Packing survival secrets: Kids clothing

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Packing for a big family vacation can be daunting. I remember when going away for a week meant simply worrying about my own bag and wardrobe. Now I know I’m not alone in saying that when the family travels, I’m responsible for every last person’s entire wardrobe. Any other moms want to raise their hands??

When we traveled to Disney World with two young girls (ages 5 and 2 at the time) I got sucked into buying all kinds of adorable vacation gear and accessories. But actually managing all those tiny items in a sea of hotel room chaos was bound to cause frustration. To keep myself sane I armed myself with a big box of gallon sized zip-top baggies and set to work.

1. Organize by outfits: For each girl I set out organized piles of outfits onto my bed. Each outfit pile contained:

  • Top
  • Bottom
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • All matching accessories: hairclips, sunglasses, matching hat or headband, etc.

Knowing our plan was to have fun in the parks by day and go out for a relaxed evening dinner at night, I planned for 2 outfits for each day. This may be overkill for your own travel plans. I personally just can’t stand putting on sweaty, dirty clothes from earlier in the day after I’ve showered and cleaned up after swimming in the afternoons. Kids get messy at the parks–think melted ice cream cones!–and I know my girls enjoyed putting on their skirts or dresses for the evenings.

2. Zip it Up!: Slip each individual outfit pile into a gallon sized ziploc baggie. Squeeze the air out and it lays flat like a pancake. This helps with preventing wrinkles and saves room in the luggage!

Mark each bag with the child’s name so they don’t have to open it up to check for sizes.

If you like to have your children match or coordinate, mark the bags accordingly. I had “Peanut, Outfit A” and “Little Pea, Outfit A” bags so it was easy for any one of us to grab what needed to be pulled together for the day.

If a certain outfit needs to be saved for a special occasion (like a character meal or shirts you want specifically worn at Magic Kingdom) make sure to note that too. Helpful husbands may not automatically recognize that little sundress bag as “special.”

NOTE: While this method may seem wasteful, I did save all of the baggies used for this packing trick at the end of the trip. I just folded them neatly and stored in a pocket of our suitcase so that we can do this trick again this year.

3. Controlled Freedom: My 2 year old would pretty much wear whatever was presented to her but my 5 year old was finally at the age she had opinions about what she wanted to wear. The baggie trick is just perfect for allowing that freedom to make the choice of outfit knowing that everything is already put together.

The Peanut loved picking her baggie and then finding Little Pea’s coordinating one. It saved us a huge mess from her ruffling through a neatly packed luggage. I never had to worry about the clothing getting wrinkled or unfolded.

4. The Extras: If you plan your outfit piles with all those ingredients I list, I can guarantee you will end up with spare clean items. Extra underwear, extra clean socks. When we found we had an extra something, I slipped it into a baggie and saved it for later in the week should we hit an emergency. I loved the peace of mind knowing our kids could get as dirty as they wanted and we would still be ok with a fresh change. If you make it to the end of the trip, the extras will still be clean enough to slip right back into the dressers at home and less laundry for you!

5. Our Master Clothing Packing List: Beyond the 2 outfits per day, these are the items I packed for each girl for our week long Disney vacation:

  • 2 pairs of pajamas
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 1 swim cover up
  • 1 pair of closed-toe walking shoes
  • 1 pair of neutral sandals
  • 1 pair of flip-flops for the pool
  • 1 neutral sweater, dressy enough to be worn for dinner but casual enough to be worn into the parks on chilly mornings or on the air conditioned, chilly plane

Do you have any great packing survival secrets? Let’s chat in the comments below!

P.S. This is the one of several posts about traveling that will be featured on my site this summer. I’m thrilled to be participating in the Melissa & Doug “On the Go” campaign to bring you family-friendly ideas for getting your kids out into the world for adventure. I hope you’ll follow along in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested in family travel, you may also enjoy the following Pinterest boards I host:

Wanderlust: How to inspire your children to explore the world and make family travel a fun game.

Road Trippin’: Road trip-specific survival tricks and tips for families.

Simple Disney Magic: Planning tips for your vacation, surviving the trip with your kids, and all around great ideas for bringing extra Disney magic to your life.

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  1. Amy says

    What do you do with all the used bags? This seems very wasteful. Maybe paper bags or rubber bands would be a greener option? Do you do this because you pack one bag for you and the girls? Maybe if they had their own suitcase, you could eliminate the use of plastic bags.

    Sorry if this seems rude, but why do children that young need accessories? It just seems like they are on the road to divahood. I have no doubt you have lovely girls. I am a mother of boys, so guess its just a different world. Enjoy our vacation.

  2. says

    Amy, Ahh, I should have mentioned that! Thank you for the reminder, I’ll edit the post to reflect it. But to answer your question: I saved all the bags after the trip, put them right back in the suitcase and we’ll be using them again this year. Last year we flew and I’ve made it a habit to put even some of my own items into plastic bags in case my luggage is searched by TSA. They can see through the plastic and don’t need to open the baggies but can still search the suitcase. Not everything, but things like my underwear. I just can’t stand the thought of their gloved hands having touched countless bags of dirty clothing and then touching my stuff too. Because the baggies can have the air squeezed out of them, it helps with space saving in the luggage. I’m not sure I know of a reusable fabric pouch that would have the same effect.

    And no kids this age don’t “Need” accessories. My girls don’t wear them on a daily basis and my 6 year old is the farthest thing from a diva. Our trip to Disney was a very special occasion for us and we dressed up nicer than usual just as we tend to dress up nicer for birthdays and big holidays we celebrate. I do think it is partly because we have girls. I know friends with boys have not had this experience.

  3. Melissa says

    Loved the tips! I know from experience taking 2 girls those ages to disney that the tips work! We, too get all those gymboree clothes and adorable accessories…it’s cute! Hope you have a great trip!

  4. Brittany says

    This is genius! We have 3 girls and 1 boy and are planning a beach vacation next year. I love the plastic bag idea and squeezing the air out to save room. You can always reuse the plastic bags! We have one daughter who is very picky about clothing so I would have her choose the outfits going in the bags and then let her pick her bag each day and just grab the coordinating clothes for our other 2 girls. It must just be a girl thing because my girls have hairboes for each outfit (I make them) as well as earrings and sometimes they like a bracelet or necklace. I realize you can cut down on this some for vacation but mine really enjoy their accessories. They get excited and like to dress up on vacation too. Ive never thought of this as diva like behavior, which is why I think it must just be a little girl thing.Thanks for the ideas! This is the best packing for kids post ive come up with yet!

  5. Lauren says

    LOVE this idea! We will be heading to the beach this month and I plan on using this idea. My daughter also has accessory’s and hair bows to match outfits, this will make it so simple in the mornings! I agree with Brittany, I never thought of my child being a diva because she likes her hair bows and jewelry etc., first time I’ve heard that. Thanks again for the post, excellent idea!!! : )

  6. Rebekah says

    My daughter is 6 and she’s had matching accessories for most of her life. I can’t imagine someone being rude enough to call you out on such a little, petty thing on a blog. I make no apologies to anyone if they think my 6-year-old shouldn’t have a matching bracelet or hair accessory (or both – or more!) I’m sure your daughters looked ADORABLE.

  7. Rebekah says

    Oh and we’ve used this “plastic bag” tip (which is not wasteful to me at all, I consider it one heck of a time/frustration saver) for my daughter’s whole life. My Mom did something similar on vacations with all of us as kidlets. The best thing is, now that my daughter is in school, if there are any bags left over I just leave them out to be worn to school that week. Makes getting ready for school a snap. 😀

  8. Christy says

    I ove this idea also. It is a must now on planes where you have to pay for each piece of checked luggage. Anyway, I have 2 girls and 1 boy. I have been using this trick for years especially for sleep away camp. This helps keep the clothes organized and together plus when changing in the bathrooms. The kids tend to drop clothing when juggling all of it and it keeps it off the floor.

  9. Anna says

    The plastic bags are also nice to put the dirty clothes back in. That way the dirty stuff isn’t floating around your suitcase. All kinds of accidents happen at any age. Plastic bags are wonderful. Another idea would be to put a stain stick in the suitcase to treat any possible stains before putting them back in the bag. Great ideas on this post!!!

  10. Kourtney says

    We always, always find uses for the bags! Whether I save them for after the trip! Or use them for wet clothes, puked-on clothes :( (there’s always one…), any clean clothes leftover stay in the bags, and extra toiletries can go in them. Or any souvenir you buy that could potentially make a mess in the suitcase. We reuse them over and over for many things. :)


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