Parenting pop quiz: What is the most difficult and annoying thing about having children? Ding ding ding ding ding! You’re right! It’s getting out of the house with them!
In winter there is little to be done about this, as children must be dressed in 45 layers of clothing which is variously bulky and snow-play worthy, or slim-fitting and carseat-friendly, yet warm enough to protect their soft little cheeks on the -10 degree walk to the car. Many’s the winter day I have wished for one of these: But summer… ah, summer is the time of just walking out of the house with nary a care in the world, right? Slip your feet into a pair of shoes on the way out the door, and there you go, right? If all you want to do is play in your own backyard, then yes, a thousand times yes, YES, ECSTATIC YES!!! to effortless house-leaving. But what if you actually want to go further afield, to the pool or a swimming hole or on a hike or just a hit-the-road-and-see-where-it-takes-us kind of thing? Then you’re in for 20+ minutes of puttering around, packing this and that and running back into the house at least twice for things you might need and then when you finally get there, you think of three other things you obviously should have brought…. Well, I am here to solve all your summer outing obstacles, folks. I started doing this last summer and it is a game changer. Let me just lay it on you: Adventure Bag. BAM. It’s a bag you keep in your trunk, already packed with everything you need to have any kind of fun summer adventure. I first got the genius idea of an adventure bag from a friend who saw it on this post on 3191 Miles Apart, which incidentally is an awesome blog you should totally check out if you go in for beautiful lifestyle photos from two friends living across the country from each other in the two Portlands. Anyways, I think Stephanie, the Portland Oregon one, must have older or more mess-averse kids, because her adventure kit fits in one of those adorable African woven grass baskets you always see ladies carrying at the farmer’s market, while mine fills an entire giant Ikea tote. OK, so let’s get down to the actual helpful part of this post that I promised you in my headline. What to pack.
1 & 2. Backpack and tote bag. Good for bringing a selection of your adventure bag items along with you on the post-car part of your adventure, and also for dividing the stuff up when it’s packed, so you can find it easily.
3. Sand toys. These are for the beach or sandy riverside spot, obviously, though my kids were also the toast of the kiddie pool last summer with this awesome Melissa and Doug Seaside Baking Set a friend gave us.
4. Empty jar. Empty jar is the workhorse of your adventure kit. Can be used for any kind of collecting, from sea water to pebbles to feathers to wild strawberries. Or litter, in the case of my son, the vigilante garbage man.
5. Bandanas. These are great for everything from wiping your nose to spreading out for a makeshift plate at snack time. Just not in that order, preferably. Or for first aid, though thankfully it’s never come to that, kinahora!
6. Pocketknife. If I need to tell you why a pocketknife is handy to have along, you need more help than I’m able to give. To cut things with, people. Come on.
7. Kleenex. I think it’s against the international law of motherhood to travel without kleenex. Even if you wiped your nose on the bandana, you still might want to use kleenex for peeing in the woods (girl-style, that is) and stuff like that.
8. Nylon grocery bag. Great for carrying wet clothes or swimsuits back home, or collections that won’t fit in the empty jar, like when my kids find 38 awesome sticks that they absolutely must bring home because it’s not like we have any sticks in our own yard. Or, you know, as a shopping bag like god intended, for when you find some amazing farm stand or kitschy antique shop along your travels.
9. Shelf-stable snacks. For all-day outings, I usually pack a lunch as well, but for shorter jaunts, it’s great to be able to just bust out some almonds and raisins from the adventure bag as hunger strikes.
10 & 11. Swimsuits and towel. These are our back-up suits. If we’re going to the beach or swimming hole or pool, I normally dress the kids in their suits before we leave home, cause having to stop and change once you see the water is a total drag. But sometimes you don’t know you’re going to want to get in the water until you get there. Countless times I have brought the kids somewhere just thinking we were going on a hike or whatever, and then there turned out to be some awesome stream to tromp in. Bringing suits, or at least a change of clothes (16), keeps you from having to be that “No, you can’t get in the water. Just stay on the dry part. No, I told you not to go in there. Feet on the grass. I SAID FEET ON THE GRASS. Well, there you go, that’s what I thought was going to happen. I guess you’ll have wet pants until we get back to the car,” kind of mom.
12. Sun hats/shades. Can’t have fun with the sun in your eyes.
13 & 14. Sunscreen and bug spray. We are big Badger fans here. My daughter has super-sensitive skin and has never had the slightest blotch from these products, and they are a 1 (low hazard) on the EWG scale, for those of you who like to be neurotic about chemicals. (Says the lady whose 5 year-old once blurted out, “If anybody brings me parabens, I’m gonna squash them like Brando scaring a child to death!” (He thinks Brando is this guy’s name although I’m sure a threat from Marlon Brando would be enough to put anyone off parabens.))
15. Sweatshirts. Here in Vermont, even in summer the temperatures can hover at that spot where it’s warm and comfortable in the sun but the shade brings a chill, and it often gets quite cool after the sun goes down.
16. A change of clothes. I’d say it’s probably about 60-40 whether my children come home from an outing in different clothes than they left in. These kiddos love to stomp in bogs, crawl in muddy creeks, roll in wet sand, and generally comport themselves as if they were creatures of the woods to whom dirty clothes are no more a care than the stock market report. So yeah, I pretty much never regret bringing a change of clothes for both of them.
17. Pajamas. Sometimes an adventure, or just plain old dinner at a friend’s house, goes on longer than anticipated, and it’s pretty much bedtime by the time we get back in the car. In this case, putting on PJs before the drive home is awesome, so we can just sneak sleeping babes straight into their beds when we get home.
18. Water bottles. I keep these empty in the car and then just fill up with ice cubes and water right before we leave.
19. Picnic blanket. This is the most used item of the kit, even above old workhorse, the empty jar. It’s always good to have a clean spot to sit and snack, or to lay on at the beach, and it can also be used as a blanket or extra towel, in a pinch.
And there you have it. Every thing you need for an outing or day trip with young children. Now that this bag is in our trunk, we are officially ready for summer. Bring on the adventures!