traveling with kids + free packing list

We don’t travel a ton with the kids (honestly, at ages one and three, it is freaking exhausting) but we do try to take little trips twice a year when my husband has time off work, around the 4th of July and at Christmas. I definitely aspire to be a family that travels a lot and I know it will get loads easier as the kids get older so, as tiring as it is, I think it’s good that we’re doing it now. This post focuses on our most recent car trip to Indianapolis, where we stayed in a hotel downtown for four nights – and specifically on what I pack and how I pack it!

I started making packing lists when Simon was a baby and we began RVing, and after that I made lists for road trips and airplane trips as well. I keep my lists on Google Drive so that it’s easy to pull one up, check over and modify as needed, print, and then check things off as I go!

I try to begin packing a few days in advance. I just start throwing stuff I know I want to take on the guest bed, catching up on laundry and setting aside clothes for the trip.

This time I picked out matching or semi-matching outfits for the kids (lots of red, white and blue for the 4th!) and I rolled and rubber banded each day’s outfits together and made sure to put a matching hair bow in each roll for Betsy. This worked SO well. It was so easy to grab a roll each morning and get the kids dressed without rummaging through a bunch of clothes. Usually Kyle gets the kids dressed while I’m putting makeup on, and this method worked great for him.

Since we have kiddos in diapers, when we get to the hotel I set up a diaper changing station, usually on one end of the couch. All the diaper changing supplies go there, and I grab a hotel towel to spread out so we’re changing on a clean surface and don’t getting anything gross from the hotel’s couch.

Kyle and I hang most of our clothes at home so when we travel we just keep them on hangers and use one or two “wally bags” to transport them. On this trip when we were ready to head home, we only had a few clean clothes left so those went in one wally bag and I stuffed all the dirty clothes into the other one. I liked it way better than using those junky plastic laundry bags the hotel has hanging in the closet. Especially since we had a lot of dirty laundry after five days!

When we stay at a hotel more than one night (with kids) I unpack all the way and get the suitcases put away. Clothes go in drawers, get hung in the closet, etc…

Kyle has his toiletries pre-packed in a “ditty bag” and just adds in a few things and into the suitcase it goes. I use a medium size tote that has interior and exterior pockets for all my stuff. I pack my toiletries and makeup as I get ready the morning of the trip so I can make sure I have everything I use on a regular basis. I keep a little zipper pouch in my nightstand at home pre-packed with ear plugs and a sleep mask and I add in my phone/tablet chargers, sleeping pills, chap stick and hand lotion. When I unpack at the hotel, that little pouch goes straight into my nightstand, and the toiletry bags to the bathroom.

Our kids are, unfortunately, conditioned to dark and quiet sleeping conditions at home – we did this to ourselves and now we have to live with the consequences. Haha! We’ve found that most hotel closets can fit a standard pack ‘n play so that is where the baby goes. When that hasn’t been feasible, we’ve rearranged furniture to put the pack ‘n play behind a couch or somewhere that is more private so we can sneak around the room easier. Now that we have a kiddo who sleeps in a regular bed, we bring a toddler air mattress (we bought an electric pump separately and use it for the air mattress and pool floatie) and a beach tent so that we can “create” his own little room inside of our room. We also pack sound machines for each kid and an audio monitor. We didn’t use the audio monitor this trip but there have been times when we’ve had to leave the room in order for the kids to fall asleep, so we just wait in the hall with the monitor. If our room is close enough to the lobby, the monitor allows us to relax out there after bedtime but still have ears on the kiddos.

We bring a small box of toys to the hotel with us. We try to grab a few things the kids haven’t played with in a while. I always used to think our kids would just love being somewhere new and wouldn’t need toys. Wrong! My kids love toys. In the morning while we’re getting ready and in the evening when we’re winding down they usually play with toys and maybe watch TV.

I did pack a small bag that stayed in the car with a few cups and beach towels for when we went to splash pads. I also packed a puddle jumper and a floatie that we took into the hotel for pool time.

We packed our cooler bag and the kids’ bento boxes, plastic silverware, Contigo cups and bibs and we used those things EVERY DAY. Between breakfast and the “social” with snacks and drinks the hotel offered each evening, we’d load up the bento boxes to take with us while were out and about during the day. That saved us a lot of crankiness because the kids were never hungry. Having food in a container like that worked really well for the kids to eat while in the stroller; much easier for them to handle and not drop/spill than if I’d just handed them a granola bar or a little packet of crackers. And we usually just ordered one kid’s meal whenever we sat down for a meal.

I’ll talk more about this in another blog post, but I have a bag of stuff for keeping the kids busy in the car. This was only a 3-hour drive (and part of it was taken up with naptime) so I didn’t need a whole lot, but next week when I travel with the kids (without Kyle!) for six hours to Pennsylvania, I will rely on distracting activities and snacks a lot more. Some of this stuff we also bring into the hotel for the kids to play with in the mornings.

My packing list is divided into big items, things that go in the suitcase, and then some smaller separate bags and bins. There aren’t a lot of details on the extra bags because those are things I have packed all the time and just need to double-check contents (like my diaper bag) or things that change with each trip (like the bin of toys).

You can download my packing list and then modify it to suit your needs!


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