How to go carry-on-only when travelling with kids

August 1, 2017

I was once a chronic over-packer, and having kids was the perfect excuse to embrace my packrat tendencies. A family trip with two young kids would leave me consumed by “What ifs:" What if we want to swim and one suit is still wet? What if there’s a chocolate ice cream mishap? What if it rains? Each question would have me throwing more things into an already overflowing suitcase.

It was easy enough to do when luggage fees were low, but with costs rising — and multiple stops a real possibility — I knew we needed a better game plan. Plus, it didn’t take long to figure out that if you’ve got your hands wrapped around two suitcase handles, chances are you’ve lost a kid.

These days we’re “carry-on only” family whenever possible. Here’s how you can join the club:

1. Use the trip itinerary to make a realistic packing plan

I print my itineraries and write the items we need alongside each activity. It forces me to read the fine print to make sure I’ve got items that make sense. Unnecessary shoes (heels, I’m looking at you!) and one-occasion clothes (your daughter’s favourite tutu) can add unnecessary bulk. Check to see if you’ll be in spots where laundry facilities are available and consider double-duty clothing, like zip-off pants, to further shrink your packing list.

2. Aim for no surprises

Have the kids try on clothes for fit at least a week before you leave. This is especially important if the place you’re travelling to is not the season you’re currently in at home — and you don't want to discover that all your sons’ shorts are too small the night before you leave. Getting kids involved in the packing is a great idea, but beware the toy hoarder: You might need extra time to battle over which stuffed animals are coming and why the superhero collection is staying home.

3. Don’t bring things that you can safely get at your final destination

Consider purchasing instead of packing. Toothpaste, shampoo, diapers and more are often easy to find and cheaper than the tiny bottles you’d need to purchase to travel with. Another option: Bring small amounts to start, knowing you’ll pick up a larger one when you land.

4. Do bring things you can’t live without

If there are particular brands of things you’re tied to (Think: the only allergy meds you’re comfortable using for your child, prescriptions or formula brands you’d be uncomfortable changing), make room for them. Packing light shouldn’t be a reason to take health risks or increase your anxiety.

5. Roll and tuck but don’t forget to weigh and measure

Airlines often have strict size and weight limits for carry-on luggage, and changing planes can mean dealing with more than one set of rules. Rolling your clothes and making use of small spaces inside your shoes to squeeze in extras can be great tricks, but if they result in an overweight case it won’t be much help.

Getting there

Ready to hit the road with your brood? G Adventures offers a number of tours around the world that are custom-designed with family travel in mind. Check out our full roster of Family trips here.

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