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The ultimate family holiday packing list: advice, what you need and how to plan

Packing to go away with the family can feel almost as stressful as moving house sometimes. Here’s how to pack for a family holiday without losing your passport, your beach towel or the will to live...

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 2, 2022

Family holiday packing list

Once upon a time you threw your passport, toothbrush and a spare pair of pants in a bag and walked out the door. Once you’re a parent, packing for a family holiday becomes a little more of ‘an event’. It can feel like you’re packing everything but the kitchen sink - particularly when you are holidaying with a baby - but a little organisation really does go a long way, as anyone who has left their baby’s bottles thousands of miles away will tell you. 

Getting organised ahead of time and packing cleverly will help ensure your holiday goes without a hitch. We’ve put together some sound advice from Mumnetters who’ve been there, done that and got the dodgy holiday T-shirt to prove it, as well as some packing lists you can either save to your phone, print or note down when you’ve hauled the luggage out of the loft. 

Bon voyage!

How to plan for a family holiday

Well before you’re packing and worrying about baggage limits, you can start preparing for your trip and it pays to start thinking about it all some time before you set off to avoid any last minute panic. 

Get organised early

Once you've booked your flights and accommodation, booked time off work, and sorted care for any pets - you can start getting organised for packing. 

Check your passports will be in date, and preferably with six months left to run on them. Sort visas and any necessary COVID paperwork that's needed, and make sure you have all of your tickets, check-in details and itinerary either stored safely on your phone or printed out and kept together in a folder. 

It's never too early to begin making lists, and they're always an excellent excuse to buy any new notebook! If you're likely to lose paper or your notebook, you can try one of the many packing or list apps available. We particularly like Packing Pro, which has lists for multiple people and is great for families. It also encourages you to upload photos too, making it easy to locate your stuff when you need to come home and you can't remember exactly which of your 14 Breton tops you brought with you. There are other apps with free versions, too, like Packr and Packpoint

Once you have a list going, you can add to it every time something occurs to you. This is particularly useful when packing for babies and toddlers - every time you use something, like a muslin, or a changing mat, you can add it to your list. 

As you're putting your lists together, give the following a bit of consideration:

Think about the climate...

If you’re going abroad, do a bit of research first. There’s a tendency to assume most places are warmer than the UK, but as the last few years have shown, this isn’t always the case.

Find out what the climate is like generally at the time of year you’re travelling some time before you go, so that you can buy anything additional you might need. Think about whether you’ll also want cover-ups - for reasons of culture or mosquitoes! And whether you might need things like hats for shade or warmth.

Family holiday packing list

…and the weather forecast, too

It’s always possible to have a freak weather week so keep an eye on the local forecast in the weeks leading up to your holiday so you can adjust your packing list as you go.

If it’s going to rain heavily you might want to have wet weather gear with you so that your plans don’t have to change. Making the most of a wet week playing travel Scrabble in Wales is one thing, but you don’t want to waste a week sitting in a hotel room in Rome when you could be seeing the Colosseum.

Equally, it could be much hotter than you are expecting and you’ll want cool clothes that also provide sun protection, particularly for little ones. 

Consider the type of environment you'll be in...

Are you self-catering (casual clothes never a problem) or staying in a hotel (might want some nice outfits for dinner)? On a city break (sensible shoes for walking in) or out in the countryside (wellies and walking boots)? Shoes need particular thought if you’re stepping outside of your usual environs, but also think about outdoor wear in general and whether you might need layers for evenings.

…and any activities you'll want to do

Chances are you might be swimming at some point, so pop swimming items on your list like swim nappies, arm bands, goggles. You might want beach shoes to protect kids’ feet or something like Crocs that they can get on and off easily for the pool.

Check whether helmets will be available if you’re hiring bikes, and think about any days out you’re planning to do and whether there’s anything you’ll need for those, such as small rucksacks for the kids or carriers for little ones who might not be able to walk long distances. 

What Mumsnet users say

“I use the PackPoint app - one of three apps I’ve ever paid for but worth it. It had pre-made lists and you can import them depending on the type of holiday or who is going, for example a beach holiday with a baby will bring over a list of everything you could possibly need for both the beach and the baby! You can tick off items as you pack. You can add to these lists with your own items and you can create your own lists entirely. It’s fantastic if you are worried about forgetting things!” EllandRoad

“If I have, say, a holiday coming up I might have a dedicated page for packing and to dos beforehand. That’s the beauty of the BuJo, you just make pages as and when you need them.” ChloeChloe

“Start a list that you can roll over to next time. Methodically work through toiletries, games, electronics, kitchen, bathroom etc. Then have a running list in the kitchen or  on your phone so every time something random pops into your head you can write it straight into the list. Then all the thinking is done, the actual packing is easy.” FusionChefGeoff

3 things to help you get organised for your holiday

Before you start packing 

For family holidays, you need some sturdy luggage that will hold it all. When packing for a family holiday you often have lots of small bits and pieces (baby socks anyone?) to squeeze in, which then become impossible to find once you’ve reached your destination. So a bit of forward planning and organisation make all the difference. 

Invest in a great suitcase

You really do get what you pay for with a suitcase. Well-known brands in the luggage industry such as Samsonite are worth spending a bit more on as cases do get really hurled around the place behind the scenes, and something robust will do a much better job of keeping your belongings safe. Soft shell and hard shell both have their plus points, so the choice is yours, but do get something that looks and feels robust and locks securely.

What Mumsnet users say

Tripp Ultra-Lite Medium Soft Shell Case
"Love my Tripp cases. We've got soft-bodied ones. They've got a 5 or 10 year guarantee, too."

JustMuddlingAlong

Tripp Ultra-Lite Medium Soft Shell Case

Tripp
Amazon

Buy now
Samsonite Flux Spinner XL Hard Shell Case
"Samsonite hard cases. We’ve had ours for 17 years and in that time we’ve used them on multiple holidays and they’re still going strong."

Crazy8

Samsonite Flux Spinner XL Hard Shell Case

Samsonite
Amazon

Buy now
Eastpak Tranverz Medium Suitcase
"I like the Eastpak Trans4 ones. We use the medium ones for 2-3 weeks long haul and I have a cabin one for shorter trips."

MysteryFairy

Eastpak Tranverz Medium Suitcase

Eastpak
Amazon

Buy now

Organise your cases tidily

Mumsnetters have just one tip when it comes to packing a suitcase for a family holiday: packing cubes, packing cubes, packing cubes! 

Gone are the days of cramming shampoo bottles into trainers and stuffing your socks in all the corners. Packing cubes are a holiday must these days and - oh! The pleasure of flinging open your suitcase at your destination and simply lifting out all those little packages, with your belongings carefully filed and organised. 

There are lots of ways to use packing cubes. You can organise them by person, so that you can empty them into the right person’s bedroom and drawers easily, or by day so that each cube has everyone’s clothes in for that day! Or you might like to have one for T-shirts, one for shoes, one for underwear and so on… If you like your life well organised, packing cubes will provide you with a whole new world of joy! Try buying sets for each member of the family, in different colours so you can easily identify what belongs to whom. 

It’s also a good idea to spread the packing cubes across several cases so that you have some of each person’s in each bag. That way if one of your cases goes missing, one person won’t be left with no luggage at all.

What Mumsnet users say

Amazon Basics 4 Packing Cubes
"I love our packing cubes. I just bought basic sets from Amazon - 4 sets of 4 in different colours so we have one colour each."

EmmaStone

Amazon Basics 4 Packing Cubes

Amazon
Amazon

Buy now
Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Set
"I've got a set of Eagle Creek cubes that I bought over 15 years ago, I use them every time I go away, they are great quality."

NannyR

Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Set

Eagle Creek
Amazon

Buy now
PRO Packing Cubes
"I have the PRO Packing cubes and love them. Used them a lot as I used to fly every week."

Murinae

PRO Packing Cubes 6 Piece Travel Bags

PRO Packing Cubes
Amazon

Buy now

How to pack like a pro

Now you’re ready with your solid case and super-organised packing system, it only remains to pack your possessions properly. 

Firstly, don’t panic and fall into the trap of throwing clothes in ‘just in case’. If you overpack you won’t wear half the things you packed and it’ll just mean more washing and ironing when you get home. Here are some general rules to bear in mind:

  • Give yourself an outfit per day, plus one thing ‘for posh’ unless you know you’ll need a dinner outfit every night.
  • Try to choose classic pieces that you can mix and match or customise with jewellery or a different bag.
  • Items like a simple black summer dress, tan chinos, plan tees, good jeans and then a few accessories to team them with gives you a bit of choice without going overboard.
  • Wearing an outfit more than once is totally acceptable too, and that also goes for kids.
  • Lots of accommodation will have laundry facilities which are worth taking advantage of. If you do just one wash halfway though you can probably halve your packing.
  • Try to think in terms of outfits, so you don’t end up with lots of clothes, none of which go together.
  • And add in a couple of warmer layers that will go with everything.

And lastly, unless you’re going for a week in St Tropez, no one will be looking at what you’re wearing, so don’t sweat it too much. You’re there to relax, after all. 

Holiday packing lists

The key to successful packing is a carefully curated list. When you get back from holiday and inevitably forgot a few things, add them to your list for next year now, before you forget.

Make your list slowly, over a few days, so you have time for things to occur to you, but here are a few generic packing lists for the family to start you off.

Packing list for babies and toddlers

Feeding

Sleeping

Clothing

Bathing and changing

Play

Getting about

Essentials

What Mumsnet users say

“We have the Coleman beach shelter and it's brilliant. We had a foldaway one before but actually this one goes down so small it's much better. It's easy to go up and is nice and sturdy. You can zip up the front to hide in for a quick change if you need to.” LillyBugg

“Pickapooh are hands down the best baby/toddler sun hats. They are so cute, have a soft elastic band that stays on pretty well and are longer at the back to protect the neck. A bit pricey but soooo worth it.” Polestar50

“Magnadoodles are great for that age.” REllenR

Packing list for children and/or teenagers

Getting there

Clothing

  • Enough outfits and underwear to see you through
  • Swimming gear if needed
  • Towels
  • Beach or pool shoes
  • Shoes to pack as well as to wear
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Crocs
  • Outerwear and rainwear

Bathroom stuff

  • Wash bag
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shower gel
  • Sanitary protection
  • Make up
  • Hairbrush, hair bands etc

Play

Essentials

What Mumsnet users say

“Vibram five fingers are brilliant for that kind of thing - swimming in lakes, climbing up rocks…” Delphinius

“I second the recommendation for Fluxx, I think Fantasy Fluxx is my favourite.” IThinkIMadeItWorse

“Puro Sound make some excellent volume limiting headphones that don’t look like children’s headphones and have Bluetooth. I think they’re a little more than £50 but under £100. Definitely recommended.” JaundicedOutlook

Packing list for parent/self

Clothing

  • An outfit for every day you are there
  • Pants for each day
  • Enough bras to see you through
  • A few pairs of socks
  • Shoes
  • Sandals
  • Swimwear
  • Swim towel
  • Two x layers (cardigan, hoody etc)
  • Coat
  • Rainwear
  • Nightwear
  • Small bag 
  • Accessories and jewellery

Bathroom stuff

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shower gel
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sanitary protection
  • Contraception
  • Make-up
  • Nail clippers and file
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Hair brush
  • Hair products
  • Hair dryer if none there
  • Straighteners/curlers

Fun

  • As many books as you’ll read or a Kindle
  • Something to do on the journey

Essentials

Packing list for carry-on

What Mumsnet users say

“My DP and I have Manta sleeping masks. They are pricey but so, so good. Complete blackout, really comfy no matter how you sleep (it’s like a little pillow for your eyes if you sleep on your front). Great on planes too. The headband is fully adjustable as are the eye ‘patches’ so you can get them in exactly the right place for your face. We’ve had ours about two years and they still look pretty new. No stretching/loosening etc. Comes with a little wash bag.” BlueEmeraldAgain

“Dock and bay are microfibre. Their advantage is they’re truly enormous and the sand doesn’t stick to them.” HasADigaEebowai

“Another vote for the Chillys 2. I too can't drink from a metal rim but this one doesn't have one and is very pleasant!” NoodletheSchoodle

Don’t forget your holiday paperwork

Many a family holiday has been ruined by getting to the airport and realising something is missing, out of date or not filled in correctly. 

Presumably by the time you come to packing you’ll have checked the COVID and visa requirements for your destination if you’re travelling abroad, and ensured your passport is in date. Paperwork is much lighter these days now that so much documentation is on your phone but do make sure you have photos or paper copies of all the important stuff just in case you lose or break your phone. 

Use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need before you set off:

  • Travel documentation eg tickets or boarding passes if you’ve printed them off
  • Passports (check what the country you’re travelling to requires - some ask for six months left on a passport)
  • Photocopy of passports in a separate bag in case they are stolen
  • Visas if required
  • Itinerary details
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Contact details for your bank at home and abroad
  • Your GP details and a list of any medications anyone takes and a letter from your GP confirming you need to take them
  • Driving licence for ID 
  • International driving permit
  • GHIC for Europe
  • ESTA for the US
  • Proof of vaccination or negative test for COVID if needed (check on www.gov.uk)

Tech checklist for holiday packing

The advent of tech has made life so much easier but because you don’t always have the thing in your hand these days, it’s easy to forget things you need to do or have with you.

Before you set off, make sure you’ve done a mental tech checklist:

  • Have you packed chargers for each device?
  • Have you packed adaptors to charge overseas?
  • Are there any tickets, proof of vaccinations, payments etc on your phone that you need to have easily accessible or print off a hard copy of?
  • Cameras - as well as chargers do you have enough memory or a spare memory card?
  • If any batteries are required for anything, pop new ones in before you leave
  • Do you need to let your mobile provider know you are abroad? Same goes for the kids’ phones. Do check your provider’s roaming charges as they are no longer capped since we left the EU. Ofcom has good advice on using your phone abroad. 
  • Are kids’ devices fully charged for the journey?
  • Have you downloaded any films and other content to devices that they’ll want for the flight?
  • Do they have headphones? And are they compatible with all their devices? And does your airline allow bluetooth headphones? If not, pack some wired ones, too. 
  • Have you charged your Kindle and downloaded your reading matter?
  • Do you want to track your luggage? Yes, we all managed without for years but if you wanted to throw an air tag into your suitcase, it will help you get reunited with it should there be a problem. 

How we chose our recommendations

Whenever we are making product recommendations, we always head straight for the Mumsnet Talk forum where we have 10 million users ready and waiting to administer sound advice and give honest recommendations. Mumsnetters are particularly knowledgeable when it comes to travelling with babies, toddlers and children, so we started here. 

We then looked at the products Mumsnetters were recommending, trawling the web for customer reviews and expert consumer sites which backed up those recommendations. We also made a note of any products and services that received poor feedback. 

Finally we collated our packing guides and selected the products that we thought would be most useful for Mumsnetters planning a family holiday.

Why you should trust us 

Mumsnet was created when founder Justine Roberts had a less than successful family holiday with young children and wanted to build a place for parents to share ideas and advice, so the site is founded on the idea of making parents’ lives easier, both at home and abroad. 

Mumsnetters love a holiday (and often very much need one!) so they have strong and informed views on what makes a holiday a success. We’ve poured all that collated wisdom into an easy-to-navigate guide to packing for a family holiday.

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