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Our recent trip to Santa Barbara was our first real family trip since the pandemic started. (We took a two-day trip to Lido House in Newport Beach in September but that was all.) When we were informed that there was mandatory electrical work that needed to be completed on our home, we weren’t comfortable staying inside the house while workers did their job over the course of nine days. So we decided to take a road trip up to California’s Central Coast to get out of their way and keep our family safe.
California is jam-packed with amazing road trip destinations and it wasn’t hard to choose Santa Barbara for our little getaway. But I haven’t traveled in two years (I was grounded early in my pregnancy with my second child and then the pandemic hit so I haven’t been on an airplane since May 2019) so packing for the first time as a family of four was new to me.
Packing for a road trip is entirely different than packing for travel by airplane and traveling during COVID adds a whole new layer of concern. And traveling with a toddler and a baby for the first time … well, let’s just say I made a detailed list and started packing days in advance.
So what was on my list? Quite a few people have asked about this so I’ve copied my list from the Notes app on my iPhone and added a few links and notes below. First, I started with categories and went from there. This isn’t an exhaustive list but I tend to write down the things I really don’t want to forget. (We packed for all four of us in a large Roam suitcase, which you can read about here, and a tote bag.)
-rubber edge corners (we place these on sharp corners in hotel rooms)
–inflatable bed rails (these are super-handy because they’re light and easy to pack and prevent the kids from falling out of the bed)
-my son’s teddy bear and my daughter’s doll
-diaper baggies for diaper disposal
-Cetaphil baby wash and shampoo (decanted into a small container)
Baby/Toddler Medical Items
My son has food allergies and eczema so I never leave home without:
-medicated creams (to treat eczema)
-thermometer (this non-contact infrared thermometer is great for kids because it’s quick and no-touch; my son used to scream when I touched a thermometer to his forehead!)
Clothing is obvious but I like to jot down the things I’m most likely to forget:
-slippers – I was glad I had these as some of our hotel room floors were very cold.
-bathing suits – always pack bathing suits because you just never know!
-hand sanitizer for purse and car – this is the one I love because it doesn’t dry out my hands and smells amazing
-face masks for entire family (read about the KN95 masks we use for kids and for ourselves as well)
-Potty Shields – read more about this travel must-have here
Well, this was a first but since we were taking a road trip and staying at three different hotels, I decided to pack up a cooler with food for the kids. I didn’t want to have to be constantly looking for snacks, especially during COVID, so I packed a cooler full of pantry staples, fruit and veggies. We stopped to pick up milk, kept it in the mini-fridge in our room and we were set. It was great to have breakfast ready for the kids as soon as they woke up without having to get them dressed, go out and overspend.
-Hawaiian rolls – my daughter loves these!
*I also packed plastic plates, bowls, cups and cutlery that we could reuse throughout our stay and I was so glad I did. This made mealtime so much easier since we did not eat out at restaurants for the duration of our stay. We always ate in our room.
Games and Activities
During pre-pandemic trips, we were usually so busy going out and doing fun things that I never really had to consider how to keep the kids amused for long periods. But since we spent more time in our hotel rooms than usual, I wanted to make sure I had lots of things for them to do quietly or for us to do as a family.
-books, books, books – my kids love Curious George so I brought along this compilation, which has 8 stories in one, as well as some other favorites like this Paddington Bear box set.
–Twister – this was a surprise for the kids and was super easy to pack but lots of fun.
–Connect Four – this was a surprise for the kids, too and we had lots of fun in the evenings playing before bed.
-balloons – balloons are one of my travel essentials. It takes no room or weight to stuff a few in your suitcase but they provide hours and hours of fun for kids.
-activity books and washable crayons and markers – this set of four activity books was perfect and kept my son busy and happy. I brought a pad of paper for my 19-month-old daughter to draw on.
Essentials for Myself:
Despite having my packing routine down-pat, I still make notes of things that I really don’t want to forget. That includes:
-contact lenses/contact lens solution
-hair dryer brush – this Revlon hair dryer brush is one of my favorite hair tools and is a travel essential since it’s a blow dryer, flat iron and hairbrush all in one!
-iPhone, iPad, laptop and Kindle plus all chargers
-slippers – I like slipper socks like these ones because they take up so little room in my suitcase
Packing is pretty personal but regardless of what you need to take with you, I find making a list super-helpful and an easy way to help me stay organized. I’d love to hear what things you never travel without so leave a comment below!
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.