Saturday, March 7, 2020

Packing and Family Travel Gear

New family packing achievement unlocked! It took most of a day, with breaks for meals, Maggie pets, last Thursday's episode of Project Runway, and my first ever sunless tanning appointment, but we have five people packed for a 9 day international vacation with full snorkel gear for all, 25 pairs of shoes (only barely exaggerating? we needed several categories), a stocked medicine chest, food to stock the house for the first night, my suite of hair gear and products, toilet paper (the house stocks one roll and we're landing after the store closes), inflatable floats, waterproof gear, swimsuits and actual clothing for five. In FIVE suitcases: four carry-ons and one checked bag we had to accept because we had some liquids (reef safe sunscreen! bug spray! leave-in hair conditioner for the salt water!) that were over 3 ounces.

The big checked bag was a high school graduation gift in 2001 and was my only bag for a 4-week Europe trip after college and look at it, still chugging along. Makes me proud.

(except not; that's like a quarter)

Travel is probably the topic I've gotten the most questions on through the years (at least once the "should I have a baby in law school?" questions tapered off with my increasing distance from being in law school. I've been an attorney for nearly 12 years y'all and this Thursday is my EIGHTH anniversary at the SEC, though the answer I'd give is probably still "sure! if you would have one at that point in your life anyway."), so since we're about to embark on another international adventure, I thought I'd round up a few of our travel gear and logistics we've worked out through the years and ask you about your own! (Particularly since most of these things were items one of you recommended in my comments over the years!)

I've written generally about our road trip logistics here, when I was wrapping up our Colorado/Utah National Park Road Trip in 2016. And though it's 4 years old, I just re-read it and nodded along in full agreement with the author, even if I was dismayed at some of the formatting I can't seem to fix. So I reiterate all of that.

We've evolved a bit on the in-car entertainment. James's built-in DVD player broke, so the kids each have Kindle Fires now. They're cheap and you can use micro SD cards to massively expand their storage and between Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime they can download tons of movies before we leave. Their Kindles live in my desk drawer and come out ONLY for travel, so the kids are usually pretty pumped for an all-day road trip. Also, since we don't use them for restaurants, doctor appointments, sibling activities, or literally anything else with the potential to be long and boring and involve well-behaved waiting, they've learned the art of managing their own boredom while waiting for something which comes in VERY handy while traveling. When we fly the Kindles are available once we're through airport security and until we land, then they're packed away again until we're back at the airport to go home. If our rental home doesn't have a TV we'll sometimes bring them back out for some individual chill time later in the trip, but generally, we're pretty busy and they play together well so they don't ask.

I still pack their suitcases (with their input; LOTS of input), but each kid handles their own carry-on, which they present to me for approval the night before we leave ("No Cora, the tambourine stays here," etc.). Even now that they're older and have their Kindles and can read and entertain themselves, I still like to stick in something new and fun as a surprise once they open them up on the plane or in the car. This trip it was a new activity book from the dollar store and some colored pens. They get as excited about this as I do. Also new this year: personal hand sanitizers and Lysol wipes! Virus killers for everyone!

Each kid also picks out a few snacks and gets a packed lunch added to their backpack before we go. I refuse to buy food in the airport and since they prefer to sit all together in a row separate from James and me, I pack assuming we won't see them again until after we land. Oh and they each have water bottle we fill after we're through security.

Tiny Traveler!

On to gear! Travel gear is my favorite category of holiday gift guide. Over the years we've gathered some gear that has been really helpful and a great investment (or just a great gift that I love getting to use!), here is some of it: Let me know your favorite things too!

Family Passport Holder. Not at all necessary, but when you're keeping track of five passports and other travel documents, I love this little passport wallet I got on Etsy a few years ago. It now also holds our travel immunization books and I love that I can toss it in my purse and have all the passports together to take out when needed.

Matching Engraved Luggage Tags. Also not necessary, but we have five of these in a bright green and they're super sturdy, the writing is very clear, and I never have to worry about our names on our luggage.

Suitcases. We're generally a carry-on only family, so we each have our own personal suitcase. James and I had ours for a while, but we got the kids some a few years ago when we realized we didn't have to check bags anymore and they could get their own suitcases through the airport. I got these on sale from Target and they've been on 4-5 trips so far and seem to be doing great!

Packing Cubes
. I'm obsessed with these. We got the kids some at the same time we got their suitcases, so everyone has a color that belongs to them and it makes everything so easy as we move from airports to hotels to rental homes and more. I was skeptical on the cubes when I first read about them, but now I won't pack without them. It's like adding drawers to your suitcase to make it a dresser. You can use one for different parts of your vacation or different categories of packed items. Generally I have one for day clothes, one for pajamas, and one for socks and underwear for the kids. It keeps the suitcase organized and makes it super easy to unpack/repack along the way.

Travel Jewelry Case. I got this for Christmas 3 or 4 years ago and it's just the perfect little jewelry holder. I love the size, love that it has these removable dividers to stack larger necklaces or bracelets, and love the multiple options for earring storage. I also always stick my travel white noise machine, charger, and bedside chapstick inside so they're easily available at my destination.

Electronic Gear:

RapidX X5 Car Charger with 5 USB Ports. The best for rides in cars built before they started adding USB ports everywhere. We use this little guy for road trips (it reaches easily between all 3 rows) and in our rental cars after all devices have died on the plane ride over. I's small and great and has been on every trip for the last 5 years.

Anker 60W 6-port USB charger
. My love. I bought this 5 years ago and it goes on every single trip we take and lives next to my bed at home to charge devices while I sleep. I love it so much I chose it as my "favorite thing" to give to my girlfriends last year at our Christmas party.

Belkin 3-outlet 2-USB Surge Protector with Rotating Plug
. Not quite as beloved as the former charger, but this is great for hotel rooms and rentals that often don't have enough plugs in the bedroom, especially since we both both travel with laptops, and for the two extra USB ports. Between the two, we're well covered and it's easy to pack along.

Travel White Noise Machine. A blog reader told me about this (from the same company who makes my beloved nightly white noise machine that I used to travel with; I know iPhone apps can do the same thing, but I swear it doesn't sound the same), and I love it for travel. I store it in my travel jewelry case and it buzzes me to sleep no matter where I am.

Warm Weather/Water Destination Items:

Waterproof Pocket Picnic Sheet. I got this a few years ago and we've used it many times on beaches, hikes, mountains... anywhere we want to sit when the ground is muddy, wet, or sandy. It wasn't expensive, packs wells, and has already gotten a lot of use. I throw it in our suitcase anytime we travel and keep it in my purse or hiking backpack when we're out and about.

Fold-Up Microfiber Towels
. LOVE THESE. I purchased them before Costa Rica to have on the boat and other excursions when we wouldn't want big sopping wet towels weighing us down and they are so great. Small, light, super absorbent, and they dry quickly and roll back into their little pouches. We have three and you can fit them all in a quart sized bag.

Earth-Pak Waterproof Pouch. Another Costa Rica purchase, we used this on our snorkel trip and it was great. Everything inside stayed completely dry and it fit a surprising amount of stuff. I'm sure we'll use it on future summer trips to Colorado and elsewhere for kayaking, white water rafting, etc. We're bringing it to Curaçao in case we do a kayak or boat trip.

Waterproof Phone Pouches. These are a new purchase and I'll report back after we actually use them. After researching the crap out of waterproof cameras I just couldn't bite the bullet on something expensive and all the cheap ones had pretty iffy reviews, so I decided to try the clear-pouch-over-iPhone that magically still works with your touch screen. I tested them with tissue paper and they stayed dry after being submerged in my tub for an hour, so hopefully the screen doesn't get too blurry through the plastic!

Waterproof Waistband Pouches
. According to all the reviews and travel articles I've read, Curaçao is quite safe, but it does have a problem with thieves taking your items from the beach while you snorkel. If someone stays with the items, there's no problem, but since we'll both frequently be in the ocean with our crew, we're planning to bring our car keys and cash in these pouches around our waist while we snorkel. Again, I tested them with tissue paper inside, but I'll report back after we actually use them in the ocean.

The Perfect Hat. Maybe. I have longed for a hat for years. James got me one before our Jamaica trip in 2015 and I loved it, but like all hats I've ever tried on, I didn't actually love it on me. With my fair skin, red hair, and big old forehead, I should really be a hat-wearer, but I get super self conscious and convinced I look terrible in them whenever I make the attempt. Plus my hair is always up in a messy bun, which doesn't seem to work with the straw hats I've attempted, and the one I have got very wrinkled in my storage bin. Enter this last minute straw hat which rolls up for storage and allows for a ponytail or messy bun! I really think I'm going to wear this one you guys.

~ ~ ~ ~

And so we're packed! I'm so excited about this trip (and adding our new waterproof gear to our travel bin when we return!). These adventures are literally my favorite thing about having children, and I love that we've been able to expand our travel map as the kids have gotten older and we're done paying for daycare and our student loans. Though I loved our state park road trips when the kids and budgets were smaller too.

Tiny hikers in 2012!

Hopefully our long travel day goes smoothly tomorrow (leaving our house at 8 a.m., estimated arrival at the Curaçao house is midnight), but how could it not? Have the layover gods seen my family passport holder? It practically requires on time arrivals and departures and smooth customs lines. I have my Curaçao customs forms filled out and printed and skittles in my purse for the plane. All systems are go, I just wish we could pack Maggie in our carry-on. I think she'd love the beach.


  1. Super helpful post. Will you have to quarantine when you get back? my companies here (SF) have that policy for any international travel now ...

    1. We've just been told the same in South Africa - all international travel now requires a two-week quarantine.

  2. i have the same hat! i've had it for a few years now and I love it!!