Book Report: Northwest Kid Trips

In our family, Tom is the itinerary planner. And when I say planner, I don’t want you to think of someone loosely drafting a mental list of places he’d like to see, or being the one to hold on to the vital documents (that’s actually my job). No, Tom drafts multi-page outlines of each day and bullet points of what we will see. We aren’t obligated to stick to any of that if it ends up that we’d rather see something else, but it usually keeps us organized and feeling like we’re sucking every last bit of experience out of a place.

Lazy as I am, you can see why I delighted in our trip to Kauai: at 13 weeks pregnant and in the throes of vicious all-day-not-just-morning sickness, I had the perfect excuse to lie next to the pool, listen to the gentle ocean waves and suck down ice chips and virgin daquiris. (Though I did do a 4-mile hike/kayak trip. Barefoot. Who’s awesome?)

That being said, Tom wasn’t originally going to come with us to Seattle and Vancouver; he was able to do so because some former commitments ended up falling through, but the initial task of trip planning fell to me. Not only that, but planning a trip with a child just straddling the baby/toddler line. So it came to pass that I ordered Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria from Amazon.

YOU GUYS. I am not exaggerating* when I say that this is a vital purchase for any family planning to visit the Pacific Northwest. Though I did not get a chance to use the Portland or Victoria sections, the Seattle and Vancouver sections were indispensible.

Pros: specific itineraries for families by category like “artsy” or “foodie”, other points of interest by age group (babe in arms to surly teen), mention of library locations (a piece of advice I covered in my guest post on Everywhereist), tips for eating on the cheap, and a whole wealth of nifty stores and a kid-friendly slant on the major city attractions. I picked our hotel in Vancouver (more expensive than I had realized but not the book’s fault, prices do vary and it’s the reader’s responsibility to blah blah blah) and Maggie’s first chopstick experience was recommended as a cheap and fun eat with toddlers, to which I heartily concur.

Cons: No maps. Those are easy enough to come by, but I did borrow my friend’s copy of Top Ten Seattle and supplemented with a few tourist maps of Seattle and Vancouver from the ferry and our Vancouver hotel, respectively, but it might have been nice to have it all in one package. A minor quibble and not one that should keep you from buying the book.  And for those of you who don’t travel without your iPhone or iPad, I don’t believe there’s an e-copy available. (I like to keep my paperback travel guides and make notes in the margins and doodle. It’s another souvenir, in my opinion. But that’s just me.)

We also lucked out in that the side trip feature location for Seattle was Bainbridge Island, where we happened to be staying. We overslept for the local market and things do close down around 5-7pm, but the ice cream and kid museum recs were a big hit.

In short: I planned an itinerary just like Tom, all by my onesies. And I only used this book and a few minutes with Google to reconfirm some addresses.

*Nor am I being paid, by anyone, to say nice things about this book. I say nice things because I want YOU to enjoy a happy trip, not because I’m getting a cut. Yes, even you. You know who you are. Buy the book.

Souvenir

Once upon a time when Tom was in Djibouti, he brought back several short, carved wooden clubs with bulbous tips. Unsurprisingly, these were called “Djiboutian war clubs” and made fantastic gifts for the Y-chromosome owners in Tom’s life. (I got a carved jewelry box. For all the jewelry I don’t wear.) Now, my cousin Mark is as close to me as a brother, and since they had not yet met when Tom was in Africa it was very important to me that Tom make a good impression. Mark is what you might call, if you were vulgar, a dick-swinging man’s man whose opinions on boobs, trucks, guns, and beers are all the same: the bigger, the better.

Naturally, I asked Tom to bring back a Djiboutian war club to present to Mark as a token of Tom’s manly worth. Mark accepted it that October with raised eyebrows and without comment and I sadly thought that was the end of it until that Christmas. Mark excitedly gave Tom what he called an “American war club”: a Louisville Slugger. It was the highest gift he could bestow, except for that time he worked in a school supply distribution warehouse and gave me a case of ultra-thick toilet paper for Christmas.
“I think there’s still some blood on it from some dude’s head!” Mark informed us.
It’s so beautiful when cultures can share, don’t you think?
At any rate, a few months later Tom awoke to the sound of what he thought was a sexual assault in progress in the parking lot of our apartment building. (Fear not, it was noisy but once he translated her Spanish moanings, quite consensual.) He reached under the bed for a blunt object and was offered multicultural home protection’s finest: the Slugger, the Djiboutian war club, and an Irish shellalegh.
I bring this up because many dedicated travelers seem to have a thing with souvenirs. Some people have niche objects, others photographs, others still memories of that one meal that left them orgasmically happy or paralyzed over a Third World toilet. I myself collect zippered coin pouches, which are cheap and often come in handy for stashing various small items. But my husband seems to have ended up with a collection of International Clue’s murder weapons.
For Maggie, I decided to start collecting keyrings. The more colorful and tacky, the better, and bonus points for finding one with “Margaret” on it. So far she has ones from Oahu, the Big Island, Maryland, DC, Baltimore, Maine, New Hampshire, and St. Pete Beach. Not bad for someone who has no keys and actually can’t say “key.” It seemed like a nice way to show her where she’s been and at less than $5 a pop, relatively cheap.
Alas, there’s no blood on any of them. We’ll have to get Uncle Mark on that.

Lapping Up

Overall, I enjoy flying with Maggie. She’s generally a great source of battery-free amusement in the terminal. And God knows it’s nice to have someone there who enjoys eating the accursed honeydew melon polluting my fruit cup. But physically, it’s an exhausting experience. All told, I have logged in the neighborhood of 25,000 flight miles with the divine Miss M over eleven flights, each one of them with her as a lap baby. Every time I feel like I’ve been hit in the face by Goliath’s stanky foot and then sat on. Add another 20 pounds of wiggling resistance to your luggage and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

About flying with a lap baby…Yeah, yeah, it’s not safe, turbulence, too crowded and inconvenient for other passengers, but dudes: flying is expensive and we’re on a single income. I’m going to milk that “two and under fly free!” rule until the last second of April 9, 2012 before the clock changes over to Maggie’s birthday. I’m considering writing an article of tips for flying with a lap child but I don’t really feel like getting crucified over Teh Internets by the Parenting Safety Police, so it may have to wait.
But here’s one thing I have learned that I don’t mind sharing: People are incredibly kind.
Yes, you may draw a pissy seatmate, or get a flight attendant who has a Thing about noisy kids. It happens. But by and large, I have found that people are so nice to me. Flying alone is harder, obviously, because you really need that extra set of hands that your partner usually provides. Enter the French documentary crew filming nature shots for a project in Honolulu who were sitting in the row behind us. After about twenty minutes of Maggie popping over the seat to blink coyly and coo, they began kissing her hands and saying things like “Mees Mag-gie, you are abzolutely ado-rah-ble!” and THEN they insisted on carrying our bags to the next terminal during our layover in San Francisco. Kindly grandmothers missing their own babies offer jewelery to distract Maggie while I get out snacks and flight attendant after flight attendant has been there to offer chunks of that godforsaken green melon that delights Maggie so while I bounce her into oblivion in the galley.
Other tips…What makes it possible for me to fly alone with her are the Beco Butterfly Carrier and the Moby Wrap. We used the Moby when she was tiny because it adds an element of swaddling that soothed her. She’s slept soundly through a number of red-eyes in it. The Beco is nice because it takes little time for me to take it on and off, which I appreciate because I’m normally doing that in an airplane bathroom. I prefer it over the less expensive Ergo because the shoulder straps are sleeker and the designs prettier, although the Ergo is nice because it has lots of cargo pockets. One thing the Beco doesn’t have that makes it superior to a Baby Bjorn is metal–I have only been asked once for a closer look by security and I’ve never been asked to remove her from the carrier. We were asked that in Honolulu when we had her in the Moby because of the extra fabric and of course, it was the only time she was asleep when we hit security. C’est la vie. Only other necessary item on top of what we usually carry is a nursing cover. Mine was homemade by a friend’s mom; it’s essentially a quilt with a strap sewn onto one side. I wear it like an apron and then nobody sees my boobies. Win-win.
Cloth diapering on vacation…you know, some people do it, and I applaud them, but shit. Even the most dedicated environmentalist might want to take a week off laundry on vaycay. Plus, cloth diapers will add precious pounds to your luggage. I use Seventh Generation disposables and call it a day. I have one diaper bag that’s larger than my normal SkipHop and I use that to fly because I can carry an extra shirt for me and my nursing cover, which I don’t normally use around town (I nurse in the car, or dressing rooms, or time it so I don’t have to nurse in public at all. Wonderful thing, older nursers. Not so needy!). I don’t take a stroller if I can help it.
The most I’ve traveled with is a hiking backpack (laptop, camera gear, extra clothes), diaper bag, stroller, car seat, but that was in preparation for this visit I’m currently in, which was to be from March-July. I checked the stroller and car seat and took the bags with me, baby in the carrier. I stacked the luggage on the stroller at the baggage claim. Easy enough, especially with my mom helping. Alone, I try for one bag, one suitcase, and the car seat. I check the suitcase (it’s damn near impossible to fly light with a kid, the suitcase is often necessary if only to pack all the liquids required for Maggie’s comfort) and the car seat. I don’t have a separate bag for the car seat because airlines usually have a nice plastic one and that’s free (for NOW) though I’m looking into buying one. When I go to Seattle in June, I’m going to try to just take a hiking backpack and diaper bag.
I do NOT recommend flying with a laptop and a baby on your own if you can help it. Find any way possible to disconnect; get a smartphone or a friend in the area who doesn’t mind you jacking their connection, because it is worth the time you’ll save at security.
So…I guess this did become a lesson on flying alone with a lap baby. Whee! Enjoy. More later. Maggie’s sleep schedule is, for lack of a classier expression, fucked seven ways from Sunday and I should be sleeping now. Or doing one of the 8 million other things that a single parent has to do while their husband is enjoying Velveeta Mac and bachelorhood (love you Tom!).

DC-Baltimore

And now, a brief and disjointed post round-up because it is naptime and whoo boy, I have a lot to do between now and the next irritated howl from the nursery. So lo and behold, the Brief Monkey Travelers’ Guide to Being a Tourist With A Sick Kid, a.k.a. How To Have Fun Or Die Trying.

Traveling with a child redefines where you eat. Sure, we brought Maggie to Brazilian barbecue and to Brasserie Beck, where she happily chowed down on pate and cheeses, but that’s not the norm for baby mealtime. You can do that, but you have to take the earliest reservation and be prepared to be seated in the loudest area of the restaurant so your kid will be drowned out. Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere that offers crayons and a twisty straw. And balloons.

“Zombies Hate That I Am So Awesome.”
Next, you will probably have a table but not a high chair in your hotel room. We were fortunate enough to stay at a Residence Inn, which had a full kitchen and crib but no high chair (not that they knew of, anyway). So the Chicco Hook-On high chair is your new best friend that allows you to feed your child in your room and not chase him or her down like a banshee wielding applesauce. It also folds flat into a large backpack and can go with you to coffee and lunch dates at restaurants downtown that are not trying to hear about accommodating babies.

Bib: “I’m a McCutie!” Yes, yes you are.
Some of you may feel as I do about travel photography. My least favorite shots of all time are ones composed solely of “Hey! This is Me! Standing in front of Some Famous Thing!” This is all well and good for you if you like that sort of thing, and surely there are several amateur photographers taking these shots. Thanks to falling prices on DSLRs, every ass with a fanny pack and $600 bucks can pop for a Digital Rebel and try to add an artistic component to the Some Famous Thing shot. (I include myself in your numbers, amateur photogs, sans fanny pack. That shit’s just not right.) But I don’t like that shot and I don’t like to take it.
Be that as it may, you have grandparents to satisfy now. They want to see Their Grandbaby in front of Some Famous Thing. And we could not leave DC without a few Famous Shots.

About to fall in.
Next, try to engage the child with things that might interest him or her by tying it back to their life. This may be effective if your child is cognizant of things other than Cheerios, stacking toys, and how much this damn stroller sucks and will you take the picture already, Ma?!

WWII Monument
Failing that, plan for some child friendly activities. The National Building Museum was free and SO AWESOME, OH MY GOD. It was perfect for kids of all ages, including Tom who wanted very badly to find someone to build an arch with him (I was eating my sandwich. You don’t interrupt Mommy’s roast beef). The Baltimore Aquarium is also fantastic, and not even really for the animals, though those are wonderful. No, the Baltimore Aquarium has several clear water-filled columns near the entrance, through which bubbles flow. That’s it. No fishes, jellyfish, krill, nothing. Just bubbles. And if you’re eleven months old…well, what else do you need?

Tom, attempting to engage Maggie’s attention, failing.
As far as the rest goes, I wrote an article for Matador last year that really sums it up. Just assume that the rest periods and knowing where urgent care is (and thank YOU, friend’s iPhone!) go double for long vacations that begin with an illness.
It turned out to be mostly fun–not what we expected, but certainly fun. At the very least, we’ve repressed the bad nights to the point where we can laugh now and color-correct our vacations into revisionist history, and isn’t THAT what memories are made of?
I thought so.

Thanks!

Thanks for the encouraging words! We weren’t actually in DC for the hotel, but in a northern Virginia town called McLean. Last night we had to move up to a hotel near BWI Airport in Columbia and I guess Maggie is just anti-Virginia because she fell asleep at the usual hour and is now, at 7am, sleeping like a stone. This is sort of amusing because some people in the area tend to have strong opinions about living in the DC metro area suburbs–VA vs. MD–and we lived on the Maryland side when we lived here. We never really cared, but Maryland was more convenient for our commutes. I guess Maggie has just thrown her lot in with the Maryland people. :) Columbia isn’t even really in the DC metro area, it’s closer to Baltimore, so maybe she saw more of “The Wire” when she was an infant than we intended.

Before we moved from the Virginia hotel, Maggie spiked a terrible fever and was generally listless. I thought she was warmer than usual when I picked her up and then gasped when I began to nurse her; her little mouth was so hot, it was like nursing a burning ember. Motrin and a long nap knocked the fever out and kept it down, but we stuck close to home and had a quiet day. I took her to Whole Foods for lunch and found a great fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and mango. I fed her as much fresh berries and mango as she could handle and it did wonders for her system. Mine too, since I ate the rest of the fruit salad. We’re living on restaurant food and our bodies just really needed something fresh, I think–Maggie is used to a diet of very fresh Hawaiian fruit. I also bought a bottle of 5000 IU Vitamin D and am making Tom and I take double-doses.

This hasn’t stopped me from picking up a vicious head cold. Blarg, I was constantly sick when we lived in DC and I attributed that to public transportation, stressy work environment, and lack of natural daytime light because I was sick exactly three times in our two years in Hawaii, and only once was it a cold (the other two were jet lag sickness and mild food disagreement). My old friend Sudafed Sinus Headache is there for me and I feel passably good, enough for the three of us to go on a winery road trip today with friends.

In short, we’re recovering from the flight and transition to the new environment ever so slowly, but we are recovering. And our new hotel room is not only a full studio apartment with a kitchen, but it is a corner room so we’re only bothering one person.

Life is better on this side of the Potomac.

Dairy Air

I was perusing my blogs this morning, a favorite pastime while Maggie dutifully empties the toy box, inspects the contents, turns it over, and scoots into it backward. I can usually make it through about half my Google Reader list before Maggie bleats to be removed from her tiny toy prison. Today I read one of my favorites, The Everywhereist, who writes the sort of travel blog I once aspired to before I ran out of time, money, and sanity. You only need two of the three to write a travel blog, but not having any is a difficult obstacle.

Today’s post, The Inherent Sexism of Airport Security, really struck home for me, especially this line:

“While I can’t really figure out TSAs motivations, I will say this: if dudes lactated, there is no way that the TSA would dare try to throw away breast milk. Seriously, imagine walking up to some 300-pound bruiser of a man and telling him that you were going to toss out his child’s food, food that he himself had made with his own body. You’d spend the next three days pulling your own teeth out of your ass.”

The first five months of Maggie’s life was spent training her for a huge trip for my sister’s wedding in September. We got her to both love and look forward to sleeping against our bodies in a sling. We nursed in all manner of positions so it would be easier on the plane to Boston. We went to the Big Island for a long weekend to serve as a practice airport run. We practiced packing our bags to make security clearance a breeze. And in preparation for commitments that would prohibit nursing–the all-day bachelorette party, an actual movie date with my husband, holy shit, the ceremony and reception that I would be both in and photographing–I pumped like a madwoman. No babysitters for those first five months; I had to stockpile my bottles. I never quite got the knack of pumping so it was hard for me, even though my supply has always hovered between “abundant” and “Can we just send you to Africa for a month to feed this village?” By the time we were to fly from Honolulu to Boston, I had amassed about 30oz in small bottles in a wee cooler to take with us.

Then I panicked. The word from the official website was that the TSA rules allowed frozen breastmilk, though I may have to get ice from the food court and flight attendants after clearing security. From other moms and anecdotal stories…it was a crapshoot. It seemed it would be left totally to the discretion of the agent, agents who do not have a reputation for compassion or understanding. It seemed highly possible that I could lose my precious supply. Maggie had never had formula after that one bottle in the hospital; I stayed home with her, she had reflux, so why spend the money on trying formula that her belly wouldn’t accept? The idea of giving her sensitive, refluxy belly a new liquid in a new environment during the happiest day of her aunt’s life seemed like a disaster in the making.

Thus I went to the airport prepared. I printed the TSA guidelines to bring along, I went to our pediatrician and had her write a note on letterhead declaring the medical necessity of our milk. It turned out to be nothing–I had my sheaf of paper ready to go, all our other baby-related liquids neatly packaged and labeled in my Ziploc, and the woman smiled at me, scanned the liquid, and passed us through. She even said “Hi” to the baby. No fuss, no stress. I don’t want to make the statement that because she was a female agent she understood more than a male agent would; I know many men who value the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, and have encountered many women TSA agents who have a chip on their shoulder trying to seem as tough as their male colleagues in a viciously stressful and complicated job. But it could easily have gone the other way.

Pumping is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is clinical. It inspires some of us to moo mournfully at the machine while we wait to fill up a bottle. I hate it. I can’t imagine the despair I would have felt if the agent had taken my stockpile away or the depth of my humiliation if my baby’s food that I worked so hard to produce, my baby’s food that was an extension of my own body, was thrown away like so much garbage.

So to my moo-cow sisters out there, good luck to you. Print the guidelines, get a note from the pediatrician just in case. I hope you don’t have to use it; you probably won’t. But do it just in case. And to the TSA–I’m a model flyer. My husband is too, and we’re going to do everything we can to make your jobs easier. But in the process of doing your job, don’t make my job harder.

Pack It Up: Part 4 in a Series

Pack It Up 1: Choosing Luggage

Pack It Up 2: Packing Accessories

Pack It Up 3: Tips for Long Flights

A quick wrap up of our trip to Maine: we packed my North Face pack, the diaper bag, a large suitcase and Maggie’s car seat. The suitcase was one I didn’t know we had, a rolling deal with a telescoping handle. (Please don’t ask me how a large rolling suitcase escaped my notice in a 600 sq. ft. apartment. I’m tired.) I used my cubes and packed that sucker so tight and so well, even including an extra duffel bag for items acquired in Maine. It was a thing of beauty, like packing Tetris at the advanced level. I called my mom to share in my awesomeness and pshawed her concerns that it would be too heavy. Doesn’t she know I’m awesome?!

I should know better than to laugh at my mother, since I was the one who had to unpack about ten pounds into the duffel at check-in and check that bag in order to bring the large suitcase under 50 pounds. Live and learn, I suppose, and this was my first experience packing for someone other than myself so I think it went okay. I don’t own a scale so I need to eyeball it better next time.

***

This Christmas was all about new travel accessories. After the fiasco with our Newark Liberty International Airport baggage theft (curse them and every one of their sticky-fingered handlers and we have STILL not received a response to our claim), Tom got me luggage locks for Christmas. I laughed. Ruefully. He didn’t just get me those but that got the biggest laugh. Actually, that’s not true: the biggest laugh was when I presented Tom with his new toiletry kit and suitcase that he requested for business trips that require suits that he can’t roll into a ball in his backpack. We put Maggie in the suitcase to test quality control; she found it satisfactory.

The biggest addition to my kit was a lot of lightweight travel-friendly clothing: underwear and shirts from ExOfficio that can be washed in a sink and dry within hours, cutting out the need for excess clothing and lightening the luggage load. The t-shirt made partly out of soybeans is particularly cute. My favorite favorite favorite present this year was this Patagonia dress in blue. It’s light, made of wrinkle-free material, and is stretchy enough to fit well but not tight enough to cling to chubby parts. Most importantly, it’s flattering without being immodest: it has a high back, enough of a v-neck to be cute but not showy, and is rather long in length. It should be acceptable in all but the most conservative of sacred sites.

So, that’s my most recent bit of packing advice. When you’ve collected all the gear and you’re doing some serious multi-week traveling, it makes sense to have a dedicated travel wardrobe. None of these items are part of my day-to-day clothing options; these are strictly for trips. Cuts down on wear and tear, and it’s like having all-new clothes on vacation.

Just don’t let customs officials think your baggie of Tide is some *other* white powder, if ya know what I mean.

That’s right. They’ll ask you where you hid the rest of your donuts.

Sigh. I told you I was tired.

Trippin’

Getting away from the baby for a while, here are some trips that we would love to take:

Bali and Java, Indonesia: this would be great for Maggie when she was a little bit older. Old enough to appreciate the monkey forest and the beach, little enough to still be relatively portable.

Portland, OR and Seattle, WA: visit all those microbreweries in Portland, take the train up to Seattle, enjoy the local music and food scene.

Wellington, New Zealand: as a potential next location, I’d love to check it out first. Tom was there in February and declared it “the perfect city”: great climate, good public transportation, lots of great wine and food, good people.

Tokyo: Japan sounds like fun and I’ve never been to a country that doesn’t have an alphabet.

Pack It Up: Part 3 in a Series

I was going to do this big thing about getting through airport security and suchlike, but Mighty Girl has already done a great essay on the topic so I won’t bother. She also has great tips on traveling with kiddies. Here are three links to her suggestions:

Traveling With Kids: Momversation Video

9 Tips for Airport Security With A Baby

12 Tips for Flying With A Baby

Other things I might mention about my own experience for flights over 4 hours:

Plan wisely and well with your electronic battery life. If you use it up in the gate area waiting to board, you will not have enough juice left to power that DVD on the flight. Ditto your iPod. I am spoiled and have an iPod Shuffle and an iPod Classic with video capability, so on our next flight I am loading music on the Shuffle and videos on the Classic. That combined with the laptop (normally I don’t carry it, but I will need it for my sister’s wedding as I’m photographing–gulp) and the portable DVD player we plan to purchase should get us through our next long flight: Honolulu to Newark to Boston (gulp squared). With a six-month-old (gulp cubed).

Bring vitamins! Propel Fitness Mix comes in handy singles; I keep them at work because I’m not overly fond of plain water. In the last hour of the flight, down an Emergen-C packet to help you transition to whatever you need to do next. It will keep you awake if you’re on the red-eye, though. Consistent hydration is incredibly important on planes if only because you will regularly need to empty your bladder, which will force you out of your seat and get you moving.

The only other tip that hasn’t been covered is: don’t travel in jeans if you can help it. For short flights it’s fine; for longer than four hours, wear something with a lot of give. No reason to look like a slob in sweats, but non-restrictive clothing is a must for getting comfortable on the flight.

Pack It Up: Part 2 in a Series

As I mentioned in the earlier post, travel accessories are helpful when you pack. We’ve accumulated ours over almost a decade, so there’s no reason to lay out a lot of cash for one trip. If you have these handy, great, if not, there’s no rush to buy them. We simply get a lot of use out of them.

For long, long trips, I have the compression bags similar to the ones below (mine are from Walmart and are fairly ragged at this point). From experience, I can tell you that you can get three weeks worth of socks and underwear down to a mass roughly the size and shape of a footlong from Subway. Plus it has the benefit of sealing all your clothes in waterproof bags, which is a handy thing. This is how I got everything I needed for 3 months in Europe down to a carryon suitcase.


So we don’t have to go digging in our bags and cause a massive explosion of clothes in the hotel room or friend’s living room, we have about five packing cubes in the full and half sizes. Shirts and pants in the full sizes, undies/socks in the half. This will be super-useful when we have the baby to keep all of its accessories and outfits contained. These in conjunction with the compression sacs or extra-large Ziplocs are good for holding the dirty laundry–then the rest of your clean clothes don’t end up smelling like feet.

Speaking of Ziplocs, I had an exploding bottle of lotion in my backpack on a flight to London in high school and that taught me to either wrap your toiletry kit in a plastic grocery bag or go by the TSA guidelines and seal the liquids in a 1-quart baggie. I like the regular rectangle kits, mine came from L.L. Bean in 2001 so they don’t carry the exact model anymore, but the one below is pretty similar–I have one less front pocket and two pockets on the sides. Their top-selling toiletry kit is one that hangs up, which is okay–I never see my sister travel without hers–but it doesn’t sit flat on a countertop and that’s a dealbreaker for me. Ours is big enough to hold both of our toiletries, even at TSA-approved bottle sizes.

It’s a good idea to bring a raincoat wherever you go. It really came in handy in San Francisco in general and again Maui when we went to the upcountry–it was cold and misty. I got a Columbia packable rain jacket three years ago and the $50 price tag felt a little high, but it looks fantastic for how long I’ve had it and I bring it everywhere (totally unrelated plug–this is the tenth year I’ve had my L.L. Bean ski parka. It was $250 when I first bought it, and I don’t think it’s so much as faded. It’s in storage in Maine until we move somewhere cold so I think I will easily get 15-20 years out of it). Plus it has a “packable pouch” stitched inside so it folds up into a pouch about the size of a 5″ x 7″ index card and about an inch and a half thick, so I can throw it into a day purse easily. Makes a halfway decent airplane pillow too! The Columbia Kona Rain Jacket is comparable to the jacket I have. Tom has a spiffy one from Helly Hansen that goes with him.

The last two items are specific to a certain kind of travel: budget backpacking/camping/crashing on people’s floors. With the baby coming along, our days of pulling up a bit of floor space at a willing friend’s apartment are coming to an abrupt halt (*sniffle*), but we forsee doing a lot more family camping. However, I bought the Therm-a-Rest Lite self-inflating sleep pad in Chicago and it has been a wonderful purchase. It rolls up small enough that I can just use the straps on the side of my backpack to clip it in place. The price tag feels a bit high but Tom has had his since he was a child and it’s in good enough condition that we can give it to our baby to use on camping trips and Tom can get a grown-up size one (his feet hang off the end, poor dear). Everyone who has used it has been surprised by how comfortable it is.

The last item is a camp towel. We just bought fabulous ones from REI on sale, but it’s similar to this one on Amazon. We have two full body size towels and two hand towels, which I think came to about $19 at the REI sale. Stacked up together, the four are less thick than a single full-size terry bath towel. It saves a ton of space and they dry ridiculously fast, so no musty-towel smell. We’re looking forward to using these for camping, at cheaper hostels where you provide your own linens (possibly also coming to a halt with the baby in tow), and on our island-hopping adventures so we can bring them to the beach and don’t have to get extra towels from the hotel service.

So that’s what we have! Over time they’ve made packing into a brief and relatively painless process. Next up: how to pack a carry-on and dress for the airport.