A Universal Packing List for Kids

by | Jul 4, 2014 | Travel With Kids | 16 comments

We travel with our kids quite a bit. We regularly prep for everything from weekend camp outs to ten day overseas vacations to two months summering in Chicago with grandparents. That’s a lot of packing.

But I’ve noticed that when I pack (or supervise the packing of) a kid’s suitcase, pretty much the same stuff goes in there. If it’s four days in San Diego, we’ll wear it all and bring it home dirty. (Or clean if my mom gets ahold of it.) If it’s a week and a half in Europe, we’ll find a way to wash it and wear it again.* If it’s a long camping trip, we’ll just keep wearing it. Dirty.

So, in case it’s helpful to any of my fellow travelers on the road, here is my . . .
Universal Packing List for Kids for Trips Over Three Days

1. Three to four bottoms, seasonally appropriate.

I always bring at least one pair of jeans, even on summer trips, because you never know when the kids will need them for a hike through scrub-brush, or an unexpected cold snap.2. Four to five tops, seasonally appropriate.

Ditto on at least one long sleeve shirt, even in summer. Maybe we won’t use it, but it’s nice to have. Ideally, all tops should be able to go with all bottoms. (For my girls, I substitute play dresses for about half of the top+bottom combos, since that’s what they usually wear at home.)3. Two nightgowns or pairs of pajamas.

Ideally mix and match, because I care about that sort of thing. Probably you don’t.4. One sweatshirt.

As I type this I am at a swim meet in Chicago in July and it is 63 degrees. Sweatshirt. Because you just never know.5. One jacket.

For summer trips, I pack a lightweight, water resistant, windbreaker-type jacket with a hood. Great for cool Pacific mornings and evenings AND unexpected Midwestern/Atlantic coast thunderstorms. Paired with the above sweatshirt, this is all the warmth they need for 90% of our vacations. For the other 10%, we bring a winter coat, but it’s unlikely to fit in the suitcase. So they wear it.6. One to two swimsuits.

It depends on what kind of trip it is. If it’s a swimmy-type trip, we bring two. No matter what, we bring one. We didn’t used to, and it was cute to let the kids just swim in their undies if the opportunity unexpectedly arose, as it often did. Now that the kids are older, we just always pack a swimsuit, even though we probably won’t need it, because we usually DO need it.7. Five pairs of underwear.

8. Three to five pairs of socks.

It depends on if they’ll mostly be wearing shoes or mostly be wearing sandals.9. Three pairs of shoes.

One pair of sneakers, one pair of seasonal shoes like sandals or boots, and one pair of dressier shoes like flats or loafers.10. Church clothes.

It’s how we roll. Even on vacation, Tierneys do not show up to Mass in play clothes. So we pack khakis and a belt and a collared shirt for the boys and dresses for the girls. They also come in handy if you are a crazy person and take your kids to a nice restaurant.
And that’s it. Little kids have little clothes and use little suitcases. Kids over about eight use standard, carry-on sized rolling suitcases. Everything above fits in one suitcase. The list includes the clothes they’ll wear on the day of traveling, so on packing day (which is the day after laundry day, for obvious reasons) they/I pull out everything on the list, and put everything in the suitcase except for what they’ll wear on the day of traveling. That goes on top of the suitcase.

For kids younger than six, I pack for them (or ask a big kid to help them). For school aged kids, I write out a packing list for them, and have them check things off as they go into the suitcase. If it’s important that they not forget to pack something like shoes . . . or any pants (both of these have happened in our family), I have them bring all of the items into the living room and SHOW me each item as it goes into the suitcase.
But NOW I can hand them this packing list:
And so can you, because you can download it here!
Update: I forgot to mention toothbrushes, hairbrushes, sunscreen, etc. I usually pack all kid toiletry items together and put them in my suitcase so that I don’t have each kid trying to find his own toothbrush every evening. I just have them all together.

* A little more on laundry: Its just not practical for us to pack enough to wear new clothes every day on a trip longer than three or four days. Kids are really, really messy. Most of their clothing, even on the twelve year old (maybe ESPECIALLY him) can’t be worn more than one day. So, I always plan on doing laundry.

Ideally, that means staying in an apartment with a washer and dryer (someone really should tell Europe about dryers, they’re great). If that’s not possible I suppose you could hit a laundromat, but it has always seemed like a waste of vacation time to sit watching clothes spin, so I never have.
If I don’t have access to a washing machine, I just spot clean or wash clothes in the sink or tub. Then, I use my mom’s flight attendant trick of rolling them in a bath towel, then standing on the end of the towel, and twist, twist, twisting. That gets enough water out to have most clothes dry enough to pack or wear in about 12 hours if you have access to fresh air.
For more on kids and clothes, check out:
For more on our travels with kids, wander around in this area.
And, bon voyage!


  1. Ana

    Great list! Were leaving for a trip tommorrow and I was happy to see I had everything on the list except the jackets… when you are headed to sunny florida its tough to think you might need them but you never know when a hurricane might hit! Ill go put them in now

  2. Amanda

    This is great! Thanks for sharing! We go on frequent trips with our 5 for swim meets, camping, visiting family, etc. Last year I did a list on cozi which our 2 oldest can access and use. I'll definitely be utilizing these printables. 🙂
    I would just add 'bathroom bag' to the list! (Toiletries, etc.)

    • Kendra

      I knew I'd forget something! Usually I bring all the toothpaste, sunscreen etc. in my suitcase. But it should be on there, thanks!

  3. Apple Jacs

    Have you ever used ziploc freezer bags? When we go on location for films I just pack like you but when it's about a week or less, I use a ziploc freezer bag for each day. Top, bottom, socks, undies altogether so it saves time getting ready in the morning and the clean clothes stay clean while dirty ones can just get thrown in the suitcase. You also know you have enough outfits. I always pack one extra days worth and an extra bag with swimsuits. It's made packing & unpacking so much easier! Especially when you have multiple destinations so you can't just unload it all in one place.

    • Kendra

      I haven't, but it sounds like a great plan. I do hate dirty clean clothes!

  4. Amelia Bentrup

    Amen to the swimwuits! You would think after 12 years of parenting, I would know these things. We just came back from a 2 day trip to a family reunion. Did I pack swimsuits. Nooooo. Did they need them? Yesss. Thankfully they were able to borrow and all was fine.

  5. Stephanie K.

    Thanks for sharing this! We only have one baby right now but I anticipate traveling will continue to be a part of our lives as our family (God-willing) grows. I laughed out loud when you said you needed a sweatshirt for 63 degrees. If you lived in Chicago year round I'm guessing you wouldn't need it. 😉 But you are one prepared mom!

  6. Kate

    We leave for our multi-destination summer trip on Tuesday! I feel 10x more prepared just having read this!

  7. Anonymous

    I am curious….does your husband take off 2 months to vacation with you all in Chicago?

    • Kendra

      He is able to work from home for part of it, and take a couple vacation days, and schedule meetings here. So he comes back and forth, but no he's not off of work during the summer.

  8. Nanacamille

    Another good way to wash clothes without a machine is to take them into shower with you put on the floor with a little soap on them and step on them as you wash.
    Heated towel bars are a big help in drying as is a hair dryer. If hiking hang hard to dry socks from your backpack during the day. You can also close the car window on something and let it air dry as you drive. Cloth diapers were dried this way on car trips.
    I have done all of the above and they work.

  9. Son Mom

    Great packing list! Very similar to what we do for our international trips with kids. We also love those plastic vacuum bags where you close the zipper and squeeze the air out – that lets us double up people in a suitcase when we have travelers who are too small to roll their own. Love the towel trick – I've had to wash in the sink a few times and stuff stays wet for so long.

    We learned the hard way about the need for sweatshirt plus jacket, and you would laugh, being a fellow southern Californian. Our first big trip was to Europe in the summer, so we only packed a light water proof jacket thinking, "It's summer — no need for warmth, just protection from any little drizzles." That happened to be the rainiest summer in Europe for years and we were freezing cold the whole time!

    • Kendra

      That's a good question Amanda. I do, in that I focus on having different TYPES of clothing, to cover various types of weather and activities, rather than having multiple versions of the same item. Then, if it keeps being sunny, I just wash the items as needed, and wear them again. Sometimes it makes the pictures of the trip a little repetitive. But I can live with that.

  10. Amber Clark

    Lots of information! I am going on a long trip with my family, my bags were packed but I think I have to unpack them and do all the arrangements according to your ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Shelley Knoll-Miller

    Hi Kendra,
    Great info and thanks for your work in putting it together. I can't help but pick you up for your comment "Someone should really tell Europe about dryers, they're great". I'm Australian but have travelled thoughout Europe. In my experience, there is a cultural difference with Australians & Europeans vs. Americans, in that more Aussies & Europeans line-dry. This is because environmental concern is more culturally prevalent. I'm not going to judge you for not line-drying because it's none of my business but the "Someone should tell them about dryers" attitude is a bit much. Cos we know about dryers. We just think they're wasteful. I really value your reflections and work with the blog and have hesitated in leaving critical feedback. I don't always agree with your values but I love your humour and the open wrestle with ideas and issues. But I do notice the 'enviromental thing' as a reoccurring cultural difference and blogs are global now. So I thought you might be open to hearing a different cultural perspective. To be clear, the cultural difference isn't that you use a dryer. It's that you make the above comment with the "Why wouldn't you do this?" atttitude. That seems to be an American thing, alongside the aforementioned great sense of humour and open debate that I do appreciate.

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