ICYMI, my husband Tyler and I took our two and four year old daughters on a three week trip to Europe last month.
We started with a four days in Paris and then flew down to Split, Croatia. We rented a car in Split and then did a big road trip through Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. (Check out an overview of our itinerary here).
It was SO much fun, some of the very best weeks of my life.
I’ve been slowly but surely blogging my way through our whole itinerary now that we’re back, and today I thought it would be fun to share some packing tips.
Traveling with kids can be intimidating. Trust me, I get it!
In my opinion, the most effective way to make sure a trip runs as smoothly as possible is to plan and pack strategically.
Balance is key: we want to be prepared but also FLEXIBLE. This mindset is the secret to actually enjoying yourself on a trip with your kids.
The goal here is to bring what your kids need but also keep things simple and streamlined. I didn’t want to bring anything extra with us because I knew that it would make travel days way more stressful than they needed to be.
Many of these tips may seem like common sense, but in the spirit of being thorough (one of my favorite spirits to be), I am going to say it all anyway. Also, I am writing this guide based on everything I learned from traveling with my daughters who are almost 3 and 4, so keep that in mind.
(If you’re traveling with a baby, check out this blog post for tons of baby travel advice and packing tips. I wrote that after we took Charlotte to France and Italy when she was 10 months old. And if you’re looking for more family travel posts, click here).
Let’s start with the basics. This will help you come up with the framework of your packing list.
How many days are you going? And will you have access to laundry? If you don’t have access to laundry, I would pack an outfit for each day plus three extra outfits. So if it’s a 7 day trip, I would pack 10 outfits. You can, obviously, adjust this based on the age/messiness of your kiddo.
We did laundry every 5 days or so on our trip which was more often than I was planning. I had packed 10 outfits for each of the girls, so I always had extra even on laundry days.
What is the weather like? If it’s going to be either really cold or really hot, that’s pretty straightforward. If you are traveling to a cold location, you will need to plan for more luggage/bigger suitcases since coats and sweaters take up more room than t-shirts and shorts.
For moderate or unpredictable weather, you’ll want to bring options and layers for your kids. And if you’re packing for different weather than your kid is used to, you might need to bring extra layers and such to make sure they’re comfortable.
For our trip, the forecast was all over the place, so I brought plenty of layering options for Charlotte and Emmie.
Will you be swimming? If it’s a “swim everyday” type of vacation, I’d bring 3 swimsuits for each kid. That way, you can have them wear one, have a wet one hanging in the bathroom from the previous day, and have one backup in case they spill or have an accident.
If you’re heading somewhere with rocky beaches, consider bringing an inexpensive pair of water shoes for your kid that you can toss if you want on the way home.
Same goes with hats, sunglasses, rain boots, etc. You can always buy things while you’re there but in many cases it is easier to already have them on hand and not worry about scrambling in the pouring rain or what have you. And if you’re going somewhere more remote, you’ll definitely want to be prepared.
As I said, I packed ten outfits for each girl for this trip. I prefer to pack by outfit as opposed to planning for a certain number of shirts, shorts, etc. I find that mornings on the go are easier if I just grab an entire outfit out as opposed to rifling through their packing cube trying to put something together.
So, I packed 7 shorts outfits, 1 dress, and 2 pants outfits for each of the girls. For outerwear, I packed each girl a knit cardigan, a denim jacket, and a pullover sweatshirt. I brought two swimsuits for each of them: one tank style and one long sleeve for longer beach days.
A few places I love to shop for the girls for long trip essentials and everyday life: Target, H&M, and Old Navy are the best and super affordable while Zara is where I go for “special occasion” outfits.
I went ultra comfortable and practical with everything I packed for the girls on this trip–lots of sets and cotton shorts. I ended up matching them most days which was cute and actually super helpful in keeping track of them at the airport and in crowds. They certainly don’t match every day at home, but I had been stockpiling their trip wardrobe over the course of the spring, so everything was brand new and organized for them.
For shoes, I kept it very simple: I had them wear their white Nike’s on the airplane and packed one pair of neutral sandals for each of them. Keeping the shoe situation simple is a great way to save space in your suitcases.
Their little baseball caps that we brought are from Hi Little One.
I tried to keep the girls’ toiletry situation streamlined too. Since we checked a bag, I did pack a few full sized items that I knew we’d use up over the course of the three weeks. I brought a full size of this Puracy body wash for me and the girls to share. And I also brought a Native mineral sunscreen and a spray Sun Bum sunscreen. (You can, of course, easily buy sunscreen anywhere, but we had room and I just decided to throw it in).
I packed a tiny Paw Patrol toothpaste and Frozen toothbrushes, detangling spray for me and Char, and Emmie’s eczema cream. Also, I brought a travel sized tube of Tubby Todd’s All Over Ointment (use my link for a discount at checkout!).
I organized our meds in this handy pill organizer from Amazon. I stocked it with chewable Motrin, Tylenol, melatonin, and Benedryl for the kids and Advil, Tums, and vitamin D tablets for me and Tyler. This organizer is super compact, and I loved having everything with us “just in case.” I also brought our favorite thermometer.
Pro tip: if you’re planning to carry on your toiletries while traveling to the EU, I recommend using a clear pouch. They will make you take out your liquids at security either way, but if you have them in a clear pouch you won’t need to remove the bottles/products themselves. I like these clear pouches from Target and this clear case from CalPak (go with the small size if you want to carry it on, though, per EU regulations!).
I packed one big Ziploc bag of snacks and tried not to overdo it. It’s easy to find treats and snacks abroad, so I mostly focused on protein. The main thing I brought were these Maui Nui venison sticks which were CLUTCH. The girls are obsessed and each eat a whole one almost every day, lol. I love having these on hand because it’s an easy way to boost their protein intake. (I have a theory that most behavioral issues can be addressed by increasing a kid’s protein intake, but I’ll save that for another day!!).
Outside of the meat sticks, I brought a bunch of Lara bars and a handful of those fruit snack “buttons” from Trader Joe’s which are always my secret weapon in times of great distress.
I had each girl bring their little Simple Human water bottles with us. We brought the plastic ones since they are lighter, and I wanted them to be able to carry them in their backpacks.
Also, I brought a few Stasher bags with us. We filled them with snacks for the plane and then used them every single day for stroller and car snacks. I also made sandwiches for the girls each morning and put them in Stasher bags to bring with us (any sensible mom knows to be prepared for the 10am hunger attack). I’ll admit that I always thought Stasher bags were a sham, but I am a full fledged convert now.
Keeping kids entertained on a 20 hour travel day is no light undertaking. Part of the whole travel thing, of course, is teaching kids how to be comfortable with waiting, but I think there is a balance to be found between letting kids be bored and helping them find ways to pass the time.
I think the key here is to “surprise and delight” your kids with new stuff for the flight. And you don’t have to go crazy with this by any means–I’m talking about new markers and a few new books. I also had a small arsenal of things in our suitcase to surprise them with throughout the trip. We needed stuff to keep them occupied on flights, car drives, at restaurants, and in our Airbnbs in the morning while Tyler and I were getting ready and organized for the day.
I got the girls some brand new coloring stuff: retractable markers and colored pencils (I’d rather throw a marker away than trying to find a missing cap under an airplane seat so the retractable kind are a game changer for travel).
And then I got them each a new sketchbook and a few new Golden Books. I also brought these cute Madeline sticker books which were perfect for Paris hype-building. (We also love these Usborne sticker books!).
In my suitcase, I packed two additional coloring books and a sticker bracelet activity which was a huge hit. Halfway through the trip, Tyler found this little Paw Patrol stamp set at a market in Croatia which was a crucial addition to the art supply collection.
And, of course, we brought iPads for them. (This case was awesome). Char and Emmie are at an age now where it doesn’t stress me out as much to let them watch an hour or two of a movie at a time while we are traveling.
Char does definitely have a tendency to get addicted to shows, so when we are home we try to limit it as much as possible. We’ll only use it when we really need to get something done or if we do a family movie night or whatever.
But for the trip, all bets were off. We’d “hold them off” for as long as possible on the flights and drives and then just be super clear with them. (“Okay we are going to do shows for an hour and then go to sleep”). And we always told them that the iPads were to be earned and not a given. So if they whined, then we’d take the iPad away–they took this seriously so we only had to follow through once or twice.
We also let them watch shows on our phones at nicer restaurants, especially at dinner when Tyler and I wanted to relax a little and order a drink or, you know, hold a conversation.
If you do bring iPads for your kids, make sure to download everything beforehand so they can watch without WiFi on the flight and in the car. And we downloaded shows on our phones to use at restaurants too.
We bought these bluetooth headphones with volume controls for the iPads for the trip. Char used hers religiously, but Emmie wasn’t interested and preferred to watch on silent/quiet.
We did not bring our own car seats for this trip. We rented them with our rental car that we drove through Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. And then in Paris at the beginning of the trip, we booked a private car transfer to and from the airport and requested car seats. We used Welcome Pickups for this and had a great experience.
Renting car seats might not be for everyone, but we wanted to avoid the hassle of lugging them through the airport, up and down tiny stairways, and through streets and parking lots.
Our travel days were going to be strenuous enough without two massive car seats to carry around. And although the car seats they gave us at the Split airport were certainly not the ones I would have chosen in a perfect world, they were fine and got the job done. This worked out great for us.
Originally, we did not plan to bring a double stroller. Charlotte is four and a half and barely rides in ours at home anymore, so we didn’t think we’d need it. We planned to just bring our single travel stroller (We love this one from Amazon!!!) for Emmie.
Fortunately, my sister generously offered to let us borrow her Uppababy G Link 2 double travel stroller, and this SAVED us–especially in Paris when we were clocking 18-20k step days walking around the city. We didn’t use the stroller as much in Croatia, but it was essential for the bigger cities. I’m so, so glad we had it and can’t imagine what it would have been like for Char if we didn’t.
We packed our Ergo 260 carrier with us specifically to use on our day exploring Plitvice National Park in Croatia. This park is NOT toddler friendly because the pathways don’t have railings and they go over lakes and waterfalls. We knew we’d want Emmie to be safely strapped in for most of that morning. She’s almost three and doesn’t looove the carrier, though, so I think if we hadn’t had this day we could have left it at home.
We also brought our Hatch sound machine which was kind of dumb actually. We brought it because we thought we would use the “okay to wake” light like we do at home, but the Hatch is so finicky that it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. I would just bring this portable sound machine next time for sure (needs to be plugged in overnight so if you bring this one make sure to bring an extra converter for the charger!).
If you’re traveling with a baby under the age of 2 and didn’t buy them a separate seat, make sure to call your airline or add them online as a lap infant.
And of course, if you’re traveling abroad, your kiddo will need a passport. These expire every five years, so make sure you’re up to date.
I posted a blog post a couple of months ago that has a list of administrative to-do’s for planning a trip abroad. From passport details to registering your trip with the state department, I cover it all. Check out my international travel checklist out here.
For our trip, we brought three suitcases. One was a carry-on size just for Tyler’s stuff. One was a big “checked” size suitcase–I put all of mine and the girls’ clothes in this one. And then we had another carry-on sized suitcase that I put all of our toiletries, shoes, and anything heavy in to balance the weight of the bigger suitcase.
We checked the three suitcases. All four of us had our backpacks and then I also carried a small duffel bag onto the plane.
My best tip here is to invest in some nice packing cubes. I got two sets from CALPAK which I highly recommend. They are sturdy, structured but “packable,” and have an extra zipper pocket on the back of each cube. I used two cubes for each girl: one big one for their outfits and outerwear and one smaller one for pajamas, undies, swimsuits, and socks. I rolled everything into the cubes and labeled them–the girls got a huge kick out of this.
In one side of my big suitcase, I had the girls’ four packing cubes and sandals. And then I rolled up all of my stuff and lined it up in the bottom of the other side of the suitcase. This worked out great and was very easy to keep organized throughout all six stops of our trip.
(If you’re curious about my own packing list, check out this post).
I had the girls bring their little backpacks I made them last Christmas. They carried their own water bottles, most beloved stuffed animals, sunglasses, and a couple of Golden Books. (I wrote a tiny how-to post for their Stoney Clover-inspired backpacks here).
In the small duffel, I packed a small pillow, blanket, and pair of pajamas for each of the girls to help them get cozy on the flight.
I’m SO glad we brought the pillows and blankets. This helped them fall asleep on the flight, in the car, and at night in all of our various lodgings.
Check out the full review of the duffel bag I brought here.
This backpack was a big investment from Dagne Dover, but I’m pleased to share that I do think it was worth the $215 price tag. I got the Large Dakota backpack in the “Dune” color, and I was really, really happy with it. This backpack had plenty of room for my laptop, camera, the girls’ coloring stuff, and all of our snacks.
All of the different compartments allowed us to stay organized on long travel days–this was my favorite part of the backpack.
Tyler ended up wearing it every day as our “out and about” backpack, and it worked out great. The one thing I didn’t love is that the water bottle holders on the sides are pretty tight–our water bottles did fit in them but it did require two hands to get them in.
If you’re in the market for a nice travel backpack, I definitely recommend this one. It’s sturdy, amazingly comfortable, and holds EVERYTHING.
I recommend bringing a small crossbody or belt bag. In the past, I haven’t traveled with a purse and would just keep everything in my backpack. HOWEVER, this is something I’ve changed my mind on this year. I loved having easy access to my phone, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and lip balm. Also, I kept all four passports in it on travel days.
I carried my small purse every single day of the trip and can’t imagine a time where I went without it. I used a crossbody from Clare V (my bday present from Tyler) but could see the Lululemon belt bag being a great option for this purpose as well.
We wanted to help the girls document the trip as we went, so we brought these little travel journals for them to make as went. I brought this sticker photo printer, and we collected train tickets, museum passes, and postcards as we went to add in. Tyler also made them a little scavenger hunt that we put in the front of the book. The girls had a few things on their “list” for each location. I feel like this helped build hype so much, and they became very invested in checking off all of the boxes for each place we visited. (I showed how the journals turned out in this reel).
I’m going to end this guide with a tip I learned from Brian of The Points Guy.
Brian recommends placing an Apple AirTag in your checked suitcase so you can keep track of your luggage. What sold me is when he told a story about how someone at the luggage counter at the airport told him his bag got lost and that they would have to deliver it to him the next day. He checked on his phone and saw the location of his AirTag was just right behind the counter. He asked them to check for it again and, sure enough, they brought his suitcase right out!.
We bought a few AirTags before this trip and put one in each of our checked luggage for the flights over.
We also bought these cute bracelets for the girls so they could wear the AirTags when we were out and about.
It’s a pre-weekend pick me up: just a little note with links to the latest blog posts, what I’m reading lately, and products I’m obsessed with. Think of it as a friend dropping off a surprise latte in the morning--you know?