A family vacation is sure to create a lifetime of memories. However, in order to make sure any family travel adventure is memorable in a good way, you’ll need to have a plan of attack for packing in place well before you leave. Nothing can turn a dream trip into a nightmare like discovering you’re missing some essentials needed for your stay to be comfortable as soon as you reach your destination.  

So, here’s a full breakdown to help you put together the most comprehensive packing list for a family vacation you’ll ever need, along with some tips to help you pack what’s on it.  

Why You Need to Use a Packing List

Every good traveler knows that a successful trip starts with a thorough packing list. While it may seem like overkill, making a packing list prior to your departure will help to ensure that you don’t inadvertently forget anything. A list also guides your packing efforts in the days leading up to your vacation, helping to mitigate stress.   

It’s best to make a list for each person in the family, as well as a list that focuses on common items that everyone will use.  And there probably be unique items to remember for specific destinations or events. But while every vacation requires a list tailored to it based on who’s going and where they’re headed, most family vacations have packing lists with lots of overlap.  

Here’s a good rundown of all the different kinds of clothing you may need to pack:  

  • Underwear  
  • Bathing suits  
  • Bathing suit cover-ups  
  • Casual tops/shorts/pants  
  • Active/workout clothes   
  • One dressier outfit  
  • Pajamas   
  • Jacket/Sweatshirt  
  • Socks  

Some possible personal items you’ll need to include are:  

  • Passports/documents (make sure they’re up to date!)  
  • Glasses  
  • Phones  
  • Laptops  
  • Tablets  
  • Chargers for all electronics  
  • Cameras  
  • Jewelry  
  • Headphones  
  • Umbrellas/rain gear 
  • Playing cards  
  • Retainers/mouth guards  
  • Outlet adapters (if traveling abroad) 
  • Swimming goggles/swim floaties 

All the essential toiletries you might need to bring:  

  • Shampoo/conditioner (if you’re not staying in hotels or need a specific brand) 
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste  
  • Comb/brush  
  • Hair accessories  
  • Razors/shaving gear  
  • Deodorant  
  • Hair supplies  
  • Makeup  
  • Skin cleanser and moisturizers  
  • Contact solution and case (if necessary)  

Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are a lifesaver when it comes to packing for a crowd. Although it may appear as if these cubes take up more space in your luggage, they fit neatly inside to keep all of your essentials organized. You can also easily lift these cubes out if you need to place the items in a bathroom, a closet, or an adjoining room. This convenience makes it easier if your family is spread out once you arrive at your destination. You can organize the cubes per person or per day of your trip, depending on the system that works the best for your needs.  

Put Together a Separate List for Your Carry-On

While some items on packing lists are put in carry-on luggage, some of the most important carry-on items aren’t on any one’s list. So it’s a good idea to consider and pack what you’ll need on the airplane, especially with kids on long flights. 

Some critical items you may want to make sure  in your carry-on:  

  • Cash/credit cards  
  • Warm socks  
  • Jackets or hoodies  
  • Lysol wipes (to wipe down the plane tray and window)  
  • Books or magazines 
  • Tablet or e-reader  
  • Earplugs  
  • Eye masks  
  • Inflatable pillows  
  • Headphones  
  • Chargers  
  • Snacks, gum, food  
  • Refillable water bottles  
  • Any essential toiletries (following TSA regulations)  
  • Any essential medications  

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Pack for Comfort

A family vacation is not the time to worry about always looking your best. The cardinal rule when packing for your trip is to make comfort a priority. This may mean leaving any uncomfortable dress shoes at home. If you are going to be walking a lot, you should prioritize at least two pairs of comfortable shoes so that you can rotate them out. You may want to bring one nicer outfit for each family member for a special occasion dinner. However, the bulk of your essentials should focus on comfort and practicality.  

Here are all the kinds of shoes you might need to bring on a trip:  

  • Casual shoes  
  • Dressier shoes  
  • Flip flops/sandals  
  • Athletic/hiking shoes (if needed)  
  • Water shoes (if needed) 

Items you shouldn’t forget when traveling to cold-weather destinations:  

  • Wool hats  
  • Gloves  
  • Hand warmers  

Plan for the Worst but Hope for the Best

It is never fun to think about the unfortunate things that can happen while away from home. But the bottom line is that it is not unusual for kids to get sick or injured while on a trip. While you want to always hope for the best, it is also a good idea to plan for the worst. Bringing along a first aid kit and a variety of medications that you may need will help you to avert a potential crisis in the middle of the night.  

Some medical stuff you should always pack:  

  • Insurance card  
  • Medications  
  • Children’s Tylenol/Ibuprofen  
  • Thermometer  
  • Motion sickness medication if necessary  
  • Hand sanitizer (I keep one hanging on my backpack at all times – and the spray version is especially good for kids!)  
  • Small first-aid kit (include anti-itch cream, Band-Aids, tweezers)  
  • Sunscreen and aloe vera gel (for sunny locations) 
  • Bug spray  
  • Lip balm   

Bring Empty Bags

Chances are, you are going to pick up some souvenirs along the way in your travels. Bringing empty bags in your suitcase will give you an option for bringing home goodies. A beach bag or a daypack is also a good idea for your day trips. Savvy parents that pick up cheap flights in August also know to pack empty plastic bags for wet swimsuits, trash, and any other items to keep separate from everything else.  

Did we miss anything that you think should be on everyone’s packing list for a family vacation? Have any packing tips? Let us know in the comments below!  

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