How to Travel Light On a Family Vacation

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been a long-time proponent of traveling light because I hate carrying a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten to the point in my work life that I never carry paper, and it bothers me when someone hands me a piece of paper. (I even scan business cards with my phone and hand the card back to the owner.)

Minimalism is the key to travel, and I’d rather do without something not-so-important than lug it along “just in case.” That’s how I keep my business backpack so light.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

My family has been bitten by the minimalist bug as well, and we’ve spent the last several years shedding unwanted stuff in our lives. So it’s only natural that we adopt this approach to our travel, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years.

1. Skip the Suitcases Sometimes

Whenever we’re staying in a house or an Airbnb home, we’ll skip suitcases entirely, and pack all our clothes in a Rubbermaid tub. Then, we just carry the tub into the house and unpack. There’s more room in the back of the car, and I can even see over our stuff when I look at the rearview mirror.

But if we ever stay at a hotel, we take the smallest suitcases we can (like an Atlantic Ultra Lite 3 21″ spinner). When my family travels with suitcases, we can pack for a 7 – 10 day trip in carry-ons and a backpack or two.

The other option is to pack everyone’s clothes into one large suitcase, and take turns lugging it around. I don’t recommend this if you’re flying though, because if that suitcase gets lost, you’ve got some big problems. I also don’t recommend it, because I’m the one who ends up lugging it.

2. Don’t Take a Lot of Toys

The whole point of being on vacation is to experience new things, meet people, and visit new places. There’s not a lot of time for kids to play like they do at home, so there’s no reason to pack their entire toy box. Take a couple “tier 2” toys — toys your kids like, but won’t be upset if they lose. (Also, don’t take toys with a lot of pieces; those get lost easily.)

I’m also on the fence about taking a child’s absolute favorite toy/best friend because of the chance of losing it. (Very few things break my heart more than stories of a kid losing his or her favorite stuffed animal.) If you take it, make sure you do a double visual confirmation between you and your spouse that you see that toy right before you leave your hotel room.

3. Take Half as Many Clothes as You Need

Your vacation is eight days, so you should take eight outfits, yes?


The only thing you need eight of are underwear, socks, and t-shirts/undershirts. Everything else can be worn at least twice, or even three times. Remember, you’re on vacation, surrounded by thousands and thousands of strangers. No one is going to realize you wore that shirt four days ago.

So if you can wear your jeans, shorts, and regular shirts twice, then you’re only taking four outfits. And you can even trim that number of clothes by 25 – 50 percent if you can do laundry on the trip.

4. Never Pack a Nice Outfit “Just In Case”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a pair of slacks and a dress shirt on vacation, “just in case” we decided to go to a nice restaurant. But I can tell you how many times we’ve gone to a nice restaurant on the spur of the moment.

None. We went zero times.

Which meant I was hauling an extra outfit that I never wore.

Now, we have gone to nice restaurants, but those were planned, and we had reservations and everything. Then, it was worth taking the outfit, because we knew we were going in advance. But we have never, on the spur of the moment, chosen a fancy restaurant for dinner.

Many vacation destination restaurants allow, and even expect, people to show up in shorts or jeans and t-shirts. So as a rule, unless you’ve made a reservation to a four-star restaurant in advance, don’t take “just in case” outfits. Make the appropriate plans or plan on going to “jeans appropriate” restaurants.

Packing light is an art form in itself. One tip I’ve heard is to lay everything out you want to take, and then set half of it aside. I also know people who only pack one or two of each item of clothing and do laundry regularly.

How do you pack light for your vacations? Do you have any special tips or suggestions you can share? Tell us about them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Atlantic Luggage


Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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