Organize a summer vacation with your smartphone

Last year I traveled to Orlando from Boston and managed every aspect of the trip, from packing to sending a thank-you card, with my iPhone. I rarely touched paper through the planning and traveling process and never felt unprepared or wanting. The following is how I managed a vacation with a smartphone (and you can, too).

Hardware

There are two pieces of hardware I needed for my journey beyond my smartphone. The first was a backup battery case. My choice was the Mophie Juice Pack. It’s sturdy, indicates its available power via LEDs, and has an on/off switch, so you don’t turn it on until you need it. The Juice Pack leaves all the ports and buttons available on a phone and charges up with or without the smartphone inside. I typically switch it on when my iPhone’s battery hit 20 percent, and turned it off once the phone was back up to 80 percent.

Don’t have an iPhone? No worries, Mophie makes battery cases for many makes and models.

I also brought an AC charger for the car. Nothing devours a smartphone’s battery like running a GPS app, so a charger is essential. Save the Juice Pack for later.

Book a flight

Kayak is my favorite smartphone travel app, available for iPhone and Android devices, and it’s what I used to book my flight. I launched the app, tapped Flights, and entered flight details (like originating airport, terminal airport, date, number of passengers and price range). Then, I tapped Search Flights.

Once I selected my flight, I booked through the app (but you don’t have to). Finally, I had the program email the details to me and a travel partner.

If you book your flight outside of the app, you can create a free Kayak account and email any confirmation emails to your special Kayak address. The details will appear in the “My Trips” section and the app does a stellar job of parsing the information into something useable. Having all your flight information in one, well-organized location is very convenient.

Packing list

I also used Kayak to create a packing list. There are many apps that can do this, but I like having things in one place. Kayak offers four list templates by default: Family, Business, Romantic, and General. Each features items that one might take on a family trip, business trip, etc. You can edit these lists or create custom ones.

Book a bus ticket

I live in the boonies, so I must take a bus to the airport. My local bus line isn’t the most technically advanced, but that’s all right. The schedule is available as a PDF, which I put into Evernote tagged: Florida. Now, I’ve got the schedule ready to browse anytime, even if I lose my Internet connection.

At this point, I had to touch paper. My bus line sells tickets with no electronic option.

Finally, I put copies of email confirmation from the airline and a photo of the bus ticket into my Evernote “Florida” notebook. It’s overkill, but it helps me rest easier. Now it’s off to the airport.

En route

Kayak does a great job of monitoring flight information, but there are alternatives. My favorite is Flight Update Pro. This app lets you create a Trip, and each Trip can have several flights. Flight information is very legible, and includes terminal and gate information, weather report flight maps, and even a seating chart. You can store your confirmation number, seat number, and any relevant notes.

The sharing options are great, too. You can send an email or a SMS to a travel partner with a tap of a button. There’s little to type, as the messages are pre-populated with flight information and status. Kayak offers easy emails, but not SMS. It’s a simple way to say, “I’m here,” with almost no effort.

There are other flight apps, and I’ve tried many. Honorable mention goes to Flight Card by Sylion. It’s less capable than the others, but very good looking and certainly well-suited to those who fly less frequently or aren’t as demanding of their flight apps. Again, if you have an Android device, you can do all of this with Kayak.

Driving

After a night at my parents’, it was time to drive to the destination, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. I’d need a turn-by-turn GPS app for the two-hour drive, and Google Maps is my choice, available for Android and iOS. It’s been my go-to GPS app for years.

Park Map

Many amusement parks have apps for customers and some third-party developers have created them, too. Universal’s Islands Of Adventure – GPS Map with HP is a nice example of the latter. It provides a map of the venue with GPS directions, as well as points of interest such as popular attractions, restaurants, and restrooms. It’s not all-inclusive (many Disney apps include ride wait times, for example), but it is better than those oversized paper maps that typically get torn or lost. If you’re heading to an amusement park this summer, be sure to research park-specific apps that might be beneficial for you.

Photographs

Smartphones come with photo software that’s fantastic right out of the box, so you probably won’t need to look elsewhere. I do, however, like Camera+ by Tap Tap Tap for the iPhone. Its editing tools are quite nice.

Don’t forget to back up your photographs automatically so if your phone gets waterlogged or lost, you don’t lose your vacation memories.

Thank you notes

There’s a great app for making greeting cards from Android devices and another for iPhones. On your flight home, you can take care of the thank you cards and be finished with your trip except for your laundry when you get home.

Organize your kids for camp

It’s difficult to believe, but summer begins next week for those of us in the northern hemisphere. My to-do list is long and one of the items on that list is to help get my kids organized for camp. Like countless kids across the country, they’ll join their friends — and make new ones — at camp.

You can help make the experience even more pleasant for them with strategic planning before Jr. walks out the door.

All types of camps

You son or daughter will likely receive a list of requirements and suggestions from the camp itself. Start shopping for these items at least a week in advance, if not longer. This will avoid the last-second rush and allow you to label everything properly. Speaking of labels…

Get some labels for the kids’ clothing and other personal items. There are many of these available: Name Bubbles makes some cute ones, including a whole line meant to “…last all summer long.” Be sure to label items that she or he might take off, like hats, flip-flops, and t-shirts, as well as accessories like sunscreen and lunch boxes. If you don’t want to purchase labels, a permanent marker will do a good job, as well as a laundry marker.

Sleep away camp

It’s a good idea to provide your little camper with a Re-Pack list that he or she can check when preparing to come home. Stick it in your child’s bag and laminate it, if you can.

Also, only pack clothes and other items that can get lost without causing a big deal. That beloved, irreplaceable shirt that Jr. simply adores might not be the best choice for camp, no matter how cool it is.

Pack liquids and anything that might be attractive to pests in zip-top bags. Write on the bags the contents with permanent markers so items have a greater chance of returning to the bags.

Day camp

A lesson my family learned the hard way: don’t send your child’s nice school backpack to camp. It will get used, abused, and stuffed with sand, dirt, and who knows what else. Go out (again, well ahead of time) and buy an inexpensive bag that can get beat up because it will.

Similar to the Re-Pack list recommended for sleep-away camp, make a daily checklist for your child’s backpack/bag. Again, laminate the list so that you can write special daily items on it as reminders (like a plain white t-shirt for tie-dyeing one day) in addition to the regular things.

If swimming is a regular part of the camp, pack a large zip-top bag. Get the biggest one you can find so wet swimsuits and towels can be stored away from other items in the bag.

If you or your children regularly attended or attend summer camp, what additional tips would you share to keep kids organized? Feel welcome to leave them in the comments.

Organize your smartphone for summer travel

For people who own smartphones, one of your phone’s benefits is that it can serve as your mobile computer when you’re traveling. To help facilitate this change in purpose, you may also wish to switch things up on your phone. You can make adjustments to the the apps on your home screen, the alerts your smartphone delivers, and more before departing for a trip. The following suggestions are what I recommend making to your smartphone while preparing to travel.

Re-organize applications

Depending on the model of smartphone you have, you likely have a limited number of apps you can store on your phone’s main screen. With this in mind, consider which apps you’ll want to access most often during a trip, and move them to the main screen. You can move all your other apps to subsequent screens, reducing visual clutter and saving yourself from playing “hide and seek” on your phone when your connectivity may not be as consistent as it is at home. I typically have these apps on my home screen during a trip (I have an iPhone):

  • Mail
  • Phone
  • Safari
  • Maps
  • Messages
  • Camera
  • Evernote
  • Kayak
  • Motion-X GPS Drive
  • Path
  • Rdio
  • Any destination-specific apps

Most of these apps have obvious functions: phone calling, web browsing, navigating, texting, listening to music, and shooting photos and video. The others have specific duties.

Evernote is my database for everything digital. It lets me create and browse a fast, lightweight, and searchable repository of all the specifics I’ll need for my trip: hotel reservations, airport details, parking locations, confirmation numbers, and so much more are all a tap away. In fact, my “everything database” has all but eliminated paper from my travel materials.

Motion-X GPS Drive (iOS only) is my preferred turn-by-turn navigation app for the iPhone. It’s reliable, inexpensive, and easy to use. Advanced features, like saved searches and synthetic voices that are genuinely easy to understand, make it a winner. (Erin would like to note that she’s addicted to Waze, which is available for Mac and Windows phones.)

Path is a social networking application with an interesting premise: unlike Facebook and Twitter, which invite users to broadcast their comings and goings to whoever will listen, Path asks you to invite a handful of family and friends to share your favorite moments. I often use it with my family, most of whom also do a fair amount of traveling.

Finally, I’ll add any destination-specific apps I find. For instance, there are several great apps available for navigating Walt Disney World. In 2011, Macy’s released an official Thanksgiving Day Parade app. Search your favorite App Store for apps related to your destination.

ID your equipment for instant recognition

Not every trip is a vacation. I often travel for work and when I do, my smartphone is in tow, as is a pile of other tech goodies, like wall chargers, cables, keyboards and so on. What’s more, I meet colleagues who also travel with gadgets, often identical to my own. To avoid confusion, I mark my own stuff for easy organizing.

The easiest and least permanent way to label cables and equipment is with a small sticker. I prefer the colorful circles people often use in retail to identify sale items, etc. You’ll find them at most big-box office supply stores. I’ll put a red circle, for instance, on all of my chargers, cables, iPhone and iPad case, keyboards, and so on. That way if there’s a question about who owns what, I can ask, “Is there a red sticker?”

Stickers are impermanent, too, and I like that. Someday I might want to sell or give away some of my gear and no one will want it if it’s got “Dave Caolo” written on it in black permanent marker. The stickers are easy to remove and don’t leave any residue.

While stickers work, they’re not always the most elegant solution. For something a little better-looking, consider Buoy Tags (or similar). These customizable plastic tags clip onto USB cables. You can add your own initials, name, phone number, etc. Tags like this are very handy.

Disable alerts

I’ll admit, I check email during trips with my family. However, I reduce the temptation to spend too much time on this app by making it less attractive. First, I disable the alert sound/vibration completely. Next, I disable the alert icon that appears whenever there is a new message. And finally, I move the app into a folder so it is more difficult to access and see. When I get on my phone to pull up a hotel reservation, I’m not lured into email–on, off, and back to my relaxing trip.

Efficient travel tips from an airline pilot

My sister has been a commercial airline pilot for more than a decade. Whenever I’m taking to the skies for travel, I hit her up for tips. (Because who knows more about efficient airline travel than pilot, right?) The following is some of the organized travel advice I’ve garnered from her over the years.

First, if an overhead bag fits perpendicular to the airplane and baggage overhead bin, place it with its wheels out. The bag will fit in deeper in the overhead bin when its wheels are pointing toward the aisle. Throw your coat on top of that bag if you can. While you’re packing, prepare a small bag to be kept under the seat for things you may need during the flight. Your small, under-seat bag might include electronic devices, chargers (many seats have outlets), any medicine, travel docs (passport, etc.), wallet (you may want to buy inboard food or order Direct TV), packed sandwich or snacks (bananas, apples, granola bars) and your own bottle of water that you purchased once inside security. Also consider bringing your own headset if you want to watch TV without using the painful coach headsets, a neck pillow, and something light to throw over yourself in case it is chilly.

It seems easiest to pack your zip-top bag of liquids into the aforementioned small bag, so only one bag has to be opened at security. This also prevents your liquids from getting crushed/squeezed in the larger bag.

When it comes to avoiding delays, taking the first flight of the day can be very helpful. The first flight out is ideal since MOST airplanes have been at the airport overnight and there is less of a chance you’ll encounter delays related to late inbound aircraft. You’ll also have less of a chance of other flights getting canceled and rebooked on a morning flight, there are typically smaller security lines, smaller crowds in the terminal, and fewer weather delays as early weather tends to be less intense than it is later in the day.

While enroute, look at the airline magazine in the seat back pocket. These magazines contain airport diagrams for major airports. This helps give you an idea about where you’ll be when you get off the airplane. It helps you to anticipate where to exit the airport for pickup (arrivals is typically on the baggage claim level) and where to transfer to your next departure gate when continuing on to a connecting flight. Feel free to ring the overhead bell to call a flight attendant and ask for the anticipated gate arrival number. The crew typically knows the gate assignment 30 minutes prior to landing.

You might prefer the window seat for the view, but put a bit more thought into where you’re going to sit. Window seats are good for sleeping. Choose a seat near the wing if your body does not like to fly and you have tendency to have air sickness. Choose a seat near the front of the coach section, near an exit door or in economy plus/business/first class for a quick exit on and off. If you’ll be on a 50-seat regional jet, choose the single first three seats to (usually) have more personal space on a smaller aircraft.

Step into your seat and let passengers pass until you see a break in the boarding passengers to step out and find an overhead bin for your bag. Seating in the front of coach aids in getting first dibs on overhead space, so you never have to search. Some airlines board by zones … look for zone one first for the same bags reason.

Additional tips to make your experience more pleasant:

  1. Pack lightly. Take advantage of laundry service or a washer and dryer at your destination if you’re staying more than four days.
  2. Anything you bring with you can be lost or forgotten. “Do I really need it with me?” should be your mantra.
  3. Keep certain items packed at all times in your luggage.

Finally, follow these considerations for getting through security: wear slip-on shoes, don’t wear a belt, and avoid wearing large jewelry. Travel can be a hassle, but a little effort and some organizing can make all the difference.

An organized ending to a trip

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about how to prepare for a trip, with packing lists and more. But professional organizer Julie Bestry and I were recently discussing a related concern: How do you end your trip in an organized manner? The following are some suggestions that might work for you.

Do a thorough unpacking

You may choose to keep some items in your luggage permanently — a toiletry case or a spare charger, for example — especially if you travel a lot. Beside these items, unpack everything else right away, being sure to look in all the pockets of your luggage.

Earlier this year, I thought I’d lost my favorite business card holder when it was actually just hidden in my luggage. Finding it when I packed for a recent trip was a pleasant surprise, but it would have been even nicer to have not misplaced it for six months.

Note anything that needs to be replenished or repaired

Did you use up your travel-size toothpaste, or something similar? Make a note on your to-do list to replace depleted items. Another example: On my latest trip, I realized the wheels on my suitcase squeak quite horribly. Getting that fixed is going onto my to-do list now.

Capture anything you learned that would help in future travels

Did you pack something that wound up being useless? Did you wish you’d packed something you didn’t? Did something you packed work out especially well? If you keep a packing list, update that list to reflect what you learned.

Other things can be worth noting, too. For example, I’ve learned things about rental cars that I’ve put into a file (and others might choose to put into Evernote) for future reference: which models of cars I’ve liked and disliked, what things to make sure I understand about any car before I drive away from the rental office, etc. (I once had a car which hid the headlight controls in an unusual place, and it took pulling off the road and doing some searching to find them.) This is a file I might well want to update after any trip that involves a rental car.

Write reviews, if you so choose

If you had a notably good or bad experience, you may want to write a review for a site like TripAdvisor. If that’s something you want to do, it’s best to do the writing while your memories are still fresh.

Go through your photos

It’s easy to believe we’ll never forget where we were when we took our photos, but all too often, we do forget detailed information. Name the photos or tag them while your memory is fresh. And while you’re doing that, take a few moments to delete the photos that just aren’t worth keeping: out-of-focus photos, duplicate shots, etc.

Write thank-you notes

If you were hosted by friends or business associates, take the time to write thank-you notes expressing your gratitude for their hospitality.

Stop telling people you’re gone

If you use an email auto-responder, remember to cancel it. I’ve received numerous messages telling me someone was out of the office until a specific date, many days after the date in question. Similarly, if you customize your voicemail greeting while you’re gone, remember to change it once you’ve returned.

One tip for organized travel: leave extra time

Getting to your travel destination can be a frustrating experience, especially during busy times of the year when lots of other people are traveling and joining you on the roads or at the airport. There are lots of apps, websites, and Twitter accounts that can help make travel easier, but my primary travel strategy is simply to leave plenty of spare time, whenever possible. This gives me the best chance of arriving at my destination unfrazzled and ready to go.

Leaving extra time when driving

I live in an area where the two roads out of town are both twisty ones with a single lane in each direction. If there’s an accident on either one, traffic is horrible. On top of that, the area can get ground-hugging fog that makes it difficult to see. Therefore, I learned long ago to leave plenty of extra time if I need to get somewhere by a specific time.

Other people might not have quite the road situation I have, but anyone can be delayed by bad traffic or bad weather. Leaving some contingency time helps ensure those delays don’t cause problems.

Leaving extra time when flying

I get to airports early, partly because I’ve left plenty of spare driving time to allow for problems that usually don’t materialize. But I also like to be prepared for things going wrong at the airport, especially the extra long lines that you sometimes encounter when going through security.

I also like to book connections that aren’t too tight, because flights do get delayed. I check the on-time performance of my possible flights and try to choose those least likely to be delayed, but there’s never any guarantee.

And, when possible, I try to book flights that get me to my destination somewhat earlier than necessary (if there’s a specific event that I’m attending) so that if a flight is delayed or a connection missed, I have a chance to rebook and still get to the event on time.

Using extra airport time productively

As an adult traveling without children, I have it easy. Many airports have free WiFi, so if I have a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone with me, there’s always plenty to do. Sometimes I’ll just use the time for reading: a magazine, a book, or an e-book. Without any of the distractions of home (cats demanding attention, laundry to be done, etc.). I can have a bit of focused time to do some work or enjoy some leisure.

I know others who use spare airport time for exercise, making sure they get their 10,000 steps (or whatever their personal goals are) for the day.

And some airports actually have interesting attractions you can visit. For example, the San Francisco airport has its own museum, with exhibits at every terminal.

For those traveling with children, extra airport time might be used to just move around before the enforced airplane sitting begins. Some airports have play areas to help younger children pass the time.

And, of course, there’s food. I’ll often grab a meal at the airport, or pick up something tasty (and not stinky) to eat on the plane. I’ve used the GateGuru app to help me choose an eatery at an unfamiliar airport.

Traveling to see family? Maybe leave these items at your destination

The older I get, the less tolerant I am of the miles that separate the members of my family. My wife and kids live with me, but my extended family is far-flung indeed. I’m here in Massachusetts while my parents are in Florida and my sisters live with their families in New York and Pennsylvania. We get together as often as possible, though scheduling and cost still make our gatherings more rare than I’d like.

Spending time together often means flying. I’ve written about flying before, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here. However, I will share a tip for keeping things easy while you pack, at the airport and once you’ve arrived.

Each of the family members I mention are host to some of my belongings. They have agreed, and we have in return, to care for a few things that make traveling to see each other even easier and more organized. Some choices are obvious, while others are not. The following are suggestions for how you can reduce the amount of stuff you have to pack and have to schlep across the country, as well as keep from forgetting the items entirely, when going to visit family.

Toiletries

This one is pretty obvious. TSA restrictions affect these items, so I avoid carrying them on planes and leave a set at my parents’ house, etc. Despite the silly name, I’ve assembled a “Dopp kit” that covers most of the basics, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, floss, travel-sized soap and shampoo, and finally a razor, blades, and some shaving cream. And all of these items are in a nice bag.

You can get as fancy (pictured above) or economical as you prefer. The bag isn’t completely necessary, of course, but I like to make it easy for my hosts to put my stuff away when I’m not around. No sense in adding clutter to their lives.

Clothes

This one could be tricky, as clothes are bulky and we don’t want to create a storage nightmare for our generous hosts. Instead of keeping a full wardrobe remotely, I store just a few things like a sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, some t-shirts and what my mom calls “lounge pants.” I still have to pack some clothes, but not as much as I would otherwise.

Here’s a tip: leave neutral colors at your destination. That way you don’t have to try to coordinate your packing with items that are in another state.

Small electronics

I admit to being a gadget addict. For me, “fear” can be defined as no Wi-Fi or a dead battery. So, I keep a cable and wall adapter to charge my iPhone at my parents’ house. Both are very small and can be tucked away in a tiny drawer. As someone who has forgotten to pack a cable and who has left one behind, I really enjoy the peace of mind that I get knowing my charging needs will be covered while I’m in the Sunshine State.

Here’s a tip about electronics. The TSA requires smartphones and tablets to be powered up enough to be turned on at the gate, should an agent want to. If you’re leaving a charger at home knowing there’s one at your destination, make sure that phone has enough juice to run between home and the security gate.

Finally, here are a few that are destination-specific. I keep a tube of sunblock at my parents’ home in sunny Florida, because my son has some weird eczema thing going on and needs special sunblock. It’s easiest to just buy it there and leave it instead of constantly transporting travel-size bottles of the stuff. Finally, I keep a charged subway pass at my sister’s New York City apartment. One less thing for me to forget.

As the travel season approaches, I hope this makes things a bit easier for you, assuming your hosts are okay with this arrangement.

Twitter accounts to follow for summer travel

For many of us, summer means travel. Those with a smartphone have a real advantage when it comes to keeping your travel plans organized. There are apps available for smartphones that include a tour guide, language translator, travel service, camera, and so much more in your pocket. Additionally, one way to receive wonderful travel tips and advice, information and inspiration is from helpful Twitter accounts. By installing a Twitter app on your phone, you can have a wealth of information available, no matter where you are.

From airlines to travel bloggers to services, the following are some of my favorite travel-related Twitter accounts to follow:

Airlines

Summer storms can disrupt your travel, and spending the night on the floor of an airport is no fun. A great way to stay on top of the latest alerts, changes, and notices from the major airlines is to subscribe to their Twitter accounts.

In these situations, being connected to your airline on Twitter can offer more than simple news delivery. In 2011, brutal winter storms left hundreds of thousands of people without a flight. Many stranded travelers who shared their predicament with their airline via Twitter (along with the reservation number) were rebooked faster than those who waited in the customer service line or called the 800 number. The following is a list of Twitter accounts as used by several major airlines:

Choose a Twitter app for your smartphone that supports notifications (I use Twitterrific, but there are many others available). A day before you travel, enable notifications for mentions. That way, if you send a message to your airline’s account, your phone will let you know when you’ve received a reply.

Travel Bloggers

Who better to offer travel advice than someone who is constantly on the move? There are many travel bloggers online, and the following are some of my favorites. They all offer tips, ideas, photos and more, but each with his or her unique spin:

  • Nomadicchick: Jeannie Mark is a travel writer and the blogger behind NomadChick.com. Her Twitter account is full of beautiful photos and videos, as well as links to her insightful articles. You an search her Twitter stream and her site for information on your destination.
  • Adventurevida. This account is for the adventurer traveler. You’ll also see tweets on gear and, of course, beautiful photos.
  • Heather_Poole. Heather Poole is a former flight attended and author of The New York Times bestseller, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers. Follow her Twitter account for, among other things, hilarious stories from the flight deck.
  • GaryLeff. For those of you who are serious air travelers and who are always on the lookout for the best point deals, Gary Leff’s Twitter account and his travel column ViewFromTheWing are an enormous resource of information.

Travel Services

I’m continually amazed by the variety of travel services there are to help you get organized and moving before, during, and after a trip. The following are three I love:

  • TravelEditor. The official Twitter account of The Independent Traveler routinely shares great travel tips.
  • FlightView. FlightView, based out of Boston, is not associated with any airline but offers real-time travel information. As the service’s description says, it offers “real-time flight information you can act on.”
  • Budgettravel. Budget Travel offers super tips for getting where you need to go without spending a lot of money. You’ll also see area-specific deals and destination suggestions like these five classic American drives.

Happy traveling!

Tips for easy road tripping with the kids

Spring break is taking place this week and my family and I are spending it on the road. By the time you read this, we will have already traveled from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. It’s a drive I’ve done many times over the past 20 years. And, since our oldest is 11 years old, we’ve been taking kids along for the trip for more than a decade. All this driving has taught me a thing or two about getting organized for road trips. The following are lessons I’ve learned on how to manage lengthy road trips with the kids.

I sound like my dad here, but make sure the car is ready to go before you leave. I like to make sure the oil has recently been changed, the wipers are in good condition, and so on. I keep a working set of jumper cables in the back of the car, plus a first aid kit, some blankets, a pocket knife, and a flashlight. I’ve meant to get one of these emergency car kits for a while now, but I keep putting it off. It’s a good investment and I ought to do it.

The next step is packing and gassing up, which I always do the night before we leave. As for packing, there are types of cargo and each has its location in the car.

Luggage

This is the stuff we don’t need during the journey but will need at our destination — clothes, toiletries, stuffed animals, night lights. These items go in what we used to call “the way back,” but what you likely call the bottom of the trunk.

Entertainment

A few years ago we borrowed a portable DVD player for the kids. Now, iPads fill this role for entertaining them. A fully charged iPad will keep the kids occupied for quite a while. Our rule for electronics in the car: the journey must be more than three hours to warrant iPad use. A jaunt to the grocery store does not count. Headphones are also required.

Books, drawing paper, pencils, and portable toys are also packed in the back seat. All of this stuff goes into a sturdy Tupperware bin that fits between the kids’ seats. This way, the kids can retrieve/replace what they want on their own. If you don’t want to use a bin, an over-the-seat organizer might work for your needs. We also keep small pillows within reach of the kids, should they want to take a nap.

Snacks and more

Road food is often expensive (for what it is) and almost never healthy. My wife always packs some healthier snacks and keeps that in a small cooler up front with us. She can dispense snacks and drinks as needed.

And, don’t forget a bin for trash.

A few more quick tips: Magazine holders fit beautifully between mini van seats and hold books so that they’re easy to see. If your kids are older, let them pack and be responsible for their own activity bag. People who travel regularly with kids might benefit from creating a travel go-bag, like Jacki wrote about yesterday. At the very least, keep a list of things to pack in the backseat with the kids so you don’t forget anything and also so you can note afterward what items were a hit and which ones should be left at home next time. Baby wipes and paper towels are a great idea, as somebody is likely going to spill something or need to clean their hands. Finally, if your kids are younger like mine, decide on assigned seating ahead of time. No switching. No upgrading. No changing.

Happy trails!

Go-bags

There are many things I’ve learned about organizing because my husband is in the military. Soldiers keep certain equipment and clothing packed in their rucksacks at all times. If they ever have to “bug-out” (called to duty in an emergency) they just grab their rucksacks and go. In these circumstances, it takes them five minutes to leave the house. Soldiers are provided with a list of what to have in their rucksacks at all times so they have everything they need.

I’ve implemented this system in our household for non-military purposes. When my children were babies, I had a list of items that I always needed in the diaper bag. Every time we arrived at home after being out, I restocked the bag with diapers, wipes, and creams. Then, I quickly looked down the list before heading out the door the next time to ensure I had everything in the bag.

As my children have grown older and are participating in activities, we’ve created a “go-bag” for each activity. Their items for that activity remain always in that bag unless being used or cleaned. We prepared a list of items for the bag, and even used pictures of the items to help them when they were younger.

The list was printed on an index card and laminated. On the reverse side of the index card was emergency contact information (child’s name, parent’s name and phone number, allergy information, etc.). The card was kept in a pocket of the go-bag or sometimes, attached to one of the zippers on the outside of the bag.

On arrival home from swimming lessons, the swimsuit and towel would be washed, shampoo refilled if necessary and the bag stowed on its dedicated hook in the hallway. Once laundered, the swimsuit and towel were returned to the bag.

This system works with sports gear and arts and craft supplies – and even your briefcase for work!

We continue to have a number of “go-bags” hanging in our entryway and I find that being able to get out of the house quickly with all of the necessary equipment is worth it.

Essential gear for traveling with young children

This year holds a great amount of travel for my family and me, so I’ve been trying out dependable and useful gear to make it more manageable. With two kids — one being an infant — I have a lot of needs that go beyond a regular suitcase when we’re on the road.

For starters, I continue to be a huge fan of the ZÜCA Pro suitcase. I’ve been using it since 2008 and it’s the bag I use every time I travel, when I’m alone or with the whole family. It fits into overhead bins on all but the smallest airplanes and it is rugged. The frame allows weary travelers a place to sit, the wheels make it incredibly simple to maneuver, and my MacBook Air fits easily into the side pocket.

I also travel wearing a Scottevest women’s trench coat. I use it instead of a purse unless my destination is super cold. A ridiculous amount of stuff — phone, wallet, keys, Kindle, water bottle, passport, earphones, pens/pencils, tissues, snack food, bottle, zip-top bag of formula, pacifier, burp cloth, diapers — fits in it. It’s incredibly convenient, especially when traveling with kids, because it keeps both of my hands free.

Last year, Eagle Creek contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing any of their products. I’d been using a Pack-It toiletry travel bag and really liked it, so I thought it would be nice to see what else they offered and if any of their products worked for our needs.

Two of the items they sent have become staples in our family’s travel gear.

The first items are their Compression Sacs. I had always liked the idea of vacuum compression bags but never could figure out how to get my hands on a vacuum for the return trip home. A hotel room might have a vacuum in the closet, but in all my years of travel I never found one with a hose attachment. I had been using large Ziplock XL bags, but after a couple trips the bags were getting ratty and didn’t really compress all that much. I’m still a fan of them and use them around the house for items in longterm storage, but they just don’t hold up for our travel demands.

Conversely, Eagle Creek’s Compression Sacs are extremely durable, made of a reinforced nylon, and are actually useful. After four trips, they are showing no sign of wear. Best of all, they don’t require a vacuum to get out the air, so they work both coming and going on a trip. You just roll the air out of them, and compress down a bunch of bulky clothes. They are awesome for things like coats and baby clothes. They really do save space. We also used them on a travel day to hold wet swimsuits because they’re waterproof and kept the suits from making everything else in our luggage soggy. There is a video on the manufacturer’s site that demonstrates how they work.

The second item they sent that we have found indispensable is the Digi Hauler Backpack. As its name implies, it holds a laptop easily in a hidden, padded compartment that sits directly next to your back. Since we usually travel with two computers, this second compartment holds my husband’s laptop and my son’s Kindle. The shoulder straps are very nicely padded, so it’s comfortable to wear for long periods of time. And the part of the pack that rests next to your back is also very well padded, so nothing pokes you. And, like the trench coat, it keeps my arms free to wrangle kids as we walk through an airport or train station. It has a waist belt for added stability, which is good since it’s usually stuffed to its gills. The zippers also lock, making it less desirable of a target for pickpocketing. It has handles and a shoulder strap if for some reason you want to carry it like a duffel and the backpack straps fold away, but I’ve never had use for that feature. The main compartment has huge storage capacity. In combination with the Compression Sacs, we’ve been able to fit a ridiculous amount of stuff into it. I love this bag.

With the ZÜCA Pro, the trench coat, Compression Sacs, and the Digi Hauler backpack, I can travel easily with two kids and not have to check a single bag. I wear my daughter in a Beco Carrier on my front, pull the ZÜCA with one hand, and have my other hand free to hold my son’s hand. If my husband is traveling with us, we’ve got an extra set of hands and no need for additional luggage. This setup is also great for taking public transportation once we’re at our destination. It’s so nice to be able to travel easily and in an organized manner with two young kids — finally!

Wallet organizing tips

When I was in university in Canada in the late 1980s, I had a hard time keeping my money organized. I had tried a number of different wallets and coin purses but I always seemed to have a heavy pile of $1 coins that I kept forgetting to use.

Everything changed when I visited Switzerland in 1990. Switzerland had 1, 2, and 5 Franc coins. The wallets in Switzerland were designed with a larger section for coins. In Canada, I only had access to purchasing American made wallets that were designed for American currency: $1 banknotes, not coins. Canada had introduced the $1 coin and had not redesigned wallets to adapt to more coins and fewer bills. I purchased a Swiss wallet and my organizational dilemma was solved!

Over the years, Unclutterer has discussed several ways to organize and trim down your wallet, but there are a few more things to take into consideration.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pay in cash, and the currency in the country in which you live has more banknotes (bills) than coins, choose a wallet with a smaller coin pocket and larger bill pocket. Consider keeping coins in a separate coin purse.

If the currency has more coins than banknotes, a wallet with a large coin pocket might be beneficial. However, if you’re likely to pay for lower priced items in cash, then a separate coin pouch will allow you to quickly find the coins you need without opening your entire wallet.

In many places debit/credit card payments are very popular, so popular that some people never carry cash. This also means that we need more places in our wallets to carry credit and debit cards as well as cards for all of those loyalty programs. For those who prefer electronic payments, choose a wallet with enough card slots to suit your needs. You may wish to consider a second wallet for your loyalty cards.

Tips for International Travelers

Transfer the currency from your regular wallet to a separate coin pouch or even a zipper-seal bag and place currency of the new country in your wallet. This is ideal if you wish to carry many of the loyalty cards and ID cards with you when you’re doing business or sightseeing within the country you’re visiting. This system works well if the banknotes and coins of the two countries are similar.

An alternative is to have a different wallet for each country. Transfer only relevant ID and credit cards between the two wallets. This option is preferable if the currencies between the two countries have differently sized banknotes and coins that will not fit well in your “home” wallet. Also, you may not need many of your loyalty cards or perhaps even your driver’s licence in the country you are visiting so it may be better to keep those cards in your “home” wallet and lock it in your hotel room safe. By purchasing a wallet in country or from an online site of that country, you’ll be able to get a wallet suited for that country’s currency. Many people must keep records of all of their purchases so a wallet with a separate section for receipts is helpful.

Tip for Handling Coins and Banknotes

For greater efficiency and speed in checkout lines, pass the cashier the coins first then banknotes. It makes it much easier for cashiers to put the money in the cash register and it makes it easier for customers to put money in their wallets.