Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like Military Family

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I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles in my lifetime. My first transatlantic flight was three months before I was even born. Thanks to the military, I’ve moved more than 25 times in my life and most of those moves involved suitcases and moving across the country or across the world. As any military family can tell you, there are tips for packing a suitcase that make moving your family much easier on everyone. 

top image- 4 different sizes of filled packing cubes, bottom image - neatly packed suitcase with packing cubes and military hat

I moved from the U.S. to Turkey when I was just 10 years old. I moved with two children under the age of four (and a 50 pound dog) from Japan to the U.S. I moved from Kansas to Hawai’i while six months pregnant and with two children under the age of seven. I moved from Hawai’i to the East Coast with three children under the age of nine. I’ve moved overseas with my own military uniforms and with my husband’s uniforms. Thanks to the military, I’ve moved under almost every circumstance imaginable.

gif of suitcase being neatly packed with packing cubes

Often after these arduous moves, we lived in temporary housing for weeks and even months. These tips are tried and true for keeping my family organized and helping my family settle into our temporary living situation quickly and feel more at home.

Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like a Military Family

Plan Your Outfits

Take the time to plan out how many and what types of outfits you’ll need for your travels. Carefully choose each outfit that you pack. Pack only outfits that fulfill your planned requirements. Do this for each family member. 

Consider

  • Length of Travel Time
  • Length of Time Living in Temporary Housing
  • Season and Temperature of Current Location
  • Season and Temperature of New Location
  • Packability of Clothing Items – Do they wrinkle easily?
  • Washability of Clothing Items – Choose sturdy wash and wear items when possible.
  • Mix and Match Clothing Items to Make Multiple Outfits
  • Two or Three Shirts to Go with One Pair of Pants, Shorts or Skirt

Plan Your Shoes

Choose the minimum pairs of shoes you’ll need for your situation. Avoid packing a pair of shoes that only go with one outfit, unless it’s a required uniform or formal outfit. Choose neutral shoes that will meet a variety of situations , for example that can go from casual activities to more formal ones.

Fold Outfits Together

folded t-shirts and one stacked with pair of shorts and socks

Pack complete outfits together. Include underwear, socks, belts and accessories. Packing complete outfits together makes it easy each morning to simply pull out one outfit bundle for each family member without having to tumble through everything in every suitcase to find what you need for an outfit (Imagine the unnecessary stress of finding socks, underwear, pants and tops for five people traveling every morning if the items are not packed together in an outfit bundle.). 

Use Packing Cubes

Why Use Packing Cubes

  • Easy to Organize Your Items by Family Member, Day, Event or Clothing Type
  • Easy to Neatly Pack Your Suitcase
  • Keeps Items Neat and Clean During Travel
  • Easy to Remove and Relocate Items If Your Suitcase Is Too Heavy at the Airport
  • Easy for TSA to Inspect Your Suitcase and Keep it Neat
  • Easy to Unpack Place Items in Hotel or Temporary Living Situations
4 different colors and sizes of filled packing cubes

I’m so impressed with EzPacking Cubes (use code SUSAN15 to receive 15% off your order). They’re well made from easy-to-clean plastic that is sturdy enough to hold up to many, many military moves. They hold their shape which means fewer wrinkles in clothing. They’re clear so you can easily spot the exact item your family members are looking for.

Pack Shoes in Bags to Keep Other Items and Your Suitcase Clean

blue cloth shoe bag on white table

Use travel shoe bags to keep the inevitable dirt and germs that are on shoes away from the rest of your clothing items. 

Pack Each Family Member’s Items Separately

I pack each family members’ items together. Sometimes that means each person has their own suitcase. Sometimes my children share a suitcase and then I pack each child’s items on one side of the suitcase with no intermingling. It makes it much easier to find each family member’s items when everything is packed separately.

5 brightly colored packing cubes on white table

I love that EzPacking cubes come in a variety of colors. Any family with more than one child tends to have colors assigned to each family member. Packing each family member’s outfits and items in separate color-coded packing cubes makes it quick and easy for everyone to find their own items (without messing up anyone else’s items! Yes, I have three children and speak from experience.). With five in my family and five different packing cube colors, there are no mix-ups or confusion in finding clothes each morning no matter how chaotic our life moving is. Different colored packing cubes also makes it easy for multiple family members to share a suitcase, which means less luggage to drag around the world when you’re moving.

EzPacking cubes come in four different sizes with travel folding boards for the two clothing sized cubes to ensure your clothing fits perfectly. 

You can choose individual EzPacking cubes in each different color or you can even split the Complete Bundle into two colors that you specify for the best value. 

Keep Like Items Together

small packing cube filled with military insignia next to military hat and tie

While I pack outfits together, there are some items that need to be packed together depending on your travel situation.

Items to Pack Together

  • Military Uniform Items
  • Toiletries
  • Hair Accessories
  • Swim Suits
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Ties
  • Belts
  • Scarves
  • Sleepwear
  • Winter Accessories
  • Medication
  • Toys
  • Personal Items
small pink packing cube with hair clips and pink hairbrush

Consider Items to Pack in Your Carry-On

Packing a carry-on is always important, but as a military family there are often additional items that have to be carried. Consider your personal situation and pack only the items you must have in your carry-on. Yes, each child with a seat is authorized a carry-on but when you’re traveling across country (or the world) with young children, you will end up carry all those carry-ons along with exhausted children. Purposefully minimize the weight that you’ll be lugging around the world. 

Items to Consider Packing in Your Carry-On

Important Documents

Valuables, jewelry, etc.

Laptop, tablet, other necessary electronics

Charging Cords

Earbuds

Medication

Toothbrush

Hair Brush

Change of Clothes

Blanket

Small Pillow

Toys

Baby Items

Snacks

Empty Water Bottle

2 small filled packing cubes

Using small packing cubes to organize the categories of items in your carry on will make finding that one item you need in the dark on a crowded plane much easier and less stressful (Yes, I’ve had baby toys fall out and roll all the way to the back of the plane. Don’t be me.)

If you’re a military family (or travel like one), you need to check out EzPacking’s many packing tools. They’re a mother-son company that is still small enough to care about every order and send you a personalized card with your order (I am so charmed by that personal touch!). EzPacking was started when Monica (the mom) was frustrated in packing to send her child off to college. Their philosophy is to make a mom’s job easier (thank you!!).  Monica’s son, Salo, works with her and as a mom, I think that’s just the best testimony of all. They pack and send orders out in a couple of days so you don’t have to wait to get packing and ready for your travels. They ship your order out often in the same, but ask that you allow one business day for processing.  They’re happy to mail to APO/FPO/DPO addresses, which is perfect for military families stationed all over the world. 

Use code SUSAN15 to receive 15% off your order at EzPacking.com.

These are tried and true tips for packing a suitcase that have worked for this military family. What are your favorite packing tips?

open suitcase with pink lining and floral shoes

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8 Comments

  1. Susan, these are really great packing tips. I love these cubes also. I have moved about as many times as you have and have a few tips of my own. I think many of our tips are the same. I always make sure I pack a few plates and eating utensils when we have moved. You never know where you will be staying and if necessary you can grab food at a grocer store and eat in the hotel.

  2. I’m not a military member but travel a lot, and my tip for travel is to pick 3 colors that go together and pack accordingly. My favorite 3 are blue, white and black in summer, black, red and white in winter. Seems like a boring color combo but they work together and no thinking required. Loved all of your ideas and the packing cubes idea. Your website is fabulous and so helpful!

    1. Love the tip, Laura. My mom was always good at doing that and her color choices were the same as yours so I know you’re a brilliant woman. šŸ™‚

  3. This is such a helpful post! I never thought about all the details involved in packing. When we go on vacation, we do pack the shirt and shoes together, but I never thought of packing the entire clothes for the day together, that would make it much easier. I’ve never seen those cubes before, but they look useful and I like that we can color code them for different family members.

    1. Packing everything for an outfit together makes traveling with 5 people so much easier. Hope these tips help on your next trip, Brenda. And the EzPacking cubes are top quality and a huge help in packing, too.

  4. I like packing cubes as well. If you want, you can group dirty clothes inside of them home for easy laundry (e.g. all items to be bleached in one cube). You sure have moved a lot. I have tremendous respect for military families and the amount of logistical upheaval you deal with. My sister’s husband was in the navy and they lived in Key West. I will always remember when there was a hurricane concern, her husband would be off to take the plane to safety and the hurricane prep was left for her to do alone. Hats off to military service people and their families!

    1. Love the idea about packing dirty clothes separate for laundry when you get home (or to a laundry), Seana. My husband is a pilot, too, so I can so relate to your sister’s situation. Good thing military spouses are strong, strong people. šŸ™‚

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