10 Holiday Travel Kit Essentials

Young family at the beach

As you head off for the holiday weekend with your family, be sure that you have all of the items you need to make travel smooth. Sure, you could pull together what you need every time you leave the house, but it saves a lot of time to keep a kit in your bag with your travel essentials.

Pull together your essential items in travel sizes. This is my essential kit, but choose your own by thinking through what you are going to do on your trip and what you use every time you are out.

  1. Sunscreen – Safe, natural sunscreen is the most important item in your kit if you are going to be outside at all.
  2. Bug Spray - Outside, you will probably also need bug spray, which is a close second.
  3. Hat – Keep the sun off your baby with a hat. Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under six months old. If you use a lightweight hat, you can roll it up neatly in a corner of the kit.
  4. Lip Balm – Lips dry out in the wind, and burn in the sun. Lip balm with sunscreen is best.
  5. Water Bottle – Stay hydrated. Fill your water bottle with as much ice as you can fit first, then pour in the water. This won’t fit in the kit, but you definitely need to keep it close by for everyone when you are outside.
  6. Wet Bag – If there are accidents, and there probably will be accidents, you will be happy you have a bag to collect wet pants, dirty shirts, or wet wipes.
  7. Toys – Distraction might help if it takes a while to get to your destination. For your kit, one small toy is enough.
  8. Peppermint Headache Stick – Based on my own experience, a day out with children can be stressful. A peppermint stick is one of those things you really need to try to see how well it works (for a mild headache). I relied heavily on mine.
  9. Natural Hand Purifier – If you won’t have easy access to hand-washing facilities, you will be glad you have a quick and easy way to wash up before you eat and after you change diapers.
  10. After-sun Care Badger Balm – If you or your children do catch the sun, a little after-sun balm with naturally anti-inflammatory ingredients will soothe the heat.

Once you have gathered your items, put it all in a travel bag. Better yet, find another reusable container that will keep everything safe and available.

Reusable Sandwich Bag with Window
Sandwich Bag with window
A sandwich bag with a window leaves everything easy to see so you can grab what you need quickly. This is smaller (7″ x 5.75″), so it is only appropriate if you have just a few items.

Lunch Bots Uno
Lunchbots Uno Stainless Steel box
To keep tubes from squeezing, I like hard containers. Small Lunch Bots Uno, the smallest of the Lunch Bots containers, can hold a small kit at 6.25″ x 4.5″ x 1.75″.

Stainless Steel Lunch Box
Stainless Steel Lunch Box
If you have a big kit, a stainless steel food storage container will give you plenty of space and keep all of your items from squeezing out at 7″ x 5″ x 2.5″. I especially like that the two separate layers let you spread everything out so you don’t have to dig through a deeper container.

Any of these kits is small enough to fit in a backpack, a glove box, or a diaper bag. Pack your travel essentials early and you will find that the travel day will go much easier.

Image © Konradbak | Dreamstime.com

Is Your Insect Repellent Safe?

Mosquito on human skin

How do you balance the need to keep your children free from insect bites in the summer against the need to keep them free from the toxic chemicals that can pass as insect repellent? Understand what is in insect repellents and why, then choose a bug spray that is most effective at keeping mosquitos and ticks away while still being the least toxic for your children.

We don’t just repel insects in the summer because they are a nuisance. Mosquitos and ticks carry disease. We are trying to prevent the spread of West Nile virus, malaria, and Yellow Fever from mosquitos and Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from ticks. Obviously, it’s worth using some form of insect repellent to keep our families safe from mosquitos and ticks.

We are faced, though, with the dilemma that insect repellents contain pesticides. Of course they would, when their goal is to kill insects.

Synthetic repellents like DEET and Permethrin promise low toxicity, but studies continue to show adverse effects, especially for children and pregnant women. Both of these common ingredients in insect repellents are neurotoxins. Effects of DEET haven’t resulted in outright bans, but there is a widespread awareness of the potential effects of DEET. Health Canada has limited DEET concentrations in insect repellents, increasing the limitations for younger children to a recommendation of no DEET for infants under 6 months. Many parents avoid DEET altogether.

If you are going to avoid these synthetic neurotoxins, how will you keep insects off your children?

Some essential oils repel insects for a couple of hours. Think of the particularly strong smelling essential oils like peppermint, lavender, lemon balm, cedar, basil, or even garlic.

You can also find natural substances that repel bugs for a longer period of time. Neem oil is a natural insect repellent. This oil is pressed from the fruits and seeds of the Indian Neem tree, and the strong smell is a bit like peanut and garlic and the taste is quite bitter. This is used widely in cosmetics. Don’t use neem oil internally. It’s a natural pesticide, but it’s still a pesticide with mild toxicity that you don’t want your child licking or yourself ingesting, especially if you are pregnant.

How can you keep the bugs away without causing harm?

First, start by creating spaces that deter insects. Keep basil and lemon balm plants at windows. Grow catnip, rosemary, and lavender throughout the garden. Put a dab of peppermint essential oil (not flavor oil) on your child’s collar in the morning. Clean with natural d-limonene cleaners made from citrus oil. These plants and oils won’t guarantee that bugs stay away, but you can create a less buggy environment for your children.

Second, carefully choose a personal insect repellant (one that you apply on each person) that uses the most natural ingredients.

We carry two insect repellents made in small batches in Canada: Graydon and Shoo! Natural Bug Spray.

Graydon
Graydon Natural Insect Repellent
Graydon Natural Insect Repellent Spray is based on a traditional Metis recipe, made mindfully in small batches in Canada.

Ingredients: unrefined plant protein complex, soya bean oil, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, food grade citrus oil extract, vegetable glycerin, lecithin, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.

Shoo!
Anointment Natural Bug Repellent Spray
Shoo! Natural Bug Spray is handcrafted in New Brunswick.

Ingredients: Glycine soja (Soybean) Oil*, Lauris Nobilis Leaf Extract*, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Leaf Extract*, Azadirachta Indica (Neem) Seed Oil, Cedrus Atlantica (Cedarwood) Bark Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Oil, Tocopherol. *USDA certified organic.

Image © Risto Hunt | Dreamstime.com

Don’t Panic Picnic Plans

Easy family picnic

Do you have this fantasy of yourself as an organized, creative mother who makes all of the recipes you pin on Pinterest and packs a balanced, organic picnic for every trip out?

Don’t panic!

As the holiday weekend approaches, chill out and realize that your kids will love anything you choose to call a picnic. Take your regular dinner outside and eat on the lawn. It’s a picnic! Take cheese and crackers to the park. That’s a picnic, too. When it is 100°F outside and you have a red air warning, spread a blanket on the floor in the living room, and call that a picnic. You don’t have to drive an hour into the wilderness with a full meal packed in a specially designed basket with matching flatware. Yes, it would be nice, but don’t worry about the details too much.


Nice to Have

A Blanket. If you have an outdoor blanket that you can spread on the lawn then easily wash afterward, you’re set. No blanket? Just choose a spot with picnic tables.

A Basket. Sure, it’s nice to have a basket with every little thing tucked into its tidy pocket. It you have it, take it. If you don’t, put some tough plates and forks into a canvas bag. The basket may be iconic, but it isn’t necessary.

Drinks. This is a must. It doesn’t have to be wine or juice or anything more than water, but bring the drinks.

Finger Foods. Clean and dry. Though not essential, its easier to picnic on foods that don’t spill or get your fingers all messy.

Room Temperature. Hold the mayo. If you are going to be outside for a while and you don’t have the basket that fits ice packs to keep everything cold, skip the foods that spoil or wilt quickly.

Cloths. Bring reusable cloths. Maybe not absolutely essential, but going anywhere with children is easier if you have a few washable cloths and a spray bottle. We use ours as napkins then unpack right into the washing machine.

Individual Portions. You don’t need portions separated at all. You could pass around one container and share, but, if you want to serve individual meals, it can save space and make serving easier if you pack each person’s food in a separate storage container that doubles as a serving container. Lightweight, stainless lunch containers for school lunch easily double as picnicware.

Games. This could be as simple as a doll or a toy car for a young child, but we like to throw in a card game. It gives us an excuse to linger in our chosen spot. Of course, you don’t need an excuse. Just linger! Go for a walk. Just consider whether your children need enough entertainment to keep them occupied while the adults eat.

Utensils. If you bring finger foods, you don’t need utensils. If you do need utensils, bring reusable. It’s just too easy not to. Super lightweight bamboo utensils don’t add much bulk or weight to your basket or bag.

As in so many situations as a parent, you soon realize that you don’t need a bunch of extra stuff made specifically for one situation. If you have a long weekend coming up and you want to go on a picnic, just grab what you have and go. It’s an adventure. Your children will have a great time.

Image © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

Sun-dry Those Cloth Diapers

Diapers drying in the sun

Sun-drying cloth diapers saves you money and energy. If you are trying to simplify your life and make best use of your family resources, why not use the energy source that offers itself to you every day: the Sun! It makes sense to sun-dry your diapers whenever you can.


Tools

  • Drying rack or wash line – Even a simple string will do. You could drape the diapers over a fence, but they get bits of paint and dirt on them if you do this. (Yes, I tried.) This is the one essential tool.
  • Clothes pins – Pins or clips aren’t necessarily essential, but I find them helpful. You can drape diapers over a rack or a wash line, but pinning by one edge lets the diapers catch the breeze.
  • Lemon – Stains don’t hurt diapers, but we all try to get rid of them. The easiest way to brighten your diapers without harsh chemicals is to use the sun. Sometimes sun alone works. Try that first. If you still have stains, spray a little lemon juice on the area and watch them fade away. The drawback to this method is that if you used lemon, you might want to wash the diaper again before using it to avoid putting that acidic residue next to your baby’s skin.


Benefits

  • Saving money on energy – Why pay for the gas or electricity to run your dryer when you have a big, beautiful dryer waiting for you for free outside?
  • Reduce your energy usage – The most energy used in the average cloth diaper washing routine is spent by the dryer heating up cold, wet diapers enough to evaporate away the water. If your goal in using cloth diapers is to reduce your carbon footprint, sun drying is going to make your choice even more environmentally friendly.
  • Bleaching out stains naturally – The first time you see stains fade from diapers, you will be so shocked and surprised. It really works, and it’s so much easier than staying inside in the dark and trying to add chemical after chemical to make the diapers give up their hold on stains.
  • Naturally fresh smell – You know that aisle of fresh-smelling sprays at the grocery store? This is the free version of that—an actual fresh smell. I love the smell of diapers and clothes that have been dried outside.


Drawbacks

  • Stiffness – The fibers of your diapers may feel stiff after they have been line dried. That’s not a permanent state. Just roll the diaper around in your hands a bit or put a full load in the dryer with several wool dryer balls on air only (no heat) for a few minutes. The fibers just need to be flexed. On the other hand, the constant abrasion and high heat in the dryer reduce the useful life of any diaper. Rolling the diaper around in your hands a bit is a good compromise to reach a balance between softness and long life.
  • Harms some materials – I found that glowing snaps stop glowing when you dry them in the sun. Elastic that has residue build up can become brittle and snap when heated, but that is true in a clothes dryer as well. Just look at the materials in your diaper and be sure that you won’t cause harm to the diaper—and to the future good function of the diaper—by sun drying. Of course, with flat diapers and prefolds you don’t need to worry about this at all. All-cotton diapers love the sun.
  • Dogs – My dogs acquire drying clothes. Know your furry people and make the wash line or drying rack high enough that they can’t satisfying their curiosity and need to save you from invading diapers. Dry the diapers out of reach.

Sun-drying your cloth diapers is such a simple and logical step in the effort to life a more natural, frugal life. One baby step at a time.

Image © Neyo | Dreamstime.com

Frozen Pops Beyond the Basics

Stainless Steel Popsicle Molds

It’s popsicle time. Sure, make frozen pops for the kids, but don’t forget the dogs and the parents. We could all use a cool treat.


Popsicles For Kids

Kinderville Popsicle Molds

My kids will eat almost anything if I freeze it. My son freezes green tea. My daughter likes frozen fruit because it isn’t as overwhelmingly icy as most pops. Anything that we will put in a smoothie, we will put in a popsicle mold. Start with the basics like yogurt, fruit, and pudding then move on to advanced popsicles as you find fun new ways to freeze your treats.

  • Juice with chunks of fruit
  • Lemonade with edible flowers
  • Almond milk with pumpkin pie spices (my son’s favorite)
  • Pudding with layers of crumbled cookies
  • Watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe frozen in layers for stripes
  • Double dip by unmolding, adding another ingredient to the mold, then pressing the frozen pop in so the new layer covers the whole pop
  • Freeze in an ice cream cone


Adults-only Popsicles

Stainless Steel Popsicle Molds

In my house, adults are more likely to like savory popsicles. Any of the cold soups I wrote about last week could be frozen. I’m a bit more willing to be adventurous with spices and unusual flavors. Don’t buy extra ingredients. Just use what you have on hand. With cocktail popsicles, the secret to getting them to freeze is: don’t add as much alcohol as you would for a mixed drink.

  • Mango puree with chili sauce (beautiful flavor, add either Indian or Mexican spices)
  • Red Bull
  • Cocktails (Cosmopolitan or a basic mimosa)
  • Freeze pureed fruit in stick-shaped ice cubes to add as stirrers to regular cocktails
  • Kahlua yogurt
  • Straight up frozen coffee
  • Apple, orange, and spices like wassail (my husband’s suggestion)


Frozen Treats for Dogs

Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray

My hairy dogs have not yet had their summer haircuts, and they have welcomed ice cubes every day. If you are going to feed your dog ice cubes or dog pops, stay with them and take the pops away once they get small enough to choke on. My dogs don’t chew the ice cubes or pick them up in their mouths. They just lick and chase the ice cubes around until they leave them to melt in a puddle on my carpet, which is (sort of) fine if they are just water. Some of these dog pops are definitely outdoor treats. Just start with what your dog loves, avoid what your dog shouldn’t love, and add enough water that the mixture will freeze.

  • Peanut butter (the dog pop basic ingredient)
  • Water from a roasting pan (after I save what I can for humans, I add water and give the pan to the dogs)
  • Any kind of meatsicle (we save organ meats, blend them up, and make frozen doggy treats from those)
  • Bananas and apples
  • Raw carrots
  • Yogurt in small amounts

When I realized I could freeze almost anything for anyone and call it a treat, this opened up a whole new world of summer snacks for my family. Try it! And, stay cool.