As a family with young kiddos, we do quite a bit of travel by car. From day-cations to longer vacations – one thing is certain – we generally have a wide variety of activites on the itenerary and anything that can go wrong… will. I have found in my moderately short time as mom that the key to stress free travel with kids is packing well and planning for both comfort and convenience. Sacrificing one for the other usually only results in an unhappy camper and I will be damned if that unhappy camper is going to be me. I have rounded up my tried and true list of things that I don't leave home without when we hit the road. Whether you are planning on adventuring to a theme park or spending hours on end at the beach this summer, or both, this list will come in handy.
1 // Ergo Baby Carrier – My baby is now 2 1/2, so essentially not a baby at all. I still carry him in my Ergo, all… the… time… It is perfect following those sleepy car ride naps, when I am ducking into a thrift shop or antique trove, or when we are traipsing down to the beach carrying no less than one million things. When a stroller simply won't do and I need to free up my hands while I load myself up like a pack mule, or when I need to convert the stroller into a shopping cart, or my toddler with busy hands and a tendency towards an impromptu sprint happens to be along for the ride, a carrier like this is a must have. I can wear it for hours without feeling fatigue or discomfort even at this age and stage with Penn.
2 // Sun Shelter Umbrella – We layer two umbrellas when we head to the beach, for maximum shade canopy creation and so that the kids have some shade to play under while the adults lounge in comfort and watch.
3 // Waterproof / Shockproof iPad Case – We are a tech driven kind of family. The number of tablets we have is embarrassing but the kids use them for so many things. We have never purchased a tablet for one of the kids, but they often gravitate toward and eventually seem to take over and slime up one of our tablets, so it helps to protect those babies with cases that prevent many kinds of disaster. And indeed I am constantly shocked by the type of disasters that occur. Many of them are freak accidents that you wouldn't even think to prepare for.
4 // Seat Protector – With one kiddo who gets carsick and both that we tend to take with us in the car and then eat and get covered with sand, a seat protector is just another barrier between the disaster makers and your seats.
5 // Battery Pack – See item number three above. Need I say more. This battery pack is powerful and can charge two items at a time. That is super helpful when you have kids that fight over stuff.
6 // Rolling Cooler – Part cooler for extra water and small snack items, part luggage cart. Perfect for those times when you could really benefit from an extra hand or three.
7 // Director's Chair with Tray – A chair with a tray and cupholder has turned out to be the more durable type of folding chair when it comes to the beach of camping variety of chair. We have gone through more chairs than I care to admit, and most of our casualties seem to be those that have the fabric strip as the armrest with a cup holder net on the end of one or both arms. We are not actually that hard on our chairs, yet… so I feel like this is definitely saying something. You would think this variety would last the longest, since they are flexible, but somehow they just don't. Not to mention, it's awfully nice to have a bit of a surface to work with when you aren't bringing along a large solid cooler that would otherwise double as extra seating or a surface when you need it.
1 // Parent Console – If you have young children you already know that your stroller is an extension of your home and your car once you leave the house. Having a decent parent console for your stroller is crucial. If you stroll along for any period of time, you will need easy access pockets for things like your phone or your water / coffee / flask (kidding… kind of) and anything else you will need frequently and don't want to dig for in your stroller basket. I have had some horrible consoles and some great ones, so if you find your precious stroller doesn't come with one that works for you, get a universal one that does. Deep cup holders are critical for avoiding those nagging little spills when you are traversing bumpy terrain and easy access pockets that are separate from these cup holders are extremely helpful when you have 7 drinks to store, 3 of which don't have screw tops and you still want to put your phone somewhere other than your pocket.
2 // Snack Tray – Many strollers come with these but once you enter the arena of modular strollers with a variety of accessory options, they don't. Skip the belly bar and do yourself a solid by choosing the snack tray right out of the gate. If you are going someplace and plan to use your stroller, chances are your kids will be in them for longer than 5 minutes. A cup holder for drinks and even small toys will go a long way toward keeping them content with being in a fixed position. I can't count the number of times my kids have eaten in their strollers when they are at that awkward age of being too little to sit in a chair and not so little that they don't eat actual food. Lifesaver for so many reasons.
3 // Clip On Fan – I have had a great many stroller experiences that involve long days and hot climates. No matter how fancy and breathable your canopy claims to be, once you cover, shield and protect your kiddo from those vicious sun rays… they are going to get hot and then they are miserable – and so are you. A clip on fan that has a guard and actually moves air will truly help keep your kids from overheating. There are hundreds of clip fans out there so navigating can be tricky but if your kids are anything like mine, and your fan doesn't have a guard, there is a high probability that your kids will not be able to stop grabbing those brightly colored foam blades. This is not really a safety issue, since the blades are soft, but if your kid is fixated and won't keep their hands off of those spinning contraptions, there won't be much cooling or air movement happening and you will have a sleep deprived squirmy kiddo and you will have to re-clip that damn thing every five seconds.
4 // Hooks – Your stroller should have a huge under carriage basket and it should be easy to access at all times. The end. But, there are many occasions where you will find yourself short on storage space even with a large basket, and this is where parent hooks come in handy. For long days where you won't be going to the car frequently, or at all, and that basket will be loaded to the brim. These extra hooks are perfect for hanging shopping bags or totes that you want easy access to, without having to dig for days through all of the stuff down below.
5 // Side Sling – A convenient mesh storage bag that doesn't hang directly over your basket. Perfect for wet bathing suits and towels, toys – especially of the sand digging and castle making variety, and anything else you want to keep from commingling with your other stuff and don't want to mildew.
6 // Sun Shade – There are very few stroller canopies out there that are large enough to fully block the sun from all or even most parts of your child. Even the articulating shades are frustrating and some part of your babe is going to be left out to fry. My kids have had some interesting tan lines over the years, depending on their attire, even with constant sun block application so an aftermarket add-on shade goes a long way toward extending their canopy and can often be used on their car seats as well.
7 // Baby Jogger Single to Double Tandem Stroller – A topic all on its own. See below for lots of words on the matter.
8 // Stroller Cooler – A cooler that attaches to your stroller without taking up precious storage space and without needing to be carried… unless you want to. In which case, this sucker comes off and converts to a diaper bag cooler of sorts. Cool, right? Anything to expand my storage and add extra functionality for those times a rolling cooler just won't do. Like at the zoo, or Disney. Also a great way to store your electronics if you don't need to store food or drinks. Just sayin'…
Ahhhh, the great stroller debate. It's endless and complex and seemingly ever changing, to be sure. There are so many options that it will make your head spin. Like spreadsheet creating kind of complicated, just so you can compare and contrast all of the features and functions of the strollers within your price point. This could be an entire article on all its own merit, but I will spare you an infinite amount of words on the topic, and instead give you a mere hundreds…. Truly the condensed version – trust me. Ultimately the stroller choice is a personal one and it seems as though it has become something of a status symbol and a matter of pride when you can stroll along with ease, beaming at the level of comfort and convenience your choice provides for you and your family. Sad… but true. At least this is how I interpret the looks on other people's faces when I am out and about, so I can only assume that I must also fall prey to this.
So here is the skinny, as far as it relates to my personal needs and wants. If you have any of the same requirements or struggles, I hope this helps.
Over the last 8 years I have owned and used dozens of strollers. Dozens. This is not a joke. Just ask the Mister how he feels about strollers, he will tell you. I think finding the right stroller is like finding the perfect car or home. It needs to be comfortable, convenient, and have everything you may possibly need and more because your sanity depends on it.
When you consider the price tag on strollers, my preferred stroller of choice falls somewhere in the middle between the all-inclusive basic travel system strollers like Chicco or Graco and the high-end, high price point, luxury strollers like Bugaboo and Orbit. If I had to choose between a basic but all encompassing stroller like a Graco / Chicco and a Bugaboo / Orbit, I would probably choose the Graco / Chicco stroller 9 times out of 10. This is because those less expensive travel systems actually factor in comfort and convenience of both kids and parents much better than those luxury brands seem to, and you will pay 1/5 of the price for all the bells and whistles – the accessories and features are not add-ons.
If you have been following this blog for any period of time, you know that I am a huge fan of all things modular because I like to have options and I hate to go without. The number one downside for 99% of the luxury strollers out there is that damned miniature basket they sport. I mean… seriously, what gives? Do they assume that if I can afford that stroller that I probably also have a butler in tow, everywhere I go? Ridiculous.
But, the thing that has made me a die hard lover of this particular stroller system is that it's the only stroller on the market that can easily adapt from a single to a double stroller with multiple seat arrangement possibilities and has a wonderful basket and adjustable everything – it's a dream come true. There are several modular strollers out there that can go between a single and a double, but none that sit tandem, that don't skimp on the second seat by making it a jump seat, that force you to sacrifice all of your storage space to house the second rider's feet and legs or that give you all of the amazing features you could possible want but set you back upwards of $1500. I mean, shucks… at that point, just get yourself the butler, or hire a nanny and leave those kids at home, am I right?
This stroller comes pretty close as far as I can tell, and has a fabulous price point. It's absolutely worth checking out and the shopping basket option in place of the second seat seriously is the bomb dot com. The only thing I'm unsure about is if when you remove the second seat, it remains just as long as if you hadn't. That is not a deal breaker necessarily, but I will say that I like that when I use mine as a single, it is truly a single and steers and rides and takes up only as much space as a single. But perhaps the extra storage space is actually a bonus and I have been missing out on something amazing (absolutely possible)… I would be very interested to hear from someone who owns one of these!
Also, a little known fact that they don't seem to advertise about this stroller is that the canopy is removable as a whole. As in… the whole thing, frame and all, actually clips and unclips. This may sound unimportant, but for those of you who have tall children or use your strollers for far longer than most (guilty!), this is fabulous because it means that you can actually clip the canopy onto the frame a bit higher up than it normally sits and give those kiddos extra headroom. This is also helpful for adventuring in hot climates, regardless of the size of your kiddo, because it allows you open up that space between the canopy and the top of the seat back, without actually opening the canopy itself. This single seemingly unimportant thing lets the air flow all the way through, front to back, which helps with the heat more than you can even imagine. Along with a clip on fan, this is the difference between a peaceful trip and a chaotic and stressful trip with the stroller. Have you ever tried to sleep when you are drenched in sweat because it's one million degrees and there is absolutely no breeze whatsoever? Ya… like that.
I could go on and on about the things I like and dislike about so many strollers, but in truth the few things I mention above are the standout items that will make or break a good stroller choice if you plan to give your stroller a serious run for its money. Aside from a personal preference for a tandem arrangement versus and side-by-side arrangement (because, I frequent places that are hard to navigate in a double wide and my boys drive me nuts when they can see, reach, or touch each other), I consider many of the previously mentioned tidbits to be somewhat universal. You may have different requirements and your kids may have different needs and wants, but at some point many of these things will factor into your general love for your stroller or lack thereof. Promise. And yes, my older boy is seemingly way too old to ride in a stroller, but for days with lots of walking, he loves to jump in and stroll. Frankly I like that he still can as well. He may be nearly 8 but he is still under the weight limit so it's just a matter of his height that isn't ideal. Since he really just uses it for brief moments throughout the day when we have much walking and exploring on the horizon, this is a non-issue and seems to work beautifully between rides at an amusement park or when we are hurrying to get from one place to the next and he is petering out.
Have you embarked on the great stroller hunt or begun to collect a vast amount of gear for travelling with your kiddos in comfort? I would LOVE to know what you found and anything that you think is crucial as a feature for a good piece of gear that will go the distance and span the ages of your children. Do tell…