Packing Lists and Tips

By:  Jennifer Milano, June 2015

Being Type A means I love to organize, so I spend way too much time thinking about packing.  As I sometimes regret as I see more trendy-looking travelers at the airport, I also tend to sacrifice style for comfort and convenience.  My goals are like most people's:  pack light, avoid luggage check-in fees yet sail through security with ease, and have crucial items at the ready.  I keep a packing list tailored for my family's needs on my computer, so I can refer to it before each trip.  For what it's worth, here is how I pack:

Personal item:  I carry a cross-body purse, usually one made by Sak like this one, click here, which has an internal zipped pocket big enough to hold our four passports, and an outer zipped pocket for my cell phone.  The bag is big enough for tissue packs, granola bars, boarding passes, a pen, sunglasses and my wallet.  Depending on the kind of travel I’m doing, I also may wear my neck pouch, underneath my shirt, holding passports, boarding passes, some money and a credit card.  I haven’t found one I love as much as the thin cotton one overly worn from years of wear, but LL Bean has one that is pretty close:  click here.  LL Bean sells a waist version, too, if you prefer that style.

*I used to photocopy passports and credit cards, and put the copies in my carry-on and checked baggage.  Now I take screen shots of our passports and keep them on my cell phone, which backs up to icloud and/or I email copies to my mom to provide me if my phone is stolen.  Ever since my credit card was stolen in cyberspace through an email to a hotel in Costa Rica, I keep my card information written down in case I need to call and cancel stolen cards (this has never happened to me - in all my years of travel, I have been lucky enough never to have been robbed, which, now that I've written that down, I most certainly will be).

Carry-on:  I carry a backpack with water bottle holders on the sides so I can stock up on a bottle of water per family member after getting through security.  My kids pack and carry their own carry-ons.  Here is what is in the kids’ backpacks:

  • Headphones
  • Kindles with new books already downloaded
  • A kids' travel journal and disposable camera
  • Snacks
  • A sweatshirt/sweater
  • Small travel games, like Uno
  • Ziploc bag containing a change of clothes - only once did one of my children spill a drink all over his clothes on an airplane, but was I ever glad to have that change of clothes so he wasn’t wet for the rest of the flight. I pick items that pack small, even if it’s leggings or pajama pants.
  • The all-important “lovey”.  Whichever stuffed animal or blanket comforts your child when he/she is sleeping, pack it in a carry-on!  If your luggage is lost or delayed, you will be glad your overtired, cranky child has this comfort item.  Like many parents, I keep a spare, identical “lovey” at home in case the traveling lovey gets lost.

When my kids were younger, I would pack a surprise item to be given during that last hour of the last flight, when they (and I) were about to lose it.  Usually, it would be a sticker book or a new book I could read to them, very, very slowly to make it last during landing and the taxi ride to the gate.  I also packed these items to entertain them during travel:

  • A sheet of tin foil, folded in a square.  Sounds silly, but they’d unfold it and shape it into a bunch of different things.  Bought me about 10 minutes, which was worth it given how little space it took up.
  • A bunch of pipe cleaners, which take up little space but can keep your kids busy creating shapes, animals or people.
  • A jar filled with dried beans, rice or pasta, and little toys mixed in.  They’d have to find all of the objects in the jar by shaking it and moving the beans/rice/pasta around.  Once they got bored of that, we gave the jars away to other kids on the trip so we didn’t have to carry them around.
  • Lollipops, gum and candy, which we tried to reserve mainly for travel so they retained their novelty.

Here is what is in my carry-on, which is usually a backpack:

A quart-size Ziploc containing these liquids:

  • Hand lotion for that dry plane air
  • Hand sanitizer - several
  • Liquid medications, including over-the-counter children’s tylenol, motrin, benadryl
  • Saline solution/contact lens case/extra contact lenses


  • Wipes for cleaning hands and icky surfaces (remember I’m Type A)
  • Headphones
  • Lip balm
  • Kindle and ipad
  • External battery pack
  • Travel guides, to read on the plane about our destination
  • A deck of cards
  • Prescription medications (add Cipro if traveling to a developing country)
  • Gum or hard candies for airline descents
  • Personal items like eyeglasses
  • Camera
  • Sweatshirt/sweater
  • Extra ziplocs in various sizes - great for storing half-eaten snacks, or using as a travel sick bag (tested and approved by both of my children during a bumpy landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport)
  • A Sharpie & Post-its - I love having a Sharpie with me.  I label water bottles with names, use it to write on post-it notes to leave reminders on the door of the hotel like “empty room safe” or “pack smoke alarm & nightlights”.  Post-its are also useful for leaving notes for a sleeping partner should you decide to duck out in the early morning for a walk or coffee.
  • Food - I feel so much better if I decline the airline meal (scarcely offered these days, anyway), and pack a sandwich, pasta or quinoa salad, along with several hard-boiled eggs. I pack a small cooler bag with an ice pack. Also great are nuts, granola, and trail mixes.  I often pack apples, too - the worst-tasting apples I’ve ever had consistently come from those baskets at the cashier’s counter at airport food stalls.  Even the plastic-wrap, seemingly germ-free packaging isn’t enough to overcome the mealy, flavorless fruit inside.
  • My favorite travel pillow, for longer flights - I’ve tried lots of different neck pillows, but I don’t find them comfortable on airplanes.  I use a small memory foam pillow that I found at Bed, Bath & Beyond years ago, which is intended to be strapped to a lounge chair. It has a removable, washable cover which suits my Type A tendencies.
  • I have tiny combination travel locks on the zippers of my backpack, which makes me feel better on a plane, train or bus.  When I was backpacking and staying in hostels or campgrounds, I also carried a cable lock to lock my bag to a luggage rack or bed post.
  • I’m not an eye shade/ear plugs kind of traveler, but if they help you sleep on the plane, by all means add them to your packing list.

Checked or overhead baggage:

  • Clothing, shoes, toiletry items, sunscreen, hat, seasonal items
  • Travel alarm clock - my husband thinks this is silly, given that I have a cell phone with alarm capabilities. But I like it, so I pack it.  Besides, I'm Type A, so how many alarms do you think I set the night before an early departure?
  • Converters/adaptors
  • Small travel size bottle of laundry detergent for washing out items in sinks if needed
  • If I bring my own pillow (like on a car trip), I pack it in a brightly-colored pillowcase so I can track it and housekeeping doesn’t take it by mistake
  • If it's a beach-centered vacation, I pack a mesh beach bag, which takes up very little room in my bag, but can fit our towels, goggles, beach toys, books and snacks for pool or beach time.
  • Smoke detector:  When traveling outside of the U.S. (and sometimes inside the U.S.), I bring a portable smoke detector.  Sound paranoid?  Probably.  But it makes me feel better, so I pack one.  When I was young, my father stayed in a Las Vegas hotel with malfunctioning smoke alarms - days after he checked out, a massive fire     consumed the hotel killing many people.  After that, my parents always traveled with a smoke alarm.  Once I had children of my own, I decided to pack one, as well.  You will find that in most countries around the world, hotels, guesthouses, and rentals lack smoke alarms.  Even in the U.S., it saves me from having to check if the hotel’s alarm is working and calling the front desk for service if needed.
  • For the kids: 
    • Nightlights, white noise app, lullabies, travel car sunshades
    • Books on CD for long car rides, or audio books on Audible
    • Diapers and wipes
    • Stroller and/or baby backpack
    • A first-aid kit with thermometer, cotton balls, travel-size bottle of rubbing alcohol, band-aids, antibiotic ointment, nail clippers, tweezers, any medicines not in my carry-on
    • Monitors, if needed
    • Travel bed guardrail, if needed

Click here for more tips on traveling with kids