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  

Swiss Chocolate Train
Swiss Chocolate Train

Swiss Chocolate Train

Say the words "chocolate train" to your kids, and they’ll be all aboard for this day trip in the Swiss countryside. You will be, too, as you nibble your way through the regions where world-famous Cailler chocolate and Gruyere cheese come from. You’ll be treated to first-class comfort as you travel from Montreux to the Gruyère region in either a vintage Pullman car or an ultra-modern panoramic coach car. And your ticket includes a tour of the Gruyères castle and tickets to chocolate and cheese-making factories. 960 1280

Goldenpass  

Darjeeling Toy Train

Darjeeling Toy Train

A luxury train trip in India becomes a family adventure with the 8-hour ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway “toy train.” This historic railway from 1881, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, travels through the Eastern Himalayas to the lush, green Darjeeling tea plantations. The miniature steam train travels at the slow pace of 7 miles per hour, so you’ll have time to take in all the spectacular scenery as you “choo- choo” along. 960 1280

IndiaPictures, Getty Images  

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway

The most epic of all family adventures? Grand Canyon, of course. Experience the ride of a lifetime onboard the Grand Canyon Railway as you take in one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders. With entertaining characters and musicians onboard, kids will think they’ve travelled back in time to the Wild West. 960 1280

Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel  

Alaska’s Denali Star

Alaska’s Denali Star

For many families, a bucket list trip like Alaska might seem daunting with young children, but seeing the last frontier is doable (and quite comfortable) via train. Travel on the Denali Star from Anchorage to Fairbanks through the majestic Denali National Park. Keep your eyes open as the train moves through Alaska’s spectacular landscapes -- you might get lucky and see a bear, moose or caribou. And look out for what native Alaskans call “The Great One” -- the 4-mile- high Mt. McKinley. 960 1280

John Greim, Getty Images  

Niagara Falls Train

Niagara Falls Train

Take the kids to the one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders, Niagara Falls, without the hassle a car trip can bring. If you’re craving an international adventure, take Canada’s Via Rail line from Toronto directly to Niagara Falls. Or head out from New York City aboard the Maple Leaf Train, and travel through Hudson River Valley and the Finger Lakes Region to the see the spectacular waterfalls. 960 1280

Courtesy of Via Rail  

Cass Scenic Railway

Cass Scenic Railway

Take the kids back in time to the era of steam-driven locomotives on this historic train ride through West Virginia’s Cass State Park. Kids will love sitting in the open-air cars, while parents will enjoy the wide-open vistas on the 11-mile journey. Stay overnight in a renovated turn-of-the- century cottage in the charming mill town of Cass. 960 1280

West Virginia Department of Commerce  

Whistler Sea to Sky Climb

Whistler Sea to Sky Climb

Planning on a family mountain getaway to Whistler? Leave the car behind and take the “Sea to Sky Climb” train from downtown Vancouver to Canadian’s popular mountain resort town, Whistler. This 3- and-a-half ½- hour train trip offers breathtaking views of the Hound Sound and the British Columbia Coast Mountains. And this way, you won’t have to worry about navigating the steep mountain roads up to Whistler on your own. 960 1280

Rocky Mountaineer  

Hocking Valley Scenic Train

Hocking Valley Scenic Train

Take a trip back in time on this historic train along Ohio’s Hocking River that passes through a canal lock and a pioneer village. Throughout the year, differently themed train rides, like the Easter Bunny, Santa and even old-time “train robbers,” offer kid-friendly entertainment onboard. 960 1280

jpmueller99, flickr  

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Take the whole family on a railroad adventure through North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. A unique trip each season, a journey in fall offers some of the best fall foliage in the country, while a ride during the holidays offers extra fun for the kids with a visit from Santa on the “Polar Express.” 960 1280

Getty Images  

Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight

Traveling between Los Angeles and Seattle, the Coast Starlight is one of the most scenic train trips in the country. You’ll pass through San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Portland as you ride along the Pacific Coast and pass the Cascade Mountains. There’s something for the whole family on this historic bi-level Superliner -- the kids will learn about the passing regions with onboard National Parks programs, and the adults will enjoy daily tastings of local wines and artisan cheeses in the parlor car. 960 1280

Courtesy of Amtrak  

Harry Potter Train

Harry Potter Train

Calling all Hogwarts fans (both kids and parents), this is the trip for you! Ride on West Coast Railways’ “Jacobite” steam engine and carriages that were used in the Harry Potter films. Travel through Scotland’s lush countryside, and cross over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, an unforgettable landmark for all Harry Potter fans. 960 1280

Getty Images  

Heber Valley Railroad

Heber Valley Railroad

See Utah’s Heber Valley onboard a 1907 vintage steam locomotive, sure to wow both kids and train buffs, alike. The 16-mile track twists and turns between Heber Valley and Vivan Park in Provo Canyon. Lookout for bald eagles, deer and elk as you ride along the Provo River.  960 1280

Utah Office of Tourism/Steve Greenwood  

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans)

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans)

Come face to face with an array of sealife at a 400,000-gallon water tank filled with stingrays, sea turtles -- and 17-foot-long sharks! They’re all part of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. The aquarium showcases aquatic life throughout North and South America. 960 1280

Stephen Saks/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, TX)

Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, TX)

At the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, visitors can see the 2 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins -- Shadow and Kai above water … and below, courtesy of an underwater viewing room that features a 70-foot-long window.  960 1280

Philip Lange/ iStock/ Thinktsock  

Ripley’s Aquarium (Gatlinburg, TN)

Ripley’s Aquarium (Gatlinburg, TN)

In the heart of the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find Ripley’s Aquarium. The facility in Gatlinburg, TN, is home to 10,000 sea creatures, representing more than 350 individual species, such as giant stingrays, snappers and some very large sharks -- as long as 13 feet! 960 1280

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies  

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher (Kure Beach, NC)

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher (Kure Beach, NC)

It’s only fitting that the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher should be located near … Cape Fear! You and the kids will encounter plenty of fear-factor moments: Touch a live shark, discover North Carolina’s fiercest predator and come face-to-face with an alligator -- if you dare. 960 1280

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher  

National Aquarium (Baltimore)

National Aquarium (Baltimore)

You’ll find all kinds of fish at the Baltimore National Aquarium. Since it opened in 1981, the aquarium has garnered an astonishing collection of sea life: nearly 20,000 specimens representing 660 species. 960 1280

Richard Cummins/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, OR)

Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, OR)

Wow, are we underwater, Dad? It’ll feel like it as you and the kids journey through this underwater tunnel at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Cool views like this help explain why the facility in Newport, OR, has been ranked one of the top 10 aquariums in North America by Coastal Living magazine. 960 1280

Oregon Coast Aquarium  

Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA)

Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA)

This 5-acre site in Long Beach, CA, is home to the Aquarium of the Pacific. The little ones will enjoy plenty of interactive fun: Kids can pet sharks and stingrays, and feed nectar to parrots known as lorikeets. 960 1280

Pete Starman/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images  

Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, CA)

Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, CA)

Did you know that corals are animals, not plants? Your kids will learn these and other facts at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Coral Reef Kingdom. See them ooh and aww at the colorful ocean homes where these tiny animals live in colonies. Also check out the aquarium's other attractions, including stingrays, jellyfish and sea otters. 960 1280

Doug Steakley/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

New England Aquarium (Boston)

New England Aquarium (Boston)

These brave kids stick their hands in the “touch tank,” as stingrays glide through the clear shallow water. Kids (and adults) can touch various species of sharks and rays at Boston's New England Aquarium, including cownose rays, southern stingrays and coral catsharks. 960 1280

Brian D Cruickshank/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

The Florida Aquarium (Tampa, FL)

The Florida Aquarium (Tampa, FL)

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida is home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals from around the world. 960 1280

Richard Cummins/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

John G. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago)

John G. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago)

You’re looking at one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago houses more than 5,000,000 gallons of water in which 25,000 fish (and counting!) make their home. 960 1280

Charles Cook/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta)

Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta)

How’s this for big: The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta contains between 100,000 and 120,000 fish and other sea creatures. One of the biggest reasons to visit is to see the aquarium’s whale sharks -- it’s the only institution outside of Asia to house this particular shark species. 960 1280

Barry Williams/ Getty Images  

Tennessee Aquarium (Chattanooga, TN)

Tennessee Aquarium (Chattanooga, TN)

Come face to face with sharks at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN. The captive sharks may look menacing but they're typically not a threat to humans. Unless, of course, you engage in some spearfishing -- fortunately, not an option at this aquarium! 960 1280

Stephen Saks/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images  

Waikiki Aquarium (Honolulu)

Waikiki Aquarium (Honolulu)

Just what makes a fish a fish? Find out at the Waikiki Aquarium, the third oldest aquarium in the US. At the aquarium’s very official Fish School, kids as young as 5 can learn all about the many critters of the sea and their amazing adaptations to their environment. Don’t worry, though, it’s not all learn and no play -- the class includes a scavenger hunt among the exhibits.
960 1280

Waikiki Aquarium  

Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY)

Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY)

Sharks, sharks and more sharks! Sand tiger, sandbar, whitetip, blacktip reef and zebra -- see these intriguing shark species glide above your head in Newport Aquarium’s underwater tunnel. Also explore the aquariums additional attractions, such as the Jellyfish Gallery, Frog Bog (home to 20 species of exotic frogs) and Gator Alley, where visitors can stare into the eyes of Tut, their Nile crocodile.
960 1280

Kentucky Tourism  

New York Aquarium (Brooklyn, NY)

New York Aquarium (Brooklyn, NY)

See these cute black-footed penguins at the New York Aquarium, located on Coney Island. As the oldest continually operating aquarium in the US, the aquarium holds no shortage of marine mammals and aquatic life, from sea lions, otters and walruses, to cownose rays and moray eels.    960 1280

Julie Larsen Maher/WCS  

Downtown Aquarium Denver

Downtown Aquarium Denver

Yes, even mermaids live at the aquarium … or at least put on a good show. At Downtown Aquarium Denver, see live mermaid performances in the Under the Sea exhibit. Also check out the aquarium’s exhibits spanning barrier reefs, rainforest, wharf and desert habitats. 960 1280

Downtown Aquarium, Denver  

Downtown Aquarium Houston

Downtown Aquarium Houston

Houston’s 6-acre Downtown Aquarium is home to a veritable who’s who of aquatic animals: Electric eels, nurse sharks and stingrays are among the 200 diverse species of underwater life found here. In between exploring exhibits like the Louisiana Swamp (yes, alligators live here) and the Rainforest, unwind at the aquarium’s Dive Lounge. 960 1280

Downtown Aquarium Houston  

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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