Travelling with young kids always means you have to bring So. Much. Stuff. There’s a stroller, car seats (if you’re doing lots of car travel and don’t want to pay exorbitant rental fees for seats you have no idea what they’ve been through), a travel crib, and so on, and so forth. For last year’s Europe trip, the amount of stuff we brought was just a little insane. Yes, I only brought one (big) checked bag, but still. I remember having to pack our stuff into the bus in Iceland that would take us to our airbnb and we quite literally took up the entire back (it was a small bus but still). So this year I vowed I’d learn to travel carry-on only. To make life easier but also because we were flying so many budget airlines and checked baggage fees really do add up.
I got a lot of questions on Instagram about how I managed to travel carry-on only with two young kids and I wanted to start off by talking about my travel capsule wardrobe. I’ll definitely do a post with everything we packed but your clothing and accessories is the first and main way you can save space when travelling. The key is bringing pieces that work with every other piece in your wardrobe. Every top should work with every bottom. Your two pairs of shoes should work with every outfit you put together. For me that means sticking to a very uniform colour scheme of black, white, and grey with some blue and blush pink thrown in. I also prefer to blend in with the locals when I travel rather than wear traditional travel clothes (aka not wearing technical gear a la the super lightweight travel community or palazzo pants and sarongs a la the post-university year-abroad crowd). I want to be wearing the same type of clothes that I wear at home. Clothes that are easy to wash, don’t require any ironing, but still look like everyday clothes and not travel-specific clothes.
Everything that I didn’t wear on the airplane (apart from my rain jacket and sandals) fit into my MEC packing cube (the large size – 26 x 32 x 11cm). I rolled all of clothes and really had to press things down as I put them in but it all fit into that one cube! The kids each got a medium-sized packing cube for their clothes (18 x 23 x 10cm). All-in-all, my clothing, the kids clothing and a few extra diapers fit into the 32L main compartment of one of my two carry-on bags. Pretty good for an entire wardrobe for three people!
[ 1 ] Rain jacket . You can never really predict the weather in Europe these days and staying indoors with young kids when you catch a rain day is not really the best option. So pack a lightweight rain jacket – the lighter and more packable the better. My current rain jacket isn’t all that lightweight, but I’ve got this one on my shopping list.
[ 2 ] Everyday jacket . For cooler nights or unexpectedly cool days. This is the jacket you’ll wear (or tie around your waist) through the airport (aka you won’t pack it), so it can be bulkier like your favourite jean jacket. I love that a denim jacket goes with just about everything and is stylish to boot. I also love a good utility jacket for travel thanks to its many pockets.
[ 3 ] 2 pairs of pants . If you know it’s going to be legit warm where you’re travelling, then one pair of pants (to wear on travel days) is all you really need. In the northern half of Europe you never really know though. In both Paris and Germany we had several cooler days, so two pair of pants was a must. One can be a bit bulkier (aka jeans) since you’ll be wearing those through the airport and the second pair should be nice and lightweight and not take up too much space. I brought a pair of stretchy black skinny jeans (for the flight) and a pair of looser and super lightweight railroad stripe chinos. One tip is to make sure your pants don’t stretch out after several wears. You want pants (and clothes in general) that keep their shape since you’ll be wearing them more often in between washes whilst on the road.
[ 4 ] Dress or romper . You want at least one outfit that is a bit dressier but also still casual enough for everyday wear (because you want to get maximum use out of each of your limited number of clothes). I brought along a striped tank dress which was super comfortable (a must!) but maybe a bit unpractical for travelling with young kids where you’re constantly bending down. It worked well for date nights (my husband joined us for one week in Germany where we were staying with my in-laws) but it wasn’t as ideal otherwise apart from when we were at the beach. I think next time I’ll bring along a dressier romper to work equally well for nights out and daytime running after my two crazies.
[ 5 ] Two pairs of shorts . What you’ll be wearing pretty much every day so make them comfortable and versatile! I love jean shorts even if they’re not very compact or lightweight. But since they’re not nearly as bulky as a full length pair of jeans and they fit into my packing cube along with everything else, I brought them along. I love that you can wear them for days and days and they still look good. I also brought along a super cute pair of high-waisted pineapple-print shorts from Zara as my second pair but, alas, the white colour was not the best idea. I wore them a lot, I just always had to wash them after 1, max 2, wears. Next time I’ll bring a darker second pair.
[ 6 ] Two sweaters . Lightweight but still warm and nothing that requires a special cycle in the washing machine (since you’ll be washing all your clothes together). I brought one lightweight knit sweater and one jersey knit pullover which worked well. I always wore the bulkier jersey sweatshirt on the plane to save room in my bag.
[ 7 ] Long-sleeved shirt . I always love having a long-sleeved tee in my bag in case it gets a bit chilly. Compact enough to fit amongst everything else you need to haul around with 2 young kids, but good for an extra layer. It’s also great when you’re wearing something sleeveless and want to enter a religious building. Straight up black is always a good idea since it goes with everything.
[ 8 ] Dress shirt . A good dress shirt that doesn’t require ironing is such a fabulous wardrobe staple whilst travelling. It works as a warm layer, can dress up jeans or shorts, works as a beach cover-up, etc. A striped shirt is my go-to – stripes are always endlessly chic and hide stains so much better than a uniform colour. Plus very Parisienne when you’re, you know, visiting Paris.
[ 9 ] Six t-shirts / tanks . Along with underwear, the number of tees / tanks you bring will dictate how often you have to do laundry. I opted for 6 days (5 days worth of washing plus an extra t-shirt to wear on laundry day. I prefer t-shirts over tanks these days and I think they work better for travel in general (religious sites, backpack straps digging into bare shoulders, better sun protection) but I also brought a couple of tank tops that could double as workout gear. You could probably get away with fewer tees and wear them more often but I prefer to only do a single wear per shirt (sweaty walking and grubby toddler hands and all) and t-shirts really take up such little room in a bag that an extra couple isn’t a deal breaker for carry-on only travel.
[ 10 ] Workout outfit . If you want to stay active, bring along an outfit you can workout in. I brought a lightweight pair of running shorts and a supportive sports bra. Next time I think I’ll eliminate the need for an extra pair of gym shorts by bringing a pair of non-cotton stretchy shorts as my second pair that can double as running / workout shorts if need be but it’s not like the shorts I brought took up much space. Plus they doubled as great lounge shorts on my laundry nights since I always tried to wash both pairs of everyday shorts in one go.
[ 11 ] Swimsuit . I used to bring along way too many bikinis whenever I went anywhere that included a beach day. But, really, you only need one that you feel good in. I love one-pieces now that I have to deal with wrangling babies in the water.
[ 12 ] Sneakers . Since I planned on doing a bit of running and hiking during our trip, I definitely wanted to bring along a pair of gym shoes. I went with black Nike running shoes which I feel like are a step up from the typical white (or worse, neon) tourist sneakers. Sneakers are also the best for long travel days where comfort is absolutely key.
[ 13 ] Sandals . A good pair of walking sandals are an absolute must. Something comfortable enough to wear for all-day walking but cute enough to go with your dress. I absolutely love Saltwater sandals for this reason, plus they pack up pretty flat and you can wear them in the water! My kids have these as well and they’re really such a perfect travel sandal.
[ 14 ] Sunglasses . Along with swimsuits, I also used to bring along way too many sunglasses whenever I travelled. But really, you just need your favourite pair of sturdy sunglasses. Mine are my absolute favourite pair of Diff sunglasses (the Dime II).
[ 15 ] Sunhat . I love a good straw hat for warm-weather travel destinations. Since you’ll be wearing this on the airplane, size really doesn’t matter all that much. Just make sure it stays on your head if it gets a bit windy! (I had a few close calls with mine.)
[ 16 ] Crossbody purse . I use a knapsack (the Osprey daypack that attaches to my carry-on bag) as a diaper bag / to carry all of our non-valuable essentials for the day (snacks, diapers, extra layers, etc.) and will put it in the stroller basket when we take the stroller out. I then use a cross body bag for my camera and wallet. I prefer having a bag that I never have to take off and always have easy access to (since taking a camera in and out of a backpack is pretty annoying). I used the Lo and Sons Claremont bag for this trip. I absolutely love that it doesn’t look at all like a camera bag and that I can take out the middle insert to make it just a regular purse when I don’t need to bring my camera along.
[ 17 ] Undergarments . Along with t-shirts, the number of pairs of underwear you bring will dictate how frequently you need to do laundry. I always booked airbnbs that I knew had laundry and made sure to do laundry in the middle of our time at each spot (so everything had time to air dry). I brought 6 pairs of underwear, 2 bras (one structured, one lightweight one for at-home lounging), and 3 pairs of socks.
[ 18 ] Jewelry . Personally I don’t bring anything but a watch and a simple ring when I’m travelling. I don’t want to bring anything valuable and I usually can’t be bothered to put on jewelry when I’m travelling – if I bring anything it usually just ends up staying in my bag. So now I just bring a watch (so I don’t have to pull out my phone every time I want to know the time) and a simple ring as a wedding band. (I don’t bring my actual wedding band or engagement ring though – too valuable!)
That’s it! What are your travel wardrobe staples? I always love hearing how others pack to help me streamline my packing list!