Packing for a Family Holiday

I mean, we’re a totally modern family, yadda yadda yadda, but there are certain domestic duties around here that get split along some pretty clearly gendered and stereotyped lines. That is, Mr tMatM deals with the recycling; I deal with everything else. JOKE! He does the light bulbs too.

Seriously though. One thing I seem to have drawn the short straw on, is packing for a family holiday.

Unfortunately – for packing purposes – we are a big family (4 children, aged 7, 5, 3 and 1) and we have travelled extensively (Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, UK, Europe) in the past seven years.

All that to say: I can pack a good suitcase for a family holiday.

Let’s dive in, with a three-pronged approach: I always pack three separate collections, regardless of mode of transport – flight, car, whatever.

1. Hand luggage;

2. A starter pack’, and

3. Main luggage.

Obviously quantities vary depending on whether this is a mini break or a 6 month sabbatical, but the categories remain pretty consistent.

Pack light


Ignore your husband‘s jokey asides about not knowing why you need to pack more than an extra pair of underwear and a fresh t-shirt.

You’ll want spare clothes for each child (down to socks, the works) plus a pair of PJs. The pyjamas are a great lightweight space-saving back-up in case the spare clothes are also ruined. For extra points, pack an extra tshirt for yourself. I always pack one of my husband’s t-shirts in the hand luggage and then when a baby vomits / child pours their drink over me I don’t have to sit in wet clothes for the rest of the journey.

Pack twice as many nappies/diapers and wipes than you think necessary. No explanation required.

For entertainment: think novelty. I wrote a post a while ago with some extra tips on flying with small children and some suggestion on toys but in short: keep it novel, keep it low key. Some people suggest wrapping toys up for extra entertainment but that is a little too work-heavy in my book. Keeping the toys hidden for maximum impact is enough.

Don’t be afraid to break out the toys and entertainment before the journey has really started – the actual flight / drive may hold some entertainment in itself – but the waiting to fill up with gas/petrol or hanging around in a customs queue at the airport really has little merit for children.

When travelling with an easily frustrated toddler I make sure I have some emergency stickers or a toy that fits in my handbag ready to produce as the check-in queue snakes around the airport. Here are some updated suggestions!

Assume also your child will refuse all airplane / service station / hotel food and pack extra snacks. 

Sticker book / activity book:
if you have more than one child make sure this is at a level they can do independently. When you are trying to get your baby to sleep and your toddler needs help with the challenging educational activity book you’ve chosen, you will deeply regret not just buying a princess sticker book in which they can pile all the stickers into one corner.

A Giant scarf – will make you look much more chic when you’re wearing your husband’s t-shirt, post vomit. Also, doubles up as a make-shift tent (for practical sleeping-on-a-bright-flight or fun entertainment purposes), breastfeeding cover, rug, muslin, buggy/stroller cover. Choose a patterned dark cotton scarf that can be washed on a high temperature (I know, I’m all about the style).

As an aside: I let the children also bring a small hand luggage bag. That process goes as follows –

Let them fill a backpack with random junk. Negotiate. Remove 80% of content. Secrete a surprise pack of stickers or a new hot wheels car somewhere in its midst.


When traveling with children you can never anticipate all possible scenarios and having a collection of essentials means that you can avoid having to rifle through a whole suitcase immediately on arrival – extremely welcome after a journey.

The starter pack is essentially your overnight kit, easily available: toothpaste, favourite bath toy, soap, pajamas, bedtime story etc. I pack this in a separate cloth bag and put it in the top of the suitcase for instant access.


Ignore your husband as he makes jokey asides about not knowing why you need to pack more than an extra pair of underwear and a fresh t-shirt.

Pack fewer toys than you think you need. Maybe one building toy of choice – Lego, magnatiles, duplo. Plenty of books. A couple of figurines / character toys. One favourite toy vehicle per child (plus a back-up for when the wheels fall off).

Diapers/ toiletries. If you have a child with sensitive skin and less than a week or so away, consider taking a full supply. If you have a child with less sensitive skin – or are away for an impractically long time – then you will have to make the transition to local toiletries at some point, in which case you can save on the packing space.

On that note, bring any children’s medicines that you might possibly need, even if it seems highly unlikely, along with some band aids and a basic first aid kit. The things you might have skipped as a carefree single traveler can be pretty fundamental when you are travelling with children.

I mentioned this in my guide to moving house with children but it works for general travel too – think broadly across the senses for your child(ren).

Children are really aware of different smells, sounds, etc, and keeping some of these things consistent can make them feel much more relaxed. (And therefore, your holiday easier and happier). Is there a particular song they normally fall asleep to? Make sure you can play it in a hotel room. Do they always sleep with a certain blanket? You get the idea.

There we have it: tMatM’s three-pronged guide to packing for a family vacation.

Most importantly though, pack up your worries (Boom) – travelling with children is a lot more fun than the preparation. The organization and packing required to make the holiday run smoothly might seem arduous but the travelling part really is worth it – and far easier than you would imagine.

Worth a few hours sat by an overflowing suitcase

tMatM x

This post appeared on Kidbo as a part of their series on travel with children! You can read it here:


1 Comment

  1. Siri
    July 11, 2017 / 8:57 am

    Excellently timed – packing for my solo trip to Sweden with three kids and though we are hopefully out of the vomit phase, I will definitely use some of your tips.

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