Travel With a Toddler: Packing Up and Getting There

My husband and I have always been avid travelers, so we have always planned to travel with our children. That we would travel regularly to their birth country was a given, but we also wanted to take them elsewhere. One year after we became family to our first daughter, we went on our first big trip as a family. We didn’t know exactly what to expect or how to pack for a trip more than two weeks in length, so we winged it, and we did pretty well, but we learned a lot on that first trip, too.

Now that we’ve been traveling with our oldest for three years and have done a few short trips with Elvie, we are getting better and better at packing appropriately and navigating getting from home to our destination and back again. We’ve come up with a system that works well for us, and I’m going to share it, in hopes that if you are staring down your first big trip with your toddler, you’ll have a point of reference to start with. I’ll be writing more about what we pack specifically for our toddler and what I pack for myself to make mothering on the go both easy and stylish, but today I just want to talk about how we get everything into an amount of luggage that’s manageable, then get ourselves and that luggage wherever we need it to go.

My overall goal with luggage is that, absent a luggage cart, we can get our things to necessary transportation without much fuss. To that end, we pack two medium suitcases and a backpack for each of us, and Zinashi, as the capable big sister, handles her own backpack and rolling child-size suitcase. It is always advantageous to have our baby carrier and stroller along as well, as you can see from the photo. If Elvie needs her car seat for the trip, it can be balanced on top of the suitcase Jarod is pulling, while I carry my share of the load – including Elvie – with help from the stroller and carrier. I put the suitcase in the stroller seat, my backpack on the stroller handles, and Elvie in her favorite position in the carrier. If Zinashi gets tired, I can also hang her bags off the stroller handles.

We check both adult suitcases when we fly, and the rest goes to the gate with us. The stroller has a carry case that fits into a small bag that snaps to the handle, and we bag it up at the end of the jetway to be stowed beneath the plane during the flight. Then it’s just us and our carry-on backpacks, with Zinashi’s child size suitcase as a bonus. Once on board, I take Elvie out of the carrier on board and stow it in an overhead bin, we put our backpacks beneath the seats in front of me for easy access in flight, find a spot in an overhead bin for Zinashi’s suitcase, and voila! We’ve gotten on the plane and settled with a minimum of fuss.

Because we take just two medium suitcases and our backpacks, we have to divide what gets carried in a way that makes sense and is efficient. Jarod and I each get a suitcase and are responsible for one child’s items, and each of our backpacks hold some of our personal things and some family items. I usually keep Elvie’s diapering and bottle supplies in my backpack, while Jarod is in charge of electronics, cameras, etc. If we need it during the flight, we make sure it is in one of our backpacks. Beyond that, we divide things so that each suitcase has similar weight without being unwieldy. I take the toiletries, for example, while Jarod takes the extra baby formula, I take the pack of diapers, and he has the extra wipes.

The key is to pack smart, and only take what we truly need. It can be hard to decide in the moment what is truly necessary, but when I imagine myself pushing a suitcase in a stroller over cobblestones toward a rental apartment, it’s easier to make a good judgment call, knowing that the more we pack into our suitcases, the harder it will be to get to your destination without issues. We’ve figured out a few tried and true tips for packing light, and now I pass them on to you.

  • Identify which things you must take, or vacation will be a disaster (medication, special loveys and blankets, bottles, pacifiers, etc.), then recognize that anything else that gets left behind won’t be such a big deal by comparison.
  • Find shampoo, conditioner, soap, and other toiletries that work well for both adults; then you only need to bring one set.
  • Put anything that is in a box or heavier container (such as baby formula) in ziploc bags.
  • Find a concentrated detergent and pack a small bottle for doing laundry; this way you don’t have to pack enough clothes for every day you’ll be away.
  • Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane.
  • Pack neutrals and clothes that mix and match well for both your kids and yourself; this keeps vacation wear fun and interesting, but also guarantees an easy match if part of an outfit needs to be changed due to vacation mishap.
  • If it’s an daily supply and you can buy it at your destination, bring only enough for the plane ride and the first couple of days (diapers, wipes, and formula, for example). Once you get your bearings, you can go pick up whatever you need.
  • Relax! If you don’t pack something you end up wanting or pack too much, it won’t be the end of world. You’ll learn for the next time, and by your third or fourth trip, you’ll have it down to a science.
Happy traveling!

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