With three kids on a road trip in our 5 seater car, we have been forced to be more minimalist when travling. While I’d take more if I could, taking less “stuff” traveling with a baby and toddler has simplified traveling. It’s made unpacking way faster with less to wash, and there’s less to haul in and out of the car each time. If you are wondering how to pack lighter with kids, I’ll show you how! Overall we pack so much less per kid now than when we were first parents and I want to share some tips on how to do this.
Sooo, here is a checklist of what we bring on a road trip to visit friends and family, usually for one night up to a week, as well as what we don’t take. I’ve also included tips from a two week road trip when we had a 2 year old and 6 month old.
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What to pack when traveling with a baby (or two)
One suitcase for everyone’s clothes
That’s right…(the size that fits in an airplane compartment). This is tough for 4 people, and we have even used that size for 5 of us when flying with a new baby! And I’m assuming you have a washer dryer where you are going 😉 Without a washer, we’d have to either hand wash or take more.
Huge Problem: When you pack everyone’s stuff in one suitcase, it all gets jumbled and tossed together and I’ve been plenty annoyed that I can’t quickly find the kid socks I wanted or pajamas. To solve this, either use gallon Ziplock bags to separate clothes, or buy these awesome packing cubes below.
You can organize by person, or by item type like socks and underwear for everyone, swim suits for everyone, kid pajamas, etc.
What’s included for kids:
- Two pajamas each (because someone will pee through)
- 2-3 pairs of socks each
- 2 outfits per kid of dark colored play clothes that won’t easily show dirt
- 1 dress/dress outfit each if you will need to dress up
- a coat if it’s cold (this can often be tossed into the car instead of a suitcase)
- extra leggings for girl or boy (which also work great under pajamas in cold weather)
- One main pair of shoes for each kid, and perhaps sandals or mocs too.
If you are traveling to cold snowy weather, then you can pretty much toss this light packing thing out the window and count on a trunk outrageously full of coats, ect 😉
Small bag of baby medicine and syringe
I have often been traveling and a baby gets sick. Why such bad timing?!?! Now I always take some baby Tylenol, a syringe, and a printed out dosing sheet just in case. It’s easier to just bring it than to have to run stressed out to a store with a sick baby.
Related Post: How to fit 3 car seats in the back of a 5 seater car
A blackout curtain
Ok, some of you amazing moms get your toddlers to sleep fine without this! But, ours have slept SO great in total darkness that I’m afraid of messing up a great nights sleep. A thick blanket, sarong, or huge dark sheet of fabric from JoAnn’s will do great along with a few push pins to hold it over a window. We have also used a black garbage bag!
When staying in a hotel, I’ve found the blackout curtain is always dark enough for nap time. However, when visiting family, we almost always have to hang or pin something dark over the window, along with white noise on our phone or our kids just won’t nap.
Related Post: What it’s like so far with our 3rd baby in 4 years
Pack n Plays & blankets
These take up the majority of space in our car trunk. The most we have had to take is two, even with three kids under 5. If you are traveling with only one small baby, I highly recommend just taking your cushy changing pad! It works perfectly as a little baby bed, changing spot, and is small!
We have traveled without Pack n Plays before and my toddler slept on memory foam on the floor, while the baby slept in her car seat. A blow-up mattress against the wall has worked ok for our 2-4 year olds too, and it helped us to push something against it on whatever side faces the wall (like our suitcase on its side) to keep them from rolling off.
We recently stayed in a hotel and I was worried because we only took two pack n plays. They were for my 1 and 3 year old. We planned for our 4 year old to sleep in the second hotel bed, and I was worried he would fall off. He didn’t, and if you are worried about it you could always line the edge with a suitcase or hotel towels rolled up as a “bumper”.
Buy extra gear to leave at Grandma’s
Also, we have invested in extra pack n plays found super cheap on craigslist to keep at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This opens up half my trunk for other random things when we make that big trip…it’s soo nice!
When we did a two week road trip with a 6 month old and 2 year old, we always called the hotel to ask if they had pack n plays. If yes, we told them how many we needed and just left ours in the car. What a treat to have them waiting for you…and I loved not hauling in two extra heavy things to and from the car!
Tip: Bringing their own fuzzy blankets from home has made sleeping in a hotel pack n play feel and smell just like theirs at home.
Note: If you have the means to buy a better travel crib, these BabyBjorn travel cribs are the absolute lightest, most compact travel baby crib I know (13 lbs vs pack n play at 23 lbs). Folded up they take like half the space…so nice! My sister in law has two of them and if we could afford them I would have gotten them as well!
Related Post: One family one income 5 people: How I can stay at home
Soft fuzzy blankets and a pillow
You could scrap this…but we don’t. After taking a two week road trip with a 2 year old and 6 month old…these are what made nights amazing in any new home or hotel. I put each kiddos blanket on them in the car to save trunk space and helps them nap on the way.
A couple toys
I used to bring tons. So dumb unless you are at a hotel with NO toys because they want to play with what’s new! Basically now I bring a couple of things to play with in the car, like a few trains or diggers, and those usually get left in the car unless there are NO other toys where we are going. They want to play and explore the new things they find more than their old toys it seems, so I keep it simple and don’t pack many.
Tip: Balloons in my purse have been an awesome thing to bring places once baby reaches toddler stage. They take up no space, are fun to play with when blown up, and can be tossed.
I do pack 5-10 books for the car by their feet. This has been golden, especially after age 2 or so.
Extra old iPhone with a white noise app
This helps our babies nap without hearing all the conversation around, and it makes it so that we can all sleep in one room without waking each other up. We use a fan at home but an iPhone with a white noise app on it saves a ton of space and works well.
Related Post: Our experience with the Binxy Baby shopping cart hammock
Minimal diapers and wipes.
I try and bring only enough for the first day or two and buy more there. With one baby, I used to combine the suitcase with the diapers. Then with two and now three kids, we find it easier to keep all the clothes in one suitcase, and diapers in another bag.
Tip: If you are visiting family, I highly recommend using target’s free shipping over $25 or Walmart’s free shipping over $35 or Amazon Prime member free 2 day shipping to just ship diapers ahead of time if you are visiting family. I do this a lot! Since we have a Target Red Card I can get any size order for free shipping. It’s AMAZING!
A breast pump for long road trips
Note: This works best when traveling with one baby and no older kids. Now that we have a baby plus 3 and 4 year old, we actually just have to stop for potty and stretching, or they go nuts. So I nurse then, and we just have to stop more.
I have used a hand pump like the Medela hand pump, and a car battery operated pump (the best!) and free through your health insurance if you live in the USA. I’ve also used hand expression in the car with fully breastfed babies as a last resort. This saves SO much time pulling over to nurse.
Our first trip with a two week old I didn’t have one, and we pulled over every hour to nurse (like 20 minutes every time). This lengthened a 7 hour road trip into a painfully long trip until about halfway through I started hand expressing to save time. Ug, I wish we had a pump then.
A drinker cup or bottle for each baby/toddler
I love not worrying about spills in the car or at other peoples houses. These spill proof Munchin cups below are my absolute favorite and all my kids can use them (from around age 1.5 to now almost 5 years). The only way they really spill is to throw it with some force onto the ground which briefly lifts the seal.
Related Post: Lifefactory Glass Baby Bottle Review
Umbrella Stroller(for toddler) & Baby Carrier
When I think of what to pack when traveling with a baby and toddler, a stroller is a must. We only take a small stroller when we know there will be lots of walking involved. Otherwise, it stays home too. I also throw in either the Ergo, or when our babies are only a few months I’ll take our Boba Wrap.
Related Post: Boba vs Moby: What’s the difference
Things I don’t bring.
- Booster seat
- Loads of toys
- Lots of extra cute clothes
- A baby bouncer or swing
- A fan. (Update: after we got a mini van this was the first thing we added)
You can do it!
Knowing what to pack when traveling with a baby and toddler is hard, and packing lighter is a skill! I would dare to say commitment. It gets easier the more you do it! Babies mostly need mama and diapers and a few clothes, with a safe sleeping space. Everything else is pretty negotiable and takes guts to just try leaving behind if you are out of space!
If you are going to be going on a long trip or flying, be sure to check out this post where 22 families share their best packing advice with kids. What’s the hardest thing for you about packing with little kids? Leave me a comment and I’ll reply!