How to increase organization, avoid over packing, and arm yourself for potential travel disasters.
Packing Tips Family Travel
Credit: Robin Skjoldborg / Getty Images

Any way you look at it, packing is a chore, but if a vacation is on the books, pack you must. Though every fiber in your body wants to procrastinate, do not give in. Last-minute packers are over packers—especially when you’re packing for a family. But you can make the process work for you by employing a piecemeal strategy. Read on for our tried-and-true tips for making the task seamless—and for reducing risk you’ll forget anything essential.

Prep School

A week before the trip, stage an out-of-the-way area for pre-packing. As you think of things you’ll need, like sunscreen, ski pants, or energy bars, you can toss them in a box or a space-saving packing cube. Plan to spend 15 minutes a day on a portion of this task.

First, do clothes. Make sure to check the 10-day weather forecast for your destination so you can pack accordingly. Lay the clothes out by category on the dining room table: pajamas, tops, bottoms, dresses, hats, and shoes, and double-check to avoid duplication.

For moms and girls, bring dresses and tops that can be worn in different ways by adding an accessory or a different jacket. Don’t bring a different pair of shoes for each outfit.

Go Small

Next, do grooming items. These should always be packed within a sealed ziplock to prevent leakage. Never pack full-sized shampoos or lotions; they hog precious storage space. Either buy travel sizes or pour what you need into travel-sized bottles.

Create an in-transit pharmacy: a zippered pouch with products that deal with any and all medical maladies. Include medicines, and a kit stocked with products to combat germs, alleviate ear pressure, fight sudden onset of a cold, cover cuts, and address allergies, mystery rashes, and stomach aches.

Feed the Hungry Masses

Snacks are essential when traveling with children, and you don’t want to wait until they get hungry and cranky. Stock up on easy-to-transport items, like granola bars, Instant Oatmeal, re-sealable dried fruit and nuts, applesauce in squeezable pouches, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs.

Tuck a few “forbidden” foods, like lollipops, candy, and cookies, into your bag. Bribery material could prove critical to nipping bad behavior in the bud.

Keep them Busy

Bring toys, gadgets, and activities to engage them through the hours of travel, and it helps to have a “surprise” on hand, be it a a dot-to-dot coloring book, a new app or game downloaded, or travel scrabble. When the delays happen—and they will—you want to be armed with whatever it takes to keep the kids occupied.

Final Inspection

The day before the trip, go back and take stock of your work. Are there too many pairs of shoes? Are you covered with toiletries, snacks, and entertainment? Chances are, you can winnow down clothing, and if you missed anything, there’s time to pick it up before you leave.

Now you can pack up garments in your packing cube—one for each family member—which compresses clothing and keeps everything organized. When you arrive at your destination, simply transfer them from suitcase to a drawer, and go off to enjoy the trip.

Amy Tara Koch is on the family beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.