How to pack for anything

How to pack for everything

Contributer Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling.

Sometimes I think mothers are born packers.

Starting with that homecoming bag from the hospital delivery room, we have been prepping for our kids’ every away-from-home need.

When my own kids were younger, I had filled the car with all sorts of emergency supplies: emergency diapers, emergency wipes, emergency change of clothes and blankets (to this day, a friend of mine keeps her teenage kids’ baby blankets in the car for emergencies).

We always had snacks on hand or books and toys to keep a little one occupied. These days, I have children ranging from 3-15 and many days which we seem to spend on the road or waiting out a class. Along the way, I’ve learned a few strategies to help get us out the door, fed and occupied. Hopefully, some of these ideas can help you as well!


Photo by Alan Levine

1. Always have water.

We have acquired numerous water bottles and try our best to have several ready for the road. Once old enough, each person is responsible for washing and filling up their own bottles, although I admit, we are still working on getting them out of the car once the day trip is over.

2. Ipad.

No, not for the obvious game play. I try to limit those activities, especially when not at home, and I’m a big believer in teaching children to occupy themselves without button mashing on electronic devices.

What I have discovered though, is that e-audiobooks are a great way to sneak in some storytime during long car rides.

I’m no expert, but in my experience, reading and listening require a totally different set of skills in how you obtain the material, yet both are great exercises in retention and comprehension.

Audiobooks allow you to fit in more books than mom has time to read aloud. So far, I have only picked fiction, usually adventures in the 8-12 year range (our lastest one was The Pendericks series, by Jeanne Birdsall), and almost always my choice.

I pore through book reviews and pick stories that I’d read to them if I had an extra hour in the day. The best part is, with the e-method, you don’t have to struggle with changing CDs (always hard when a disc ends on the freeway) or losing your spot when you want to continue the story indoors!

3. Sanitizer and wipes.

Whether or not you have a baby, wipes are super handy for cleaning up sticky hands or chocolate-covered faces. (On that note, it is a very bad idea to feed chocolate in the car on a warm day.)

I am a total germaphobe and don’t know how I ever functioned before Purell. As soon as we re-enter the car after an activity, everyone gets a wipedown with the “hanitizer.”

4. Food.

And of course, kids always get hungry. Once a week, we have an extra long trip, which requires lunch on the road. I usually pack sandwiches, and if I’m feeling especially motherly, a thermos of soup and chocolate (see  #3). Other items I like to have on hand (because after classes, they are hungry again), are granola bars, cheese sticks, crackers or pretzels, dried fruit and nut mix, and of course, fresh fruit.


Photo by Various Brennemans

5. Doodle Kit.

Finally, we have the items for the kids waiting for a sibling to be done with class.

In addition to the usual fun reading books and small toy, I love packing sketchbooks. Doodling is one of those activities I encourage throughout the day — we even have family doodle sessions. It develops creativity and visual thinking skills, which is a welcomed relief from mastering just plain numbers and letters all day.

It’s not about drawing, although that is fun as well. It’s more about expression and letting your mind wander and the process of creating. One way to encourage this on-the-road-doodling is to put together a kit of special markers, sharp pencils, and multi-colored pens. Keep it simple or add in some stickers for the younger kids to add to their doodles. Stash it in the car and only use it for outside time.

If starting with a blank page is intimidating, there are numerous doodle books out there with half-completed pictures to get you started. Who knows? After seeing all the fun your kids are having, maybe you’ll want to put your phone away and do some doodling yourself.

What is on your list of must haves for a day out?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. A few Hot Wheels cars in a tiny fold-up case are great for my little guy. I also cut up a few roads out of felt — super compact and lightweight, and a little yellow puffy paint makes “for real” lines. I also keep a stash of one outfit each in ziploc bags so the kids can get wet or messy, if that’s what fun requires!

    • Extra outfits are a must for little ones, although I prefer to pack a slightly bigger size. I just recently found a change of clothes I had stashed a few years for my now 7-year-old ago — and they were sized 5T! I guess she stayed clean all those years…
      Amida’s latest post: Open House

  2. We have taken an old iPhone and turned it into the “family phone” there are no games on it, just music and the overdrive app. With the overdrive app we can borrow audio books from our library and then they disappear when they expire which means NO OVERDUE FEES!!! Then I bought a cassette tape with a jack so that the book is played over our speakers. We love to listen to audio books in the car!
    Danna’s latest post: Tax Return Miracle!

    • Yes! Overdrive is what we use as well. I love the idea of a designated device for that. I like the ipad because I can take it with me to class and read as well, although I have squinted through a whole book on my phone before…
      Amida’s latest post: Open House

  3. For our weekly epic homeschool park day, I empty my backpack and start from scratch, with that day’s weather and our moods in mind. Some of the things we always pack:
    food: lots of lots of protein-rich whole food snacks … hours of playing & running outside requires lots of hearty refuelling
    spare clothes/shoes: there’s a creek. Enough said.
    rain pants (see above)
    thermos of tea for us to share
    notebooks, pencils, coloured pencils
    first aid kit
    Beyond that, we add- or subtract all sort of things, depending on the day!
    I still have yet to find the perfect go-bag to keep at the ready. Seems like I’m always switching between small backpack, big backpack, cloth bags or my purse.

  4. Oh, and as for audiobooks … YES! Audio stories are our business, as it happens, so we’re big fans. We have a family iPod (with a smashed- and scotch tape repaired screen and the home button stuck on iTunes) a loaded with our audio stories (, along with Barefoot Books stories (tons for FREE on their iTunes podcast), Sparkle Stories (also lots for free on their iTunes podcast), audio books (we love Famous Five, Moomintrolls, Babe the Pig, etc), and lots of music. Setting that up is the first thing we do when we get into the car.

  5. I second the baby wipes idea. I use them for all sorts of reasons while travelling. Also, we have taken to putting a potty for the trained toddler in the car. Much easier than finding a washroom, and prevents a lot of mess.

  6. We have my purse/diaper bag, a cooler that’s a back pack and the kids each have a back pack and their own lunch box. Depending on the trip we have all of these or one or two. I have yet to learn to simplify and we almost always forget something! The essentials are water bottles for everyone, baby wipes and a diaper. All else can be creatively handled in a pinch!
    Amy’s latest post: A Preschool Math Box

  7. Swimsuits in the glovebox!! We live on the coast and often decide to hit the beach after running around town 🙂

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