Picture this: Your family is finally getting to go on a weekend getaway after some stressful months at work. You spend the night before packing ferociously, and bright and early you load up your toddler in the car and make the day’s drive to your destination of choice. But once you get there, you realized you packed way to many clothes or not enough diapers, or left a favorite toy at home causing total devastation.
It’s true, toddlers are hard to pack for- especially if you’re trying to keep bags to a minimum. You want to pack just enough that you don’t have an over abundance of extra onesies and baby shoes, but you also need to pack extra *things* in case they have that inevitable diaper blow out or get insanely dirty. Don’t forget the toys, the car activities, the snacks- the list literally could go on forever.
Although packing practically with a toddler can be tricky, we’ve taken enough trips with our sweet little girl that I think I got our family’s packing needs figured out. I am by no means an expert of any kind – I just want to explore new places successfully! I do hope sharing with you Joy’s typical packing list is helpful for other families who want to travel but just don’t know what to bring. This isn’t supposed to be a perfect step-by-step tutorial of what to pack. Every child is different, and each destination yields its own needs, so your bag will look way different then ours! I’m sharing this to provide inspiration or have a loose checklist for what your toddler may or may not need on your next get away.
The details: These bags were specifically packed for a three night trip to a lake house just outside of Charleston, SC. The temperature is averaging in the high 90’s with high humidity and we were planning on spending a lot of time outside.
For most of our trips, we pack two bags for Joy. Her main overnight bag is a messenger bag we’ve had floating around since my college days. Honestly, we haven’t had the need yet to upgrade. It’s the perfect size and holds most of her things – all of her clothes, shoes, sleeping needs and accessories. Her diaper bag is pretty self-explanatory. We fill it to the brim with all diaper-related products and include her car activities. We also use it for when we are out and about at our destination to haul diapers around. We keep this diaper bag right behind my seat for easy access on the road.
Here’s what we’ve packed specifically for this trip:
Car Entertainment & Comfort
Joy hasn’t always been a good traveler. When we went to New York City last fall, she screamed on all of our flights and hated driving from NYC to New Hampshire. Fortunately, since exiting babyhood officially she’s chilled out in the car and has been so much better to drive with. Some of that is because we’ve become better at learning her cues and knowing when to change the activity or just get out and stretch our legs. Some of it, though, is also just her naturally forming her personality and adapting. Nonetheless, car rides for us are much better, but never perfect. Although this totally can have a whole blog post on its own some point in the future, here are some of the main things we like to pack for the car ride specifically.
- Food & Drink
This might be obvious, but we like to pack some healthy, easy snacks for the road. Sticking to your regular eating routine is especially helpful for toddlers, even for a shorter trip (like our four hour drive to Charleston). We also make sure we have her water cup accessible and extra water in the car so we can easily refill it. We keep two bibs in the food bag because Joy is a messy eater.
- Car Toys
The toys we bring for the entire vacation are chosen for their practicality in the car. Coloring books with crayons are a big hit for Joy, and animals that talk or make noises help distract her. On this trip, we brought her singing dog (one of her favorites), her crayons and coloring book, a favorite book and her dolly for comfort. She also has some regular car-only toys. These few toys are old baby toys that permanently stay in the car. She’s fascinated by them in moderation!
Clothes & Shoes
As a rule of thumb, I like to pack one outfit for every day + two extras (just in case), one pair of PJ’s for every night + one extra (in case poop explosion). So far, on all of our trips, she’s never had a diaper disaster (what are the chances!?) but I’m not really willing to risk it. After writing this, we DID have a huge diaper disaster when pulling into our destination! I was definitely glad I packed those extra clothes!
You can see here for our three night stay, I’ve packed –
– 3 shirts
– 3 shorts
– 1 play dress
– 2 pairs of shoes (one she’ll be wearing on the road)
– 4 pajamas.
– Swimsuit (it’s summer, guys)
Joy’s not yet potty trained, so we’ll add diapers and wipes under this category. Those will all be packed in the diaper bag. We also brought swim diapers just in case she wants to take a dip in the lake! Joy never actually swam in the lake, but I’d rather have them then regret not bringing them! Those definitely take up some space so we put as much of that in her diaper bag and stick the extras in her overnight bag. We did also bring a beach towel for her, but that is packed with our things.
One of the hardest parenting battles is sleep training and maintaining. Once you got a good thing going, it’s hard figure out how to smoothly transition to a new place. Fortunately, with the right amount of planning you can prep yourself for a smooth nights sleep. Of course, vacation can certainly over-hype even the calmest of children and just because you are prepared for normal bed time routines doesn’t mean it will always go so well for our kiddos. However, having all of the necessary things will help nighttime feel more familiar. Here’s what we pack for her to sleep well:
- a thin and cozy summer nighttime blanket
- heavier, comfortable blanket for bedding
- Pack and Play (this also always stays in our car)
- sound machine
- Dolly (packed with toys)
Finally, we have those random but important miscellaneous items that are easy to forget. At least, I have a hard time remembering to pack them for myself! These ‘accessories’ are still essential for a clean baby no matter how messy of a place you are visiting! There is usually enough room in her bag to squeeze these extras in the side.
– toothbrush and toothpaste
– Two hair ties (which always ended up lost but nonetheless are packed)
– Butt cream and baby powder
– Natural baby soap
Depending on where exactly your going, it would be helpful to add a towels and washcloths, but most hotels or rentals already have them. No need to pack your own unless you really distrust the cleaning staff or just prefer to supply your own.
Okay, I know that all of this sounds like a ton of stuff – which it is!- but here’s what all that looks like packed up and ready to fit in the car – minus the pack and play.
Not too bad, right?
It’s true, toddlers require a LOT of things and sometimes it can get overwhelming trying to pack it without all the extra baggage, pun intended. But with a pre-written game plan and bit of time set aside, you can easily narrow down exactly what you need and fit it for a stress-free get away.