Family travel

10 Tips for Helping Your Child Prepare and Pack for a Trip

By Lexi Walters Wright

18Found this helpful
18Found this helpful

Whether you’ve planned the vacation of a lifetime or are just heading to Grandma’s for a long weekend, letting your child help prepare for the trip can get her excited in a positive way. It can also help reduce stress. Use these tips to help your child get ready for a great vacation!

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Discuss the details of your itinerary.

Help reduce your child’s anxiety by explaining where you’re going and why. Describe your destination in detail and how you’ll get there—by car or by plane, for instance. Be sure to cover details such as what time you’ll leave home and what you’ll see when you arrive. Include sensory details such as sandy beaches, noisy amusement parks or cold ski slopes. Discuss weather changes and who’ll be there, such as relatives your child knows or favorite characters at a theme park.

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Help your child envision the trip.

Consider showing her brochures, websites or photos to help her visualize the experience. If she’s comfortable reading, take guidebooks out of the library. Use a calendar to explain what you’ll be doing each day. If your child uses a picture schedule at home, try creating one for the trip.

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Make a list.

It can be hard for kids to anticipate what they’ll need in an unfamiliar place. Look for ideas on sites like and that have printable packing lists for specific destinations and ages. Work with your child to make a list of must- and maybe-bring items, keeping in mind each phase of your trip. Encourage your child to take the lead on packing and crossing each item off the list. Check that she included everything, then pack the list itself to use when you’re repacking at the end of the trip.

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Choose clothing with care.

Encourage your child to dress in layers for comfort, especially on travel days. Together, look at the forecast for the time you’ll be gone. Have your child think of items she could easily put on or take off based on the climate.

Try to avoid clothing textures your child is sensitive to. Or items that might become uncomfortable during the trip. Consider a soft sweatshirt rather than a heavy or itchy wool sweater for a long car ride. As your child gets older, have her take more responsibility for picking her outfits.

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Limit the number of comfort items.

A favorite stuffed animal, a night-light or a white-noise machine can be very comforting to kids who have trouble with transitions and new experiences. But limit the number of comfort items and toys so they only take up a certain amount of space, such as a book bag. As your child gets older, allow her to pick which comfort items to bring.

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Pack activities and electronics.

Talk with your child about what items she can bring to keep herself busy. Consider quiet, contained toys and games that entertain for long periods. These might include coloring materials, puzzles, books, non-messy crafts and electronic games. If you’ll be meeting friends or family, include a group activity. If your child has them, think about bringing laptops, tablets, iPods and headphones. But don’t forget the chargers!

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Pack toiletries and medication.

It can help your child feel more comfortable if you bring the same toiletry items she uses at home—either in full size or in travel size. And don’t forget first-aid basics, sunscreen and bug spray.

If you’re flying, carry-on liquids must conform to Transportation Security Administration standards. Be sure to keep medication in your carry-on bags. Checked baggage can get lost or delayed—which can lead to missed dosages.

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Pack snacks and drinks.

No matter how you’ll be traveling, bring munchies for the ride (or flight). Ask your child to help you pick out some favorites and pack them up. Explain that these are just to keep from getting hungry during the trip, so you’re not going to bring a lot. If your child has sensory processing issues that limit her diet, it’s important to pack what you know she’ll eat. This is especially true if it may be difficult to find those foods once you arrive at your destination.

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Talk about the screening process.

Explain to your child well in advance of your trip how a metal detector works and that the rule is everyone has to go through it. When you get to the screening area, tell the officer if your child has trouble being separated from you.

Read the TSA’s tips on traveling with children with disabilities, or call its toll-free TSA Cares line (855-787-2227) to ask about screening policies and procedures. The agency’s website also has a card you can download and show to airport staff that clearly explains your child's issues.

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Keep the dialogue open.

In the days leading up to your departure, watch your child for any signs of anxiety. Is there anything else you can pack or information you can provide that might make her feel better? Remember that your child is likely to notice if you get stressed, so try to stay calm and go with the flow.

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About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright

A veteran writer and editor for parenting magazines and websites, Lexi Walters Wright has a master’s degree in library and information science and is proud to serve families at

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Reviewed by Jenn Osen-Foss, M.A.T. Jan 13, 2014 Jan 13, 2014

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