Travelling carry-on style with kids!

At our house, the countdown to Spring Break is on! Where we live, the kids are off school from March 17 – April 3rd. We get two weeks for Spring Break and then Easter just happens to fall on the tail-end. This year we are off to Maui for 10 glorious days and I can’t wait. We have been to Maui about 6 times already, and it is our favorite spot to travel with the kids.

A few years ago, we started to travel with only carry-on bags, and now I can’t imagine lugging a big suitcase and standing around waiting for it at the carousel! This is a pretty big deal for us, because I used to be a chronic over-packer. Steve travels a lot for work, and always with just a carry-on, so when he would travel with us and had to deal with all the checked bags, it drove him a little crazy.  I can’t tell you how many trips started off with us arguing while loading the car to go to the airport! I would pack everything under the sun, and then Steve would go through and start taking things out at the last minute and I would get furious! In my defense, this tendency to over pack all started when the kids were little and required a lot of extra “stuff”. Here is a picture of us in Maui 8 years ago:

Looking back at the older photos and remembering all the gear is pretty funny now. Car seats, pack-and-plays, strollers …it’s a wonder we ever traveled! But vacations are really important to us, that family time is precious!

Now that the kids are older, we need way less. What helped me learn to travel light, is that I started to notice that I wouldn’t wear half the clothes and shoes I packed and the kids wouldn’t even touch the toys we brought on our vacations. When I really started thinking about what we use on a beach holiday, I realized there was no need to pack so much stuff! Bathing suits and flip flops and we are good to go! We don’t typically do anything “fancy” while we are in Maui, maybe a few dinners out, so a sundress and nice sandals are the most dressy thing we require.

Today, I want to share with you what we take with us to Maui and how I fit everything into just a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. To preface this, I have to say that one of the things that makes it easy to travel light is that we are able to purchase some toiletries and sunscreen at our destination.

When you are travelling light, every bit of space counts! This is one of the best things about Maui is that when you land in Kahului, there is a Costco, a Walmart and now a Target right near the airport. The other thing that enables me to pack light is that we always stay at a condo that has laundry, so I don’t have to pack enough clothes for the whole trip, I can do a load of laundry mid-week.

Packing light for the kids is pretty easy. They are older –   13, 10 and 8 – so like I mentioned, we don’t have to worry about car seats and all the gear that you need when you travel with littles. Here are their carry-on suitcases:

Can you guess which suitcase belongs to Stella? If you said the colorful one with the white fluffy dog on it, you would be correct! She picked that out a few years ago at Walmart and she loves it! I love this cute little purse she bought a few trips ago:

The first step is to make a list of what you think you will need for your trip. Pinterest is great for this, you can get lots of ideas for capsule wardrobes. I made this fun collage on Polyvore when I was thinking about what to bring for my girls:

Girls Tropical Vacation Wardrobe!

 My older daughter Sadie really liked this collage and wanted to buy the whole thing! If I had started this process a little sooner, I could have just ordered what they needed online. But alas, my timeline didn’t allow for that so it was off to Old Navy for me yesterday. This is where I get the majority of the kids stuff. You can’t beat the price and the quality never disappoints me. We love their flip flop selection, so many fun prints and such a steal!

The other thing that really helped me was this checklist I made:

The intention of this checklist is to print it out and give it to the kids and have them collect the items that need to be packed. I always try and involve them in this process, I think it is a great life skill to have! Plus they are old enough to help out, and to be honest they get really excited about packing for vacation. If you would like to use this checklist for your next vacay, just click on the link below!

Printable Kids Packing Checklist – for girls

Printable Packing Checklist for boys

I made little lines beside the clothing items so if someone else is using this checklist, they can fill it in with what they want to take.

Lets take a look at what I packed in Stella’s suitcase:

On the Left:

  1. 4 sundresses

  2. 4 t-shirts/tank tops

  3. 3 pairs of shorts

  4. 1 pair of light pants

  5. 1 cardigan

On the Right:

  1. 3 bathing suits

  2. 2 rash guards

  3. 7 pairs of undies

  4. 3 pajama sets

  5. 2 pairs of flip flops

  6. 1 ball cap

  7. toiletries -toothrush, hairbrush, hair stuff

As I typed it out, it seemed crazy that this all fit into a little suitcase! Then again her stuff is little!

I had no problem packing her things and there was even a little bit of “wiggle room” in case she acquires yet another sea turtle stuffy on our adventure! I used a ziploc bag to corral the toiletries:

Another important thing to note about clothing is that we wear our bulky items on the plane. The day of travel we wear comfy pants, a tshirt, a hoodie and a light jacket as well as our running shoes.

Keeping these bulkier items out of our suitcases is key for maximizing packing space!

As you might have noticed from the printable above, things like ipads, headphones and snacks-the airplane essentials- go into the kids backpacks. I also try and include some non-technology things to keep them busy so that they aren’t glued to their screens for 6 hours!

Packing myself into just a carry-on and back pack is a little bit trickier and requires me to be highly selective about what I bring. I create a mini capsule wardrobe. I select some neutral basics and keep the shoes and accessories pretty low key. Again, past experience has told me that while vacationing with the family in Maui, it’s pretty safe to say that I won’t have a lot of use for dressy clothes or heels. Happy hour at a local watering hole is about as fancy as we get! My packing list is pretty similar to the kids:

  1. 2 pairs of shorts

  2. 1 pair of work out shorts

  3. dry-fit work out tank

  4. 3 t-shirts

  5. 2 tank tops

  6. 5 summer dresses, some more casual-beach cover up style

  7. 2 pairs of pajamas

  8. 7 pairs of underwear

  9. 1 bra

  10. 1 sports bra

  11. 3 bathing suits

  12. 2 rash guards

  13. 1 swim cover up

  14. 1 light cardigan

  15. ball cap

  16. sungalsses

Once I have set aside what I am bringing, I roll everything up as tight as I can and squeeze it into my carry-on. It’s like the clothing/suitcase version of tetris! I did buy some packing cubes the first time that I tried travelling with just a carry-on. I didn’t end up using them because in my particular suitcase, I didn’t feel like I needed them, they just felt like a hassle to me. I know people swear by them though!

I am pretty excited to wear this dress I ordered online from Target.

Women's Button Front Midi Dress - Universal Thread™ Blue - image 1 of 3

The shoe situation is a tough one because I have many pairs of summer shoes and they are ALL my favorite! Its hard, but I bring 2 pairs of flip flops- Havaianas are still my favorite-1 pair of dressier sandals and then I wear my running shoes on the plane. When I am tempted to try and shove more shoes into my bag, I remind myself that I will not likely wear them.

That being said, I might hold off on packing dressy shoes and pick these up when I am at the Maui Target:

Women's Ava Shield Espadrille Flatform Sandals - Universal Thread™ - image 1 of 3

My toiletries are a bit more elaborate than the kids, but I try and pair things down. I bring:

  1. face cleanser and toner

  2. face cream

  3. eye cream

  4. toothbrush

  5. hairbrush and comb

  6. hair elastics

  7. deodorant

  8. lotion

  9. lip balm

  10. make-up (tinted moisturizer, mascara, blush, eyeliner, brow pencil, tinted lip balm and lipstick)

I am sure I am forgetting something, but you get the general idea. I keep it pretty simple. Anything I forget, there are plenty of shopping destinations near by!

The two important additional things that go into my backpack are medication (prescription and other) as well as passports and Nexus cards.

I don’t worry about bringing myself any games/lego sets/crafts, lol, but always indulge in a gossip magazine like Us or People. I also carry extra snacks in my backpack. I am so excited about our upcoming holiday. It is so rainy in Vancouver, I am desperate for some sunshine!

The thing I look forward to the most when we visit Maui is the whale watching…last time we experienced what the locals call a “Maui Mugging”. We were surrounded by a bunch of male whales showing off for a female. They were so active…jumping out of the water and carrying on…kinda like the whale equivalent to some greased up gym rat trying to impress the ladies! We had to shut off our boat and wait for them to pass us by, which took about 20 minutes! We sure got our money’s worth that day, especially because we were on a snorkeling tour, not a whale watching trip!

I hope this has given you some ideas on how you too can travel light with your kids. I can’t tell you what a difference it has made in our lives!  Just imagine sailing past the checked baggage area and skipping out of the airport to start your tropical vacation! It’s the best!

Do you have any plans for Spring Break? How do you pack for your family? Would love to hear in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

xo, Kerri

#familyvacations #packingforvacation #springbreak #travelingwithkids