Monthly Parenting Magazine

How to pack for a family of 4 in under an hour

How to pack for a family of 4 in under an hour

how to pack for holiday feature

Packing for the whole family can be a pain, but use our handy guide and be ready in under an hour

Words Beka Shane Denter

The Ziplocs

I’m obsessed with Ziploc bags. They have become the most valued item in our house – and for good reason. As I prepare to pack for our seventh trip in less than a year, I realize that my two daughters, ages 4 and 5 have been on a total of 13 planes in the last nine months.

Packing has become a way of life for our family. Every few years we pack up our home and move to a new country for my husbands’ job. Thankfully, both of us were avid travellers before our daughters Cali and Elle arrived on the scene. A familiarity with travel does make for an easier transition when children become a part of the equation. I had already learned a few tricks in my twenties that would make short or long haul travel much less daunting with kids in tow. Packing is often viewed as an overwhelming task even for the most methodical amongst us. Below is a packing guide, which can be applied to all forms of travel – planes, trains and automobiles (and possibly a boat.)

The List

I’ve always been a list person. It has served me well and as a mom, the list is an essential part of keeping my daily life in check. With the arrival of the smartphone, lists are easy and accessible and they will be the building block of how to keep your sanity while packing for a family of four or more. I divide my list into the following categories:

  • Child #1 name
  • Child #2 name
  • Child #3 name and so on…
  • Your name
  • Your partner’s name (I’ve lucked out here as my husband prefers to pack his own suitcase an hour before we leave for the airport. And yet I’m often questioned when he forgets his toothbrush.)

Under each person’s name are the following sub-categories:

  • Clothing
  • Special Items (for example: favourite toy or book)

And the last three categories are general & include items for everyone

  • Toiletries
  • Carry On Bag
  • Purse/Backpack (A backpack allows for freedom of movement when trying to be sure all heads are accounted for while manoeuvering through a busy airport.)

Note that the list items will change as your children grow and the destination alters. But the basics remain the same. For example, after years of packing I can quickly put together a list or forgo it completely. And once you cross nappies off the list there’s more room for shoes;)

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The Essentials

Your destination will determine the contents of this category. Be sure to pack accordingly for the weather. We’ve found that investing in quality footwear, fleece jackets and raingear for kids to be of much value, and it’s also important to pack yours & your children’s tried & tested toiletries – this is where Ziplocs become essential. Place all liquids in a sealed Ziploc because there is nothing worse than unzipping your suitcase in paradise only to find all clothing soiled by a leaky bottle.

The checklist for Essentials:

  • Clothing
  • Outdoor Clothing (hats, raingear, beanies etc.)
  • Footwear (placed & tied in plastic grocery bags to avoid rubbish getting onto clothing – especially important when going on a beach holiday.)
  • Toiletries (cotton pads, Q-tips, face wash, body wash/shampoo combinations are great, comb, brush, moisturizer, sunscreen, Facial water mist – Evian & Avène are great for treating sunburns, diaper rash, and dry skin. Vaseline Petroleum jelly is an amazing wound healer in hot climates. FIRST AID KIT essentials.)

The Checked Bag

If possible, have children share a suitcase. This immediately sets you up to pack with the less is more mindset. We all go through the new mom phase of “I need everything!”

The Carry On

This is an important piece of luggage because it will contain everything you need to make travel with kids as enjoyable as possible. When you think you’ve packed enough non-perishable snacks add a few more. There’s nothing worse than being halfway through a trans-Pacific flight and realizing that you did not in fact pack enough granola bars. Again, the Ziplocs will come in handy here as they will help keep items organized & easy-to-access.

The following items have kept our family of four satisfied & sane upon arrival after a 25-hour journey:

  • A large Ziploc bag marked Clean (in here place one complete change of clothing for each child – underwear, socks, shirt & pants.)
  • A large Ziploc bag marked Dirty (this is great because it keeps it contained until arrival at destination & nearest washing machine.)
  • A pair of pyjamas for each child
  • Lightweight reading books
  •  Colouring books & crayons (placed in a Ziploc of course.)
  •  Stickers.
  •  A wrapped present (or a few depending on the duration of the journey. This is a fun and time consuming way to distract kids from the dire boredom that can occur mid-flight.)
  • A small travel size of Facial water mist (great for a quick re-fresh or messy diaper changes.)
  • Wipes. Wipes. And more wipes. Antibacterial or not. Hand sanitizer.
  • Kleenex and Boogie Wipes brand to avoid dry itchy noses.
  • Disposable wipes. We like Kandoo brand flushable & biodegradable wipes.
  • ADVIL for kids & adults (both regular and Cold & Sinus versions because the latter will work in a pinch to unplug ears.)
  • BandAids. The Princess & Superhero ones are recommended.
  • Lip balm. The air is dry up there.
  • Refillable water bottles that seal & are easy for kids to open
  • Non-perishable snacks divided into individual portions. I recommend a large Ziploc bag of snacks for each child. I also like to pack tea bags for in flight.
  • Lollies & gummies for take off and landing. The yummiest way to be sure tiny eardrums pop.


Everything for you goes here as well as easy-to-access wipes and snacks. Keep it simple.

  • A magazine or book for you (when you have a fleeting moment to pause.)
  • Phone
  • Mommy snacks
  • Green tea & dark chocolate are essential for me
  • Passports & other important travel documents
  • Glasses & sunglasses (if not in carry on bag)
  • A toiletries bag for you

The above may seem like a lot. But I promise, once you’ve done this a couple of times it will become second nature and (almost) dare I say enjoyable. Now that you’re packed it’s important to take some much well deserved you time. A glass of wine & Netflix anyone?

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