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Planning family trips is exciting, but there can be challenges. For many people, packing can be surprisingly stressful. What to bring, what not to bring, so many outfit choices, so many shoes! But the phrase ‘I have nothing to wear!‘ does not hold true for those savvy travelers who know how to pack a suitcase for a family trip.

As a professional writer and family travel expert, I’ve streamlined my suitcase packing, and that of my family members, down to a science. In fact, we’ve done multiple holidays to destinations like Rome, Hawaii and the Caribbean with just a carry-on and small backpack apiece. If we can do it, so can you.

hat an camera in a suitcase

How to pack a suitcase for a family trip

Whether you’re looking for packing tips for a week at the beach or packing a suitcase for a month in Switzerland or Japan, these tips for travel packing lists (including a FREE printable family packing list) are sure to help you get organized and relieve pre-trip stress.

Start with a packing list

Get organized with a packing list. Itemize what you need or want to take, and note how many of each item. We’ve included a FREE packing list PDF download at the end of this article.

Lay out those items a few days in advance, if you have space. Can you coordinate and mix outfits, accessorize with scarves, jewellery, belts? Think big, then edit down to what you really need, and you’ll be able to find space in your luggage for those essential items.

Help kids make their own packing lists, including colourful drawings that can help them remember what they’d like to take. Involving them in trip planning in this small way helps create excitement and self-confidence.

Pack strategically

Place clothes that you’ll need towards the top of your suitcase. If you know you’ll be going to sleep or to swim on arrival at your destination, make sure your PJs or swimsuit are easily accessible.

And be sure to include a few large Ziploc bags for wet items for last minute pool dips before departure back home.

Plan to do some sink laundry, especially of kids’ clothes, and small items like underwear and socks.

Remember, there’s no need to pack 30 pairs of anything for a 30 day trip. 5-7 pairs of underwear or socks should do just fine. If you have access to laundry facilities, do a load or two while you’re on holiday.

If your kids have spare room in their carry-ons, fill it with any extra items of your own. I used to squeeze an extra pair of shoes in my sons’ bags every time we traveled.

Roll, fold or both?

Everyone has their own favorite method of packing clothes. Many swear by either folding or rolling, though some many just toss things into a bag – usually too many things – and hope for the best.

I fold and it works well for me. I tuck everything into corners, and don’t mind ironing something if I have to.

But if you prefer to roll your clothes, great! Pick the method that works for you, and stick to it.

Use packing cubes and accessories

Accessories like packing cubes, shirt envelopes and vacuum bags that compress air to reduce larger clothing items can transform your packing.

Cubes can help you pack a suitcase to maximize space. Color-coded cubes can also help categorize items like socks, underwear, shirts, even dirty laundry to keep it separate from clean clothes.

I love using accessories in my carry on bags to keep activity-related clothing items separate. I have hiking clothes in one cube, ski items in another. They’re a great way to keep your packing neat and tidy, and help in finding clothing items easily.

Vacuum or compression bags are great for bulky items, like winter clothing and sweaters. Rolling the compression bags reduces the air, making the items flatter and taking up saving space in your suitcase. If you can’t do that, wear your bulkiest item on the plane.

How to pack shoes

Pairs of shoes tend to be some of the bulkiest items in a suitcase. If you can, wear your biggest pair of shoes or boots on the plane. This will save space in your bag for smaller items.

My favorite shoe packing hack is to wrap shoes in shower caps or plastic bags to keep other items clean. This is a genius hack that I wish I’d known when I was learning how to pack back in the day.

Another great tip is to stuff soft items like socks, underwear and small jewelry bags into shoes and boots. Don’t let any space go to waste.

How to pack toiletries and beauty products

For your toiletries and makeup, a good toiletry bag is a must.

It should have compartments, be travel sized, and have a hook so you can hang it on a bathroom door. This saves valuable counter space in hotel bathrooms, especially if you’re traveling as a family.

For packing jewellery, use a small jewellery pouch or individual storage bags that can lay flat or fit into shoes.

flay lay of items to pack into suitcase

Lists for warm and cold weather holidays

Our printable packing lists cover both warm and cold weather trip planning. Remember, a swimsuit should be on both of those lists! One for the beach in summer, and for the hot tub at the ski resort.

If you’re planning a ski holiday, you can fit your helmet, gloves and scarf in your second carry-on duffle bag.

However, if you’re planning to fly with all of your ski gear, i.e. boots, skis, boards, you will have to check luggage for those specialty items. There are certain things that just have to fly cargo.

Finally, make traveling an event

Travel is exciting! When I traveled as a child, flying was a very special occasion that required us all to dress up for the flight in our Sunday best. Old habits die hard, and I still do this today.

The benefit in my mind is that flying is still a special occasion, and who knows? Upgrade to Business Class, anyone?  

Don’t be afraid to dress up when traveling. Just because it’s a good outfit, doesn’t mean it can’t still be comfortable. It’s all in the choice of materials and items.

Download our FREE packing check list

Now it’s your turn to pack. We’ve prepared this super helpful and FREE downloadable, printable packing check list for each member of your family. Happy travels!

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lady sitting on suitcase to pack it for family trip

Got a great packing hack? Share it in the comments!