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Family travel gear - 8 essentials you won't want to get caught without. traveling with kids ideas

My family went on an impromptu vacation in the Spring, and it. Was. Awesome.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort and spent most of our days at their wonderful pool. We also had time on the beach, went on walks on a path behind the hotel, visited an incredible park nearby (walking distance), and went to Target.

Hey, the Target thing is a legit vacation perk – we don’t have one where we live!


Since I write about simplicity so much, it would be nice to be able to say we just threw a few things into a duffel bag and were set to have the time of our lives. I can’t say that.

I packed a large suitcase (shared by me and the 3 kids), brought my stroller, a large beach bag full of various towels, buckets and shovels, floatation devices, and coconut oil, my purse, a huge bag of car snacks, and oh… my big water filter. Yes, I brought my water filter with me. We didn’t pack light.

And I’m glad we didn’t. With the exception of our towels (I didn’t realize the hotel provided pool towels!), we used everything.

What family travel essentials helped make our vacation so smooth and enjoyable?

Stearnes Puddle Jumpers

With 3 kids, and my husband working during the day (it wasn’t quite a vacation for him), I needed a way to make sure my kids would be safe in the pool even if I needed to hold the baby or nurse him. Stearnes Puddle Jumpers are Coast Guard approved life jackets kids can wear in the pool and swim freely in. Unlike “water wings” which aren’t reliable as floatation devices and can even in some cases push a child’s face into the water – super scary – these are consistently safe.

So my big kids got to swim every single day, even when I couldn’t be in the water with them. Don’t worry – I was always right there and could’ve helped if they needed assistance, but they never did.

A couple of times when my husband had Henry, I took the puddle jumpers off of one kid at a time and got to help them practice some swimming skills, but for the most part, our vacation wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or as water-filled without these!

Hats hats hats!

Instead of using chemical-filled sunscreen, my family uses coconut oil to protect us from burning. It really works – when we forget to use it, we do burn, but when we wear it, we don’t. BUT we always keep in mind other methods of protection, too. We find shade to play in, don’t stay out for too long at a time (around 3 hours is good), and use physical barriers to protect us – like hats.

My kids’ hats have SPF built in, and I love knowing that their little noses aren’t going to look like Rudolph’s (the reindeer) after a week at the beach.

My big kids’ hats are Columbia brand, and SPF 50. Henry’s hat is from iPlay and is also SPF 50.

My Boba Air baby carrier

This baby carrier is perfect for vacationing. It is so compact it can zip up into its own pocket for throwing into your purse or beach bag or whatever. It’s lightweight and breathable so it was never too hot, even in the sunshine for hours. And since the ripstop nylon dries crazy-quickly, it’s perfect for wearing the baby while wading into the ocean or sitting on the steps of the pool. (It’s not intended to be a water-carrier and not tested in that capacity, but I have used it for that purpose many times. Use your own judgment though!)

I. Love. My. Boba Air.

Another tool that makes it possible for me to chase 2 big kids while caring for my baby? @boba air. It’s a miracle. I’m wearing Henry in this lightweight carrier right now, and he’s napping. Meanwhile, I’m filling buckets of water for the kids, making dribble castles, and baby-powdering the sand off of their legs. We just got back from the beach and we are about to go to the pool. I’m going to sit on the steps of the pool with Henry (who is still napping) and I know that when we are done my Boba air will dry in no time. Ripstop nylon is magical like that. I pop this carrier in the stroller’s basket when we go for walks too, in case Henry gets fussy and needs a cuddle. It packs up into its own pocket so it’s super compact! It’s crazy affordable too! You need one for your next vacation. Or even just for your life. Link in profile.

A photo posted by Mom +Life +Simplicity Blogger (@sodamndomestic) on

Amazon Prime

Originally, we were going to make this a quick weekend visit – which would require a lot less “gear” and planning. But when we decided to stay for 10 days instead? I needed a few last-minute things.

Amazon Prime let me order a few things I needed with free 2-day shipping, and then right before our trip, with cheap 1-day shipping.

And once we were at the hotel, my husband needed a textbook (again, not exactly a vacation for him – he still worked and did schoolwork for his master’s) and I had decided to get a baby rash guard for Henry. We had those things delivered really quickly to our hotel – so convenient and helpful!

If you don’t have Amazon Prime already, you can get a free trial to experience how amazing it is.

Get an amazon prime 30 day trial free

Packing Cubes

My super-organized friends on twitter have been raving about packing cubes for ages. They always seemed great, but I didn’t have a big trip coming up so I didn’t want to buy them “just because.” This is one of those things I Amazon-Primed right before our trip once we decided to make it longer.

My suitcase is huge, and doesn’t have pockets or dividers or anything like that to help it stay organized. And since the kids and I always share a suitcase, it can get a little crazy trying to keep everything orderly and neat when I’m packing.

These packing cubes completely revolutionized my packing this trip. I used a big zip-up “cube” (not a cube… more like a rectangular prism. haha) for my own clothes, and everything fit. I used two medium-sized ones for the big kids’ clothes – one cube each. And the baby had the smallest cube for his clothes. The other biggest cube was for all of our beach clothes – bathing suits, water shoes, and hats.

And everything stayed super organized in my suitcase! Unpacking at the hotel was a breeze, and packing up to go home was simple.

I got teal of course, but they come in a bunch of different colors. Which color will you pick?

The Lifeproof Phone Case

I resisted getting one of these forever. I don’t love phone cases. I like the way my phone feels when it’s naked.
But know what’s worse than a phone case? A ziploc baggie. Or one of those bag-style phone-protectors that is supposed to be waterproof. Trust me. That’s what I’ve used the last billion times we’ve gone to the beach or to a pool.

This time though, I could actually enjoy using my phone and know it was protected at the pool, at the beach, and even IN the water. No, I wasn’t on Facebook instead of on vacation. But I did get to take some really fun pictures and videos that would’ve been impossible otherwise!

This is the case I got, and I highly recommend it. (It comes in lots of different sizes for iPhone and Android.)

Another great product that’s made this vacation 👌🏻 is my Lifeproof phone case. It’s totally waterproof, so I can take photos and videos like these IN the water without fear of ruining my phone. Previously, I’ve used bag-style “cases” for the beach, and it’s so frustrating to try to take photos and videos and just operate my phone through the bag. This is MUCH better because my phone functions like…well, a phone! This is the link to the one I have: (Clickable link in profile. And they have them for tons of different devices) Also? It somehow got a big scratch on the screen today. I tweeted about it, disappointed, and they sent me to their warranty page – I can just enter my serial number and what happened, and they’ll mail me a new one right away! That’s service! #lifeproof #livelifeproof

A video posted by Mom +Life +Simplicity Blogger (@sodamndomestic) on

Audible Audio Books

I love listening to Audible books in the car or while I’m doing my chores, so for this trip I thought I’d try some kid-friendly ones for the long drive.

Often, my kids get restless in the car and they seem to be just fishing for distractions – extra trips to the bathroom, or “needing” snacks when they’ve just eaten. I was solo on the drives, and didn’t want to have to stop more often than we actually needed to!

It worked like a charm. We only stopped once on the way to our vacation spot, and the kids spent the entire ride transfixed by Anne Hathaway’s reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She read it beautifully and did all of the voices – every time she spoke as the scarecrow, Anneliese burst into laughter in the back seat.

On the way back home, we listened to Winnie the Pooh, and the only extra stop we required (we made one planned stop) was for Henry to nurse when he was overtired and crying – after that, he went to sleep. The big kids loved hearing Winnie the Pooh, and asked to hear it again sometime in the future.

Want to try it with your kids? (Or for yourself?) Get two FREE audio books with your Audible trial here. 

Get 2 free audio books with an Audible free trial

A Mom-Body-Friendly Swimsuit for Me

Last summer I was hugely pregnant, and in a recent Konmari-inspired declutterathon, I had gotten rid of all of my bathing suits. None of them fit anyway, and the ones I had from before were never like ones I LOVED anyway – so I knew I’d want to find something new next summer (this summer).

Well, before our trip, I tried on tons of bathing suits. I bought and returned probably 5 different ones. None of them were right! Some fit well on top but were huge on the bottom. Some were just huge all over. Others were tight around the thighs…

Finally, I turned to Amazon. I found one that looked attractive, with ruching – a great way to help conceal some lumps and bumps. AND it had underwire and molded cups – a MUST for my … generous bosom. It was just over $20, so I figured I’d give it a try. Worst case scenario, I’d return it for free (Prime has free shipping and returns).

It was perfect! It fit everything, supported me, hid spots I wanted to hide, and was comfortable. Winning! For the first time in a long time, I wore a bathing suit every day for 10 days in a row, AND FELT GREAT ABOUT IT.

This magical swimsuit seems to fit tons of different body types too – just look at the pictures in the reviews! Definitely try it out if you need a body-friendly swimsuit. I got Navy blue but they have lots of colors.

So those are some of my family travel essentials from our last trip!

What is indispensable to you when you’re traveling with your family? And have any on my list helped you in the past?

Go get your own family travel essentials here:

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  1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! What type of water filter did you have? Bulky?

    • This is what we have: It’s “bulky” but GREAT for a family our size who drinks a ton of water. It makes water taste perfect, and saves us a ton (of money and plastic) vs. buying bottled water on vacation. We’ve brought it on our last 2 vacations and will bring it on our next one in June too.

  2. We always bring a ice chest with us. I always have snacks and lunch packed in the car when we travel.

    What water filter thing did you bring? And why?

    • This is what we have: It’s “bulky” but GREAT for a family our size who drinks a ton of water. It makes water taste perfect, and saves us a ton (of money and plastic) vs. buying bottled water on vacation. We’ve brought it on our last 2 vacations and will bring it on our next one in June too.

  3. Great article! Thanks for all the info!!

  4. These are such great tips – thanks so much. We are planning three big trips with our 3.5-year-old twin boys, so I am always in need of help to make it easier. They are going to love the Winnie the Pooh audio book!

    • Oh, wonderful! Three trips this summer? Sounds amazing! Definitely check out the other audio books Audible has for kids too – they have so many! Did you get the free trial?

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