In the materialistic world we live in, kids are often surrounded with the newest gadgets and coolest toys. This new generation of kids are so used to living with things our parents and grandparents never needed or even heard of. It is when I really needed to pack a light day bag while towing two kids on my own across the European continent did I give serious thoughts as to what to pack in my day bag. What do I need to bring with me at all times when traveling with two kids? After countless day trips, overnight trips, international trips with babies and toddlers I have learned a thing or two about packing a carry on bag. When traveling with kids, bringing too much stuff can be hazardous or just down right exhausting. The balance between what you think you need and what you actually need is a tough equation to solve. Bringing items that are multifunctional is an excellent way to avoid over packing. Below is a list of items in my day bag; a list that has seen the tests of many trips and adventures.
Burp Cloth: Burp cloths are not just for babies. Even if your babies have out grown out of using a burp cloth, don't throw them away just yet. It can double as an emergency sling (tested), tissue (much more eco friendly than paper tissue and much more practical for runny noses), dish cloth, bib, scarf, light blanket, pillow case, bath towel...etc. It's amazing how one little piece of cloth can do so much!
Water bottle: It's especially important to keep kids hydrated while out and about. Keeping them hydrated not only for health reasons but it also prevent melt downs. Carrying a disposable water bottle can double as a portable potty for the boys. I have actually tested this in Amsterdam with my son. We were walking down the street on a Sunday morning and nothing was open, that was the moment when he needed to pee. I pulled him into a corner, provided him cover and he peed into the water bottle. After he finished his business, I screwed the cap back on and put it back in my bag until I see a garbage for disposal. The bottle saved me the hassle of running around frantically looking for a bathroom.
Hand sanitizer: All that bathroom talk leads straight to hand sanitizers. The antibacterial properties in hand sanitizers are essential when traveling to third world countries or just crowded places. You never know what kids touch while you're not looking. It's easy to pick one up in drug stores or make your own. I make my own antibacterial spray with rubbing alcohol and tea tree oil. Not only does this spray kill bacteria but I also use it to remove odors on fabrics the kids may have caused; such as vomit, pee pee, poo poo...etc.
Snacks: Here is another trick of preventing melt downs. Kids need breaks no matter how much fun they're having. Sitting down for some snacks can re-energize them and keep them in good spirits. I usually bring a trail mix of chocolate chips, almonds and cranberries/raisins. It's healthy but not messy. Another good snack option are rice/saltine crackers but watch out for crumbs. For a high protein snack, hard boil eggs is also a good option. They're easy to cook, easy to carry around. Note: Make sure you're not bringing tons of sugary snacks that can cause sugar highs and sugar crashes at the end of the day. High sugar intake can cause major melt downs in kids as well as adults.
Wet wipes: Kids can be sticky, messy, and oftentimes dirty. It's good to have around wet wipes for a wipe down after finishing a meal of spaghetti at a restaurant, a play session in the playground during a hot summer day.
Band aids: Kids are prone to scrapes and scratches. Whether you have girls or boys (especially boys), band aids will always be good to have handy. There is no need to let a small boo boo ruin a good trip.
Benedryl / Allergy medication: This is strictly for precautionary
measure for people who are prone to allergies such as myself and my son.
I've been on outings where suddenly my eyelids would swell up. I had no
idea what I ate or what I was exposed to to cause such reactions. But
luckily I always carry allergy medication on me. My eyelids start to deflate within 30 minutes of taking the medication. Take some allergy
meds with you if you know for sure you and your kids will be exposed to a
new environment and new foods. It can save you a trip to the emergency
room and lots of money.
Zip lock bags: Zip lock bags is a versatile item. I have used them as take out bags, to reseal unfinished snacks/juice boxes to prevent leakage and sticky messes, temporary garbage bag, air/car sick bag, waterproof bag, make up bag (especially at the airport). It is another versatile item to have in your day bag.
Optional Items (Good to have but not essential)
Diaper: Bring a diaper in your day bag even if your kids no longer use them. Diapers are useful for emergency toilet situations or if you know the public restrooms will be horrid.
Entertainment: Kids get bored easily. When going on long train rides or out for long dinners, it's good to have a few coloring/drawing/game books ready. I usually bring along Travel Doodles for occasions like this. This pack of 50 wipe-clean cards come with loads of games and activities. A more high-tech option would probably be an ipad/tablet PC. But going old school with books and Travel Doodles is a good way to limit kids' time on the ipad.
Things You Don't Need in Your Day Bag
Eating utensils: I have seen parents travel with bowls, plates, cups, forks, spoons, scissors and chopsticks...the whole set from home. Unless your child absolutely would not eat a single bite without them, chances are it's not necessary to have them in your day bag. The reason why some parents would bring loads of eating utensils is because there are sanitary concerns. However, unless you're going to third world countries where hygiene and sanitary practices are below par, a little rinse of the kiddies' eating utensils with some tea or hot water will suffice. If you're traveling with a baby who has just started solid foods, all you need is a teaspoon.
Toys: I agree that allowing kids to pick one toy to bring with them on the road makes them feel secure and safe. It's a piece of reminder of home and it's good entertainment when you're too busy to entertain them. But filling half of your bag with toys is not only unnecessary but it will also interfere with the quality of your kids' time on exploring new things. The objective of traveling and day tripping is to see and experience things that won't be available to you at home. I have traveled with my kids for 3 months in Europe and I've never heard them complain once that they miss their toys at home. There are so much more out there that captures and is worthy of their attention.
Full size bottles: Packing light is hard when traveling with a baby. Your baby bag probably contains diaper rash creams, lotions, milk bottles, formula, a chew toy, baby powder, diapers, wet wipes...etc. And that's just the basics. I recommend switching out all the full size containers for travel size containers. You won't need more than 2 days' worth of supplies in your day bag at one time.
There is a correlation between how you pack your day bag and how ready you are for your day. The more you pack doesn't mean you're more ready. But bringing the right things along with you can make your trip infinitely better. Lastly, a good rule of thumb is: if you don't have it, you probably don't need it; and if you do need it, improvise and compromise.