Family life

This tiny packing list could save your family vacation

The things on this list are small, easy to pack and total lifesavers.

My husband and I have travelled to more than 20 countries and crossed the Atlantic seven times with our two sons, which means I’m slightly obsessed with packing—especially packing light.

Sure, there are the obvious things you need, like tablets and extra clothes, but this handful of practical goodies could save you some major headaches on your next family vacation—and it will all fit into a sandwich-sized container.

While some will be sitting in your junk drawer, you might not have all of these unexpected essentials at home. But trust me, they’re inexpensive and oh-so worth it when you’re on the road.

A fold-up nylon bag

These pocket-sized sacs can serve as a carry-on if you go overboard with souvenirs. They also work as a beach bag, dirty-clothes bin, shopping bag or suitcase divider. Plus, they weigh nothing and take up almost no space at all.

Travel-size stain remover and laundry detergent

Even if you’re not a fan of hand washing clothes in hotel bathrooms (OK, who is?), a bit of stain remover or laundry detergent could save the day if junior dumps cranberry juice on your one pair of pants the first night of vacation.

Wrinkle-free spray (the mini-bottle)

We once paid a mint to have my husband’s dress shirt pressed on a cruise (no irons!?), and I’ve been packing wrinkle-free spray ever since. Clothes are bound to wrinkle in a suitcase, but if you spray them, smooth them out and hang them up as soon as you unpack, this magic potion is more than worth its weight.

Pint-sized entertainment

Travel often involves waiting—on the airplane tarmac, shuttle buses, etc.—which isn’t fun with wiggly wee ones. I try to have several non-electronic options so I can save the tablet, phone or Nintendo for when we’re in the air.

  • A deck of playing cards, Uno, Skipbo or Monopoly Deal
  • Gum or Tic Tacs
  • A mini-pack of crayons or coloured pencils
  • Matchbox cars, figurines or wind-up toys
  • A small fidget toy
  • Micro-games like Left-Right-Center or Pass the Pigs
  • Sticker puzzles
  • Little activity books (mazes, word searches, etc.)

Figure out what works for your crew. For a while, I carried two Hot Wheels cars and an R2D2 figurine in my pocket for every trip.

When my son was two, he was obsessed with light switches, so I bought a few varieties from the hardware store and kept them in my purse. Strange? Perhaps. But they saved us a few meltdowns.

A few baggies in various sizes

I’ve used a gallon-sized Ziplock for wet swimsuits in Croatia, a quart-sized one for a snow globe in Iceland, and a snack-sized variety for seashells in Holland. Now I carry a couple of each, just in case.

A permanent marker and a pen

My travel Sharpie has labeled snack bags, drink bottles, souvenirs, contact cases, even toothbrushes. And starting on the plane with your customs forms, a pen always seems to come in handy.

Rubber bands

I bundle up our PJs in rubber bands for easy-access at airport hotels. They also keep earbuds wound tight, and hold together cards and crayons long after the packaging disappears.

Naturally, you might not use every one of these on every trip. But when that sippy cup starts leaking in your carry-on bag, you’ll be thrilled to have that Ziplock. Or when you’re juggling three of the same juice boxes, you can quickly label them with your Sharpie.

Heck, even if you don’t touch any of these items, at least they hardly made a dent in your suitcase.