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!