Cost-Saving Tips for Families Packing Checked Suitcases and Baby Gear

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Ah, the art of packing checked suitcases for a whole family.

Most travelers would agree there is an art to packing, but when you find yourself juggling extra diapers, teddy bears, children’s books, baby-friendly sunblock and insect repellent, a car seat and two extra toddler-size outfits for each day of your vacation–all while a helpful little elf manages to unpack as quickly as you can work, art goes out the window. 

If you’re like many parents, you may find yourself struggling in the final hours to get everything into the suitcase and fast–before your child wakes up and it’s time to head to the airport!

Whether you’ve got the luxury of time on your side, or you’re racing the clock, here are three important–and potentially cost-saving tips you’ll be glad you put to work.

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1. Weigh your family’s suitcases … BEFORE they do!

If you’re packing baby wipes, baby food, formula, DEET-free insect repellent, or baby-friendly sun block—or all of the above, remember these things can all add a lot of weight in just a little space.

Digital luggage scale for checked and carry on baggage
A little luggage scale can save you from big, inconvenient surprises at the airport when checking in as a family.

Weighing your suitcases before you leave home will help you know that you’re on track, and will allow you to shuffle items between bags to help distribute the weight all without an airport audience or holding up the queue (been there, not going back).

Remember, virtually all airlines place a 50 lbs. limit on checked suitcases, and they are not obligated to average the weight across the number of bags checked for your family.

Helpful hint: If you’re worried you won’t be able to purchase baby or toddler essentials at your destination, you might consider shipping your favorites ahead using

2. Measure up. When packing for a family, know how big is too big — and keep the tape measure handy in case.

With young children, we waved goodbye to the days of carry-on only travel. So much for packing it all into one self-contained carry-on or backpack for each of us to manage!

A large rolling duffle bag that works well as a checked suitcase for a family.
This Olympia 33″ rolling duffle bag meets most airline size requirements for checked baggage in linear inches. Just don’t over stuff those handy outer pockets!

Instead, getting one enormous suitcase or duffle bag that we could stuff copious amounts of light and fluffy blankets, toys, buntings, and awkward-shaped gear sometimes made the most sense. After all, the fewer items to juggle at the airport or to load and unload from the car on road trips the better.

That is until someone decides to play the “linear inches” card on you as you check in for your flight. In addition to the 50 lbs. weight limit. Virtually all airlines have a 62 linear inch maximum for checked suitcases (length + width + depth).

If you’re packing a large suitcase or duffle bag for air travel, don’t wait for airline personnel to present a tape measure to find out if you’re within limits. Fees for exceeding 62 linear inches can be around $75 per bag, and if your bag is overweight – you can actually get fined on both accounts.

Packing checked baggage for multiple kids? See my post How to Pack 1 Checked Suitcase for 3 Kids at Family Travel 411.

3. Know your limits — as a family: Which baby gear items can be checked for free?

Most airlines still allow families to check a car seat and/or stroller for free as “essential” items, whether the travelers want to check the items at the front of the airport or at the gate (you may be expected to sign a damage waiver for these items).

Child's car seat in protective travel case with toys stuffed inside
A car seat travel bag may help get your car seat through the airport to check at your gate.

Baby travel beds, Pack ‘n Plays, or other various playpens are not considered essential by most airlines and may usually count as one paid passenger’s checked “bag” at the going rate. See some specific airline rules for checked baby gear in the “Need to Know” airlines series here.

If your portacrib is oversized, it may be subject to related fees (you may find help in recommended travel beds or the Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rental Agencies).

Helpful hint: If you’re (gate) checking a car seat or stroller, you can use a car seat travel bag or stroller travel bag for more than just protection. You can also take advantage of any extra space for your jackets, blankets, or other loose items you might want on arrival.

You can see my recommended car seat travel bags and carriers here, and recommended stroller accessories here. And don’t miss Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat Through the Airport.

For a quick look at the most family-friendly airlines, including available infant and child discounts and lap child luggage allowances, see the New Parents’ Guide to Airlines table in Travels with Baby.

Much more in the ultimate guidebook!

More tips and advice are on the way! For help for planning travel of every kind–with babies and children of every temperament–in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.

travels with baby book coverHave you seen the latest features at Family Travel 411?

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Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks

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What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411

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