Travel season in here. After Mr. Napping and I got married, we would make spontaneous trips together on occasion. When kids started to join our family, it didn’t take us long to realize that spontaneously traveling with kids is incredibly hard and stressful. Over the past (almost) six years, I’ve developed a list of things that we take on our travels. Of course there are the typical things like snacks and things to keep the kids entertained and busy while we’re on the road. I’ve written those posts, but this one isn’t like that. These aren’t things that will excite the kids and help time pass as you put more and more miles behind you. This list will help you, yes, you momma, make the trip as smooth and hassle-free as possible. This is a list of the 12 things we always take with us when we are traveling with kids, no matter where we’re going. Or at least try to always take with us – because no one is perfect and even I still forget the essentials some times… like a bottle for the baby, true story.
12 THINGS I NEVER LEAVE HOME WHEN I’M TRAVELING WITH KIDS
1. A good water bottle. We love these Nalgene 12 ounce bottles. Each of our kids has their own and they are amazing. They are some of the best spill-proof cups I’ve found (and I’ve tried A LOT of cups). They can be a little hard to suck through at first because the spill-proof valve is so stiff, but Baby N (15 months) manages alright with the one he got last week. Over time, they aren’t as difficult to suck through. If it’s a major issue, you can take the valve out (but then the cup isn’t spill-proof). I will usually do that when I want Baby N or Little J to do some serious drinking. Short car rides are perfect for this. Even if they drop it, it won’t be upside down long enough to make a huge mess. I usually leave them in for longer rides or when they are in the diaper bag. One of my very favorite things about these cups though is that they are incredibly easy to clean. Big J took his bottle to Disneyland a couple years ago and it was perfect! These are definite must-haves in the car! Available in orange, blue, green, pink, purple. Designer options are also available. I opted for solid ones, hoping the bottles will grow with my boys. I have a hard time picturing my 7 or 8 year old using even the car design cup.
2. Toss-and-Go Containers. I love these Take and Toss containers because they are cheap and easy to replace. Sure they hold things like snacks, but they also come in handy for the rock collection my 3-year old adamantly refuses to leave at the park. Put them all in a container and then I’m not finding rocks rolling around my car three months after I think I’ve thrown them out. They are also pretty great for splitting things up into serving sizes. Because do you really want to hand your 5 -year old the entire bag of beef jerky? Mine would down that in 20 minutes, without a second thought. And he sits in the 3rd row of our minivan so handing him a new piece every three minutes isn’t really convenient (or terribly safe). I can fill up a take and toss container, pass it back once and when it’s gone he knows his snack time is over. I actually keep one of these in my diaper bag for the spill-proof valves from the bottles above.
There are lots of options when it comes to the Take and Toss line: sippy cups, sippy cups with handles, cups with straws, bowls, small containers, even silverware or a combo set with a little bit of everything. I’ve seen most of this line at my local Wal-Mart and that’s often where I get mine. Amazon prices change and they aren’t always the cheapest, so you might want to check there if the doorstep delivery isn’t super important to you.
4. Wet bags. Without fail, it seems like every road trip has someone leaking out of a diaper, having an accident, spilling their entire cup of water or juice or – my personal fave – milk, or just generally creating a gigantic mess that requires immediate clean up. And they always seem to be wet and sticky messes. We didn’t do a whole lot of traveling with kids before wet bags were added to our list of items to take. You can collect plastic grocery sacks and use those, if you want. I really like this Skip Hop bag. Not only is it perfect for those unexpected car-tastrophies, it’s fantastic to take to the beach or lake or pool too. It’s designed for cloth diapers and holds 9-10 of those, according to the listing. Or speaking from experience, it’ll hold around two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of pants, a pair of undies and a small lightweight blanket. Or three little boy swim suits and a momma swimsuit. The mesh pocket on the front is just perfect for three lightweight sets of clothing. We’re talking like knit pants and t-shirts, just to help give you an idea on that pocket’s capacity.
5. Pen and a pad of paper. This serves multiple purposes. It’s where I keep the list of things we forgot to pack and need to get at the store. It helps entertain the children while we wait for… well, anything really. When I’m getting the address of the friends we’re staying with over the phone and I need to write it down, it goes in my little book. I’ve used it to leave a note on a cousin’s windshield when we separated during an outing and unexpectedly needed to leave, but couldn’t get a hold of them to let them know. I’ve even used it to collect blog post ideas. It’s just a handy thing to have. My kids love the multicolor pens. If it wasn’t such a big hit with them, I’d probably just carry a single color pen; but, during the last ten minutes of a grocery store shopping trip, I’ll use just about anything to get us out of that store without a major meltdown. I like a spiral bound book because it’s easy to rip out shopping lists (6 colors available!).
6. First Aid Kit. You might have one of these in your car, but do you really know what’s in it? Is it really stocked and ready to go? You can buy a kit already assembled or put your own together. You might also want to consider when and where you will be traveling. We tend to use a lot of band-aids and first aid ointment, so I try to pack extras of those. I’ve often used them and forgotten to replace them and that makes an unfortunate situation a bit more miserable. Before a road trip, it’s important to check that out and make sure you really are prepared for the unspeakable. Easy access is also something to consider when you’re packing this into the car.
7. Extra blanket. This is just an extra blanket we have around the house. We usually leave it in the back of the car routinely and we use it all the time. Kids ran through the sprinklers at Grandma’s and you’ve got no extra clothes? You have groceries you need to keep cold? Extra insulation for a cooler? Forgot the picnic or beach blanket? If your cargo area is open, like in our minivan, you may want to use it to cover some of your luggage. You should always take valuables with you when you leave your vehicle. I’m thinking more along the lines of keeping things out of hours and hours of direct sunlight. A cotton blanket is great for wrapping up kids or using it as a picnic or beach blanket. Our blanket, though, is similar to the wool one. It works really well for insulating a cooler or other groceries and keeping the sun from baking our belongings. It also makes a nice changing pad for unexpected parking lot diaper changes.
8. Non-perishable snacks. Granola bars, nuts, jerky, crackers, applesauce, fruit cups and other things you can keep in the glove box. Once you get to where you’re going, you’re probably not going to stay put. My trip diaper bag is not my typical diaper bag. There aren’t usually any snacks in my trip diaper bag. I have forgotten to pack snacks, thinking they were already in the bag and taken off for the day with no food for my kids. My kids have serious hungry anger management issues. No snacks is no good. They may also come in handy if you end up in a survival situation. Of course, you should trade these out once or twice a year and replace them when they get used. Ideally, your snacks won’t have anything in them that would melt or freeze in the extreme temperatures that cars can be left in, but if you need some chocolate drizzled on your oats and grains, I totally get it.
9. Wet wipes. Not just for diaper changes. We go through a lot of wet wipes when we travel. It’s just easy and convenient. Hand washes, face washes, cleaning up messes, wiping off public tables, snack spill clean-ups, feet washes before bed, cleaning up a bloody nose at the store. I’ve used wipes for every single one of those purposes. With three young kids, I pretty much always have a wet wipe within a few hundred feet. I carry two bags in the diaper bag, a small pack in my purse and keep one in the car. No less than three times, I have used wipes from each of those locations at least once in the time span of a 5-hour outing. Fool me once… Now I just take them and figure better safe than sorry. Life’s messy… especially when you’re traveling with kids. There are even antibacterial wipes for a little extra clean.
10. Sewing Kit. Nothing fancy, just something to stitch the crotch of your 5-year old’s pants back together when they rip at the playground. A needle and thread would cut it. If you plan to only use it in an emergency, it doesn’t even matter what color thread. You can get kits assembled with just about anything you could ever need for minor clothing repair or put together your own. You don’t have to be a great seamstress (seamster…? I really have no idea what the masculine form of that word would be…). It doesn’t need to look nice, but if you have a mishap while hiking, you’ll be glad you can patch it up a bit. It’s also a good thing to have in an emergency situation, in case you have to sew a tent from your clothing or even something more drastic than that.
I have tried a couple different methods and, honestly, can’t decide which I like better. Both have pros and cons. I’ve tried the hanging cosmetic bag and it’s great because every thing is all in one place and it’s easy to keep track of. I know exactly where all the medications are at all times. I’ve also tried smaller cosmetic bags that I can transfer from bag to bag easily. This is really nice to keep a small bag of children’s medicines in the diaper bag or the glove box, especially if someone is already sick (or teething!) before we even leave. It’s easy to get to and administer any medications if I need to.
In any case, I definitely like the transparent or semi-transparent bags that make it easy to locate what I’m looking for without opening a bunch of bags. And make sure you have the correct cups, syringes, droppers to measure and dispense the right dosage for each medication. It can be inconvenient to pack them all, but it will be so much better than an accidental over-dosage. Always medicate responsibly.
12. Battery charger pack. Whether you are a children’s screen time advocate on road trips or not, a portable battery pack that can charge your mobile devices on the go is definitely something worth traveling with. We actually have two of these Anker portable packs. Mr Napping got one a few months ago for his travels with work and I borrowed it last month when I went to my cousin’s wedding. It was super handy to be able to plug my phone in and just drop the charger and my phone in my purse. If you’ll be using your mobile device for directions, this is definitely something to consider. I decided to get my own so that it could pose double duty and be a back up charger in an emergency, should we find ourselves in that kind of situation.
The only time I have ever had to call 911 was to report a car accident around 10pm on a snowy night, somewhere out in the middle of the desert. The car in the accident had spun, flipped and gone off the road. There were no lights around. We were the only other ones out there. If we hadn’t seen the car flip off the road, I don’t know how long they would’ve had to wait for help. We used our headlights to light up the accident so my husband could see and check on the car’s occupants. We waited about 30 minutes for emergency vehicles to arrive. Our car battery died and the EMT’s had to jump start our car so we could continue on our way. Because it was so dark and we were between road signs and mile markers, I couldn’t pinpoint our location to the emergency dispatcher when I made the call. They tracked our location via GPS on my phone. That would have been a terrible situation for my cell phone to run out of battery.