Tips for Teaching Your Kids How to Pack

How to Get Them Independent and Take Some of the Work Off Yourself

Sure, you can print a packing list off the internet, but how do you actually teach your kids how to pack?  When I first started traveling with kids, I searched for tips, downloaded packing lists, and took on the work of packing everything myself.  But soon I realized I needed to teach this skill to my kids if I ever wanted to take some of the work load off myself.  After some trial and error, I have come up with some tips to have your kids packing like a pro in no time. 

Suitcase full of toys
Teach them how to pack…or their suitcase may look like this…

1. Start with the Clothing

I always start with having the kids pick out the clothing for the trip.  Generally, we never take more than 5 days’ worth of clothing no matter the length of the trip.  (Check out my tips on packing carry on only) We generally pick places that have laundry available, but almost anyplace has wash and folds that can do your laundry for you. 

I let the kids pick out what they want to wear for the trip, but I always check the weather ahead of time and give them few guidelines (“it will be cold, you want more pants than shorts”, or “we are doing such and such, special event, you may want to plan for that”).  The key is, being the controlling person I am, I need to approve the choices BEFORE the clothing gets packed.  This ensures we do not end up with 5 fancy dresses, or 5 shorts and 5 sweatshirts (It’s been tried).  I recommend for five days:

  • 5 tops (dresses or rompers also count as a top)
    • 1 that can be used if they need a “nice outfit”
      • For my son this is usually a polo shirt
      • For my daughter this is usually a simple dress
  • 5 bottoms (dresses or rompers count as a bottom)
    • No more than 1 pair of jeans
    • 1 that can be used if they need a “nice outfit.”
      • For my son this can be khaki shorts or pants, or jeans
      • For my daughter this is usually a skirt or simple dress
    • If traveling to a warm climate, at least one must be long pants in case it gets cold or we go hiking.
  • 6 underwear
  • 2-5 socks (depends on the season)
  • 2 pairs of pajamas
  • 1 warm layer (Depending on the trip, may be sweatshirt, may be a light jacket or additional layer
  • 2 bathing suits (one to wear, one to dry)
  • 1 pair of thermals and gloves if traveling to a cold place
  • 2 pairs of shoes (Activities drive the shoe choices)
  • Sunhat or warm hat, depending on the location
Example of clothes to pack for a kid for a vacation
Make sure they lay it all out so you can see what they want to pack

Once the clothing is laid out and approved, I have the children pick one outfit for the day of travel.  They need to pick out everything, all the way down to the underwear and the shoes they want to wear.  It must be picked from the clothing they are planning to take on the trip.  Make sure to set this aside somewhere where they will not wear it, but it also will not be lost.  If we are taking an overnight flight, it’s usually a pair of PJs (the warmer ones).  If it’s during the day, I try to encourage comfort. 

2.  Teach them about Packing Cubes

Young girl packing clothes in a packing cube
Packing Cubes are your friend

I love packing cubes.   It helps keeps us organized when we are all sharing a suitcase, and it helps with keeping the suitcase organized and when you are on location. We use eBags packing cubes and have a set for each family member in a different color. 

I always provide the kids with a few options of cubes; I prefer for them to use a few smaller ones than one large one to hold their clothing.  The kids choose how they want to organize their clothing.  For a girl scout camping trip, my daughter chooses to put each day into a separate cube.  She also likes to pack outfits together.  My son is a bit more practical; he puts all the bottoms in one, the tops in another, underwear and socks in a small one, etc. 

I have taught my kids how to roll their clothing into the packing cubes, but this does take practice.  The first few times you will likely need to help.  However, I have heard that packing your packing cubes inefficiently lets you have more space to bring things back so 🤷‍♀️

If you are planning carry-on only, you can let your children pack their packing cubes in their carry on suitcase.  If you decide to check bags, I like to have them bring the packing cubes to my room, where I then pack them in the big suitcases.  (For some trips, we will bring two checked suitcases instead of 4 carry on suitcase, especially if baggage is included and we are traveling to multiple places.) 

3.  Time to Pack the Backpacks

Usually for flights, they are each responsible for their own backpack.  The backpack contains all entertainment needed for the entire trip AND anything they need for the flight/car ride/train ride.  I have them make sure to consolidate to a backpack.  This prevents them from bringing all the toys.  Our backpacks generally contain:

  • 1 reusable water bottle
  • A quart size Ziplock bag with snacks
  • At least two masks
  • 1 chapter book or 2-3 story books
  • A notebook or activity book
  • Pencil case with a few pencils, pens, crayons, markers, etc. 
  • 1-2 toys
    • For my son when he was younger it was a few Thomas Trains
    • For my daughter it’s usually a Barbie doll, her American Girl doll, or a few stuffies
  • Deck of Cards or a Travel Game (we love to bring Uno)
  • Headphones
  • Wallet with spending cash
  • Sunglasses
  • A wire and wall plug for charging the electronic device they are bringing with them.
    • I like to have a wire with a USB and a separate wall plug.  This allows you flexibility as some flights only have a USB port at the seat and some flights have the plug points closer to the floor. 
What to pack in an airplane backpack
Backpack full of entertainment

If we are checking luggage, I usually have the kids put one pair of underwear and a change of clothing in the backpack in case the luggage is lost or delayed.  These, again, are taking from their clothing they picked for the trip. 

4.  Finally the Toiletries and Accessories!

Each kid has a reusable clear toiletry bag for liquids; however, they usually use it to hold all their toiletries.  This includes:

Kids toiletries
Kids don’t have a lot of toiletry needs

The body wash, shampoo, and conditioner for the whole family is in the family toiletry bag.  I also pack the children’s medications in the family first aid kit.  Both are in my suitcase.

If it fits, I have the kiddos put this bag in their suitcase as opposed to their backpack.  I do not want to risk anything spilling in the backpack as they are usually in it a lot during the travel day, and they are not gentle creatures.  I can, however, get away with this because we have TSA Pre and do not need to take out our liquids.  If you are not, you will want to make sure the bag is easily accessible when going through security or in a checked suitcase. 

5.  The Night Before and the Day Of

4 carry on suitcases and 4 backpacks
Set everything out to be ready to go

The night before you are leaving, make sure that all electronics are plugged in at home, so they are fully charged.  Once I see they are 100% I usually turn the device off, so it retains it’s charge until I’m ready for them to use it.  I ask the kids to lay out the clothing they chose to wear on travel day. 

In the morning, take the devices and have the kids place them in their backpacks.  They should get dressed in their travel outfit (Unless you are leaving at night.  I usually then have them change right before we head out).  Do your count of the bags, double check you have all the tickets and IDs, and head out the door! 

It took a while for me to relinquish control and let my kids do their own packing.  But since I have, it has made my life incredibly easier.  Practice makes perfect.  In the beginning I made a lot of corrections.  As they have grown, learned, and grown more independent I almost never at this point make corrections.  The biggest change I had to make to my son’s list on our last trip was to ask him to bring a different book than the large hard-bound book that he was almost finished with.  Now when they know a trip is coming up, they start right away without my help and love the independence. 

To help you get started with your kids, I have made this downloadable packing sheet.  Print it out and give it to them to let them start packing.  You can cross out what they do not need, make notes if you want them to bring something specific.  Just make sure to inspect first, if you don’t want your daughter wearing a princess dress every day 😀

PDF of a Kids Packing list
5 Tips for Teaching Your Kids How to Pack

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