Know Before You Go: 6 Family Pack Hacks to Try This Summer

Vacationing with kids calls for next-level packing strategies. These simple tricks help lighten your load.

I recently moved countries with my husband and toddler, which was no big deal, just stuffing our entire existence into two-and-a-half suitcases. It did not help that I’m an active collector of non-stretch ’90s jeans, which is possibly the least practical thing to move en masse.

My initial packing prep was pretty much just YouTube-ing people studiously folding sweaters into beautiful little postage stamps… but it became very clear we’d need a much stronger strategy to coordinate not only my belongings but those of a two-year-old and a 40-year-old – both equally incapable of sorting their own stuff, for very different reasons.

The six packing tricks I’m about to share truly turned things around for us, but they’ll work just as well for all you summer adventure-seekers too, whether you’re traveling by air, land or sea. Away we go!

Hack 1: Pack by Outfit, Not Item

Consider each day of the trip and what you’ll be doing: sightseeing, museums, dinners out, beach days… Lay out an outfit for each kid for every day (include socks, underwear or diapers, and spare bottoms if potty training), then bundle each outfit in its own mesh bag. I like the big ones designed for fruit and vegetables. The bags are GENIUS because they’re cheap, see-through for easy identification, and mesh won’t balloon like a plastic bag, taking up precious inches.

Mesh grocery bags (right) are inexpensive, eco-friendly, and take up virtually no extra space.

Hack 2: Assign Colors

Color coding is the easiest way to keep everyone straight on their belongings. Use different-colored packing cubes, or, if you’re trying Hack 1,  knot a piece of colored ribbon around the zip of each produce bag. For specific occasion outfits (say, dinner or the beach) write it on a piece of paper to stuff inside, or risk your little wiseguy trying to rock a rash guard at the restaurant.

Hack 3: Break up Your Stuff

Divide your belongings between all your cases. This hack’s kind of crucial, especially if you’ve ever had an airline lose your bag (and don’t we all know someone?). While it might look adorable for a minute, none of you want to walk around in matching hotel gift shop sweatshirts.

Hack 4: Make a Cake

Not all of us pack our most practical (read: least fancy) items for a summer holiday. In fact, as a BM (um, Busy Mom), this trip might be your one chance to bust out all your Clothes From Another Life – the slinkiest slip dresses, waftiest wide-leg jumpsuits and most unwalkable heels – for the odd child-free meal. No way those beauties are getting rolled into a tight ball and shoved in the (gasp) mesh pocket of a ladybug ride-on.

If this is you, well, we should be friends. But also, you need to get on board with what I’m calling the Layer Cake Method:

1. Fill the uneven bottom of your case with rolled-up basics: tees, scarves, socks and underwear. You could include kids’ stuff in this base layer.

2. Fold pants and jeans in half at the waistband and drape them across one half of the bottom layer, making sure the legs hang out either side of the case. You’ll need them later.

3. Add another layer of rolled clothes to keep everything even.

4. Place lightly folded outerwear on top.

5. Finally, wrap the excess pant legs over the whole package. Done!

These guys definitely wish they’d tried the Layer Cake Method.

Hack 5: Zip Up

Secure all your electronics in Ziploc bags to keep sticky, grabby fingers off. To make a makeshift TV, clip your bagged-up phone to the seat in front using the lock on your tray table. Boom. Now they can settle in for some downloaded Daniel Tiger and you can stare straight ahead into a blissful void. Or a Kindle, whatever.

Hack 6: Bring Real Food

Kids are picky in the most everyday eating situations. I really didn’t want to poke that particular bear while airborne. Short of granola bars, crackers and dried fruit, I had zip. All my ideas sounded either too snacky or plain d-r-y. But then I came across this article from The Kitchn which broke down how easy it is to pack quality, filling foods. We survived our 20-hour flight using their suggestion of wax-wrapped cheese (hello, Babybel), frozen grapes and frozen vegetarian empanadas – which act as “ice packs” until you’re ready to eat. World. Rocked.

Frozen vegetable empanadas: a fresh, filling option the kids can eat one-handed.



1. Anti-roll crayons that stay put on the tray table.

2. A roll of painter’s tape for covering outlets, softening sharp-edged furniture, and creating a decent nap zone by taping a blanket or towel over sunny windows. And this cool hack for Airbnb-ers on opening a tight jar.

3. A headphone jack splitter so the kids can share TV and tunes.

4. This supermarket steal seals off complimentary cups of juice and water handed out by the flight crew.

5. Lollipops come in handy to combat meltdowns and help with high altitude ear-popping.

We want to hear from you…

Moms don’t let moms mom alone. Share your best summer travel hacks in the comments!