Packing Light

30 May
Untitled by melissajonas
Untitled, a photo by melissajonas on Flickr.

I’m not generally a competitive parent, but I’ll admit I’m pretty darn proud of my ability to carry a small bag with great toys.

I’ve always been highly motivated to bring as little as possible when traveling. Now that I have a kid, traveling can mean a plane ride cross country or a light rail hop downtown. Either way, I bring as little as possible while still trying to make sure we have what we truly need. (Most of the same principals apply for flying with a kid–but that’s another post.)

The basics for all ages:

  • parent essentials: wallet, keys, phone. I wear these in a small string bag that never leaves my body.
  • diapers (and/or undies) & wipes–enough for at least 2 changes
  • change of clothes and a bag to carry wet things home
  • snacks (for parent and/or kid)
  • weather gear–sunscreen, extra hat, etc. to ensure that you can comfortably play outside
  • toys/books (for parent and/or kid)

If you haven’t spent much time around kids, you might not realize that the toys & books are probably the most important thing on this list. Pull out toys when you’re on the train, waiting for your order, or waiting for the check. I rely heavily on environmental distractions (dogs in the lobby, bus out the window, etc) but good purse toys are key. You need something portable and fun, but not precious enough that if it gets lost or dropped on a public bathroom floor the kid will freak out.

Some of our favorites have been: finger puppets, plastic eggs with surprises inside, a mini slinky, stickers, small cars, small dolls, etc. She loves the tiny clay I packed, but I’m reluctant to pull it out unless we’re going to be somewhere for a long time. It can be messy and it’s oil based, so we need to at least wipe hands if we’re going to eat. Sometimes I bring a couple of crayons, often I just let her scribble with the pen I keep in my purse. I sometimes carry small board books. This Richard Scarry is one of our mutual favorites–it’s a great size and has a lot going on. I try to avoid relying on gadgets, but a few good apps on your phone can keep an older toddler or preschooler happy. We like simple puzzles and have found some good coloring and bubble apps.

Snacks are also key to keeping your monkey happy. Pack portable, interesting snacks like: cucumbers with salt (vinegar if you really trust your container), carrot sticks, hummus, raisins, apple slices, olives, cheese & turkey cubes, etc. I found some great reusable cloth bags that help cut down our plastic consumption a lot. We’ve never been big on sippy cups, but I shared my travel mug with the kid until we finally lost it.  I generally only bring her water bottle when we’re using the stroller or driving–it’s heavy and we’d both be sad when it got lost. Try to pack things your kid will eat this trip. No one wants week old raisins or the same stale pretzels. If you pack food you (the parent) will eat, it won’t go bad.

Pack as little as you need in the smallest bag you can find. Bonus points if you bring a string bag inside your regular bag for shopping trips, etc. Not only is this environmentally responsible, it means you’re less likely to leave purchases somewhere–you’ll notice that string bag on the playground, but you might walk away from a plastic bag.

Remember to check your bag when you get home from an outing. Toss or launder anything you used and replace as needed. If you haven’t used any clothes lately, make sure they still fit and are the correct season.

Don’t be afraid to borrow or buy something you forgot. If you live in a city, you’re probably never far from somewhere that will sell you wipes or snacks. When out with friends, pay it forward by offering a diaper–you’ll need one someday. You can also improvise–paper towels doused in the sink work well if you forgot wipes, for example. When all else fails, head home.

I pack light so I can chase my toddler without abandoning my stuff. I like to be able to take the escalator or stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Mostly, I prefer to know where everything is at all times–including the kid. If I’m rummaging through 3 pairs of pants to find the raisins I’m positive I threw in the diaper bag, I may not notice when my daughter hides under the table at the library.

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