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

Waterproof Sandals for Families

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), 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 my 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. My older two kids love the Teva hiking sandals, but since they don’t have covered toes, I prefer the Keens until kids are at least 8 (and my 9.5 year old still loves them).

For the adults, Dan loves the close-toed men’s Keens (also HERE), and I love the open-toed Chacos. They feel very sturdy and supportive and they’ve served me well for years.

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!

Waterproof Hiking Boots for Families

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. We also like this pair of waterproof low shoes that are a cross between a sneaker and a hiking boot and lighter weight, but not quite as sturdy. Great for playground and school play!

For adults, here are the boots I love for me and for Daniel. I also often use waterproofing spray for some extra protection.

Wool Socks

Even when traveling in summer, we always pack along a few pairs of wool socks, even if we’re only packing sandals. They’re great to layer if it gets chilly, or for travel days on airplanes.

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.) – also available HERE. This is our other favorite brand – we’ve had some pairs for over a decade and they’re still going strong (currently on sale!).

2. Layers + Waterproof Outerwear

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 or wool mid-layer. 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. For outer layers, this is my favorite for women. For kids, we like these inexpensive, warm, and lightweight jackets that are good for layering. They’re definitely not waterproof, though, so in wet weather, we layer waterproof rain jackets (below) on top.

Waterproof Rain Jackets

In hot, wet weather, we typically only travel with a waterproof rain jacket as outerwear. It works for warmth (rain jackets tend to not breathe super well and help with wind and warmth on a plane if needed) but isn’t bulky and perfect for summer rainstorms. They also layer well on top of a mid layer or even a lightweight jacket if it’s quite cool.

Here is the rain gear we have and love for our whole family. If we know it will be quite wet, we pack lightweight rain pants, also – these are great for wearing over leggings or regular pants and staying dry and take up almost no space/weight when packing.

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.

I love these shorts for women, which dry fast and can also be worn in the water, and Dan loves this men’s version. Fleece, as I mentioned above, is also great for layering and dries quickly when washed – these fleece pants for my boys are great, as are these for men (Dan loves the fit). I love how durable these shorts for boys and shorts for girls are, and they dry really quickly.

summer holiday essentials

4. Backpacks

Backpacks are great either for day hikes or excursions. When we fly, my kids typically use a backpack 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), varying the size of pack depending on if we’re carrying on our clothing or putting it in a suitcase. We also always use backpack in the car for road trips as they help 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 for hiking.

Day Pack Backpacks for Families + Kids Travel Backpack

We really love these 18L kids hiking backpacks – they’re roomy, have several pockets, and 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. I also comfortably use this size for a women’s hiking day pack, and it’s the kids travel backpack our kids use from about age 5-8 as it’s roomy enough for a packing cube and all their stuff.

Starting around age 3, our kids use these hydration backpacks – they’re convenient & lightweight. 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! Once they’re a bit bigger (around age 5), they start hiking with this 12L kids hiking backpack that’s excellent and has a bit more space. The 12L kids hiking backpack is also the perfect size for a kids travel backpack starting around age 3!

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.

Overnight Kids Backpacking Backpack or Larger Kids Travel Backpack

When our kids get a bit bigger, we love these 40L kids backpacking backpacks for their carry on for all their stuff when traveling. It’s also excellent if you’re actually going backpacking with kids! Our older 3 kiddos (ages 13, 11, 9) + me all use this pack when traveling with only carry ons and it’s plenty roomy and very comfortable.

5. Swim Gear

You can’t have summer packing essentials without including swim gear. I like these inexpensive swim trunks for my boys. 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). I often do the same rash guards for my girls, or a one-piece rash guard suit.

Here are a few other options I love:

Girls: Rash guard, swimsuit

Boys: Rash guardtrunks

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. If we’ll be in pools a lot, we’ll pack a small dive toy, like these dive gems.

6. Baby Hiking Carrier

When our kids are tiny, I usually wear them in a soft-structured carrier on our hikes while Dan wears a backpack with the food, camera equipment, etc. But once we started doing some longer hikes with our kiddos (and we were hiking when I was very pregnant), we wanted something a bit sturdier that would allow us to carry a toddler for longer periods and also store gear and food in it.

We got this amazing framed backpack carrier a couple years ago and have absolutely LOVED it. We really liked that it has lots of storage space, so it makes it easy for one person to wear a kiddo and also our camera equipment + food. It’s been an absolute dream – it’s SO well made and fits both Dan and me so comfortably. The frame also helps distribute the weight to the hips and also keeps it off the back, which is cooler and more comfortable. It’s a summer travel essential for us when hiking with kids and we even shipped it to London. 🙂

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.

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 the whole family – it’s a mineral sunblock that blends and protects so well (and is reef safe). I also really love this mineral sunscreen (that also smells amazing). And I adore this facial sunscreen. It provides great mineral protection and has the prettiest rosy glow. (Use code LPF15 for 15% off our fave family sunscreen & my facial sunscreen.)We always have 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 or Picardin this spray. Both work super well and stay on for a long time. When we’re not as worried about diseased mosquitoes, we really like this all-natural kind because it’s very effective, gentler on skin, and smells amazing. It also comes in wipes that are great for travel (use code LPF15 for both). 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. It’s also really sturdy and we’ve used it several times to check items in as luggage if we only need to carry them one direction, then we can fold the bag down.

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. 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 travel with a couple microfiber towels when going on hikes, to the beach, or traveling. I especially love that brand because the ribbing makes them super comfy and absorbent, and they dry in a flash.

what to pack for summer vacation

12. 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).

We all absolutely LOVE this water bottle and this water bottle for our summer travel must haves – great size, fits in a side pocket, and keeps drinks cold for sooo long.

When traveling somewhere that doesn’t have safe tap water for drinking, or when we’ll be outdoors a lot and need to filter water sources, we absolutely love this filter water bottle. I love that you can filter the entire bottle at once and decant into other bottles, instead of only filtering while sipping through a straw. It’s really excellent.

Note: this bottle is not currently on sale, but it’s a great item on which REI members can use their 20% off one full price item. The membership is only $30 for LIFE, and you’d save $20 just on this one item (plus free shipping and lots of other perks, including this coupon each year), so it’s really worth it to sign up.

13. 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 personally love these sunglasses. Though it’s hideous, Dan loves this hat for sun protection.

14. 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 and screen-free flight activities for toddlers.

15. Emergency Satellite GPS Device

Safety is really important to us when traveling or hiking. We really love this little emergency satellite GPS device and it absolutely saved us when our RV broke down when we didn’t have cell service. It’s tiny and very portable and a really good thing to have on hand. It doesn’t often go on sale, but is currently $100 off!

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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