How does family travel make you feel? Excited, eager, nervous, or terrified? If traveling with kids seems exhilarating, yet terrifying, that’s because it’s part of the adventure!
I’m a big believer in saving money to create memories and opportunities to experience something different through travel but traveling doesn’t always have to mean hopping on a plane with a passport in hand to some pricey destination. It can also mean exploring a nearby neighborhood that you’ve been meaning to visit but haven’t ever gotten to or taking a weekend road trip to a different part of your state that you aren’t familiar with.
Whether you’re gearing up for spring break travel, looking ahead to a summer vacation, or a getaway at another time of year, thinking ahead and being prepared helps makes family travel easier and more fun, regardless of your destination.
As a family who loves the weekend road trip as much as the reward of a getaway to some far away land thanks to hoarding airline miles, I’ve put together a list of our travel must-haves to help you as you get ready for your next journey.
Not all luggage is created equally and anyone who has spent any time watching luggage go around the carousel at baggage claim can immediately tell which bags stand up well and which ones do not but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good quality luggage that will last. Here’s a rundown of who makes our favorite luggage in various sizes that we’ve packed in the car, shoved in overhead bins, and checked through to our final destinations.
- Carry-on sizes— Would you believe that my trusty carry on is from Costco? I’ve been using the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5” Carry On ($99) for years and it’s held up beautifully for countless work trips crisscrossing the United States, being put on small island hoppers for work trips to the Caribbean, and held enough for a 3 week family trip to Turkey and Rome. This bag is a workhorse and how do I know it’s great? A flight attendant told me he had the same bag and loves it! And on a recent flight to Cincinnati, there were 2 other passengers with the same bag as me! Another affordable option is the American Tourister iLite Max Spinner (bottom left- $99 or about $66 on Amazon). Our kids have their spinners in fun colors and prints that not only let them express themselves, but make them easy to spot at baggage claim when we do check them. Plus they’re incredibly light and easy for young travelers to handle solo!
- Checked luggage— Our big bags are Rolling Adventure Duffels from L.L. Bean (top left- extra large $119.95) that come with a lifetime guarantee (yes, really!) and have held up beautifully for 15 years, despite falling off of a van in Haiti! Springing for the monogramming is well worth the $8 per piece. My only wish is that they’d stand up straight but if that’s a feature you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior 32 (top right- $279).
- Folding tote— I am never without my Longchamp Le Pliage Tote (bottom right). This folding tote is great to have for work meetings, a day at the beach, or bringing home extra souvenirs. The nylon is durable and always wipes clean so it stays looking great!
Ways to Keep Devices Charged
Today’s digital families travel with lots of devices! Phones, tablets, cameras, and maybe even a laptop that require outlets and cables to keep them powered up. The only problem is there are never enough outlets in one hotel room for all devices. Here’s what you need to stay connected but won’t weigh down your bag too much:
- Mini surge protector— I am never without my 3 Outlet SurgePlus Mini Travel Swivel Charger (top) from Belkin ($17.50). This portable multi-outlet, dual USB surge protector lives in my travel bag. I use it in hotel rooms where outlets are few and far between and plug it in at the airport to share power with fellow travelers. It’s a must-have for families and frequent fliers!
- Charging hub—Families with lots of devices need a charging hub with multiple ports to charge mobile device when traveling and Ventev’s USB Charging Hub rq600 (bottom left- $39.93) is my favorite! It features 6 USB ports in a compact package that can lay down or stand up and one quick charge port that distinguishes itself from the rest thanks to the green light.
- Portable battery— When you’re out and about seeing the sights, it can be hard to keep devices charged but thankfully Ventev has a portable battery solution for every kind of phone. The Powercell 3015c Battery Charger (bottom right- $44.99) comes in Apple Lighting, Micro USB, or USB-C to provide 3000 mAh battery in one slim device that features an attached cable so you’ll always have on with you wherever you go!
- Charging cables— You know the cables that your device came with? Throw them away and invest in better ones like the ones from Ventev. These are hands-down our family’s favorite cables because they’re not only colorful but tangle-free and durable and now they make 2 in 1 cables for those that own iOS and Android devices. If you’re like us and travel with iOS and Android devices, you know that you need both kinds of cables and how easy it can be to leave one behind. Ventev’s ChargeSync 2 in 1 Cables (middle right- $29.99) feature both charging tips on one tangle-free cable to lighten your load! Our kids love having one cord that will charge both their iPods and mobile phones and this also means less cord clutter around the house and one less thing in your bag.
You might be going to the most tropical of climates but in order to survive chilly airplane cabins and frigid air conditioned spaces, it’s best to pack travel friendly layers that are versatile and stay wrinkle free when you shove them in your bag when they’re not needed. I like to pack simple color palettes to streamline my wardrobe and minimize the number of shoes I need whether on vacation or traveling for work. Here are some of my favorites.
- Cardigan— My new favorite travel must-have in my wardrobe is the Maddie Cardigan (top right- $75) from ScotteVest. This secret travel weapon can be casual or dressy and features 4 pockets. There are 2 main pockets that are nice and deep for holding your phone or passport without worrying that items inside will fall out and a zippered pocket within each to keep your belongings extra secure. I find that it’s the perfect layering piece to go over a long or short sleeve t-shirt and it’s a nice weight to provide warmth without taking up too much space in my bag. For kids, pack a light sweatshirt in a solid color that goes with the rest of their wardrobe.
- Comfortable pants— I don’t love wearing jeans on long flights or during long car rides and athleisure doesn’t always work for business travel so I’m happy to have found the Margaux Cargaux Pants (left- $95), also from ScotteVest. These stylish pants can be dressed up or down, feature a flexible waistband that can be worn low or high, and have adjustable ankle ties that cinch up to make them cute capris for hot climates but then cover your legs so you don’t freeze your shins and calves on the plane. They’re also great for traveling because they have 11 pockets that are distributed to keep your belongings secure and your hands free but not make you look lumpy. They look great as casual wear but I can also dress them up with my favorite flats (see below), a solid T in a bright color, fun jacket, and a great necklace.
- Scarf— While my Maddie Cardigan is usually enough to keep me warm on the plane, I always throw in one of my scarves from Fashionable.com. The handwoven 100% Ethopian cotton Shegaw Scarf (middle right- $38) is a nice medium weight for extra warmth in chilly climates, as a blanket for me or the kids on a frigid plane, or to cushion your head as a pillow. Plus it’s a piece that empowers the women who make it so you can feel good about your purchase while staying warm.
- Comfortable shoes— For so long I resisted the urge to splurge on a pair of Tieks (bottom right- starting at $175). I wondered if the folding Italian leather ballet flats were worth the price and if they were really as comfortable as everyone said. I asked friends about them. I spotted strangers wearing the turquoise bottomed flats and would strike up a conversation about them anywhere and everywhere. And when I finally took the plunge, I was glad I did. My Obsidian Black pair are constant travel companions. Not only do they go with my black and white travel apparel theme but they can be dressy or casual, take up hardly any room in my bag, and provide tons of relief to tired feet even when I have to dress up for an evening out. So if you’ve been thinking about getting a pair and have been on the fence like me, trust me- you won’t regret this purchase!
What to Pack for International Destinations
Travel and Medical Insurance
Some airlines offer medical plans as an add-on when you book your ticket and give you 24-48 hours to cancel. Depending on where you’re going, this might be a worthwhile expense to add to each family member’s ticket to ensure you’re covered in case of delayed or cancelled flights, luggage delays, or certain medical mishaps. If you’re traveling to a destination where medical infrastructure is not up to Western standards and you need more comprehensive coverage including the ability to be airlifted out, SOS International allows you to purchase coverage just for the duration of your trip but if you’re looking for longer term coverage that covers both work and family travel, look into year-long plans offered by companies like AIG Business Insurance.
International Voltage Adapter
Voltage and outlets can vary around the world so if you’re packing your passport, you’ll want to figure out what kinds of outlets are used at your destination and if you need to pack a voltage adapter or converter. A converter helps to decrease 220 volts that flow through other countries’ outlets to the 110 volts used in the US. An adapter helps your plugs fit in outlets around the world but they differ depending on where in the world you’re going. I always like to consult this handy world electricity guide from REI to see if I might need to throw my Ventev Global Charging Hub 300 ($34.99 or $24.73 via Amazon Prime) in my bag. I’ve had other voltage adapters- the kinds with a collection of configurations- but the problem with those is one adapter is good for one outlet and you’ll need a bunch of them to keep your family’s devices charged! I love the Global Charging Hub because not only is it able to charge devices in 150 different countries but it can charge 2 devices at a time, helping to lighten your load, especially when you’re traveling carry-on only like our family does for international trips!
Passport and Travel Document Case
The best way to breeze through border and passport control when you get to your destination is to be organized. Complete paperwork while in the air and tuck it in a passport case with your family’s passports so everything is in one place when you exit the plane. This ensures that no passports will be lost or left behind and once you arrive at your destination, you can lock the entire case in your in-room safe for safe keeping. I really like the Travelon Safe ID Family Case Passport Wallet (starting at $16 from Amazon) because it holds up to 4 passports and features RFID blocking technology to keep our personal information secure.
If you have a favorite brand of sunscreen, make sure you bring enough from home to last you throughout your trip. Not only do you run the risk of not being able to find the exact match at your destination but you could also pay a premium for an American import. My husband is a fan of Coppertone Sport in the blue bottle and I love Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry-Touch. Not only has Neutrogena come out with Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen but their entire Dry-Touch line is carry-on friendly thanks to bottles that are exactly 3 ounces! Be sure to transfer larger bottles of sunscreen and other favorite toiletries into 3 ounce silicon travel bottles!
If you’re looking for more specific tips about what to pack for specific kinds of vacations or destinations, check out these family travel posts I wrote for Progressive LifeLanes!
No compensation was received for this post. Some samples were received to facilitate reviews in this post but all opinions are my own. Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.