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Some of my favorite days of summer are the easy days. The spontaneous days. The days where you slowly get your act together and say, “Hey, let’s just get out of the house for a bit.” Or those days where you’re out running errands and decide not to go home just yet – it’s too nice outside. When I first moved to this area in 2014, the North Penn Under Ten Parks & Playgrounds Guide was a god-send. It gave my husband and I a sort of “bucket list” of easy places to explore with our daughter (just one kid at that time, oh – when life was easier 😉). She would have fun, we enjoyed the outdoors, we felt like we were learning about our new community, and we didn’t spend much money. I think we all understand how important that last point is! But when you have young kids, especially kids who are REALLY under the age of 10, life is consumed by all “the stuff.” It’s easier said than done to just run out of the house for a little! And when you aren’t prepared, it’s hard to enjoy that beautiful spontaneity.
Life became easier (and more enjoyable) once I learned how to stock my car for these moments. Now, we’re three kids deep (ages 6, 4, and 1 as of this summer). Visiting playgrounds is literally our job (thank you North Penn Under Ten!). And we’re so busy with life in general that we’re always jumping from one place to the next. So I’m a self-proclaimed pro at making sure the car is ready for anything on beautiful summer days.
When I started out, I wanted some guidance – and I didn’t get it. So my intent here is to provide you with a starting point! I’m sharing some of my essential items as a mom whose been there and whose still in the thick of it. I rock a mighty mini-van with ample space. So modify as needed to fit your family’s needs! All links that appear are from Amazon because, well, I kind of live off Amazon…and grocery pick-up 😉 )
Here are my car essentials to make sure you’re ready to enjoy the summer with your family:
Wipes, Wipes, and More Wipes.
Baby wipes are an obvious need when you have a kid in diapers, but I’ve gotten SO much use out of a spare stash that I hide in the center console. You can clean sticky hands after eating and dirty hands after playing. My extra stash has cleaned probably about a thousand spills as well. Trust me – keep an extra pack in the car that is ONLY for use in the car. Don’t substitute a diaper bag set for it.
Extra Diapers – Even When They’re Not in Diapers Anymore
If you have a little one, keep a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with 2 extra diapers hidden in the car. I have no doubt that one day you’ll need it (a.k.a. You gave someone the diaper bag and it was never restocked). And if you find that you don’t, good for you!
Now when they’re done with diapers (like REALLY done with diapers), you’ll read this like, why bother? Even if you just do this for long road trips, I encourage you to keep an extra pull-up or large size diaper hidden in the car. I remember driving to Niagara Falls 2 years ago. There was nowhere to stop. And we had too much stuff piled in the car to use the car potty (yes I said car potty – more on that in a minute). My daughter did a great job holding it (woohoo!), but I was able to get her to sit on that pull-up just in case we didn’t make it. It made us feel better knowing that there was a back-up there in case on an emergency.
A Car Potty – The Thing You Didn’t Know You Needed But Will Love
A few years ago, a friend mentioned this car potty to me. At first, I was disgusted. But you know what – I bought it anyway because I trust her recommendations. LIFESAVER!
Kalencom’s Potette Plus 2-1 Trainer Seat (find it on Amazon and in some stores) functions as both a portable potty and travel seat for public restrooms. In portable potty mode, you put one of their disposable bags on top, kid sits, and there you go. There is a special pad at the bottom to help control (a.k.a. solidify….) some of the mess. But tie that bag shut when they’re done, clean the hands and seat with those wipes you got on hand (right?), and toss. Potty crisis averted!
If you have a little one whose still mastering the “big” potty seats in public restrooms, you can bring this with to have a kid-sized seat. It’s easy to fold the legs down.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how many times my kids have used the “car potty.” 😊 . Thankfully, I’ve never used it! Though I had a close call in that really bad snowstorm last March where we all lost electricity and I was SUPER pregnant. But theoretically, adults could use it in an emergency.
A word of advice from a mom whose been there about the car potty: I HIGHLY recommend laying a blanket or towel underneath if you’re using car potty mode inside the car. That is NOT a mess you want in your car. I also keep mine with extra refills in a drawstring bag that I got from some business. So this is a way you can put something like that to use!
Ultimately, I think we all would prefer using a real bathroom. But if you’re out and about with no bathroom available, or your kid freaks out about using a porta-potty (been there too), it’s awesome to know that you have something.
An Easy-to-Store Blanket
A blanket is an awesome thing to have on hand. Throw it down on the grass, sit, and be comfortable. It works on sand too. Kids and adults benefit from having one around. Use it at the playground or a concert/movie in the park. Or use it to keep warm if the A/C is on blast.
The most cost effective thing to do is throw an old towel in the trunk. And to be honest, this will do the job. But that towel might take up a lot of space. If space is your concern, look for something that gives you the blanket benefits without the storage sacrifice.
I LOVE our Monkey Mat! I got this way-back-when (I can’t remember) and I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth out of it. It’s essentially a portable picnic blanket. It’s a lightweight (in the original version) and rain-resistant material that folds into this little bag. There’s little weights in the corners that help keep it down (but I think you still need to keep something on it to really hold it down). Amazon sells stakes you can use for it. I keep the Monkey Mat in the pockets on the back of the seats in the car. I often throw it in my diaper bag, etc. when we go out. Super portable, super convenient!
Extra Plastic Bags
Now if you have a more environmentally-conscious method for this, I applaud you. But for me, I recycle plastic shopping bags for on-the-go trash bags. I always keep a few in my diaper bag (for those dirty diapers), but this is the extra. Honestly, I probably have at least 3 in my car at all times. It’s trash for everyone. They’ve served as a vomit collection console (it makes me sick thinking about this again, but car sickness happens). And for those times that you need one for that dirty diaper, wet clothes, or filthy shoes – you’re covered.
How many times have you gone to a public restroom only to find there was no soap? Such a pet peeve of mine! What about finding fun places that have just a porta-pottys or maybe no restroom at all? There’s all sorts of germs that we need to fight throughout the year, and summer is no exception.
The trick is finding a product that you feel is safe for your kids to use. Personally, I avoid the gel stuff with my kids because they think it’s a toy 😉. Instead, I use a foaming one (like Babyganics Alcohol-Free On-the-Go Sanitizer) or wipes. But hey – use whatever you like best here.
A First-Aid Kit
This one is pretty common knowledge, but I’d feel remiss neglecting to mention it.. Scrapes and cuts are going to happen. It’s just life. Having band-aids and some cleaning agents on hand is a necessity for both adults and children. Make sure your first aid kit has band-aids, a cleaning agent for cuts, and some basic medicines. Even if you don’t have a known allergy, it’s smart to include some Benadryl in case an allergic reaction flares up (after all, that first time is always a surprise). Any back-up Epi-Pens, inhalers, etc. are a must. It’ good to have an ice pack too.
gx Make sure you’re stocking medicine here that’s safe for your kids! I’ve found that many pre-made First Aid kits include adult medications only. Amazon has tons, so shop around to find what will work best for you.
Let’s hope that you don’t need to use your own First Aid kit. But think that you could also be helping another family too. I’ve definitely gotten band-aids for other kids simply because I had one and their parent didn’t.
This is a category where those extra promotional bags can come in handy too. Keep just a few extra toys in a bag for emergency purposes. This is huge with my one year old when we go to softball games. I know I have some stuff for him while the big kids are playing. I’ve tapped into this stash for a spontaneous restaurant trip too. For older kids, throw in some extra colored pencils (FYI: crayons may melt during heat waves, not that I know this from experience…) and scrap paper/coloring books.
When you have extra toys on hand, everybody is happier. It also helps you avoid screen-time if you’re conscious of that.
Don’t need too much of an explanation here. We all need it. Keep a car supply of sunscreen, that way you don’t find yourself without it. I like using the Babyganics suncreen spray because it gives the portability and convenience of the spray without all that sticky-ness. Suncreen sticks can be real handy too. Keep one in the diaper bag or glove compartment.
A Portable Chair
This one is really important if you have kids playing outdoor sports, but all can benefit from having some portable chairs in the car. I always have at least one. Look for ones that you can fold and store with minimal space. Bonus if it includes a carrying bag too.
Don’t be surprised if you wind up using this WAY more than you ever thought.
There’s a bunch of cute kid versions out there too. Sometimes you can find ones with a top piece too so the kids always have a shady seat.
A Small Stroller
If you still need a stroller for your kids, you should probably have one in the car at all times. As a “car stroller,” I keep our lightweight one in the trunk. I chose the Chicco Lightweight Plus stroller back in the day because it worked with our Chicco Keyfit Infant Car Seat and converts for regular toddler use. They might be phasing out this model, but there are similar versions out there too. I also like that this is lightweight like an umbrella stroller but still gives me the bottom basket and a cupholder. So if you’re still using the infant seat, I highly recommend finding a lightweight that’s compatible with whatever car seat you’re using.
Sunglasses and Hats
Doesn’t hurt to keep a set, and an extra set, of these on hand for each kid.
And Some More Thoughts….
In general, never leave the house without
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks, More Snacks, Additional Snacks, So So Many Snacks.
I can’t speak enough about this. Whatever it is that you’re into eating, have some in the car that you can bust out in an emergency.
With my kids, I tend to hoard granola bars (well those are really for me and one kid) and crackers. I also always have an applesauce pouch available for each kid because they’re easy to transport, somewhat healthy (though far from “perfect,” I’m aware), and don’t need refrigeration. Baby food pouches can be a substitute as well. Go with your preference here!
Obviously we all need to stay hydrated, but this is even more important in summer months. Most playgrounds don’t have accessible water fountains. Sometimes when they do, it’s questionable too. Have your kids find a water bottle they like, label it with their name, and have it filled before going in the car. If you’re worried about bathroom breaks, choose when they can have it. But at least have it on hand.
This certainly is quite the list! I hope you find it helpful!
Have a great summer outside!