It’s one of the questions our travellers ask us the most, whether it’s a short break to Morocco or a three-week trip to Borneo: what should I pack?

As travelling parents ourselves, we know that it’s hard enough packing for a weekend away before we had kids, let alone being responsible for the entire family. Aaaaagh. The responsibility!! (And why, exactly, does it seem to be ours alone?!)

Fear not. We have some tips which may help make the process as stress-free as possible. First up….

Packing dos and don’ts

Do
Maybe it’s just us, but where does it say in the parental handbook that packing for the family is one person’s sole responsibility? We must have skipped that chapter but actually, having packed for more family holidays than we care to remember, it really does make sense for just one person to be in charge of packing (fight amongst yourselves, parents). This way things don’t get missed. Similarly, whilst we do admire the principal of letting older children pack for themselves, do tick every person’s items off the definitive check list, do rifle through their stuff if only to ensure that you don’t arrive at your destination with a suitcase full of tech, a bikini but no actual clothes.

Do
If the idea of packing for a two-or-three-week trip for the entire family feels overwhelming, our advice is pack by being itinerary specific. Go through your day to day and pack accordingly. if there’s a day trek, bring trainers. A long drive? Something to entertain the kids. Pack by being itinerary specific, rather than thinking about the trip as a whole which can be overwhelming.

Do
Label each bag with your address and contact details.

Do
Bring a spare set of children’s clothes in hand luggage, especially if your children are very young.

Don’t
Leave packing until the last minute. Make a list, stick it on the fridge and tick off each item as you go. We recommend packing the weekend before heading off, so if you’re missing something, you still have time to buy it. We might not always practice what we preach, but this is good advice!

Don’t
Pack individual bags for each family member. Bags go missing, at airports, through over-sight or sheer bad luck. Pack a couple of spare items for every family member in someone else’s bag and you’re covered should the worst happen.

Don’t
Just carry hard copies of documents. Scan passports and travel documents just in case of the unthinkable they get lost and need replacing.

Don’t
Forget to check your personalised trip notes for specific packing advice for your destination. For example, in Sri Lanka, you don’t need to bring a conversion plug as they use the 3 – pronged version like the UK, not the two-pronged type. On safari, bring muted coloured clothing rather than dark clothing (which attracts insects).

cartoon - ultimate family holiday packing checklist

In addition to our dos and don’ts, here are the questions we get asked most frequently – and our answers to them. We do hope our family holiday packing FAQs will help.

Family holiday packing FAQs

What bag should I take?

Well, this is a tricky one that causes much dissent in the office. In one corner we have Liddy (ardent believer in a large hard-backed suitcase that can be (easily) wheeled along, fits everything in and doesn’t end up with your clothes all creased). In the other corner, we have Helene, who wouldn’t leave these shores without a proper sturdy backpack (can be slung over the shoulders leaving both hands free, and doesn’t take up too much room). The simple answer is that there just isn’t a right or wrong. Take whatever you find works for you, and that you have in the house. There is absolutely no need to go and buy anything new.

The dispute continues over the ‘ideal’ day bag, again with Liddy favouring a handbag (fits all you need, doesn’t look too geeky) and Helene (and to be fair, everyone else in the office too!) preferring a day pack (versatile, actually does fit everything you need plus snacks for the children, bottles of water etc etc). Again, take whatever works for you.

What shoes should I take?

Again there is no right or wrong answer here. Our ‘standard’ recommendation is a pair of flip flops / sandals and then something more robust (a pair of trainers or walking boots).

However, if you are travelling to a tropical country (in particular Sri Lanka, Borneo, Belize, Costa Rica) and are likely to be doing some hiking in the countryside, potentially in the rainforest, do note that your shoes may well get wet. And they may then be difficult to dry. This can be problematic for trainers which will start to get very ‘aromatic’ if they remain wet, and you won’t want to wear them again. Therefore it might be worth taking a ‘water shoe’ which dries out quickly (or a pair of crocs for those that will wear them).

What about jackets and umbrellas?

Always take at least one warm layer even if you are going to a warm country. Airports, domestic flights and overnight trains can often have powerful air conditioning and you may get cold if you don’t have at least one warm layer.

Unless you are visiting a country with zero chance of rain, we would advise you to take a light rain jacket.

If you are visiting a country where there is a good likelihood of rain at some time during the trip (most of the tropics at any time of year, and most of Asia during the UK summer months), you should consider taking an umbrella or two. It may not seem like the essential travel item, but actually if it’s pouring, it’s much more enjoyable to sightsee under an umbrella that just in a rain jacket.

Kids under an umbrella - family holiday packing checklist

Do I need specialist kit?

Honestly, no, you don’t. If you are going on a safari it is worth wearing neutral colours and if you are going trekking in the Himalayas obviously you need a good pair of walking boots and a suitable jacket. In each case, our country specific notes will have more detailed advice. But for your ‘average’ trip, you don’t need anything special.

The only thing you might want to consider is snorkelling equipment. Children’s snorkelling equipment (particularly masks) are seldom available and adult masks will not work. If you are going to a destination where you may go snorkelling it is therefore worth considering taking a mask (or goggles) with you.

Should I take an Ipad / tablet for the kids?

Again a difficult one. In our ideal world, we would all spend long car journeys playing improving games with the children. But in reality, sometimes you all just need a break. And with the best will in the world, particularly for younger children, long car journeys are just BORING. So do consider taking something with you that will keep children occupied whatever their ages.

Is there anything in particular to consider with younger children?

For those travelling with younger children, it is worth bringing a few toys with you or something to keep children entertained during longer journeys or when the rest of the family are wanting some quiet time. A small box of lego / sticker books / couple of cars / a doll whatever will be of interest. It is all the more likely to work wonders if this is a new toy that is only unveiled on the holiday.

It’s also a good idea for younger children is to arrive equipped with some kind of small scrap book, scissors, glue / sellotape and some colouring pens / pencils. Children can be kept entertained when waiting at meal times by sticking in entrance tickets, leaflets, restaurant business cards etc, and this also doubles as a memento when you get back.

Do we need to bring a car seat?

In most of our destinations it is very difficult to source adequate car seats as most locals will just put the children on their laps. Therefore if you want your child to be in a car seat, you will need to bring this with you unless you have discussed this with us in advance. The only exception to this is on self-drive tours in Costa Rica, where we are obliged by law to provide car seats for all children under the age of 12.

Do we need to bring towels?

Generally towels will be provided in all hotels, by most pools and on the beach and therefore you will not need to bring these with you. However, there will be more specific advice in your country notes.

It’s also a good idea for younger children is to arrive equipped with some kind of small scrap book, scissors, glue / sellotape and some colouring pens / pencils. Children can be kept entertained when waiting at meal times by sticking in entrance tickets, leaflets, restaurant business cards etc, and this also doubles as a memento when you get back.

Do we need to bring mosquito nets?

These are never required. Even where mosquito nets are not provided, in our experience there is never anywhere to hang your own so there’s no point taking one!

Should we bring re-usable water bottles?

Increasingly, hotels are starting to provide boiled and safe water to drink. If you have your own water bottle, you can just refill this rather than having to buy plastic bottles of water locally.

What else should we be thinking of bringing?

This is NOT an exhaustive list. You can work out how many pairs of shorts and T-shirts you will all need. But here are some extra items you might want to consider.

Basics

  1. Swimwear
  2. Hat
  3. Sarong (doubles as makeshift pillow cover on overnight trains / homestays, towel, knee covering in temples etc etc).
  4. Socks (particularly in Asian countries where you need to take off your shoes to visit temples, and the ground may be really hot)
  5. Sunglasses – don’t forget that the kids might need these too.
  6. Torch – essential for village visits, if there is a black out etc.
  7. Pen knife – great if you want to try local fruit along the way.
  8. Spare plastic bags – essential if anything gets wet, so it doesn’t make everything else in your bag damp (and smelly).
  9. Spare ‘proper’ bag for carrying home souvenirs if you are big shoppers
  10. Binoculars (particularly if doing anything wildlife related like a safari or a jungle trip)
  11. Sleeping bag (seldom required except in Himalayas on a trekking trip)
  12. Trekking poles (if doing a ‘proper’ trek rather than just the odd bit of walking….kids love using these by the way, so don’t just bring these for the adults!)
Hats - included on family holiday packing checklist

If you forget your hat, there’s often an opportunity along the way for some retail therapy…

Tech

  1. Universal plug converter – and don’t just bring the one, or you will all be fighting over it every night!
  2. Mobile phone charger (and possible a car one too, particularly if doing a self-drive trip)
  3. Camera and necessary charging equipment, SD cards etc. Possibly a waterproof camera if applicable.

For the sponge bag

  1. Small first aid kit – you don’t need much as you can get things locally, but do take some antiseptic cream, a few plasters and a packet of paracetamol.
  2. Suncream
  3. Sanitary towels / tampons (do NOT assume that these will be available locally)
  4. Glasses / contact lens solution
  5. Hairbrushes and sufficient clips / hair bands
  6. Mosquito repellent (if visiting the tropics, our advice is to select one with a decent concentration of DEET as these are really effective).
  7. Anti-itch cream for bites
  8. Hand sanitiser
  9. Travel wash
  10. Motion sickness wristbands or tablets (we can advise if there are any particularly tricky car or boat journeys on your tour)
  11. Nappies (available in most places but not everywhere).

Documentation

  1. Passport
  2. Driving licence (if doing a self-drive trip)
  3. Details of your travel insurance policy
  4. Trip Notes
  5. Credit card and some spare cash (we usually recommend around £200 in cash as a back up).
  6. Passport photos (if required for visas)
  7. Print out of airline reservation (at some airports you have to show a print out of your tickets before you enter the terminal)

Entertainment

  1. Ipad or tablet (with chargers) if applicable
  2. Packet of cards (new top trumps / Uno or whatever is age appropriate for the kids).

Food & Drinks

  1. Tea bags or coffee – Many of our destinations do not make good tea and coffee. If this is important to you, bring your own from home!
  2. Snacks, particularly for those with fussy children – the snacks available locally won’t be the same as at home, and might not cut it.

Beyond the ultimate family packing checklist…

Still not sure about something? Call us and ask 01728 752751 or email. There are no silly questions.

All that’s left now is for you to have the holiday of a lifetime!

Child in bag - the ultimate family holiday packing list