What to pack for a vacation with toddlers?
Every family and their traveling style are different. There is no wrong or right way of packing, however, there are some useful guidelines when you pack for a vacation with toddlers. In the following article I’ll show you some of our tips what to have and what is not necessarily needed.
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PACKING MUST HAVES
We love packing lists. They keep us organized and they are tailor made to every trip. There is a long list of variables however there are some fix points. Let’s explore which ones:
We differentiate 2 types. The small emergency one (with pain killers, octenidin based disinfectant, gauze/bandage, & sunsblock), when we know there is a pharmacy nearby, and the bigger jumbo pack (with antihistamine, ORS liquid, burn gel, tweezers & some trip specific things) for more secluded stays – but to be honest in general mostly the smaller pack will serve you just fine.
If you’re interested in the longer list, you can subscribe at the bottom of my website here, & as a token of my gratitude I’ll send you a toddler-friendly packing list. 🙂
Backpack / Diaper bag
Any vacation with toddlers needs a backpack/diaper bag for the mini ones. Pro tip: let the person choose their style. In our family my husband picked a nice backpack dedicated for all the goodies he carries for our daughter. We pack diaper, wet wipes, 1 SOS set of clothes, baby spoon, water bottle, snack, snack cup, one engaging toy and hand sanitizer.
1 thing that makes moving easier
Let it be a carrier, a compact foldable stroller, a hip seat (ours is from Tushbaby – you can use this link, or my code TRAVELFAM for 15% off), or a small motor for toddlers – you choose. Calculate in your and your child’s preferences as well as the surroundings where you’re going. For example: for flying don’t take your little motor, also carriers are not particularly the best options for hot climate and stroller is not a big help in a hillside with million stairs.
No matter if it’s a flying intercontinental or road tripping your own country, when you travel with a toddler, packing cubes will help you stay organized throughout the whole traveling.
THINGS YOU DON’T NECESSARILY NEED
What we truly found an extra item, which is not necessarily needed, is the travel cot. Of course, this is also very subjective to your preferences and comfort level. It might happen that your chosen destination is either a secluded place, or very minimalistic, but in general most of the rentals/hotel rooms are able to provide you a travel cot. Pro tip: if you know you’ll still need one when you are travelling, you might want to get your child used to sleep either in a travel cot at home (if you have), or place the bed (if possible) to different locations of your home. Variety in sleeping scenarios will help your child adjusting easier in unknown places.
Just as much a car seat can be super useful, it can be also an extra item/weight if you end up not using it during your stay. Always educate yourself if you can get a taxi with child seat in your destination. Or how much likely you’ll end up hiring a car? Quick example: in Porto we managed to do everything via public transport & walking, but if we were traveling to Malta, we would consider hiring a car.
PACKING SHORT CUTS
After the must-haves, let’s see some of the smart hacks that will help in the ‘What to pack for a vacation with toddlers?’ question.
Toddler items (diaper, wet wipes, purees etc.)
Apart from some really secluded destinations normally everywhere you’ll have access to supermarkets/pharmacies/drug stores. Don’t pack diapers for an entire week. The same goes for wet wipes, formulas, fruit purees and anything your toddler consume. You may find different brands in different countries, but for a week you’ll survive with the supply of your destination country. If it makes you calmer, research what brands are available beforehand.
Clothing golden trinity
Set, roll, layer! Pack clothes in sets for easier access, roll them instead of folding into the cubes, and layer. These will save you space, extra weight you don’t want to carry around – remember you already travel with a toddler! 🙂
You can save a ton of space (& weight) in your suitcase if you don’t need to bring towels, washing detergent, or robes. Nowadays not just hotel rooms but rentals, like AirBNB, offer places where you have these and also have washing machine, which is also an option for clothing shortcut.
Share and wear / Mix and match concepts
These concepts are based on variability. With older children parents have more chance to swap clothing items or accessories like a scarf, or a sunglass, however with toddlers you can still be creative and mix/match their sets. Especially when washing machine is available, there is simply no need to bring 15 different set of clothes to a 2-week trip.
One treat for everyone
Yes, you saw it right! It’s good to pack 1 toy for your child but it’s super important that during travel you enjoy it as much as your child. So, bring only one thing you’ll get soaked in: book, podcast, crossword, journal etc. At least when your child has a nap, you can treat yourself!
Have 1 matching outfit for the family
One is not much but I guarantee it will boost your family photos immediately!
FLYING VS ROADTRIP
Both ways have their unique set of perks, it’s up to you which one you prefer, or which type you have the chance to experience. Having that settle, there are a few things we keep in mind, in each case, when we pack for a summer holiday with toddler.
- Always keep in mind the weight boundaries.
- Decide if you need a stroller and/or hip seat and/or car seat.
- Don’t forget to pack at least 1 set of clothes for emergency (at least for the baby/toddler), and also some very essential items in case of lost baggage.
- If you decide to have carry-on, stroller (and/or car seat) as well, consider bringing your child in a carrier during check in.
- Also, not particularly packing related but super important is to know the rules of the airlines. Most budget airlines charge you a flat rate for babies under 2 years old.
For example, during the Porto trip for family of 3 we had 1 checked in 20kg suitcase, 2 small backpacks, 1 stroller, 1 hip seat. We didn’t stress ourselves to be as minimalistic as we possibly can, but tried to avoid overpacking. 🙂
Packing-wise being on the road is always more permissive than flying. I’m not saying we’re going crazy, but definitely spare some of the decisions what to pack. We simply pack both options. 🙂
Also, an example for a close road trip to lake Balaton in Hungary: We had 1 suitcase (20kg), 2 backpacks, 1 bag of ‘wet item’ for beach time like extra towels, water toys, sunblock, bathing suits, cooling towel, portable fan etc.) stroller was swapped to our collapsible tricycle, 1 hip seat and a bunch of toys for the playground like sand toys, ball etc.
SHORT VS LONG TRIPS
It might sound a bit strange, but as far as our experience goes, clothing wise there is not that much of a difference between 3 days and 2 weeks packing. All the ‘other stuff’ like slippers, towels, toiletries will be just the same. Also, if you’re going to a warmer destination the chance you pack at least one set of warm set of sweater/sweatpants is likely the same, no matter for how long you are going. What I want to emphasize is that don’t let the ‘toddler travel’ and the packing process scare you!
I’ve heard many times that packing often scares parents and even hijacks the possibility of traveling. But as for other things, getting pro in packing comes with time. You’ll learn from many-many small hiccups along the way,
but I hoped you took one baby-step towards your dream European summer with your toddler by reading my article.
Let me share some of my other content in this topic (mostly posted on IG):
Instagram post - Medical kit
Blog article on my website - Roadtrip codes for families
Instagram post - Packing with toddler
Reels video - Packing expectation vs reality with toddler
Post - Packing hacks
Instagram post - What’s in our backpack?
10 reasons for road trips - reels video
Roadtrip essentials - post