Best Summer Travel Essentials for Families

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This post is sponsored by REI. All opinions are my own.

We love using summertime to prioritize amazing family adventures near and far. Whether we’re going on an extended trip or staying close to home and doing a few weekend excursions, these are some of our favorite summer travel essentials for families. This packing list for summer helps us stay safe, comfortable, and enjoying our time together.

If you’re wondering what to pack for summer vacation, I hope these ideas help you prepare for some epic summer adventures!

summer travel essentials

1. Waterproof Footwear

There’s nothing that ruins outdoor time for us like having wet feet and miserable kids. While we’re totally good hiking in $4 t-shirts (though I do super love these National Parks themed ones – we have Yosemite & Zion), quality footwear is one of those summer holiday essentials to invest in to make outdoor adventures with kids more comfortable and fun for the whole family.

The Keen Newport H2 sandals (for toddlers and older kids) are my #1 for younger kids – they’re comfortable (my kids never get blisters even when wearing them right out of the box), can go in and out of water, and last through multiple kids. Plus, they have fantastic tread so they’re safe both in water and on dry land. (Right now, they’re included in REI’s Anniversary Sale so you can grab them for a terrific price!) My older two kids love these Teva hiking sandals. Since they don’t have covered toes, I prefer the Keens until kids are at least 8+.

If we’re doing some more serious hiking or if we’ll be in cooler weather, durable, waterproof hiking boots are a must. Whenever purchasing hiking shoes, I always prefer waterproof versions – there’s always some sort of puddle or stream crossing or snow or something and I’d much rather have that extra benefit. These Keen boots (for big kids and little kids) are my favorites for my kids because they have really great support and tread and are very sturdy. Finally, here are the boots I love for me and for Daniel. I also often use waterproofing spray for some extra protection.

We also sometimes like to pack a pair of flip flops if visiting the pool a lot. This pair has been great for my oldest, and I really love these for my younger kids (the toddler sizes have a back strap) because they’re super durable and last through multiple kids. Or these cheap ones actually work great for toddlers and last surprisingly long!

2. Layers

Layering is essential for any travel, but especially when packing for summer vacation. You never know if you’ll hit rain or if it will be cool at night and roasting in the day, so we like items of clothing on our summer vacation checklist that breathe well and work in a variety of weather situations.

When traveling to cooler areas, we typically plan for a warm outer layer, wool base layers (we love this brand that has sizes from kids to adults), wool socks, and a fleece mid-layer. Fleece is warm, layers well, wicks moisture, & dries quickly. I really love this zip up for me because the encapsulated fleece is more enviro-friendly, stretches 4 ways (works over my belly!), & uses 92% recycled material. It’s also surprisingly warm either on its own or as a mid-layer, and I love the thumb hooks. (It’s also included in the REI sale!) I also love these fleece sweatshirts for kids.

When traveling to warmer areas, we typically skip either the outer layer or the mid layer. Wool is great in that it can stay cool even during hot weather, and my kids will wear the base layers as pajamas, too. Wool socks are perfect for almost any weather as they wick moisture when hot or cool, can be reworn after allowing to air out, and are super durable. This is our very favorite brand – they last forever and are so comfy (they even have a lifetime warranty. For SOCKS.). For outer layers, this is my favorite for women. We also love these inexpensive, warm, lightweight jackets for kids.

3. Quick Dry Clothing

Quick dry clothing is super helpful for a summer packing list, whether we’re flying or in the RV. If we’re flying somewhere warm, it’s nice if we can hand wash clothing if needed and it dries quickly (no one likes traveling with wet clothing!). In the RV, it’s super helpful to be able to clean stuff and hang it to dry quickly.

My older two boys have these shorts as part of their summer travel essentials, which are great because they stay cool, can be used as swim trunks, and dry in a flash. These boys’ pants are also great. My older daughter loves these leggings (with pockets!) that dry really quickly. I also love these shorts for women, which can also be worn in the water. Fleece, as I mentioned above, is also great for layering and dries quickly – these fleece pants for my boys are great, as are these for men (Dan loves the fit).

summer holiday essentials

4. Day Packs

Smaller backpacks are great either for day hikes or excursions. When we fly, my kids use these as a carry on to take all of the items they may need in flight (here’s a list of what we include in our travel backpacks for kids). But we also love them for road trips! It helps keep everything contained and not all over the floor of the car/RV. Then it’s easy to unload what isn’t needed for the day trip/hike and use them as a kids day pack.

We really love these kids hiking backpacks for our older kids – they’re roomy and have several pockets (they also include a hydration reservoir if my kids want to use a bladder instead of a water bottle). They are they perfect size for a hiking backpack for kids to use as a day pack, and also work really well as kids backpacks for travel. Our younger boys use these hydration backpacks – they’re convenient & lightweight and great for younger kiddos. They’re big enough for a snack or light lunch, but not so big that they can load them down with too much stuff (that becomes heavy and requires parental assistance to carry it…). We love these summer holiday essentials!

One other great option to add to your packing list for summer vacation for younger kiddos is a fanny pack – it’s the perfect spot to keep a snack or two without tiring them out.

5. Swim Gear

You can’t have summer packing essentials without including swim gear! I got all my boys these swim trunks this year. I LOVE these rash guards because they’re soft and thick and don’t have any branding (and they come in bright colors, so it’s easy to spot my kids on the beach or while at the pool).

My girls each have this swimsuit, and they each have a rash guard suit (toddler & older girl), which is convenient for easy sun protection on your summer vacation packing list.

Here are a few other options I love:

Girls: Rash guard, swimsuit

Boys: Rash guard

Women: Tankini, Floral one-shoulder, One piece rash guard, Ruffle bikini, Gathered strap one-piece, Ruffle one-shoulder, Maternity suits

Men: Striped suit, Oranges print, Banana print

In addition to swim suits, we always pack goggles. We have several of this pair, and my younger ones love the kind that snaps in back so they don’t pull hair. If we’re traveling somewhere with good snorkeling, we pack one adult snorkel and 1-2 sets of kid snorkels. We’ve tried a few sets and these work really well, keep water out, and especially fit kids well. Occasionally we’ll pack a small dive toy, like these dive gems.

6. Baby Hiking Carrier

Up until recently, I’ve usually worn baby M in a soft-structured carrier on our hikes while Dan wears a backpack with the food, camera equipment, etc. But now that we’re doing some longer hikes with our kiddos (and are especially planning some longer hikes this summer), I’ve found that it’s less comfortable to wear a toddler while very pregnant.

So we started researching a great framed backpack carrier for hiking to add to our summer travel essentials and finally decided on this one. We really liked that it has lots of storage space, so it makes it easy for Dan to still carry the heavier camera stuff while also wearing our toddler. We’ve only used it a few times but it’s been an absolute dream – it’s SO well made and fits him so comfortably. The frame also helps distribute the weight to his hips and also keeps it off his back, which is also cooler and more comfortable. It’s a new summer travel essential for us when hiking with kids!

If you’re considering something like this, all REI Co-op Members get 20% off one full-priced item during their Anniversary Sale – perfect for an investment piece like this to include in your summer road trip packing list. (Just the free shipping and member rewards are more than worth the one-time $30 fee for a lifetime REI Co-op membership, and there are so many other benefits. You can sign up to become an REI Co-op Member right here.)

summer vacation packing list

7. Camera + Spotting Scopes

Seeing wildlife is a really fun part of summer travel for families, and we love being able to capture that with these summer packing essentials. Photography can be such a fun hobby and I recommend practicing the basics on inexpensive equipment to start out.

That said, I absolutely looooove our camera – it’s such a fantastic piece of equipment for anyone who is into photography. If you’ve already spent time improving your skills and feel confident in shooting in manual mode, it’s really terrific. This is my most used lens, and I love this one (along with a doubler for really far stuff) for wildlife. I also love using this lens for big landscapes.

We recently got these mini spotting scopes for kids for summer travel and I think they’ll be just perfect. They’re powerful enough to be useful, but small enough that they’re easy to pack and for each child to have their own. I can’t wait to use them in the wild!

Finally, the GoPro is an absolute must for summer travel packing – it’s great for taking on adventures or for filming underwater adventures!

8. Sunscreen/Insect Repellent

For sure one of the most important summer travel essentials for kids. This is our favorite sunblock for kids – it’s a mineral sunblock that blends and protects so well (and is reef safe). It also comes in stick and spray form. I also really love this mineral sunscreen (that also smells amazing). I personally love this facial sunscreen to go under makeup. We always have this in our vehicle for summer adventures and on our summer road trip packing list.

When we’re in very buggy areas (or in areas where mosquitoes have a greater risk of carrying disease), we always use this Deet-based lotion repellent. It works super well and stays on for a long time. When we’re not as worried about diseased mosquitoes, we really like this kind because it’s very effective, gentler on skin, and doesn’t smell. In places where bugs are more aggressive, we really love using these insect head nets to keep them off our faces and to be more comfortable when outside. They work great!

9. Warm Sleeping Bags & Blankets

When we’re in the RV (or if we’re tent camping), nights can get cold so the REI Kids down 25 bags are great for extra warmth even in very cold temperatures and pack down small. Great to keep with your summer packing essentials! We also really love these puffy blankets that pack down small, wash easily, and are super warm (I especially love the National Park prints).

We also really like having some sort of mat or blanket to sit on when relaxing or eating outside. I love these mats because they’re waterproof on the bottom, clean easily, and fold down small.

packing list for summer

10. Folding Bags + Wet/Dry Bags

These are a lifesaver when traveling – you can open them when needed (clean laundry, groceries, whatever) and then fold and store them after. The REI Co-op Roadtrip 60 duffel folds small but holds a ton.

We also love adding a few wet/dry bags to our summer vacation packing list to contain swimsuits or other wet items to keep everything else from getting soaked.

11. Waterproof Rain Gear

Nothing ruins adventures like being soaked so we always include rain gear in our summer vacation checklist. This rain jacket is terrific. This summer, I was totally converted to rain pants, as well – keeps everyone cleaner and much more comfortable (and I love that that pair has an adjustable waistband). I love this zip up coverall for toddlers (here’s another option for toddlers). Here are the adult versions we have and love: women’s rain jacket, women’s rain pants, men’s rain jacket, men’s rain pants.

Depending on if we’ll be spending a lot of time on boats or near water, or if we’re walking in tide pools and such, rain boots can also be a great option. (We loved them in Olympic National Park, for instance.) We love Hunter rain boots because they’re the only ones we’ve used that actually last through multiple kids without cracking. We have the classic yellow ones in both adult and kid sizes. I’ve also heard terrific things about Bogs.

12. Quick-Dry Travel Towels

Summer usually means some sort of water play, so we always like traveling with a few quick-dry travel towels. In the RV, we love these Turkish bath towels for our summer vacation essentials as they dry fast and don’t take much space (and everyone has their own color). We also always take a few microfiber towels to pack along on hikes or to the beach (we always fly with a couple of those, as well).

what to pack for summer vacation

13. Water Bottles

Hot weather means everyone needs to stay hydrated, so insulated water bottles are definitely a summer travel essential for us. I like this hard spout insulated sippy for babies and young toddlers. THIS and THIS are great travel water bottles for younger kids. I also like this one (which is surprisingly spill-resistant, but the straw can get dirty since it doesn’t have a cover).

My older kids absolutely LOVE this water bottle for our summer travel must haves – it’s a great size, fits in a side pocket, and keeps drinks cold for sooo long. For adults, we really love THIS one and THIS one.

14. Sunglasses & Hat

Eye protection is important year round, but especially as one of our summer travel essentials when the sun is strong. I love this hat for babies that can also go in the water. I also love the look of these and these sunglasses.

15. Entertainment

We try not to overpack in the entertainment department, but it’s nice to have a few things to do on your summer packing list. For our road trip essentials for kids, we always pack our kids’ Kindles, some audiobooks, a couple small Ziplocs of LEGOs, and maybe some crayons and paper. Here are a few other ideas for road trip activities for toddlers.

Other Ideas

Here are a few other things that we consider depending on the location

  • Bear spray. This is super important if traveling to bear country. Be prepared, have it accessible, and make sure you know how to use it. Most of all, take other bear precautions (food storage, make noise) so you hopefully will never need to use it. (And be sure to check regulations for crossing borders/flying with bear spray as it’s considered a hazardous item.)
  • Inflatable boat. Obviously this isn’t something we’d take when flying, but we LOVE having ours with us when in the RV or road tripping in the car with a car top carrier. We’ve gotten tons of use out of it and love putting it in at places where we’d otherwise have to spend a ton of money to rent a canoe or kayak (and this allows us all to be in the same boat). It’s so fun! We have the one that holds up to 5 adults – it has a 1300lb capacity so works great for our whole family.

There you have it – some of our best summer travel essentials for families. Hope it helps on your own summer adventures!!

summer packing list

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