The Thrill of It All: Packing Perfection.

Packed Suitcase with Rolled Clothes

Late one night before the July 4th holiday I got an interesting text from loyal reader and coworker, SP (also known around here sometimes as Dirrr).  But this one wasn’t about taco trucks or free coffees at Wawa.  Using tips from my packing post, she was able to pack a killer suitcase for 2 adults and 2 children going to the shore for 5 days.  Check it out in the pic above from her text.

And the kicker – this wasn’t even all she ended up with in there.  Tightly rolling everything afforded her enough space to ALSO add 6 beach towels, 3 sets of queen bed sheets, a folding hair dryer, a flat iron, and one pair of casual, dress, and beach shoes EACH for the gang.  Insane, right?!

Congrats to SP on a job well done (and a bag well-packed!).  One last question though – did you “Superstar” when you zipped this puppy up?!

Pack It Up, Pack It In.

Organized Suitcase via Good Housekeeping

Let me begin.  I came to win, battle me that’s a sin. (Cue the house party scene from Mrs. Doubtfire, an S & B favorite.  “I missth her sthtories” is a very frequently used random phrase in our house).

If you have ever traveled with me, you know I am serious about packing.  And it’s not just about sufficiency – it is efficiency that is king.  My pre-travel goal is to figure out exactly what I will be needing on my trip, and to pack it in as small a bag as I can (I usually ask oodles of questions of my fellow travelers or hosts to help accomplish this…many thanks to those who have, at times, found themselves on the other end of this seemingly endless torture quest for packing greatness).  It is just so satisfying to pack the perfect suitcase!

So in honor of today being the first official day of summer, the year’s busiest travel season, I thought I’d share some of my packing tips and tricks.

1. Plan ahead!  Try to get an idea of what you’ll be doing and what the weather will be.  Really think about what you’ll need and when in doubt, less is more.  I really mean it.  It’s so much easier to decide what to wear when you’ve got fewer options to work with.  Also reach out to your hotel/host to find out what sorts of things are provided (hair dryer, iron, towels, etc.) so you don’t waste space on things you don’t need.

2. List, list, list.  God I love lists.  After you’ve done some planning, make a list of what you will need.   This will help you to see where you may be over- or under-packing.  I like to group similar items on my lists because it helps me to remember things I might be leaving out.  As things go in my bag I cross them off.  The night before I’m traveling I like to have as many things packed as I can, with the remaining “need in the morning” items circled and starred on my list so I don’t forget them.

3. Choose Wisely.  I try to travel with neutral pieces of clothing that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.  This really maximizes the wardrobe you’re bringing.  This one is hard for some people though, so if you must have something, and you can fit it in, go for it.

4. Stage It.  Lay everything you plan to pack out on the bed so you can visualize what you have, and plan the best way to arrange it in your bag(s).  This is also a good time to try and pare down a bit more.

5. Toiletries To Go. I actually keep a complete set of TSA-sized toiletries already packed in a travel bag so all I need to do is toss it in my suitcase when packing.  I usually check it a week or so before to make sure I’m not low on anything.  And if you have prescriptions/contacts/vitamins that you don’t have duplicates of, don’t forget to add these in before you pack your bags.

6. Space Savers.  Try storing socks and small accessories/jewelry inside shoes or bags that you are packing.  Not only will this keep things safe, protected, and easier to find, but you are saving what would have been wasted space!  Major bonus points.

7. Roll it Up.  Rolling your clothes really does save you space and help to keep things wrinkle free.  I’ve heard people say they could almost double what they’ve brought just by doing this.  I’m usually OK on space so I don’t always do this one, but on the occasions I have I’ve definitely noticed it helps.

8. Order Counts!

-I recommend packing shoes first.  I line my suitcase with shoes, soles facing the edges of the bag which keeps the bottoms of my shoes from touching my clothing.  (Side note: at AS’ – er, AC‘s – AMAZING wedding this past weekend, the lovely MOH and sister of the bride gave me a great tip for packing shoes – slip them in shower caps!  Everyone’s got a few of those that they’ve taken from hotels over the years, great way to use them.).

-Heavier/thicker pants go next, then lighter items, tops, and dressier items.

-Tuck smaller items like underwear, bathing suits, belts, etc. in whatever spaces are still open around the clothes.

-My luggage has interior straps to fasten around your stuff (see picture at the bottom of this post so you know what I’m talking about).  At this point I will use these to keep everything snug and flatten things out a bit.  You can usually get about an inch more of space from doing this.

-Lastly, put your toiletries and hair dryer/curler/iron on top (although if you are checking luggage and prefer to carry these on this won’t apply to you)  I always travel with my flat iron.  It’s pretty small (1″ wide), and it works on the fly as a clothes iron (I always seem to need to touch up my cuffed pants/shorts), and it can be used for both straightening and curling  hair.  Although I only use it for straightening.  But knowing it multitasks is super.

It may seem a little daunting to go through these steps every time you travel, but for me they have just become second nature over time.  Give it a try.  See how sick of a suitcase you can pack on your next jaunt.  I’m telling you, it’s addictive.

Bon Voyage, & Bel été!

Suitcase Interior via Delsey

Have Baby, Will Travel.

A sleeping on B on Plane

As promised, here is a wrap up of my experience with vacationing “plus one”.  (Sorry, it’s another long one!).  I fully acknowledge that I am NOT an expert on this topic, so what follows is just a recap of my planning, packing, and traveling notes, along with some small suggestions I have for readers planning their own family trip.  Our trip to South Carolina over Memorial Day weekend was really a treat, and travelling with A went so smoothly (other than car rentals and alarm clocks, that is).  Of course most of the enjoyment came from being with my  fab husband and superb little munchkin, but adequate upfront planning definitely contributed to our successful first family trip.

And for the record, while I like to do a ridiculous decent amount of planning and list-making before we travel, I always try to leave my Type A half behind.  Being crazy organized has it’s time and place.  At home.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on keeping baby travel neat and (relatively) stress free.  And yes, that is A above snoozing on B just as we touched down at CHS.

TRIP PLANNING (Things to Consider Before You Book)

Choosing Your Destination:

1. Mode and Length of Travel.  Will you be flying?  How long is the trip? What time of day will you be travelling?  Our criteria were as follows: destinations with nonstop flights only, keep flight time to under 4 hours, and preferably travel during morning hours when A was more likely to be alert, curious, and excited, vs. tired, scared, and cranky.

2. Location.  How remote is your destination? Will you have access to common baby necessities and/or medical care if needed?  We toyed with the idea of traveling to Bermuda, but we decided staying in the continental US made the most sense for our first try at this baby travel thing.  We liked the idea of being able to hit up a Target or Walgreen’s if we really needed something!

3. Cost.  Stating the obvious here, but traveling with a baby is a lot different than when just the two of you jetted off to Hawaii a few years ago.  I wouldn’t recommend an expensive or fancy trip for your first vacation with your little one.

4. Accomodations.  Practical or Cushy?  We decided against staying at a hotel and instead rented a one bedroom condo for 5 nights for a few reasons:

  • Kitchen – we had breakfast and lunch at our condo to save some money and take a break from the heat during our beach days.
  • Separate Living/Sleeping Areas – it was nice to be able to relax and watch TV in the living room while A was peacefully sleeping in the bedroom.
  • Washer/Dryer – nice to have in case you need it.  Babies are messy!
  • Cost – renting a place is usually a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel.  We did spring for an ocean view condo with a balcony though since we were spending our evenings hanging out at the condo.  Having drinks on the porch was a nice way to relax.

When To Travel:

5. Baby’s Age. Many people have told me that it’s “so much easier” to travel with smaller babies (6 months and under).  While I agree that baby’s milk-only diet and lack of mobility at this age greatly reduces the amount of time and energy exerted planning meal times and chasing after a little tyke on your “vacation”, I do think there are a few benefits we found for traveling when A was a little older (6-10 month range):

  • Still Relatively Immobile – our little girl can roll over and creep a bit, but she doesn’t get far so we were still able to fully take advantage of that whole “baby stays where you put them” thing while travelling.
  • Longer Attention Span/Ability to Self-Entertain (at least for a few minutes!) – helped us out a lot en route, at the beach, and while exploring Charleston.  The fact that A was happy to explore things in her own way allowed us both some time to be off “baby entertainment duty” during our vacation.
  • Capable of Sitting Up – made it a lot easier for A to play on the beach, and to join us at the dinner table in restaurant-provided highchairs.
  • Capable of Self Feeding – also made dining out a lot more relaxing.  A was thrilled to be stuffing herself with her favorite ‘Puffs’  and other small bits from our plates while we enjoyed our meals.
  • Sleeping Through The Night (hopefully!) – being able to sleep a bit extra is a MUST for me on vacation.  I was very glad not to be in newborn zombie mode during our trip.

6. Time of Year.  This really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation, but I think for most locations, traveling during warmer spring and fall months would be ideal, unless of course you’re heading to the beach, in which case summer is an excellent choice.  The reason I bring this up is that there is undoubtedly a direct correlation between inclement weather and excess baby gear…and an increase in overall vacation crankiness.

AIR TRAVEL (Things to Know, Things to Bring)

7. Security Checkpoints with Baby.  If you will be flying with baby food and bottles (which I recommend you do in case of delays, etc.), you will have to go through the “Family Line” at security, which can really slow you down.  So although this is completely obvious, be sure to get to the airport as early as you can.  The Family Line may be shorter, but it moves a heck of a lot slower.

8. Baggage/Packing List.   If it’s just the three of you, you’ll want to make sure you pack bags that can be easily carried or wheeled behind you, while one of you is also carrying/pushing baby.  Here’s how we played the baggage game:

  • 2 Roller Bags– beach supplies took up half of B’s, A and I shared the other; we checked these bags.  Under all other circumstances I am an “In and Out” traveler and despise checking bags.  However, when traveling with baby you have to through that out the window.  Being careful and patient pays off way more than attempting speedy travel.
  • One small duffel (think gym bag)– for A’s food and bottles, and beloved stuffed puppy (being cuddled in the pic above).  We also packed valuables like our camera and my Medela pump in here, and our Baby Bjorn just in case A freaked on the plane, we could walk/bounce her in the aisles.
  • B’s backpack – we put books and magazines for the trip in here, along with adult snacks and any travel paperwork we had.
  • A’s Diaper Bag – diapers, wipes, snacks, 2 changes of clothes, and a few small, QUIET toys.  We also packed extra pacifiers since it’s highly recommended to keep your baby sucking/swallowing during take off and landing.
  • City Mini Stroller – all airlines let you check a stroller at the gate, and it’s right there waiting for you when you exit the plan at your destination.  The one thing airlines seem to get right these days.

Now I know that sounds like a lot of luggage, but actually it was really easy to maneuver, and for traveling for 5+ days to the beach it was pretty efficient.  At the airport B was in charge of roller bags while wearing his backpack.  I pushed A in the stroller with the diaper bag on the handles, so all I had to carry was the one duffel.  Once the rollers were checked it was even easier.

9. Rental Cars. A little pricier than using public transportation, but the freedom that comes along with having your own set of wheels is priceless.  No coordinating baby schedules and bus/train schedules, no worrying about a cranky baby bothering other passengers, and minimal disruption to your little one, who is probably beyond exhausted.  Also remember you will need to rent a car seat.  Most rental car companies are able to accommodate this but be sure to indicate Infant seat vs. Toddler (depending on what you need).  They don’t always have both on hand.

AMENITIES & SUPPLIES (Bring It or Rent It?)

10. Diapers.com is Amazing. ‘Nuff said.  Don’t lug it with you – send it to your destination for free.  (I swear I was NOT paid to say that).  We ordered as much stuff as we could directly to our condo from Diapers.com and the package was in our living room waiting for us when we arrived (I coordinated this with our management company in advance).  Our D dot C list:

  • 30 pack of diapers
  • 1 big pack of wipes
  • 1 12-pack of mixed fruit/veggie stage 2 foods (so we could use for all meals)
  • 1 pack disposable/reusable spoons
  • 1 pack disposable bibs

The spoons and bibs weren’t a necessity, but I was about $6 short to get free shipping.   They were actually great – it was super easy to toss them our beach bag and diaper bag and not have to worry about needing bibs or spoons while out and about.  And we definitely intend to reuse some of the spoons that didn’t get too dirty, so as to not be completely wasteful.

11. Gear. Navigating the airport was manageable with our luggage – a portable crib would have completely offset our nice little equilibrium!  So we rented a Pack N Play through a company called Tots On The Go, along with a booster seat highchair like this one.  Both were in excellent condition, the PnP came with 2 clean sheets, and everything was waiting for us there when we arrived.  They also picked up after we left.  Highly recommend going this route.  Candice in the Charleston office was the bomb.

BONUS: A Day At The Beach With Baby

12. Beach Packing List. Going to the beach with a little one can be daunting, but we found it was a great place to take a baby.  I planned ahead a lot for this to make sure it went as smooth as possible.  Here was our beach packing list:

  • 5 Beach Towels (weren’t included in our condo) – one for each of us, one to use as a blanket in A’s beach tent, and one to spread out for her to play on
  • Baby Beach Tent – we borrowed this one from a coworker and it was aweomse.  Highly recommend for a baby under one year.  It folds up into itself and comes with backpack carrying case making it super portable.
  • Baby Blow Up Pool – bought this one for $8 at our local Toys R Us and it was also awesome.  It folded up flat so we slipped it in with the tent and carried those together to/from the beach.
  • Fridge To Go – you may recall that I used this  in Miami a few months ago for a much different purpose, but our Fridge To Go was perfect for bringing water and bottles to/from the beach each day.  Comfortable carrying strap made it extra portable.
  • Sunscreen and Hats all around!
  • Entertainment – magazines for the adults, squirty bath toys and stacking cups for A.  These were great because she could play with them on the beach, in her pool, in the tub, and in the condo.  The cups nest into one another and everything fit into a small pouch.
  • Baby Bjorn – for beach walks and carrying A to/from beach on my solo beach day.

Here is a shot of our daily beach set up.  Everything mentioned above (except cooler) fit into one of our two large boat totes.  So B carried A and one bag, while I carried the other bag and cooler the 100 yards from our condo to the beach every day.  It was very manageable.

Kiawah Beach Set Up

Ah, vacation.  I wanna go back.

Please free to contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions, or tips to add.  Happy travelling!

Summing up SC.

Flag Map of South Carolina

Things to note before reading:

  1. This post is VERY long, but we’ve already established the fact that I’m unnecessarily wordy, and rather than emailing friends and family about our trip I figured I would just direct them to this post.
  2. This was our first trip with A and I learned a lot about traveling with a baby.  Since this post is already way too long and boring for the average reader, I’m going to do a separate follow up post with my tips and tricks for vacationing with a little one.

Wednesday, 5/23

Travel day.  After our very long stint in the “family line” at the PHL security checkpoint we grabbed breakfast and walked A around in her stroller since she missed naptime.  We brought our City Mini for the trip (which, by the way, I LOVE and intend to post about one of these days – seriously the best stroller for so many reasons), and it did not disappoint.  She finally fell asleep 10 minutes before boarding (go figure) and then again 10 minutes before landing (double go figure).

In Charleston, B went to get our rental car from Hertz…only to learn that he actually rented the car from the Charleston AIR FORCE base, not AIR PORT, and you need government clearance to even get to that Hertz location, which obviously he does not have.  Needless to say that’s the last time he’s in charge of rental cars.  National car rental saved the day though and we were in Kiawah less than an hour later.

Kiawah Island Beach

We checked into our “villa” (really just a one bedroom  condo next to the beach but they refer to them this way to sound fancy) and managed a quick trip out to see the beach and ocean before heading over to Freshfields Village to stock up on groceries for the week.  Our plan was to eat breakfast and lunch in the villa each day to save some time and money.

Freshfields Village - Courtesy of Charleston Real Estate

We finished off the day with some South Carolina BBQ and beers (Palmetto Brewing Company based in Charleston had an awesome Amber beer – highly recommend it), at the Cherrywood BBQ and Ale House, overlooking a pond with alligators mulling around.  We counted 6 visible ones but I’m sure more were lurking below…

The restaurant smoked its own meat and had 7 house-made sauces that they brought out along with this map below to give you a little tutorial of SC BBQ.  I thought it was pretty neat.  I did feel a little inadequate though since I am a tomato-based BBQ sauce gal.  Apparently that’s not hardcore enough in the Carolinas.

South Carolina BBQ Map

Thursday, 5/24

A’s first beach day! We had pre-rented 2 chairs and an umbrella (we flew and couldn’t bring beach chairs) so we sat in the same spot every day.  Luckily it was about 100 yards from our villa! We dangled A’s toes in the water to which she surprisingly didn’t have much of a reaction, so mostly she just played in the sand, in her baby blow up pool, and in her baby beach tent borrowed from her friend C.  She didn’t take her usual marathon naps, but we did get enough for us to each read half of the US Weekly we brought.

Kiawah Beach Set Up

That evening we headed out for really good seafood at a spot in Freshfields called Hege’s.  We still have no clue how to pronounce it though.  Anyone know?  Oh – and of course we hit up Marble Slab Creamery after dinner.

Friday, 5/25

B had an early morning tee time over at the Ocean Course.  They are playing the 2012 PGA Championship there in a few months so he was beyond excited to get to play it now.  A and I spent some QT together on the beach.  I played the role of Mom Sherpa.  It was quite the sight: I had A in the baby bjorn, her beach tent on my back (it folds into a backpack carrying case), the cooler bag on one shoulder and the beach bag on the other.  We had some play time with stacking cups and bath toys (these were all I brought in the toy department since they are small, portable, and versatile), and she took a long nap while I read a copy of Runner’s World that I’ve been trying to finish since April.

A took a late afternoon nap indoors so B held a solo happy hour on the porch while I went on a beach run and checked out some of the amazing homes further out on the island.  Each is bigger and grander than the next, and they all look like they’re ready to host the Pottery Barn summer catalog shoot.

Our villa was in this building, pretty enough right?

Windswept Villas @ Kiawah Island

But seriously, check out these beachfront pads (not photos I took – images courtesy of HGTV & Michael Driver Architecture)

Kiawah Home - Courtesy of HGTV

Kiawah Home - Courtesy of M Driver Architecture

Our Friday night ended with a frozen pizza for a quick, cheap and easy dinner in the villa.

Saturday, 5/26

We took a morning walk around Kiawah and the pool and park.  There is a lot to see and do down there; it’s a great family destination, especially if you have older kids.

After another beautiful day on the beach we ventured out to the King Street Grille for burgers.  Another good meal out with A, who was happy as could be in her high chair eating puffs and pieces of French fries.

We came home to watch the Sixers lose to the Celtics in Game 7, but I’m not a big NBA person so that didn’t put too much of a damper on my day.  Actually it didn’t even make me blink.  That’s how much I dislike NBA basketball.  Did I just say that??

Sunday, 5/27

Tropical storm Beryl started to make her way toward Jacksonville’s coastline, which brought some big wind gusts to the beach in Kiawah.  So we decided it was a day better suited for being tourists in Charleston.  We walked around Marion Square for a bit where there was an art festival in progress, and had lunch at Virginia’s On King.  We had the BEST fried pickles I’ve ever had.  They were so good.  My mouth is watering just copying this pic in:

Virginia's Fried Pickles

The pickles were followed by a Fried Oyster Po’boy for me:

Fried Oyster Po Boy

And a BBQ sandwich for B.  Remember South Carolina is Mustard-based sauce, hence the yellowy hue:

Virginia's BBQ Sandwich

Both sandwiches were served with sweet potato fries (that A enjoyed sampling), and a bacon and blue cheese coleslaw which was delicious.  I loved the twist on this traditional summer side.  This would be a great addition to our usual shore lineup.  I’m hoping my fellow blog comrade SH over at Eventfully Simple is reading this!  She has a knack for finding good summer sides/salads and I’ve had the privilege of tasting many of them at the shore over the years.

We took an hour or two after lunch to explore Charleston, and then made our way back to Kiawah to pack for our trip home.  Boo.

A sampling of our Charleston shots is below.  I was amazed at the size, style, and color of the homes right in the heart of the city.  Unlike anything up here in the Northeastern Corridor.

Charleston Homes 1

Charleston Alley

Charleston Homes 2

Charleston Homes 3

Charleston Homes 4

Monday, 5/28

Time to head home.  We had a pretty uneventful travel day, except for the small fact that B accidentally set the clock ahead an hour when he set our alarm for 5am.  So we were dressed, fed, and ready to leave when we looked at our phones and realized it was 4:30.  Not 5:30.  Needless to say B is no longer in charge of alarm setting on vacation either.  But at least he didn’t set the clock the other way.  Phew.

So that’s it for our Memorial Day weekend in South Carolina, and our first “family” vacation.  It was a pretty successful first trip with baby, and we even managed to squeeze in a few moments of relaxation which was an added bonus.  Bummed to be back of course.  But we’re counting down the days until we can plan Kiawah 2013!

Everywhere, like, such as…

We’re heading down to South Carolina next week to spend 5 days (hopefully!) on the beach at Kiawah Island, and to check out nearby Charleston, which I’ve heard is a neat town and happens to be quite high on my list of “Must Visit” US cities.  It will be our first “family vacation” and A’s first plane ride.  You can’t even imagine the list making that has already begun around here to prepare for the adventure.  But rest assured I’ll share it all here after the trip, along with a recap of what we learn about traveling with a baby.  Wish us luck!

Getting ready for SC reminded me of this gem (for no other reason than the state, I assure you).  So I give you this clip to brighten up your (almost!) Friday.  If you’ve never seen this one before you will probably need to watch it at least twice to reassure yourself that your brain is indeed functioning normally; it’s not you, it’s…it’s actually completely inexplicable.  Just watch it, you’ll see what I mean.

Disclaimer: I’m sure Miss SC ’07 is a lovely person and I am by no means passing judgement on her or her intelligence.  But her reply to this question is amazeballs.