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Five Minimalist Travel Tips for Parents

 by Katherine Greulich

Packing less makes more time for family fun.

Minimalist travel is undoubtedly freeing: unencumbered by the objects of everyday life, one can move from train to trail with ease. Before children, I packed for a week in Mexico in a back-pack, and hiked, ran, ate, and explored my way through Argentina for two weeks with only a carry-on. Minimalist traveling with children, however, can be more difficult thanks to the fact that they use specialized objects for almost every activity of their day. Cribs, strollers, sippy cups, diapers (and swim diapers), toys, lovies, bottles, formula: the packing list for kids, especially young kids, can take up a lot of space in your luggage and vehicle.

But it is possible to pack minimally when traveling with children. If I make smart decisions, one Solgaard Carry-On Closet can hold almost everything my toddler and preschooler need for a week-long trip. I follow these minimalist packing rules to get our family out the door and enjoying more travel, with less stuff.

Pack fewer clothes and do laundry on the go

packing kids clothing for travel

It is very easy to pack too many clothes in kids’ luggage: they are inherently messy, and you probably also want to bring special outfits for family photos, dinners out, and other activities on your itinerary. But I don’t want to spend my vacation keeping track of tiny clothes. To keep my kids’ clothing list in check, I build multi-use outfits around special pieces. Plan for your kids to wear their matching outfits, for example, at least twice during a trip, for both a special and more casual occasion.

For a week away, I pack:

  • two pairs of pants or shorts
  • three tops, of varying sleeve length
  • one special dress
  • one pair of pajamas
  • one pair of shoes for each child
  • two pairs of socks (only if traveling to cooler temps)

Underwear takes up little room, so I tend to pack enough to get through the week. If vacationing near water, two swimsuits are plenty for splashing all day, every day. 

To keep it this minimal, I always research laundry options as part of choosing accommodations. If a hotel or rental doesn’t have a convenient way to do laundry, I will look elsewhere. Nobody wants to spend vacation doing laundry either, which is a further incentive to keep the clothing list concise.

Bring a few familiar food and drinks

kids yoghurt for travel

Every parent knows how important it is to keep kids well fed and hydrated while traveling: hungry kids are not happy travelers. Depending on the age of your children, you will need to bring more or less familiar snacks and drinks to keep your kids happy during transit and upon arrival. For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, bring enough food and beverages to get you to your destination. Then restock as needed–and encourage everyone to explore new foods. And one or two bottles or sippy cups is usually plenty.

For older kids, pack what you would pack for yourself: water bottle, an easy snack, and any medications or vitamins that keep you feeling happy and healthy while flying and driving.

Leave toys at home

child exploring outdoor nature

Kids don’t need lots of toys to have fun on vacation. When my preschooler packs toys, we spend far too much time tracking down items that get lost–or carrying items that are never used. Often, she plays with toys for an hour, loses them under the furniture at our rental, and then spends the rest of the trip collecting rocks and stacking seashells.

Encourage children to choose one or two items for both play and in-transit entertainment–a stuffie and tablet or activity book–and leave everything else at home. Bringing toys and games that the whole family will use, like pool toys, a card game, or soccer ball, is a good use of space, but keep in mind that many vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts also have these items for use on site.

Rent strollers, car seats, and cribs

renting strollers for kids travel

Consider renting large items at your destination. I always ask about cribs, car seats, and strollers when booking accommodations, rental cars, and car services. Freeing yourself from hauling travel cribs and car seats through the airport makes air travel so much easier. And if you are driving, leaving the stroller and travel crib at home makes it possible to actually fit luggage in the trunk.

When I know that we won’t use a stroller at our destination, I do without one in the airport in favor of baby carriers or good old-fashioned toddler wrestling. When I know we will use a stroller, I rent one upon arrival, or travel with a small collapsible stroller that fits through the security scanner. Unless needed for a long run or race, I leave the jogging stroller at home.

Take what you need to be comfortable

kids flying in airplanes

All of the above rules are trumped by this one: take whatever you think you need to keep you and your child comfortable.

Not jazzed about using a rented car seat? Bring yours. Special dietary needs? Take what will keep your kid happy and full. If you know that you will use an item–ideally multiple times–and it will make travel more fun for everyone, then take that item with you.

Travel does a family good: in addition to providing rest and leisure, it has also been shown to improve communication and strengthen lifelong family bonds. Traveling minimally as a family frees up time to do more connecting. On your next adventure, challenge yourself to pack less and enjoy more time together.