architecture and culture. “Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great spot to pick up trinkets to take home, grab an ice cream and enjoy a stroll through the old Spanish architecture of Panama,” says Keryn Means. In addition to sightseeing around the city, tourists should venture outside its limits to take a boat tour on Gatun Lake, go white-water rafting on the Chagres River or enjoy the sun and waves on one of Isla Contadora’s beautiful beaches. 960 1280

Hans Joachim Hoos/iStock/Getty Images  

Peru

Peru

Peru is one of the top adventure destinations for 2015, and it's a great choice for an amazing family expedition. Go white-water rafting on the Urubamba River, explore the Amazon’s diverse wildlife and culture, ride Peruvian Paso Fino horses through villages, and mountain bike along dirt roads to see Incan archaeological sites. “Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is popular for families with teens and older children, but family-friendly tour operators such as Austin Adventures offer multiple options for reaching this iconic site,” says Nancy Schretter, a family and multigenerational travel expert. 960 1280

Peru Export and Tourism Promotion Board  

Tofino, British Columbia

Tofino, British Columbia

On Canada's west coast, Tofino has it all: endless beaches, camping, luxury lodges, surfing, kayaking and self-guided hikes in the rain forest. “Take a boat tour to go whale-watching and visit natural hot springs,” says Bruce Kirkby. “But for kids, nothing will beat the beaches.” We suggest family-friendly spots such as MacKenzie Beach, Tonquin Beach and Chesterman Beach. For a more adventurous trip, families can hike the Rainforest Trail at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Bear-watching, bird-watching, kayaking, fishing and surfing make Tofino the perfect location for a family getaway. 960 1280

Destination BC/Tom Ryan  

Tokyo

Tokyo

“Between the cartoons (kids) watch at home (think Avatar: The Last Airbender and Beyblade), the pop culture they’re exposed to (Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls) and the video games they swoon for (Nintendo and Sega have Japanese ties), Tokyo is where families will find plenty to keep them busy,” says Heather Greenwood Davis. Rent a bike to take in the Imperial Palace grounds, or take a local course in the art of origami or tai chi for a bit of culture. Then, go further. Hop on the new bullet train — which travels from Tokyo through the Hokuriku region — and watch your child’s eyes light up as you approach speeds of up to 300 mph. All aboard! The new train route is open to the public starting March 14, 2015. 960 1280

Dan Wiklund/Moment/Getty Images  

Packing for Teenagers

Teenagers can be fun to travel with because of their independence and helpfulness. No longer babies (for the most part), they can pack their own bags with all the necessities to keep them entertained.

Remember: Teenagers can be fun to travel with because of their independence and helpfulness. No longer babies (for the most part), they can pack their own bags with all the necessities to keep them entertained. 

Packing for Mom and Dad

Mom’s packing list is probably the most intricate list, aside from the baby’s. Personally, where my boys and my husband can share their multi-compartment American Airlines suitcase, I have to pack and carry separate luggage for myself. 

I faithfully use my Kathy Van Zeeland set because not only is it cute, it’s expandable and can work as either checked luggage or a carry-on. It has half a dozen compartments, so if any of them are empty, I can determine that I may have forgotten something, even without looking at a packing list. The external compartments are perfect for slipping in a pair of shoes or liquid toiletries, thereby keeping my clothes protected from dirt or mishaps. In addition to what everyone else is carrying, my luggage is filled with makeup, nail-care supplies, perfume, a flat-iron and a miniature bottle of hairspray. 

One could argue that Dad probably has the most streamlined packing list in the family. My husband can fill up the compartments of a Scottevest travel vest and a backpack and be happy. However, while Dad is trying to keep things simple, he may overlook less obvious items, such as a miniature flashlight, hand sanitizer, bug repellant and cleansing cloths in case his hands get dirty. 

Remember: If you're traveling overseas, carry an outlet converter, a global phone, an external cell phone battery and a small roll of toilet paper — you never know when you’ll walk into a bathroom without any. Our carry-on is also always filled with our electronics, a change of clothes, essential miniature toiletry items and a Tide detergent pod, just in case our luggage is lost or delayed.

MORE: Pack Hacks for Families

Video: How to Pack for Kids

What you should know about packing for a child's suitcase or bag.

How to Pack for Kids

 02:48

What you should know about packing for a child's suitcase or bag.

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