How to pack light when traveling with a baby

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After having a child I felt like I may never again go on vacation without approximately seven suitcases or bags of some sort. I was never a particularly light packer but realized I could travel in a carry-on pretty easily for less than a week. However, all that changed once I had a child. I was packing in the monster suitcases and literally couldn’t figure out how to travel with less than 5 bags. After doing this for two years I saw the light and realized we needed to make a change. AND it was possible. Here are my top tips for how to pack light for a vacation with kids.

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Packing light with a baby may seem like an impossible task since they need so much stuff, but it's actually easier than you think. There are a few ways to pack lightly with a baby (or toddler) for vacation as long as you plan ahead, and start with a good packing list.

A lot of the recommendations below go against my frugal tendencies (hello – not bringing stockpiled diapers and using hotel laundry services) but are critical if you want to know how to pack light on a trip with kids. If your primary goal is saving money and NOT packing lightly, this list may not be as helpful for you.

The good news is, even if I recommend investing in additional items, I’ve chosen budget-friendly options and frugal recommendations to help you keep your vacation budget whole.  And now, on to the recommendations!

1)  Determine what you’ll have when you get there

If you’re heading to grandma and grandpa’s house, it’s probably going to benefit you to just get a set of things to keep there. This includes a car seat, stroller, and some type of sleep situation. I recommend a pack ‘n play because it will take you through the years. These don’t have to be the deluxe versions, but serviceable functionality will save you a lot of headaches if you’re going to be traveling.

The biggest additions (and non-negotiables) for us are always the car seat and the stroller. I was never comfortable renting a car seat before my little was forward facing because the rental companies “won’t guarantee the type of seat you’ll get.” I was too nervous, so after a lot of trial and error, we finally found this travel car seat, which is much lighter weight than the ones we use every day.

Here are some of the things I’d recommend adding to your registry for travel and/or grandma’s house, just to keep things less hectic.

You’ll need: a pack n play, travel car seat, umbrella stroller, car seat carrier (if you’re not going to leave the car seat at a friend/relative’s house) and toddler cot.

2) Pack light by renting stuff once you arrive

I didn’t even know this was a thing, but it is. Many popular destinations have baby rental companies nearby. If you’re not going somewhere you have baby items available, renting as much as you can will help you pack a LOT lighter.

I’m going to assume you’re headed out to the beach with an infant and not grandmas, because as I mentioned above if you’re going somewhere frequently it’s easier and cheaper to just to get a second set of budget-friendly stuff.

The biggest things I’d recommend renting are a crib or pack n play, stroller, toys, high chair, diaper pad, and baby bath.

The sleep solution is obviously 100% necessary, while the other things just make your life easier. If you’re traveling with your stroller you obviously won’t need to rent one. However, if you’re following these tips it’s highly possible you can just wear your baby through the airport. You’ll have one less thing to schlep, helping you pack lighter.

Toys are for your sanity – and they take up a ton of suitcase room. No way you’re packing in a small suitcase trying to fit in a set of building blocks, teethers, and 10 books.

A high chair, diaper pad, and bath are all big items you can’t pack and are relatively cheap to rent for the week. If you’re already paying a delivery fee for a crib or pack n play, I found it worth it to add these things if we’d be somewhere awhile.

3) Lighten the suitcase by buying diapers and wipes when you arrive

diaper deals and what price to stock up

I am a money-saving weirdo when it comes to diapers, so I’m always trying to get them for the best price. That meant I’d pack 50+ diapers in a suitcase when we were going away for a week just so I didn’t have to “overpay” for our diapers.

Trust me on this one, it’s SO much easier to just buy diapers and wipes at the grocery store. If you’re going somewhere with a child for a week I KNOW you’re going to hit some kind of store pretty early.

Leave your diaper stockpile at home and only pack the necessities for a couple of days. This frees up at least ¼ of a huge suitcase. Since we’re trying to pack lightly – this allows you to downsize the suitcase.

4) Utilize laundry services at your destination

help a new mom with chores

I know that you have an overwhelming desire to pack 1000 outfits “just in case,” and because your infant will likely go through 3-4 per day if he’s young enough. BUT they take up more room, and you probably don’t need 47 burp cloths. Pack what you need for a couple of days and then plan to do laundry.

Even if you’re at a hotel there are laundry services available. You can also buy travel packs of laundry detergent and do laundry in the bathtub. The best bet is to just rent somewhere with a laundry room. If you’re traveling with an infant this is probably the most likely scenario anyway. And if not, godspeed to you in that hotel room for multiple days.

5) Pack shoes that go with multiple outfits

Baby and toddler clothing doesn’t take up a lot of room, so I’m not going to tell you to only pack two outfits and rotate. You can throw in a good amount of clothing in a small space. However, you’ll still want to be careful with the shoes.

Mainly because you don’t want to lose them.

But seriously, it’s easier to just pack a couple of pairs of shoes and then maybe flip-flops or water shoes for the pool/beach. Kids look cute no matter what. They don’t need matching shoes for every outfit.

6) Save space with a portable sound machine and/or monitor

I know you probably think we’re crazy that we traveled with a sound machine and monitor, but I wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of an attempted night’s sleep.

We always felt more comfortable if we could see her, so we brought our video monitor everywhere. We stuck that huge thing in the suitcase with her sound machine. My mom’s friend showed her this portable sound machine, and I love it! Once we saw the error of our ways, we were hooked.

It’s literally the size of a large toiletry and takes up no space in the suitcase. And we can charge it with my hubby’s phone charger. It was a huge win.

If you really want to travel with a monitor, grab one of the portable (non-video) monitors you can cram in with your clothes. Traveling with technology is always risky, but you won’t feel as bad if a cheaper version breaks.

7) Go hardcore minimalist on the books/toys

Or better yet, forego them altogether. If you aren’t renting, just bring a couple of bedtime books and a few toys. We always bring a few friends for bed, and one or two small toys.

There is no reason to bring 15 toys, 10 books, and the entire zoo that sleeps with your child every night. (And if you have an infant I hope nothing sleeps with your child at night!)

Be extremely choosy and only put one or two items in your bag. You’ll be on vacation exploring new sites and hopefully with friends or family. Playing indoors hopefully isn’t at the top of your list.

8) Pack clothing by day in separate plastic bags

This prevents overpacking, shows you what you have, and keeps things neat in your suitcase.

One of the main reasons my suitcases end up overstuffed is because I don’t remember what I put in. If you put in outfits (including socks and underwear) in bags for each day you don’t ever have to stuff in anything else “just in case.”

This also allows you to ensure you have enough clothing including any special event attire you’ll need. Even if you’re going to a wedding, you shouldn’t plan on your baby re-wearing fancy wedding clothing the entire trip.

Separate bags are a good way to help you be really disciplined about what you add in the suitcase.

9) Bring thin muslin or bamboo blankets

If you have an infant, they aren’t sleeping with anything anyway, but you may want a blanket for the car seat or nursing. If you have a toddler, these blankets are your best friend.

Muslin or bamboo blankets are warm enough to get kiddos to sleep but are very thin for packing. There is no way we could pack some of the thicker blankets we have at our house, and these are perfect for sleep.

Again – please read the 10 commandments of safe sleep before putting anything in the bed with a child under one-year-old.

For everyone else, these are a highly recommended option.

10) Pack only the essentials in the diaper bag

Yes, it’s hard. No – you probably won’t need a rubber ducky in any scenario on the plane. I am guilty of a VERY overpacked diaper bag. I know that my list of “essentials” is long, but this is one place I don’t mess around. Buying stuff in an airport is super expensive, and you can’t even get a lot of the baby stuff you may need.

A motivating factor for limiting your stuff should be that you’ll need to carry all of it through the airport. Here is my list of the  things you’ll probably want with you:

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Changing pad (airports and airplanes are gross)
  • Vaseline/diaper cream
  • Sanitizing wipes (again – airports and airplanes are gross)
  • Burp cloth or bib if you’re in that phase
  • Nursing cover or bamboo blanket (for nursing or toddler naps)
  • Extra clothes (for your child AND you if you’re not bringing a carry on)
  • Teether or toys
  • Snacks

If you’re pumping, I haven’t figured out how to pack light.  There is no way around a diaper bag and a pump bag that I’ve seen unless you cut all the extras out of the diaper bag and combine. However, the pump bag isn’t counted as a carry-on, so if you’ve followed all these tips and are SO GOOD you aren’t even checking baggage – the pump bag can come too.

If you forget something, you actually will survive

Traveling with kids isn’t for the faint of heart, but there are definite strategies you can employ to make it easier on yourself. Getting as much as you can at your destination makes the trek a lot easier, and packing lightly is actually less stressful for everyone. If you do in fact forget a key item at home, you’ll realize you probably didn’t need it anyway. 

If you’re traveling with toddlers, check out how busy bags are the #1 thing we use to save our sanity. Just for you, we have a FREE Newborn/Toddler and Mamma packing list in the resource library that you can customize to your needs. Full disclosure – the list isn’t culled down with the tips above. It’s a starting point with quantities you’ll need for a week’s vacation.

You can start with the full list and pare down based on what you’ll have or can buy at your destination to get to a more minimalist list. Enter your email in the box below to have the password delivered right to your inbox.

Happy packing!

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  1. Great tips!! I’ve definitely learned to pack lighter as my daughter has grown. It actually makes me chuckle thinking about how much I packed and brought for a week trip to the beach the summer after my daughter was born. So much wasn’t even used and a plastic water bottle (and her Sam Pa and Uncles) was more than enough entertainment for her!

    1. Oh my gosh – my daughter LOVED plastic water bottles when she was little too. I was also 100% guilty of packing way too much when we went anywhere when she was little.

  2. I have definitely not figured out how to travel with fewer suitcases yet. Honestly, I struggle to pack in just a carry-on for myself even when I’m only going away for the weekend. I haven’t rented baby equipment yet because the hotels have had most of what I couldn’t live without. I also usually bring diapers and things because I pack the trips so full that a trip to the store or laundry is way too much work. Now if we are going to grandma’s house, I will do laundry there and I send my mom a list ahead of time with things like diapers to buy ahead of time for us.

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