spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Europalooza Trip Report Part 1: Escape from Hawaii

You may have noticed that I changed the name of this trip for purposes of simplicity.  Easier to type Europalooza than Spain and France in 2018 or So Help Me, which is a name I still love because of the Monsters, Inc. reference.   Anyway, Europalooza it is, for the duration of this Trip Report.

Departure day dawned…sunny? cloudy? rainy?…actually I didn’t pay attention to the weather at all, haha.  It just dawned, and it meant that I was up early due to have a pesky all-day work training to attend.  The packing lists had been printed and posted a few days prior, with almost all of the packing already done.  Just a few housechores left to do: Read the rest of this entry »

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Disney T-A-G, and a personal bag

It’s been a rough time for me emotionally, though of course my suffering is infinitesimal compared to those who actually died/were injured/are missing in the Earthquake.  No new (safe) donation opportunities haves popped up specifically for Hawaii.  I sent money to my cousin’s car service, and from what I understand, it was helpful.  I will continue to send aid in that manner.  It was really great to see that communities with lots of Ecuadorians (NY, Miami, etc), were getting together Facebook Groups to organize donation drives via the airlines or local travel agencies.  There have been lots of inspiring stories of rescues, international aid arriving, and huge quantities of donations from the less-hit areas of Ecuador.  The inevitable political sniping and accusations of favoritism are alive and well, too.  There is still along ways to go towards rebuilding, of course.  Time to put those donations to work and get on with it.  Ok, Disney time! Read the rest of this entry »

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Bags, backpacks, and day bags, oh my…

Today, let’s discuss suitcases, carry-ons, and day/touring bags.  We’ll choose bags, and then fill them later.  Squee! Containers of all kinds are my Kryptonite, so of course I love carrying something nice that also keeps my travel stuff organized.  Note that nice does not necessarily equal expensive.  I also hate paying for more than I need.  I’ve carefully researched and chosen some travel bags recently, and thought I’d share my opinions on the subject. Once upon a time, all my disposable income was spent on me, and my sister and I used to shop together like pros.  I fell in love with a luggage collection called “Color on the Go” by Diane Von Furstenberg.  It featured blue suede-ish material with white leather accents.  My sister fell right with me, except she loved the pink version.  I can’t remember what the original price for my luggage was, but I do remember paying close to $300 for the 2 pieces I got.  I got a “feed bag” carry-on style tote and a 20″ rolling carry-on.  I promptly named the rolling one “Diane.”  No idea why I didn’t name the other one “Von Furstenberg” at the time, but I will do so now.  My sister and I learned lessons with these bags: she learned that they should never be checked, as her beautiful pink suede bag came off the baggage claim belt with a bunch of black grease marks on it.  I learned that “Von Furstenberg” was great for the plane since it had a crossbody strap and fit right under the seat in front of me, but still had issues.  I hate carry handles, sigh.  “Diane” was kind of a pain due to being pretty heavy even while completely empty and not having spinner wheels.  I always got compliments from the flight attendants, though.  Of course, this line has been discontinued for some time now. *sniff*

Meet "Diane."

Meet Diane,

Meet "Von Furstenberg."

and her buddy Von Furstenberg.

Worry not, fellow OCDers, my set has matching colors!  My shade is the one on the bottom.  These beautiful bags are now reserved for when I travel completely alone- like when I surprised my sister and mom by popping over to NJ for 30 hours for my sister’s baby shower last year.  My sister realized I was at my parent’s house the night before the party when she spotted Diane in the hallway 🙂 Anyway, my daughter was born, and I was starting to plan her lifetime of travel.  I decided to buy a luggage set by Traveler’s Choice.  It included a large 28″ Pullman, a 26″ rolling duffle, a 24″ Pullman, a 22″ rolling carry-on, and softsided carry-on duffle bag.  Pretty sure I paid less than $150 for the whole set from Overstock.com, many moons ago.  It was a good bargain, and I used those bags for many years.  I still have the softsided bag, and the last suitcase of the set only broke a few months ago.  Lessons learned since purchasing that set: a 28″ suitcase is way too big to handle, even with good inline wheels, and a bag that big is almost impossible to keep under the 50# weight limit on most US airlines.  I also learned that a 26″ rolling duffle is pretty much the perfect size of checked suitcase for my family; fully stuffed, it just reaches 50# (49.5# on our last trip)!  Now that we are a family of 4, this is what we use. Suitcases: I recently replaced the 26″ rolling duffle from the Traveler’s Choice set with a 25″ one from eBags, and took her on her first spin to Ecuador.  So many organizing sections.  It was perfect, and the blue color is absolutely luscious.  The eBags brand is awesome- I have the Piazza crossbody bag for weekend errands, the Kayla Town Square which I take to work every day, the Bistro lunch tote, and have gotten laptop backpacks for my husband and father.  All are excellent quality, with really well-thought-out organizational features.  Plus they have a great warranty.  I got this for about $145, which is a great price for the quality.

I love you, transporter of mundane things.

Hello, lover.

When we take another checked bag, we use a 26″ red spinner Pullman that we got from Ross years ago for about $50.  Very handy at the airport, though because of its one big interior space, it’s easy to overpack, weight limit-wise. Avoiding overweight baggage fees is mandatory, so I never travel without my luggage scale.  It’s the last thing I throw into the suitcase. Carry-ons: I need my hands to be free for traveling with little ones, so I prefer a crossbody style or a backpack.  On the Ecuador trip, I used my daughter’s old Land’s End backpack that she used for school for 1 year before deciding that she needed a new one, even though the one she wound up getting was a drawstring bag of all things….but I digress.  It was available, not too “little girly,” free to me 🙂 and fit my carry-on requirements:

  • needs at least 2 separate big compartments.  I use one compartment for electronics stuff (charging cables, headphones) the trip-planning binder, puzzle book, etc.  The second compartment is for small personal items like flip-flops, pashmina, makeup, and the 3-1-1 TSA-approved toiletry bag.
  • at least 2 smaller compartments on the outside, 1 with a secure zipper.  Need an easy-to-reach place for my snacks once on the plane, and my travel wallet, cell phone, highlighter/pen combo and iPod go in the zippered compartment.
  • needs 2 side pockets.  I always, always carry an empty plastic water bottle through security and then fill it up at a water fountain, and add a flavor packet.  The bottle uses 1 side pocket, and then I can stick any old thing in the other side pocket: my sunglasses, phone charger, one of the kids’ water bottles, a hair clip, etc.
  • at least one smaller compartment inside, preferable with a zipper closure.  A good place for a small pouch containing a cash stash, the meds I am traveling with, jewelry, and a spare pen (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to lend my spare pen to my husband, or substitute it for a dropped crayon when I can’t see where the crayon has fallen).

This is the exact bag! No shame in using something labeled for kids. I’m short, so it’s a proportional fit anyway.

 Land’s End has a very good warranty policy, too.  For a while, you could return stuff ordered online to any physical Sears location.  I think they discontinued that, though. Day/touring bag: last year I decided I needed a new travel day bag, because the aforementioned eBags Piazza bag was simply too small to carry a day’s worth of sightseeing stuff.  The water bottle pocket was too small for my preferred bottle (this Rubbermaid, which has a large opening for easy filling, a screw-on top, no straws/nooks/crannies in the lid that are impossible to clean, and can hold at least 20oz of water at a time), and the strap becomes uncomfortable when the bag is heavy.  Perfect for weekend errands, not good for all-day activities, like theme park touring. The last 2 times we went to Disney World, I used a smaller-than-standard backpack that I got on clearance at Old-Navy for $3.97.  Seriously.  That thing was a workhorse, and I used it at Disney after using it at college in my senior year.  I loved the compartments on that thing, especially a small sleeve attached to the shoulder strap that held my student ID and bus pass for easy access.  Eventually, things started to break in it, and it got some stuff spilled on it.  After our last Disney trip, I realized the bag was too big for the streamlined approach I take to what to carry in the parks (a post on that within the next few months), plus it had the very common problem of having a black interior lining.  It becomes a black hole for stuff, especially when searching for something in a low-light environment.  So with several trips on the horizon, I set about searching for the perfect day/touring bag.  Requirements:

  • crossbody style.  This is non-negotiable.  In addition to being crossbody, it needed to NOT have carry handles.  I hate the way they flop about and get in the way of the outside zippers.
  • water bottle pocket big enough for the Rubbermaid.
  • outside zip pocket on the back side, which rests against the body.  For peace of mind and easy access to confirmation printouts, tickets, etc.
  • soft fabric material that “molds” against the body.  You can’t call me animal-friendly by any stretch of the imagination (mmmm, bacon), but I do object to leather bags.  The molding is important, because who wants to wear a rigid rectangle against their hips?
  • comfy adjustable strap…remember this thing will be loaded up with 10-12 hours worth of stuff.  No stiff webbing rubbing against my neck, please!
  • light-colored interior lining.  Coordinating lighter color is even better.
  • several small pockets inside and outside, some with zippers and some without.  Dedicated place for my sunglasses, phone, padded pocket for the iPod, small section for lip gloss/compact, purse hanger, etc.
  • main compartment big enough for travel wallet, camera, small book.  Able to hold 8×11 papers folded in half without crumpling them.
  • ideally, the bag should be able to sort of stand up on its own when not full.  This is tricky, too stiff and it won’t mold.  Too soft and it’ll flop over at the slightest breeze and get dirty in the process.
  • available in some shade of blue.

With those specs in mind, I started to search on ebags.com, Amazon, and Zappos.com.  I bought 6 different bags, from brands like PacSafe, Baggallini, Lug, and Kipling.  I found plusses and minuses with all of them, but in the end I chose to keep the Lug Shimmy in this gorgeous Ocean color.  It fit all of my requirements, plus it has a sturdy clear plastic strip on the bottom, which helps the base of the bag not get wet or dirty, and help it stand up just enough.  If I recall correctly, it was about $68.  They’ve since discontinued this bag!  I’ve used it daily for 2 long trips already and it still looks brand new, so I’m sure it’ll last until I’m tired of it and am forced (LOL!) to shop for a new day bag.  We’ll see how she does on her inaugural trip to a Disney park!

Once again, blue.

Once again, blue.

This post has made me nostalgic for another piece from the DVF Color On the Go set.   I loved it at the time, but felt I was already spending too much money on this luggage, so I didn’t get it.  I should have though, because I’ve regretted not buying it ever since.  Maybe I’ll find it one day!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I've never forgotten you!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I’ve never forgotten you!

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Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 4

See Tutorial Parts 1, 2, and 3.

We’ve reached the Carry-on Packing List and Packing List tabs on our spreadsheet!  Everyone knows a vacation isn’t really happening until you pull out those dust-free suitcases and start loading your clean neat piles of clothes, which fit with plenty of room to spare…no?  Does the process look more like this?

Mickey Overstuffed Luggage

Well, my friends, it doesn’t have to!  Packing can be fairly simple and organized if you embrace the concept of the Master List, and utilize categories to keep everyone on track.

First, I’ll explain why I separated the Carry-On and Packing Lists.  Once upon a time, I had just a trip-specific packing list on a piece of paper in my planning folder (it had not yet graduated to a binder).  I would list the needed items into groups like Clothes, Camera Stuff, Toiletries, Confirmations, etc, and put a star * next to the items that I needed in my carry-on.  As I packed an item, I would highlight it or cross it out, and eventually would only be left with the carry-on items.  This system worked well, especially because I would then fold that piece of paper into my carry-on and take it with me.  This provided a list of what I had packed in case my suitcase was misplaced and I needed to replace my stuff.  Also, it served as a Repacking List for the way home, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.  So why didn’t I continue with that method?

my husband and kids

my husband and kids running away from my lists

That’s why.  More people = more stuff to pack/forget to pack/leave behind.  So I upgraded my system.  I still use the Master List, but now it’s separated by Carry-on Packing (things you need on hand) and Packing (for checked suitcases or things you don’t need immediate access to).  Plus, it’s in a spreadsheet (duh!), and color-coded.  Each traveler has a color assigned to them, which is the same on each of the packing lists, and Lord help me if I don’t subconsciously buy travel items for my family in their assigned packing list color!  Husband, did you ever wonder why I was so happy to find a RED spinning suitcase for you?  And why you have a hanging toiletry kit with a RED lining?  All my favorite travel items are various shades of blue, because that’s MY color 🙂  Anyway…

The Master List: there are some items you need on every single trip,  so you may as well fill them in on your packing list from the start so these important items don’t get left behind. You may think some of these are no-brainers and you don’t need to have them on a list that you check before leaving the house, but imagine getting to an airport security checkpoint or Border Patrol crossing and realizing that you left your passport in your at-home safe.  This has not happened to me, thank goodness.  But it has happened to others and gives me nightmares nonethelsss.

The Carry-On Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • photo identification: driver’s license/state ID is sufficient for domestic travel, valid passport required for international travel.  Kids under 16 don’t need to show anything, though the TSA folks usually ask my daughter what her name is to see if it matches the boarding pass.  A child traveling internationally with only one of their parents may need to show something stating that the other parent is aware of the travel- this letter or form may need to be notarized.  Check the entrance requirements for the country you are traveling to (I’m looking at you, Canada).
  • money & wallet: take credit cards with no foreign exchange fee if leaving the US, and ALWAYS have merchants run the charge through in the local currency to save on Dynamic Currency Conversion fees as well.  I like to start with a small supply of Euros or whatever to use on the public transport right when I get somewhere.  Plus, bring any membership or affiliation cards you need to prove you are indeed eligible for that fabulous discount-remember, that info in your Details tab.  Forgetting your health insurance subscriber information is courting disaster, so include that card as well.
  • confirmation information, tickets, hotel reservations, etc.  For me, this means just chucking the Trip Planning Binder right into my bag.  I take out the documents I need within the first hew hours of traveling, like flight information and boarding passes, and put them in an easily accessible pocket.  I wouldn’t dream of getting to an agent or kiosk and taking time to open my binder, take stuff out, put it back in, etc.  Gah- that’s like when people stand in a long food line and only start deciding what to order once they’re at the cashier!  Have some consideration, people.  So, I keep my documents handy, and just put them back in neatly when I’m on the plane.
  • phone!  Put it on Airplane Mode though, please.  And also lower the volume, I don’t want to hear “Kung Fu Fighting” alerting you of your missed calls the moment the airplane lands.
  • entertainment options: I like a good crossword puzzle book, and my iPod/headphones.  My husband brings Sudoku.  The tween brings her Kindle Fire.  I bring coloring/activity pages and crayons for the little guy.  We always have our headphone splitters in case the kids want to hear or watch something at the same time.  And depending on how long of a flight/car ride/train trip it is, we’ll bring magnetic chinese checkers, a deck of UNO cards, or a Disney Road Trip game I found at Hallmark once and never saw for sale again.  Don’t forget to bring something to write with.  I like a pen/highlighter combo myself.
  • snacks & water: the kind and amount of snacks you need is determined by the length of your trip and the ability to stop and buy food.  But you need something with you to avoid blood sugar lows.  For trips < 3 hours, I eat before I leave, and take some protein-rich stuff like nuts to keep me full in case of delays, and also some candy, because…I like it.  For longer trips, I like to have the equivalent of a full meal, but eat it in shifts.  More on that in another post.  Re: water- I hate the flavor of bottled water with the fire of a thousand suns, and really dislike drinking water in general.  I much prefer juice or milk.  Due to liquid restrictions from the TSA, I bring my own empty reusable water bottle, fill it up at a water fountain after security (I love the one at SEA that makes a babbling brook sound when you use it), and then add a flavor powder to it.  Instant no-calorie ” juice.” Just be careful opening any sealed containers with spouts after take-off; the pressure builds up under the spout, and if you don’t release it slowly, you’ll have a geyser on your hands! And likely, all over your clothes.  Which brings us to….
  • spare change of clothes: you never know when something will spill on you.  “Juice” or otherwise.  Those with motion sickeness-prone kids or potty-training kids know what I mean.  And change of clothes means everything, down to socks and undies.  Take very light-weight stuff: ladies, that usually means a sports bra.  We wear our sneakers or other heavier shoes onto the plane, but have our rubbah slippahs in the carry-on for bathroom trips or as a spare pair of shoes. Also, bring something in case it gets cold and you can’t change the temperature yourself.  I use a wonderfully soft pashmina, and the kids use lightweight hoodies.
  • medicine: common sense, folks.  Meds never go into checked luggage, and should be labeled properly or in their original containers.  You should also have a list or some other reference document of your medicine name, dosage, and precribing doctor should you need an emergency refill while away.  When traveling outside the US, knowing the actual name of the medicine as opposed to its brand name can also help, as the pharmacy may not carry Aleve, but they definitely have naproxen sodium. I carry a 7-day pill organizer, and have labeled the inside of the compartments with things I carry for each trip: adult pain meds, kids chewable pain meds, motion sickness meds, chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets, chewable Benadryl tablets, nighttime cold meds, and my prescription migraine meds.  Ear plugs fit into this category, and take up very little room.
  • makeup: We’re not talking pageant-level makeup, but a little tinted gloss keeps your lips moist, and keeps you from looking like death when you arrive.  Bonus: your compact’s mirror can come in handy when your child drops the emergency information card under the seat for the 40th time and you need to find it.  Ask me how I know.  Some people like to bring Evian mist or some other moisturizing lotion to guard the skin against dehydration.  I like to save one of my 3-1-1 for travel-sized toothpaste.
  • a timepiece: your phone or iPod touch can work for this if you don’t wear a watch anymore.  Nothing worse than not knowing how many hours are left.
  • cameras & memory cards (or film!), plus chargers: trips must be documented, and these are the tools of the trade.  Do not put them into your checked luggage under any circumstances.
  • comfort items: eye masks, neck pillows, blankets, compression socks to promote circulation, etc.
a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

 

The Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • clothes: of course, you need clothes! Unless you are going to a nudist camp, and this is not that kind of blog.  I like to specify how many of each thing to bring, and then let my husband and daughter pack for themselves.  Sort of. They choose and fold, and then I review and maybe edit their choices before they go into the suitcase. A sample list might say, “T-shirts (5), dressy tops (2), skirt/slacks (1), shirts (4), long pants/jeans (2), socks (5), dressy shoes: low black heels (1), bathing suit (1),”  etc.  I include everything they might need, from a specific shoe like in the example, to a certain hat, like the visor I only wear in Disney World.
  • toiletries: deodorant, q-tips, razors, face lotion, hair gel, sunscreen, bug spray, and so on.  If staying in hotels, I bring my own high-quality conditioner.  I figure, whatever hotel shampoo is available is probably adequate, but the conditioner is bound to make my hair look like Kramer’s in the low water-pressure episode of Seinfeld:

kramer

  •  Miscellaneous: this is actually one of my favorite categories.  This is where you put the stuff that makes your life easy, and that you should consider taking on most any family trip.  A power strip that includes a USB charger.  A pop-up hamper to contain dirty clothes, and a small laundry detergent sample to clean them with.  Shout Stain wipes. Palmolive dishwashing wipes to clean out sippy cups and reusable water bottles in hotel sinks- as you can see, this item was discontinued.  I have carefully hoarded a supply.  I suppose you can make your own with some soft paper towels, diluted dishwashing liquid, and a watertight container.  A large photo mailer to keep trip keepsakes neat and flat.  Glow sticks to keep kids amused in dark places.  A large tote bag to use while shopping, and a carabiner to attach the bag to the stroller or suitcase- my sister raves about the Mommy Hook.  The luggage scale I never travel without.
packing list

Disney packing list so far

Once you’ve got your Master Lists in place, add items specific to your destination, and you’re all set!  I print out the Carry-On and Packing Lists on separate pages and tape them in a central spot in the house.  My crew can see what they need to prep and fold, and then bring it to me at Packing Central, aka, my bed.  Once everything is checked off the lists, I grab them off the wall to use as a Repacking List on the way home.

And now, some words about bags and suitcases!

possibilities

Your carry-on bag should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.  Check the dimensions by airline: If you take a rolling case or duffle bag on board as well, make sure you’ve organized yourself enough that the things you need while in your seat are already at hand, and the rest lives in the overhead bin.  I personally think that if you are checking a bag, you don’t also need a rolling suitcase on board.

Parents, consider using a backpack or cross-body messenger bag instead of a shoulder bag as a carry-on  It’s nice to be hands-free, especially if you have a stroller.  I require my carry-on bag to have a secure water bottle holder, be big enough to fit my trip binder without bending it, and have an easy-to-reach place to stash my sunglasses and iPod.  Choose a bag you love.

I love shopping eBags for any and all bags. They have a great eBags brand line as well.  We’ll be taking this baby out for her 1st ride on our trip to Ecuador.

A tip regarding checked bags: if my itinerary includes small airports, I sometimes lay a sheet of plastic, such as a dry cleaning bag or trash bag, over the top and sides of my packed items before closing the suitcase.  Your luggage may be left out on the tarmac in the pouring rain before it gets loaded onto the plane.  This is less common in large airports, but still possible.  Better safe than sorry.  This can also be solved by using Space Bags or those Ziploc Big Bags for most of your packing.  Also, I make some Outfit Bags for small children to protect and organize those items.  More on that in a future post about Traveling with Toddlers.

Pro-tip regarding repacking to go home: I pack dirty laundry into the suitcase inside out to clearly distinguish it from clean stuff.  Or you can designate one of the Space or Ziploc Bags, because most clothes are not helpfully labeled like this:

clean shirt

 

The next post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be The Itinerary 🙂

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