Friday, November 14, 2014

Packing for a month for you and a toddler -- in one carry-on suitcase. Part 1 of 2.

I took my 18-month-old to Europe for a month, and all we took was one carry-on suitcase.

I don't have a lot of useful skills, but I can pack like nobody's business. Travel is my forte, particularly airline travel. Road trips mean you can toss anything in at the last minute, no matter how lightly you are traveling -- a roll of paper towels, a huge bag of snacks, a few extra sweaters. Airline travel is different, and I love its limitations.

Remember that I am a professional musician, and I have traveled for months at a time, staying in everywhere from tour vans to couches to swanky hotels. I have picked up a lot of tips from my adventures, and lots of it is easy applicable to traveling with a toddler. I'm also not a zillionaire. I love public transportation, and I don't like pre-planned-vacation-packages. I plan out only what is necessary (plane tickets) and keep my options open. This means things usually go as planned because, well, there isn't much of a plan in the first place. 

Truthfully, all you really need is your passport and a credit card, right?

I'm working on another blog about sightseeing and other travel tips, but for today, I'm going to focus on packing.

A few bits of background info:

  • We traveled from mid-March to mid-April in France and the United Kingdom.
  • My kiddo was 18-months on the day we left Louisville.
  • The weather averaged from mid-50s to mid-60s (a few days colder), so cool but mild.


Our Ergo was the best thing I packed.
  1. Think different when it comes to diaper bag. From a thrift store, I brought a turquoise hobobag with three large compartments. It doesn't look like a standard diaper bag, so it felt less frumpy on the streets of Paris (where everything can feel a bit frumpy compared to French women). It looks more like a purse than anything.
  2. A small nylon backpack bag. You know what I'm talking about -- those little bags that are given away at fundraisers and such? I packed two of them, folded flat, for when I wanted a backpack or didn't want to carry the whole hobobag.
  3. A baby carrier. When he was little, we loved the Moby, but we've been an Ergo family since he turned one. He can ride on the front or the back, and he sleeps in it. I wore him most of the trip, even though I had brought along a stroller too.
  4. Ditch the stroller. I brought a stroller, and this was my big mistake. I did use it a few times, but I think in the end it was more trouble than it was worth. It was just a small umbrella stroller, but those wheels are horrible on the ancient and busy streets of Europe. The days where I just strapped him on my back were a lot easier for me -- even though he was 27lbs at the time. The Paris Metro is not stroller-friendly, having sometimes over 60 steps (yes, we counted them because every moment is a learning moment). We climbed Sacre Coeur with him in the Ergo, and it was spectacular. It was nice for talking and bonding because he was at eye level with me rather than facing the opposite direction in a stroller. Anyway, next time I might consider buying a cheap stroller once I arrived to a place I would be for a while. But I value my one free hand more than I value the stroller.
  5. Lace underwear. Obviously, this was not a romantic trip, but lace underwear nonetheless. For you, not your kiddo:) I brought 5 pair, which is 2 more than my suggested minimum. Why? Lace underwear is easy to wash in a sink and dries very quickly.
  6. Disposable diapers. We use mostly cloth diapers at home, but I tried not to think about the pile of garbage three times the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean and went disposable for this trip.
  7. Only pack diapers for the first day. I only brought 10 diapers with me for flight. There are babies all over the world, so obviously you can buy diapers when you arrive at your destination.
  8. Reusable stickers we bought at the airport.
  9. Rent an apartment, not a hotel. Use Airbnb or VRBO or a similar site to find an apartment. Odds are it'll be cheaper, better located, and more equipped (read: a washing machine!) than any hotel.
  10. Don't bring many toys. We brought two small toy cars (he was really into playing "WRECK!" at the time). At the airport, we bought a pack of reusable stickers. The newness of the stickers held his attention, and it didn't take up much room. You'll want to buy souvenirs on your trip anyway. Speaking of...
  11. Check a bag on the way home. We bought a dufflebag from a thrift store, so we weren't worried about collecting souvenirs. We actually ended up bringing an entire Thomas the Tank Engine train set home that we bought used from the 7-year-old boy who lived in the apartment next door. (He also loaned us LOADS of great toys while we were there.)
  12. Black or brown. More on packing clothes later, but choose black or brown. Stick to that color scheme when you are packing, and everything will match.
  13. Wear your biggest clothes on the plane. I brought some knee-high boots. They would have taken up half my carry-on. Wear them on the plane. Yes, you have to take them off at security, but it's not a big deal. You're already the one with a toddler, so you're not in the Expert Travel line. I also wore my coat on the plane, which was good to use as a pillow/blanket while trying to catch some sleep.
  14. Extra shoulder luggage strap. My hobobag didn't have a large across-your-chest strap, so I brought a detachable one. This meant I could strap my toddler in the Ergo, roll the suitcase behind me, place the purse/diaper-bag across my chest, and still have one hand free to roll the stroller (that I wish I had never brought). There is probably a way to strap the stroller to the carry-on without using duct tape, but we weren't able to figure it out (despite several attempts).
So these are my broad tips, but I'm also going to tell you exactly what I packed in our carryon and some tips on the actual folding, etc. Apparently people out there don't believe it's possible to travel for a month for themselves in just a carry-on, much less a toddler's things too. This blog is long enough though. When I finish the What We Packed blog, I'll post a link here. Now, start daydreaming about taking your next vacation.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I'll save this one for future reference because we hope to revisit America with S in tow when he's a little older :)