In an earlier post, I offered four tips on how to pack for traveling with kids, so you can learn from my mistakes and avoid some of the trial-and-error I’ve gone through in trying to streamline family travel. This post will focus on some of the hacks on what to pack that I’ve figured out over time.

Planning your first trip away from home with little ones? Not sure what to pack? These are my "learned the hard way" must-haves for travel with small kids.Planning your first trip away from home with little ones? Not sure what to pack? These are my "learned the hard way" must-haves for travel with small kids.

If this is your first trip with little ones, you need this list of my what to pack must-haves for travel with small children:

What to Pack when Traveling with Kids:

1. Two Nightlights, an Outlet Adapter, and a Noise Machine


How does your little one sleep at home? Many kids have nightlights in their rooms at home, so don’t forget to bring a few with you when you travel. Besides one in the girls’ sleeping space, I always put one in the bathroom. That way, they can find their own way there s in the middle of the night.

I’ve also learned to bring one of those multi-outlet adapters, the kind that converts a single outlet into three places to plug things in. Our hosts never seem to have enough free outlets that aren’t connected to the light switch for us to plug in both a nightlight and a noise machine.

If your kiddo doesn’t use a white-noise machine at home, consider whether one might make travel easier. At home, we use them in the girls’ rooms to drown out the sound of one kid crying/singing/chattering to herself while the other is trying to sleep. On the road, they provide a familiar sound in a strange place, and drown out the noises that go along with sleeping somewhere unfamiliar.

2. A Collapsible Diaper Caddy and Crossbody Diaper Pouch


We don’t use a diaper caddy at home, but I always travel with the Munchkin one I registered for. It’s big enough to contain all the diaper gear in one place at our destination. Not just diapers and wipes, but a waterproof changing pad, diaper cream, and all of Essie’s prescription-strength eczema and diaper rash creams.


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I also keep a very streamlined diaper bag – a diaper pouch or diaper clutch, really – accessible in my car or carry-on. A few disposable diapers, a mini sanitizer, a little tube of diaper cream, plastic bags for dirties, a wipes sample, and (optional) a disposable changing pad are all you need.


Having a crossbody strap is critical; I always have my hands full between squirmy kids and other gear.  Mine (a baby-registry freebie) came without a strap. So I added loops and attached a small carabiner and spare clip-on strap to the corners. That way, I can either clip the bag onto a carry-on or stroller, or wear it crossbody.

IMG_1098(A final note on diapers: Unless you know you’re going somewhere that’s literally hours from the nearest store, DON’T bring more than 2-3 days’ worth of diapers and wipes with you; buy the rest at your destination. This rule sounds like a no-brainer, but not following it is a space-wasting trap I’ve fallen into more than once.)

3. Two Diaper Covers

Unless you cloth-diaper at home, as we do, you probably don’t use diaper covers on a regular basis. I urge you to try them, even if you only use them for travel.

I’ve tried several different brands over the course of cloth-diapering our two girls. If covers are something you’ll be using every day with cloth diapers or inserts, it pays to do your research to see which covers will stand up to thousands of uses and hundreds of washings. But if covers are something you’ll just use for travel, there are plenty of reasonably-priced options out there.  No matter what brand you choose, just be sure to follow the directions when periodically laundering them. In particular, avoid putting them in the dryer. Even if they say they’re dryer-safe – as line-drying will help prolong their life.

Travel is full of the unexpected, including unexpectedly long stretches between diaper changes. Having a diaper cover can mean the difference between a blowout contained and a kiddo who has to travel the second half of the trip in soaked-through bottoms, or a carseat cover steeped in poop. (Been there, done that on both counts; not fun, trust me.) And by the way, these are not your momma’s diaper covers. Modern covers are made of soft PUL fabric, which line-dries overnight. One to wear plus a spare can save you lots of mess and dirty laundry over the course of a trip.

4. Special “Travel Toys”

Did you ever make a special “Road Trip” mix when you were younger? Or save a stack of trashy novels for summer vacation? Acquire some special travel diversions for your kids, and even a long trip will go more smoothly.

There are, of course, lots of 21st-century options for keeping your kiddos entertained on long journeys, including in-car videos and endless games on your smartphone or tablet. But if you’ve got several kids to entertain this way, you’ll need one device per child, so they don’t fight. If you (like us) prefer a more low-tech approach, consider having a special collection of “adventure” toys.

For an infant, set up a special bag of favorite teethers and small toys that you save for car trips. For slightly older kids, think compact and engaging; if yours are likely to fight over it, get multiples. The current favorites for our two- and four-year-old: two pocket-sized Etch-a-Sketches, two travel-sized Fisher-Price doodle board, two Jacob’s Ladders (that centuries-old pocket-sized thingie made out of wooden blocks interwoven with colored ribbons), and some Wikki Stix. For older kids who could afford a chance to unplug, try some old-fashioned card games or puzzle books.

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5. A One-Volume Multi-Bedtime Story


And don’t forget the bedtime stories! We have several “travel” hardcovers with enough reading material for a week, and save them for trips away from home. For the littlest travelers, a volume of nursery rhymes or first prayers works well. For slightly older kids, try a collection such as The Complete Beatrix Potter or one of the Little Golden Book Treasuries (the one my girls love best is Farm Tales). Kids (and adults) of all ages will enjoy one of Shel Silverstein’s poetry classics; Where the Sidewalk Ends is our family’s favorite, but A Light in the Attic is a close second.

It may seem daunting at first, but traveling with kids DOES get easier with practice! Starting your kids early will make them travel pros in no time. And these what to pack must-haves will help your travels go smoothly.

What’s on your must-have list for what to pack when traveling with kids? Let us know in the comments!

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Planning your first trip away from home with little ones? Not sure what to pack? These are my "learned the hard way" must-haves for travel with small kids.Planning your first trip away from home with little ones? Not sure what to pack? These are my "learned the hard way" must-haves for travel with small kids.

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