How to pack light with kids

William Gray reveals how to take everything you need and stay within airline weight limits

5 mins

Travel light? Yeah, right! It might suit backpackers, with their pocket-sized super-absorbent towels and erratic rotation of underwear, but try it with kids in tow and you could end up weighed down by stress.

Packing for a family holiday requires military precision and, in the case of my wife, an obsession with colour-coded Tupperware. Rarely is our hand luggage free of little plastic containers crammed with colouring pencils, snacks, Barbie doll accessories and Hot Wheels cars. Most of this is destined to end up rolling around on the floor of a plane, creating mayhem for parents and cabin crew alike – but the point is, would your holiday be less stressful without these extra bits and pieces?

Most parents would probably agree that skimping on clothes, equipment, toys and supplies could be the difference between making travel with kids enjoyable or just bearable.

Different ages, different needs

The amount of gear you take is adversely proportional to the size of your child. Essentials for travelling with babies include a suitcase-busting inventory of nappies, clothes, bedding, toys and feeding equipment – and then there’s the bulky extras like a stroller, travel cot and car seat (small wonder that new parents tend to avoid air travel and instead cram everything they need in their car).

For toddlers you’ll still need a buggy, car seat, toys and travel potty. Once kids reach four or five, they will probably want to pack their own daypack with games, activity pads, a soft toy and some sweets. Depending on whether you’ve managed to resist buying them one, an iPad or Nintendo DS may also find its way into your children’s hand luggage. Not wanting to sound smug (we’re actually just really mean parents), our seven-year-old twins still seem content with their Leapfrog Leapster games consoles – and Joe could happily while away a three-hour flight delay with his Chelsea FC Top Trumps cards.

Keep control of the process

Beware girls aged seven-plus! Ours has started taking a determined – though not always realistic – interest in holiday packing. Supreme negotiating skills are required by parents to ensure that half your luggage isn’t filled with a dozen varieties of sandals, several hundred hair ties and an impractical summer dress for each day you’re away. Teenagers, of course, are often content with a magazine, an iPod and a ‘do not disturb’ sign.

Choose the right luggage

Once you’ve finished deliberating over what to take, you need to decide how you’re going to carry it. A medium-sized bag for each member of the family can be more practical than one or two colossal ones. It gives children independence, they can find their own things without turning out everyone else’s and, if you’re not sharing the same room in a hotel, it saves a lot of running back and forth along corridors. For kids over three, try the snazzy Trunki Towgo – their very own ride-on, pull-along, pack-it-yourself hand luggage – an ideal stress-reliever for parents struggling with children and excess baggage at airports or train stations.

William Gray is the author of Travel with Kids, the first definitive worldwide guide to family travel. You can order you copy on Amazon now.

Main image: Family hiking with a pack mule (

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