heija travel

Yolanda’s recent post about Jenny Cooper’s colorful luggage is awesome and reminds me of my obsession with the “right” gear.  Last spring we took the kids to Europe for two weeks with some tried and true travel gear and a few new things that will definitely make the cut for future travels. We each took one bag and a carry-on, although the adult suitcases were slightly bigger to accommodate souvenirs and because we knew we would have to check bags on smaller flights between countries anyways. Our kids were each color-coded and kitted out with the following and I highly recommend all:

Hard sided silver rolling suitcases (with four fabulous wheels!) from Costco under $50.  They now carry similar bags online in “happy” colors and patterns.

Rick Steve’s mesh packing cubes are genius! My travel-savvy best friend gave them to Sweetie Boy, Venom Pen and Sistafoo for Christmas. Capacious and kid friendly the set of three zippered containers are made of black mesh for easy to see contents. The kids used one for pants, one for shirts, and the third for underwear-socks-accessories. (Their clothing pack list is its own post, but boy did they learn some things!)

Colorful luggage strap and tag for secure arrivals and easy spotting (of both kids and bags) at baggage claim and on trains.

Well-loved, vintage monogrammed Land’s End Locker/Sports Backpacks—they should totally bring these back! These fabulous backpacks stand on their own and have a stretchy outside pocket to accommodate balls or shoes. They have one spacious main compartment and two side saddle style zippered sections. Each kid used this to store their day bag, document pouch, toiletry bag and comfort items (see: candy stash). At the hotel or apartment they used this bag served as their individual space/nightstand which was helpful for keeping track of three sets of travel essentials. Double zippers on the main compartment and a structured shape make them easy to access and roomy enough to paw through. I had a local tailor add a nylon strap to allow them to be slipped over the handle of their rolling suitcases. The backpacks are discontinued but I found intriguing similar and well-priced versions here and here.

Large soft acrylic scarf/wrap from the Gap to use as a blanket. These were a serendipitous and perfect sale find. The scarves are soft and warm and perfectly sized for wrapping shoulders or folded to create a v-shaped lap blanket. They were our most-used MacGyver item, and by the end of the trip our oldest teenager had figured out how to rock it around his neck Euro-style.

Various travel pillows according to their preference. I think we had one Memory Foam bolster style, one Bucky Jr. neck pillow and a cheap foam bead number from the Target One Spot (And yes I love the Target One Spot so much I WOULD marry it!)

A clear vinyl one-quart bag with colorful zipper from the Container Store kept toothbrushes and acne meds straight on tiny sink ledges.

A zippered nylon Barcelona Document bag with an extra Velcro pocket and a mesh compartment for writing and art supplies. This held paper, journals, comics, activities etc.  and was also used to collect paper souvenirs and ephemera along the way. We bought ours at the Container Store, but I just learned that they are carried elsewhere in more colors. I am going to buy another in black from See Jane Work to corral my front seat of the car messes.

They each brought their a well-traveled and unobtrusive small cross body Swiss Army bag for day use to hold phones, cameras, electronics, sunglasses, lip balm etc. The cross body style, compact size and adjustable strap made them a good choice for every activity and easy to keep track of on crowded subways and buses. These bags were originally purchased at Target a few years ago for a surprise trip to Disneyland, a similar bag can be found here and Target stores may carry a wider selection than the website has currently. We attached small carabiner rings designed to hold the neck of store-bought water bottles for longer outings.

Each kid also packed a small foldaway duffle in case of souvenir overdose. We ended up only using one…because, really, what is there to buy in Europe? :p

We were Pack Light! Nazis and the Worst Kids in the World learned how few items they really need when they pick the right pieces for the job. Now when I say “dress for Europe” they know I expect them to look good and to wear be-prepared-for-anything layers and shoes. One of the best takeaways from our trip is the realization they had early in our journey that gym shorts and t-shirts don’t cut it in major European cities. They were relieved and grateful that they had relied on parental guidance. Not like they had a choice.

Heija Nunn is based in Seattle and is “The Worst Mother in the World“.


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Comments (5)


  1. Posted by: Joan

    I have been traveling to Europe for 4-5 weeks each summer for the past few years with my children and between 3 of us we take – 1 back pack they share for toys, coloring books and other fun stuff. I take one carry on bag. We take one large suitcase for three of us and I take an empty duffle bag for things we buy there. Even when I was taking diapers, bottles and 2 car seats with me – I did not have as much stuff as you. Wow!

  2. Posted by: Heija

    Sounds like your list is the one we need to read! I aspire to that type of zenplicity and would love to hear how you strategize.

  3. Posted by: Laura

    Currently planning our 3 trip to Europe w the boys and these were some great things to think about! They each take a carry on (LLBean rolling backpack) with all their books & toys & snacks that they are then responsible for the entire trip. Esp on trains, planes, and in the city. We take 1 giant suitcase and one carry on. Will have to look into the Rick Steves packs, after about a week all our clothes jumble together which is a pain in the butt. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  4. Pingback: Coffee Shop Outing with Graham | Little Blue Nursery

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