6 Tips for packing light

Posted By Allison on Oct 23, 2014

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Hey there!

Do you need some packing tips for an upcoming trip?

Packing light is a challenge on every family vacation. Most airlines now charge for checked bags, and overhead bins are stuffed. There is only so much cargo space in the family car. Cruise ship cabins are ridiculously small. And, who wants to haul unnecessary suitcases into a hotel room or vacation home? Nobody, that’s who.

The solution is to pack less and pack smart. By packing carefully, my family of four spent 10 days in Florida with three small suitcases and we spent 11 days in New York with one large suitcase and two backpacks. We packed casual clothes, dress clothes, accessories, swimwear, jackets, pajamas, underwear, two pair of shoes, personal hygiene items, laundry detergent, electronics, books, toys and snacks for the whole family. Here’s how:

6 ESSENTIAL tips for packing light with kids | tipsforfamilytrips.com | packing tips | family vacation ideas | travel tips and tricks

Wear clothes twice

Clothes typically take the most space, and are most redundant, so that’s the obvious place to cut back. You probably don’t need as much clothing as you think. I’ve found that well-chosen clothes can usually be worn at least a couple of times without needing more than a spot scrub with a washcloth.  That means you can pack three outfits or less for a one-week trip, plus what you wear on the day you leave.

There is an important exception to this rule. I do not wear my underwear twice. I am never that desperate for suitcase space, and I can quickly hand wash delicates in the hotel sink as needed.


Plan to do laundry once a week. It will ensure that those three outfits will last as long as your vacation. Most U.S. towns have laundromats, or better yet, choose a hotel or vacation home with guest laundry facilities. Laundromats often have efficient machines that wash and dry your clothes fast, and you can use more than one washer at once, so laundry doesn’t have to take you away from your vacation for long.

Pack a small travel bottle of liquid laundry detergent with your personal hygiene items. You can use it to hand wash items in your hotel sink. You can purchase detergent in laundromats, or bring your own detergent gel packs. Pack a roll of quarters too. They take very little space.

Tips for packing light | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Choose versatile pieces

Pack clothing that can be worn in lots of different ways. For women and girls, I love maxi dresses. They are comfortable enough to wear on an airplane, and dressy enough for a Broadway matinee or date night dinner. Sometimes a scarf or necklace can transform an outfit while taking little space in a suitcase. For men and boys, a collared golf shirt is comfortable and casual, but it will still get you into a cruise ship dining room.

Pack around a common color theme

Choosing outfits that you can mix and match will help keep your travel wardrobe versatile and interesting. If one article of clothing gets dirty, you can still wear a piece from that outfit with something else. If all your clothes work together, you can pack fewer shoes.

Avoid denim

Denim is bulky. It takes more space in a suitcase than other fabrics and is not comfortable in warm climates. That doesn’t mean that I never pack denim. Jeans and tees are durable staples for my kids and a stylish pair of jeans can be versatile. Newer stretch denims are less bulky too. However, if you’re trying to find more space in the suitcase, swapping out the denim for lighter fabrics may help.

Buy when you get there

I usually prefer to do my shopping before the trip because it’s often a time and money saver. However, if space is an issue, you can almost always replenish supplies like diapers, wet wipes, sunscreen and snacks after you arrive at your destination. If you expect to buy souvenir t-shirts, consider those wardrobe additions when you pack.

What are your favorite tricks for packing less? Please share them in the comments!


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Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.


  1. We packed as light as we could on our recent trip to Maine. For my kids’ clothes, I like to create outfits and roll them up to pack them tightly in large ziplock bags. It keeps me organized as well as forces the clothes to be even smaller. And if my infant son had an explosion of any kind, I could easily identify his items in my carry-on and get him changed. And it’s nice to be able to lay everything out and see what’s been packed so I can eliminate any excess when it comes to finally putting everything in a suitcase.

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  2. Rolling and bagging is a great way to save space and organize! I used reusable packing cubes for the same purpose on our NYC trip. Thanks Liv!

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  3. I use all of these tips when I travel. Planning an upcoming vacation and since it is winter I want to pack an extra pair of shoes, hoping they will fit in the carry on this time. Love the tip of bringing laundry soap to spot clean as needed. Never thought of that one. Thanks.

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    • Winter requires bulkier clothes and shoes, so it is a tricky time to pack light. Sounds like you’ve got it under control. Have a great trip!

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  4. This is a good article. Glad to learn some tips. Thanks for these.

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  5. Very good article! I also prefer to pack less and if it’s possible to buy some stuff from the place I am going to.

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