11 Tips on How to Pack For Kids (And Not Forget Your Toothbrush)

By Erin Fonoti


Packing with kids

We all love family vacations. Making lasting memories with our kids is a major goal for any parent. Traveling with your kids is one great way to share the adventures that make treasured memories.  On the same note, we know how stressful traveling with kids can be and how difficult packing for a trip is. But in the end seeing the awe in their faces as they experience the world makes it all worthwhile.

Over my years of motherhood, I’ve developed a few tricks to help alleviate some of the stress associated with traveling with kids. If you utilize these tips the next time you are packing for a trip, you’ll be able to save time and stress (and keep some of your hair too).

1. Make a List

Always start with a list to organize your thoughts.
Always start with a list to organize your thoughts.

It might seem like simple common-sense advice but the list is where the less-stress magic happens. Making a packing list for kids serves two purposes:

  1. It frees up head space for creative thought.  This will come in handy in a later tip.  When you are writing things down, you can pluck them from your mind and throw them on a sheet of paper. You won’t have to stress that you’re going to forget something because there it is in black and white or whatever pen/paper color combo you choose to use.
  2. It makes delegation a snap.  Organizing the trip packing list is hard enough, you shouldn’t be solely responsible for packing everything as well.

2. Start Early

Procrastination is never your friend. But it is REALLY not your friend when you are trying to compile a packing list for kids. It’s never too early to start creating your list. In fact, as soon as travel plans are confirmed, the listing should begin. This way you have ample time to think of everything you’ll need.

3. Get a List Keeping App

list keeping app
One of my packing lists that I created with the Google Keep app.

There are many phone apps for keeping lists at your fingertips. I personally use Google Keep. If you’re like me, inspiration hits at the most inopportune moments. So instead of running around with chicken scratched scraps of paper saying “rain boots for Livy” everywhere, you can keep it all in the palm of your hand or the pocket of your butt.

With this app, you can create several color-coded lists, one for each kid, one for yourself, the dog, the spouse… you get the idea. Another great feature to using list keeping apps is the ease of sharing those lists, which is useful for delegation.

4. Visualize

Take your trip in your mind. See everything you plan to see; do everything you plan to do.

Each time you do this, keep only one kid in mind. Focus in on what their specific needs are going to be.  You’ll want to cover the mundane everyday things all the way to the most exciting. Don’t worry about adding too much to your list. This is not the time to be minimalistic

This is the time to think of EVERYTHING. You can pair down later (see Tip 9).

If you are going to Oregon where it rains a lot, your free-spirited toddler is probably going to want to jump in rain puddles. Even if you ask her not to.  So instead get ahead of the disobedience and stress. Why not just plan and prepare for it? Add rain boots and a parka to the list. To sleep peacefully she also requires 3 story books, a binky, and her blankie. To the list, you add 6 books (so you can mix it up), binky, and blankie.

As cliché as it sounds, it really is more about the journey than the destination. This is true for creating your packing list as well. Be sure to include your method of travel in your visualization. No one wants to start their vacation off with stressful travel. Include things that are going to make your journey a smooth one and keep everyone entertained.

5. Plan for the Unplannable

When traveling with kids a cut or fever is within the realm of possibility. So, plan for it. First aid kits are key. You can easily buy a variety of first aid kits that are great for most accidents, but keep in mind each kid’s possible needs.

For instance, most first aid kits don’t contain infant or child Tylenol. If you have an infant or small child, you’ll certainly want to add that. And Dum-Dums, the instant boo-boo-be-gone or at least tear-be-gone. I always carry a few of these bad boys with me. They can make for an excellent bribe too.

6.Don’t Forget About Yourself (or your toothbrush)

Don't forget your toothbrush
Don’t forget to pack for yourself!

As parents, we tend to worry so much about our children and their needs, that we often completely forget about our own.

I am the one in the house who cares most about oral hygiene. . .

. . .but I have forgotten my toothbrush on more than one occasion.

That was, of course, before I started using these steps. This is your vacation too and you need clean teeth. As hard, and seemingly selfish as it might be, take a few minutes to include a round of visualization centered around you.

Your list will undoubtedly be smaller than everyone else’s. When I make a trip packing list for myself it usually only includes generalities and things I cannot forget. Topping that list:

  • Phone Charger
  • Medication
  • Camera with Charger

The generalities include ‘clothing’ broken down into how many shirts, pants, socks, underwear (oh, don’t forget your underwear!) are needed based on trip length. Other general list items are “things to get ready in the morning.” Then the day we are leaving, as I am getting ready, I add each item as I use it. All the makeup I used, hair products, blow dryer, straightener, hair brush, it all goes in the bag.

7. Make a List for Your Spouse

Let’s face it, some people are more detail oriented and others are too “big picture” to think about toothbrushes. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone camping and my husband has forgotten a jacket. It seems simple to remember to me, but that’s because I see things in detail.

My husband is more concerned about getting us all there in one piece.  I’m grateful for that! I guess, just like everything else, it’s about balance. I’ll let him worry about gas in the car; I’ll pack the jackets.

We all know our spouses pretty well and can anticipate what they’ll forget. When that happens, just jot it down.

8. Organize and Review

Okay, now you’re at the point where you’ve spent a few days, weeks, or months (for detailed planners like myself) visualizing, planning, listing, and preparing. Now it’s time to organize. Spend some time with your lists and break them out into categories. One for each kid, yourself, your spouse, necessities, the food, and miscellaneous.

9. Cut Back if You’ve Gone a Little Overboard

Can't fit everything into your suitcase? Time to reassess your packing priorities.
Can’t fit everything into your suitcase? Time to reassess your packing priorities.

Don’t forget to bring your toothbrush.  And don’t show up for your Grand Canyon tour with a dozen toothbrushes jammed into your fanny pack.

Now that everything is broken down and categorized, use your critical eye and scrutinize everything. If you’ve listed everything you’ve thought of over the last few months, your lists are probably going to be outrageous!

That is okay. It is far better to know have all the information up front then decide the best course of action.

If you have your daughter’s entire wardrobe written down, cut it back to only the amount of clothing she’ll need, plus a couple extras in case of an accident or spill. You don’t need her entire library just because she likes a different book every night. She’ll probably be so exhausted after the day’s adventure that she won’t need all 3 books anyway. Catch my drift?

10. Hold Older Children and Your Spouse Accountable

Here comes the best part—delegation.

You spent the time to craft these all-encompassing trip packing lists for your kids, now it’s time to recruit help in the actual packing. If you have kids older than 8, chances are they’ll be able to take your list and run with it. Ask them to check each item off only as it is being put into their suitcase or duffle bag.

When handing your spouse their list, you may want to approach it as simply a suggestion list. That always goes over better in my house. Even if it’s not received with immediate gratitude, they’ll be thankful and warm when the sun goes down.

11. Sit Back and Marvel at Your Total Rock Star Packing Abilities!

You did it! You’ve successfully made packing for a trip look like a synch! Who said traveling with kids must be stressful? Not for you, at least not in the way of having everything they need! You ROCKED that trip packing list and now deserve some serious pampering. Demand it!

If the peace of knowing you’ve covered all your bases isn’t enough, now you have a killer reference list for the next trip with the family. Be sure to hold on to your lists so that you can use them in the future. Necessities rarely change from trip to trip so parts of the list you just created can be reused until the needs of your kiddos change.

Happy Packing!

Photo of TWM Contributor, Erin

Erin, mother of two and Logistic Coordinator by day̵ — wife of one and writer/entrepreneur by night. When she’s not saving the world one corporate event at a time, she thoroughly enjoys spending time with her kids and husband. During the warmer months, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors camping or on the water growing her paddle board business. When it turns cold, you’ll find her on the slopes or the lodge with a warm cup of Joe. When she can get some time to herself (which, let’s face it, is almost never) she can be found with a pen in her hand or in front of a keyboard, making magic.  She aspires to turn her writing and side business into her family’s sole source of income in order to travel the world, fully experiencing Life.

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Read More: Guide to Packing When Traveling with Kids

For more quality advice on packing for your kids, check out this article by our friends at All The Rooms.  It details the specific items that you don’t want to forget, especially those that keep your monkeys entertained during your travels.


  1. These are great tips! Thank you! I always make a list before a trip! (And then usually forget my tooth brush!) My motto is: I can always buy it when I get there! haha

  2. Great tips! List making is a life saver when it comes to packing. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve forgotten to pack my toothbrush.. Toothpaste too! One time, I accidentally packed mosquito repellent instead (by accident) and you can imagine the result…

    1. Gaby, oh man, that couldn’t have been a pleasant experience. I hope you caught the mistake before it went in your mouth!

    1. Jenny, yes, it gets much more complicated once you start packing for littles. Especially when they are infants. You have to think of and pack for every possible situation! Thanks or reading!

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