My 5 Family Vacation Hacks to Pack

We’ve all got our list of stuff we can’t live without when we leave home. Personally, I am lost without eye drops, Q-tips and Ricola…  And after years in the trenches packing for our family vacations, I have found these five items to be “must-haves” on the road with kids:

1) Balls – We never leave the house some kind of ball(s) – beach, tennis, foot, or even deflated soccer ball-and-pump.  A beach ball helps make a tiny pool or grassy patch the perfect spot for volleyball. A tennis ball turns an empty airport gate or village road into a two-square court, bowling alley, soccer pitch or stick ball field. They pack flat or in empty corners of bag – and they also make great gifts to pass on to local kids as gifts as you go.
2) Ear Drops – Every water supply/pool/stream/lake/river/ocean cove has different bacteria – or so yelled the urgent care doctor in Kauai over my daughter’s fourth straight hour of hysterics as he treated the poor girl for a blazing ear infection. He recommended traveling with alcohol ear drops that dry the ear after swimming to be sure there is no water left inside to cause an infection. We’ve packed them ever since – using a few drops in each ear after the first few swims in each new stop – and have thus far avoided another infection (knock wood).
3) Ziploc bags – This isn’t such a super secret packing hack but we’re always sad when we don’t remember Ziploc bags and baggies to corral leftover snacks, wet, filthy or stinky items, and random “souvenirs” we collect on the road. I just grab a few of each size, roll them up, rubber band them and slide them into the side of a bag.
4) Barrier Cream – The fantastically clear blue sea water we all love to visit on vacation is jam packed with salt. And because kids never get out of the water, that salt can wreak havoc in the nooks and crannies of small bodies. The resulting, excruciatingly painful rashes can only be soothed with diaper rash/barrier cream. This will allow your kids to reenter the sea on Day 2 as opposed to watching the rest of the week’s fun from the sand. We’ve also learned that boys do better with Speedos or Nike Pro Combat-style compression shorts under swim trunks to minimize chafing.
5) Bandanas – I had always thrown a bandana in my daypack when traveling but I never realized the tremendous versatility of these little scraps of fabric until we lost our luggage for the entire first week of a trip. Not only did the bandana serve its typical uses as a hand towel, sweat dabber, washrag and placemat, it became a sun hat, neckerchief mosquito-deterrent and a face mask on dusty roads. Now we pack one bandana per person on each trip – just in case.


by Maryann Jones Thompson, July 2016

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, family vacation packing, packing with kids, packing hacks


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