Packing For Toddlers: It’s The Worry That Takes Up So Much Space

I can vividly remember packing for college. It felt so significant, monumental even, but it wasn’t stressful. Here I was preparing to leave home for several months, to live on my own for the very first time, yet I wasn’t terribly concerned that I would forget to pack something important. Sixteen years later, I’m packing for an eight-week family adventure and it’s gotten me so turned around I can barely eat.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much. (It’s true that my digestion has been off for the past couple of weeks. I internalize.) The reason I actually feel stressed out this time is that the gauntlet has been thrown down. My husband insists that it’s entirely possible, and preferable, to pack light despite the fact that we’re traveling to a Central American island with two children under the age of four.

Granted, that portion of the trip will only be three weeks long, followed by five weeks in Los Angeles. But those three weeks in a developing country have grabbed my focus and have me thinking about bed nets and Ciprofloxacin. It’s mostly silly, I realize, especially given the fact that my husband, Ryan, and I have been to this island twice before and wanted for nothing while we there. However, that was pre-kids and my fears were only for myself. What a different story it is when you’re worried for the health of your children.

I mention this health stuff because I think it’s directly tied to my strong desire to pack anything and everything we might, possibly, potentially need on the island. I’m desperately seeking some modicum of control and packing just the right number of light long sleeved T-shirts helps provide that. Ryan knows me, and therefore knows just what’s going on, but he’s determined to help me let go of these fears and save money on the checked baggage fees at the same time.

To that end, he even suggested leaving our car seats at home. CAR SEATS! Needless to say, it wasn’t a good starting point for this particular discussion. The stroller is still up for debate. Our most recent and eye-opening argument was about diapers. I didn’t explicitly say that I was planning to pack a three-week supply of diapers for our 18-month-old, but Ryan could tell I was thinking about it. “It’s Honduras, not Mars,” he said. “They have diapers.” Yes, I said, but are they the right kind of diapers? How can we be sure that they won’t be the diaper rash-causing kind? “Babe, you just have to trust that the Universe will provide.”

And right there, he had nailed it. For as much as I believe in the law of attraction, I’m not prepared to leave much of anything up to the Universe when it comes to my kids. In my unconscious mind, for better or worse, I AM the universe for our children. If they need something, I feel a need to provide it – immediately and without intervention from outside forces (even, apparently, a grocery store). It’s so completely irrational, and yet makes perfect sense.

So I’m doing my best. I started out with stacks of folded shirts and pants and shorts and dresses, but whittled it down to only what will fit in one checked bag – for both of our kids. The travel crib (which Ryan initially voted against) will most likely have to squeeze into my suitcase, but if it means two fewer pair of shoes for me, that’s just fine. I’m bringing some basic first aid supplies but we confidently declined the anti-malarial medication that was offered to us at the travel clinic (the actual risk of transmission where we’re going is less than 1% and it’s not the deadly strain). There will be many applications of sunblock and bug repellent (packing those for sure), but I will also make a concerted effort to worry less and enjoy more while we’re there. It’s the worry that takes up so much space. Enjoying yourself barely requires a carry-on.

(Photo: Rene Jansa/Shutterstock)

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  • Sophie

    You should bring the anti-malaria medicine. You’re willing to stress about diaper rash but not malaria? Listen to the clinic.

    • angela arsenault

      hi, sophie -

      thanks for reading! but don’t worry – the doctor at the clinic didn’t actually recommend we use the anti-malaria medication. he simply advised us of our options and told us that the risk of transmission was below 1% and that using a deet- or picaridin-based repellent would be effective. we’re also planning to use bed nets and long-sleeves at night.

      i’m letting go of irrational fears but i have no plans to become irresponsible. ; )

      – ama

  • Maegan

    Oh jeez…I just did this! We’re moving overseas. But we won’t have access to our household items for almost two months from start to finish. I had to pack everything…EVERYTHING we could need for about 2 months worth of living for 2 adults & 2 kids (8 & 4). I made out a list of the bare minimum clothing items we’d need. I mean…I figured we’d AT LEAST have access to washers & dryers (hotels usually have them…and we’re doing this with the military, there’s always a laundrette on the installation). Then I realized…My 8 yr old may start school before we get the bulk of our items delivered. Can she really live on 2 pairs of jeans, 2 leggings, & 2 sweatpants at school? I always double up on t-shirts b/c I like to layer – short sleeves over long (and this kind of mixes up the wardrobe, I think…the white may have gone under a grey shirt one day, but pink can go over it tomorrow).

    I ended up packing their basics in their carryons…then took their “extras”…the single dress & nice skirt outfit with the older one’s school outfits (arriving near the holidays – we’ve done this once before, and inevitably there are holiday events we must attend whether we have the appropriate attire or not!) and put it in a SPACE BAG! It’s not fantastic for long term storage…but it was great for the stuff we needed to bring, but wouldn’t need during travel times. I had to kind of manipulate the items while the air got sucked out to keep the bag in a good shape for packing. it was nice. About 8 outfits+2 snow suits fit in less than the bottom half of a 29 inch suitcase. :)

    For the girls & me…we managed to do 2 carry ons & 2 checked. My husband was a different story b/c he had a few clothes, but had to pack a duffle with his uniforms in them, too. Being military we didn’t have to worry about paying for checked bags. We’re about halfway through our 2 months without our household goods. No major issues so far (I did have a lot of stuff in a checked bag – hygiene/bathroom items, first aid kid, kid tylenol/ibuprofen/robitussin, etc). I also managed to smuggle 2 stockings in my stuff! :) We grabbed a few things to put in the stockings for tomorrow morning…but we’ll hold off on real Christmas until we’re moved in to our new digs & have our household items delivered. Hope your trek works out.

    Also – might I suggest a few cloth diapers?? You’d just need a way to wash. Simple prefolds & covers might be easiest to travel with & cheap to use. :)

  • Beth Rehman

    This phrase of the article nailed it for me, ” It’s so completely irrational, and yet makes perfect sense.” That sums up quite a bit of human behavior for me….

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