The ultimate holiday checklist for families

hat with passports

Have you ever experienced any disasters while travelling abroad? It’s impossible to prepare for everything that might go wrong. But a decent holiday checklist for families can take a lot of the stress out of preparing to go away.

This post brings together some of my best travel tips, and it’s also an advertorial feature in collaboration with Sainsburys Bank Travel Insurance. I hope you find it useful!

I’ve been lucky enough never to have misplaced, or forgotten my passport. But a new study from Sainsbury’s Bank Travel Insurance reveals that 1.4 million holidaymakers have forgotten their crucial travel documents before leaving the UK. It’s a figure that’s close to home. My own mum once left her passport and foreign currency at our house in London, when I drove her to Heathrow Airport for a flight to Italy. Luckily we were able to grab the services of a speedy taxi company, who ferried the precious documents to our terminal in the nick of time.

Not so lucky, though, were some hapless friends of ours. They lost all their family’s passports somewhere between airport security and their departure gate. They weren’t allowed to board the plane, and their passports never showed up. They missed out on a much-needed holiday to Switzerland, which they’d been looking forward to for months.

So: number one on any travel checklist will always be, make sure you have your passport. Especially because travel insurance policies typically don’t cover forgotten passports. But for practically every other eventuality, travel insurance is a must. However careful you are, there’s always the risk of flights being cancelled, your luggage going walkabout, the hotel being overbooked…… and more. Sainsburys Bank, who I’ve often used for my travel money because of their competitive currency rates, also offer travel insurance. It’s definitely worth looking into their deals, to give you peace of mind on the trip.

Holiday essentials: before you pack anything else

Swimsuit, sunglasses, favourite novel……if you forget any of these, it’s a pain. But if you leave behind your essential travel documents, it’s disasterous. You just can’t go on holiday. So they really have to come first. Sainsbury’s Bank has given the ultimate five top tips for travel preparation. These are the ‘must-do’ essentials.

  1. Schedule a diary reminder: Write on your wall calendar, or put a diary reminder in your phone, to check all travel documents at least a couple of weeks before your departure date. Print out your travel insurance policy, so that you have a paper copy to hand on your trip.
  2. Locate your passport: It’s easy to put your passport in a ‘safe place’ and forget where it is. Don’t get caught out: check your passport before you pack your suitcase. Bear in mind that you need an ESTA if you’re going to the States, or an eTA for Canada. You’ll need to have at least six months remaining on your passport for many countries. If your passport is damaged, you may also be refused travel. So ‘the dog ate my passport’ just isn’t a good enough excuse!
  3. Check insurance cover for travel disruption: Check whether your travel insurance policy covers any unforeseen changes to your holiday plans, like being unable to get home due to poor weather.
  4. Consider weather woes: Make sure you leave in plenty of time to get to the airport, especially in adverse weather conditions. You should also check that your insurance policy covers you missing a flight as a result. If you’re heading to the slopes this year, see if your travel insurance has winter sports cover and also includes weather delays, road closures and misplaced lift passes.
  5. Create a checklist: Holidays can be stress-free if you have a good checklist to refer to. Create a holiday packing list at least a week before you travel, so you don’t leave behind anything you need.

So………the upshot of the ‘foundation’ checklist is, make another checklist. The type of list, though, depends on where you’re going, and at what time of year. I’ve pulled together some of my own travel packing lists, so that you can select the right one for your own family getaway.

What to take on holiday: basic first-aid kit

When you’re travelling with children, it’s vital to pack some basic first aid supplies. Bruised and bloody knees, as well as temperature spikes, are all common occurrences with kids. You don’t want to be searching for a pharmacy at 11pm, and struggling to make yourself understood in a foreign language.

Here’s what we pack:

  • antiseptic cream
  • painkillers – for adults, as well as syrup-based painkillers for the kids
  • wound-cleaning wipes or gauze
  • sterile dressings
  • bandage tape
  • plasters
  • tweezers
  • scissors
  • a thermometer
  • antihistamines
  • suncream and other sun protection
  • sunburn treatment
  • insect repellent
  • insect bite treatment
  • medication for pre-existing medical conditions – for us, this is our son’s asthma


  • EHIC cards – ie, European Health Insurance Cards, which allow EU nationals to access healthcare in an EU country outside of their own. It’s not clear what will replace these for British travellers after Brexit. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

What to pack for a holiday: self-catering

If you’re staying in a holiday park, villa or gite, you might need to pack a little differently to when you stay in a hotel. Here are some suggestions for what you might want to take.

  • Swimwear and water aids
  • Inflatable toys for the pool

If your villa or holiday park has a pool, then an inflatable dinosaur or giant unicorn can add a bit of extra fun in the water. And don’t forget water-aids for any non-swimmers in your family.

  • Beach towels

Most holiday parks offer towel hire as an option, but it’s worth taking a couple of big, fluffy towels for the beach or poolside.

  • Beach gear (if you’re staying near the coast)

Buckets and spades, a windbreak, fishing nets etc

  • Things to play with outdoors: kites, a football, boules set, frisby etc
  • Cycling helmets

Depending on your destination, helmets aren’t always available for hire along with bikes. So if you’d rather your child wore one, it’s best to take your own.

  • Torches

For a bit of night-time exploration of the outdoors.

  • Your children’s favourite soft toys
  • A nightlight, if your child is used to one

Villas, holiday parks and gites are often in the middle of the countryside, where you can see the stars. But it does get very dark in these places, so if your child is used to sleeping with a nightlight, it’s worth investing in a battery-operated model for travelling.

  • Washing powder
  • Toiletries
  • Loo roll and kitchen towel

You’ll probably be given some loo roll when you arrive at your self-catering place, and you can always buy some more in local supermarkets. But it’s always handy to have spares….

  • Washing-up liquid and dishwasher tablets

Some self-catering places provide welcome packs which include detergent – it’s worth checking.

  • Tea towels, cleaning cloths and products, handwash
  • Clingfilm and tin foil/beeswax wrap
  • Food staples

You’ll no doubt want to hit the local supermarkets on your holiday, to sample local produce. But it’s worth taking along staples like salt, pepper, and tea bags (which, of course, just aren’t the same outside the UK!)

  • Picnic gear: blanket, knives and forks, plastic plates

You’ll be given cutlery and dishes, but it’s worth taking your own for the journey there and back, or for day trips when you don’t want to take out the villa’s utensils.

  • Chargers: for phones, camera etc
  • Adaptor plugs
  • Speakers, headphones

Some holiday homes already have bluetooth speakers.

  • Toys and games, portable DVD player, iPad or tablet loaded up with games
  • Books, stickers, colouring pens etc

Clothes to take on holiday when you want to pack light

On a summer holiday, you want to look and feel fabulous. But when you have children to pack for, it’s sometimes difficult to leave home without tons of luggage. Here are some packing tips – what items of clothing to take when you need to just pack the basics, without compromising on style.

  • a decent swimsuit, bikini or tankini
  • another piece of swimwear. After all, hopefully you’ll be living on the beach or by the pool, so it’s good to be able to switch beach outfits. And swimwear packs down to fit into the tiniest corners of your suitcase.
  • a midi dress that’s relaxed enough for browsing in the local markets, but dressy enough for the evening.
  • a cool, swishy skirt that can be dressed up for the evening. Pleats work well.
  • Flat sandals with just a little bit of bling, so you can walk straight off the beach and into the bar.
  • Fun sunglasses
  • A floaty sarong that doubles up as a scarf, in case the temperature drops in the evening.
  • An elegant beach hat.
  • A large bag, with wide handles so it’s sturdy enough for sightseeing as well as sitting next to you on the beach.
  • A comfortable shirt or t-shirt, for covering up on the beach, or to pair with your skirt on ‘dress-down’ days.
  • Some shorts or leggings, for cycling round the island, or doing yoga on the beach at dawn.

What to pack for a ski trip, or a snowy winter holiday

If you’re heading for the snow, it’s best not to try to pack light, and skimp on warm clothes. So make sure you have access to decent, roomy luggage. You need to make sure you have space to fit in an extra jumper or six! Here are the things to pack for a winter getaway:

  • Suncream with a high SPF. It’s very easy to burn when you’re high up in the mountains. Pack miniatures, which you can slip into your children’s pockets for re-application over the day.
  • Sunblock for lips
  • Warm ski jackets. Unless you’re feeling super-flush, you only need one jacket each. People wear their daytime ski jackets everywhere, even to the bars at night.
  • Salopettes. You might want to consider taking a spare pair if you’re skiing for a whole week, as you’ll be wearing these all day.
  • Thermal layers, for legs and tops. Wool, or a high-grade polymer, is best. You’ll need to pre-warn any wriggly kids that they have to put these on before going outside. Mine hated layers when they were little!
  • Warm jumpers.
  • Invest in a good pair of children’s ski goggles. Don’t forget your own! We love our Electric anti-fogging goggles.
  • Sunglasses. You’ll need these as well as goggles, unless you want to sit in a piste-side cafe at lunchtime with your goggles on. Don’t be tempted to replace goggles with sunnies when you’re on the slopes. They’ll just fall off.
  • Hand warmers. You can buy packets that warm up when you snap them, or expose them to the air. These are great for slipping into kids’ pockets or boots, for when their hands and feet get cold. Some stay warm for eight to ten hours.
  • Decent gloves – ski gloves and wollen gloves. On all our family ski trips, the children have ended up with chilly fingers. A way to help prevent this is to double layer, with a warm woollen layer topped by a good set of waterproof ski gloves.
  • Warm ski socks. These are specially designed to be long enough to sit higher on the leg than ski boots, and prevent any chafing.

What not to pack for a first-time ski trip: skis, boots, poles, helmets. You can hire all these at the resort.


Is there a particular holiday checklist you’d like to see here? If so, let me know and I’ll be sure to add it.

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holiday checklist for families


  • Cathy
    February 27, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Some great packing ideas – and I completely agree, decent travel insurance has to be high on the list. I can’t believe the story about your friends who lost their passports AT the airport too – what a nightmare!

    • Nell
      February 27, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      I know – it was such awful luck. Imagine having to turn round and just head home…..

  • susanna
    February 28, 2019 at 6:47 am

    What a great list. I always brings plasters and they ALWAYS get used!

    • Nell
      March 4, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      You really can’t have enough of them….

  • Jenny
    February 28, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    What a great packing list! With the boys, we ALWAYS ensure we have insurance and we’re always looking around for the best deal for each trip. But your poor friends who missed their trip to Switzerland!

    • Nell
      March 4, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      I iknow. I was gutted for them.

  • Katja Gaskell
    March 1, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    I can’t believe your friends lost their passports completely, what a disaster! I’ve left my passport in a hotel safe before and only realised when I turned up at the airport. We always travel with insurance, it’s just not worth it if you don’t have it and something goes wrong. Great tips!

    • Nell
      March 4, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Yes, it was really bad luck for our friends. They really needed the break, too.

  • Emma Raphael
    March 1, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    Brilliant list, so many ideas AND Memories. I once lost my passport between getting off the plane and arriving at customs. That could have been interesting. I had to wait for an hour while they searched for it and found it on the plane!! I could still be there like Tom Hanks in The Terminal… 😀

    • Nell
      March 4, 2019 at 2:31 pm

      Phew! Now that would have been an unpleasant sojourn…..

  • Shalendra@adventure activities in Shimla
    September 9, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    The checklist is amazing. One thing that I never miss on my trips is sunglasses and the eatables because I felt hungry very fast.


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