Things to Pack and Avoid for a Full Day at the Theme Parks

February 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

As a veteran of the Orlando-based theme parks, I’ve seen it all. Families who plan for every contingency, and shove it all into a backpack whose size and weight would make a soldier nod quietly in appreciation.

People who come in so woefully unprepared that they spend $50 – $100 just to satisfy some small-but-nagging need they didn’t plan on, like a sweatshirt on a chilly day.

And people who know how to pack and plan for an entire 15 hour day, bringing the things they need and avoiding the things they don’t.

Here are a few things you should pack and not pack if you’re going to spend an entire day at Disney, Universal, Sea World, King’s Island, Six Flags, or any of the many theme parks dotting the country.

Things to Bring

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours. If you have to do this to pack for a day in the theme parks, you're taking too much.

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours.

  • Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats): It doesn’t matter what time of year you’re in the parks, or even if it’s a cloudy day, you can still get a sunburn. So take some sun protection, especially sweat-proof sunscreen, and use it regularly. Wear the hat and sunglasses to avoid getting a burn on your face and to protect your eyes.
  • Snack foods: Even if it’s just for a quick burst of energy or to tie you over when your kids are hungry two hours before dinner, take some granola bars or other individually-wrapped snack items. I personally like Clif bars, because they’re dense and filling despite their size. I used a few of these on my recent #DisneyParksChallenge.
  • Rain ponchos: If you come to Central Florida in the summer, it’s almost certainly going to rain in the afternoon. Buy some cheap ponchos at a Walmart and stuff them in your bag and wear them as needed. Pitch them at the end of your trip, because you’re not going to get them folded that small again. Hint: A lot of theme parks clear out when the rains come, so don’t leave when it gets rainy. Summer rains here last no more than an hour, but the parks will be a little emptier. Make lunch reservations for 1:30 or 2:00 because that’s when it usually starts.
  • Battery pack: For some reason, cell phones burn through their batteries more at the theme parks. (You can slow it down if you shut off Bluetooth and wifi.) But that may not be enough, so it helps to have some kind of battery backup. Whether it’s a 20,000mAH battery pack or one of those credit card-sized one-off chargers, you’ll need something to juice up and get you through the rest of the day.
  • Cell phone charger
  • This one is optional, but very helpful. Stuff a 3′ charging cord and cube into your bag just in case you find an electrical outlet during a rest break. Some restaurants have them tucked away in the corners, and you can occasionally find a plug in a bathroom. Even 10 minutes in a plug can buy you an hour of power. And if the universe is smiling on you, you’ll find an empty plug when you sit down for your lunch or dinner break.

Things to Avoid

  • A stroller: Unless you’ve got one of those all-terrain strollers with dual shocks and a portable generator, don’t bring a stroller with you. You can rent them inside every park everywhere, so there’s no point wrestling with one on the trip down and back.
  • Extra clothes: Unless you know for sure that you’re going to get cold, don’t take extra clothes “just in case,” or a change of clothes for a messy toddler. Similarly, if the morning is cold, but the day will warm up, try to tough out the cold temps rather than carrying around a sweatshirt or jacket all day. Keep in mind that we crank the AC up pretty high here in the summer and you can get cold if you spend a lot of time indoors. So if you get cold easily, take the sweater. Otherwise, don’t plan on every contingency. Check the weather before you go and pack accordingly.
  • Three days’ worth of diapers: You’re only going to the park for a single day. That requires at most six diapers. Don’t fill up your bag with the whole week’s worth of diapers. Just take what you’ll need each day. And put some wipes in a Ziploc bag, rather than taking the entire package. A lot of new parents pack up their kid’s entire changing table for day trips, and end the day with a bag that’s just as full as when they started.
  • Big bottles of water: Yes, you’re going to get thirsty. Yes, you need to stay hydrated. And yes, park water is expensive. But there are some parks that will give you water for free. You can get ice water when you sit down for lunch and dinner. And you can fill up your water bottle in a bathroom sink or special water bottle refill station. So there’s no need to bring a 1.5-liter bottle of water with you into the park. That’s 2.2 pounds of extra weight you’re carrying. Bring a smaller bottle and refill it as needed.

There are other things that are optional, but I tend not to carry just because of the weight, like a camera (my phone takes great pictures) or a guidebook (you can download an e-version on your Kindle app).

If you’re not sure of whether you should take something, think of the worst case scenario if you don’t have it, and decide whether you can live with that. Forgetting diapers for your 1-year-old can be a disaster, but leaving your guidebook behind won’t ruin your day.

What are your must-pack and must-avoid items on your theme park days? What do you absolutely need to have? Share your suggestions on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

7 Must-Pack Items for Your Next Vacation

November 29, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When I go on vacation, my goal is to be away from the hotel, Airbnb, or family member’s house as much as possible. I want to be out doing things, seeing things, and experiencing a new place. Maybe it’s a house on the beach, a visit to a new city, a return trip to Indiana, or I’m at a conference, spending a couple of “bleisure” days before or after a trip.

Regardless of what I’m doing, there are a few things I always pack wherever I go. These are things you should pack for your next vacation or holiday trip.

First, make sure you have a portable battery pack to keep your phone charged while you’re out and about. There are several brands available, but I’ve always had good luck with the Anker brand of batteries. The typical battery pack is a little bigger and heavier than a mobile phone, weighing about 12 ounces, and it fits in a purse, backpack, or even a pocket. Get one that’s at least 20,000 mAH, and you’ll be able to charge an iPhone 6 or 7 times, and a Galaxy phone 5 or 6 times. Then, just charge it up each night when you’re back at your hotel or house.

Mobile phone with a battery nearly dead. Be sure to take a battery and charging cable on your next vacation.Next, be sure to carry a charging cable and USB plug with you during the day. If you can ever plug into a wall socket, even if it’s just for 20 minutes while you’re eating lunch, you can extend your phone’s battery reserves and avoid tapping into your portable battery until later. My daughter carries one in her backpack whenever we’re cruising Disney World or Universal Studios. When we stop for lunch, we can take turns getting a 15-minute boost of power.

Speaking of power, consider tossing a PowerCube, a small charging block by Allocacoc, into your suitcase. It comes with three regular plug outlets and two USB charging ports, and is just a couple inches in size. You can get PowerCubes that plug directly into the wall or come with a 5′ or 10′ extension cord. This lets you plug multiple devices into a single plug, or you can even plug another cube in and expand your charging capabilities. Perfect for the family with multiple devices and only a couple available sockets.

Finally, if you go on working vacations like I do, or you absolutely need wifi access for your devices but you’re traveling in a foreign country, consider carrying a mobile wifi hotspot like the Skyroam Solis. One of these units is $150, and costs $9 per day to operate (they have pay-as-you-go day passes for access). If you absolutely have to have wifi access during a trip, and you don’t want to pay for hotel wifi, or you’re going to be away from civilization for a time, a mobile wifi hotspot will connect up to five devices and save the day.

Be sure to take a travel pillow with you for the actual trip. I rarely take one myself, but I know plenty of people who swear by it. You can sleep sitting up without giving yourself serious neck pain, which is not a fun way to start or end a trip. One tip I’ve learned is to turn the pillow so the fattest part is supporting your head while you sleep. It keeps you from getting a painful crick in your neck, and helps you avoid the constant head dropping that happens when you first nod off.

Also, be sure to take along a few Ziploc bags. You’re supposed to use one for your 3-1-1 bag if you fly anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to roll up a few extras and tuck them into your suitcase.

  • Use snack-sized bags to pack your necklaces, one per bag. This prevents tangling.
  • Carry a couple 1-gallon bags to pack wet clothes, muddy shoes, and anything you don’t want contaminating your clean clothes.
  • Tuck an extra quart bag into your toiletries case, in case something happens to your original 3-1-1 bag.

Finally, I always like to take a book. I know, I know, I just got done telling you how to keep your gear charged up, and you could always use a Kindle or even the Kindle app on your phone to read e-books. But there are times that a regular book just feels better. I love the tactile experience, and some books even have that lovely smell that only a book lover can appreciate. Plus, you can read a book on a plane, a book won’t chew up your battery life, and it’s not a devastating loss if you lose a book. Besides, you never want to use your phone to kill a bug you found in your hotel bathroom.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

Five Secrets to Avoid Overpacking For Your Next Trip

October 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Do you have any articles about overpacking?”

I was chatting with my friend Jackie Bledsoe a few days ago. Jackie, a well-known marriage and family writer and speaker (he recently reviewed a piece of Travelpro luggage), was referring to a recent trip he and his wife Stephana took to speak at a marriage conference when he commented “We really overpacked this time, and I’m a little frustrated.”

We were talking about this blog, and he asked whether we had any articles on how to avoid overpacking.

Overpacking is a common problem among travelers, even veterans. I know some frequent travelers who still take too much when they travel, and it’s all I can do not to shout whenever they tell me how they pack.

So for my friend, Jackie, and other over-packers, here are five steps to take to help you avoid taking too much on your next trip.

If you overpack for your next trip, you'll find yourself waiting in a lot more lines.

1. Remind yourself: Flying with large luggage is like setting a $50 bill on fire

That’s what you’re doing if you check a large-size suitcase on your flight. Unless you’re flying Southwest, or you’re already a Premier member of one of the big four airlines, you’re going to needlessly spend $50, when you didn’t have to.

So get rid of this idea of packing a bag larger than carry-on size. They’re great for long, long trips, or trips where you drive (or if you have lots of $50 bills laying around!). Otherwise, you need to pack a carry-on bag like the Atlantic Compass Unite 2 21″ Spinner. I’ve seen people pack for 10 days in a carry-on, so if you still think you need a large piece of luggage, you’re definitely overpacking.
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Five Family Travel Gadgets to Get Before Your Next Trip

May 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to technology, there are all new kinds of travel gadgets you can use to make your life easier on your next vacation. But this article isn’t yet another regurgitation of the same old “get a cheap tablet” advice. We all know those:

Erik Decker's EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad, one of his most important travel gadgets

My EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad. Note the awesome Tpro Bold 2 backpack in the background!

  • A cheap tablet that uses wifi only.
  • A portable DVD player for backseat video viewing.
  • Better yet, a small laptop for DVD viewing; it can double as your travel laptop at the hotel.

Those are all great gadgets, and I highly recommend them. But there are are a few gadgets that you may not have considered. At the very least, they’ll make life easier, and maybe even save you some money.
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Keep Warm and Avoid Sore Feet on Your Mountain Summer Vacation

April 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re headed up to the mountains for some hiking during the spring or summer, you still have to think of it as a winter vacation. That’s because while the days can be warm, it can still drop below freezing at higher elevations, which means you could even get some snow. At the very least, that single sweatshirt you brought “just in case” isn’t going to do the trick.

Don’t just fill your suitcase with shorts and t-shirts; plan accordingly. Those mountaintops are still white in June for a reason. Here are a few things to remember when planning for your mountain summer vacation.

1. Layer Up

The Colorado Rocky Mountains in the summer.

The Rocky Mountains in the summer. See, there’s still snow up there.

You’ll be much warmer if you wear three or four thin layers, instead of one big bulky one. There were many Indiana winter days I would go without a heavy coat just by wearing three layers under a warm sweater or fleece pullover.

Skipping the winter parka is a great way to save space in your suitcase. It’s easier and lighter to pack thin layers — t-shirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, mock turtlenecks — and you can just take one or two sweaters for warmth. Plus, you only need to change your innermost layer(s) every day. The outer layers can be worn a few times before you toss them in the laundry.
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7 Tips on Packing for Babies, Toddlers, Families

March 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When it comes to vacation, packing for babies and toddlers can take twice as long and require twice as much stuff as a single adult. And packing for small children — 4, 5, 6 years old — can be a chore, because they want to take everything.

Car stuffed with luggageMy brother, Andrew, has a three-year-old and one-year-old, and my Branding Yourself co-author, Kyle, recently had a baby. Andrew isn’t traveling much yet, but Kyle and his family have already been down to Florida. And of course, I remember my own days of traveling on a plane and in the car with my kids when they were young.

So here are a few pieces of Travel Dad advice I have for them when it comes to packing for babies, toddlers, and young families:
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Prepare For Your Next Family Journey

February 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you haven’t taken many family journeys, especially as a new family, planning your next trip may cause as much stress as it relieves. And traveling with small children, especially infants, brings its own challenges. Here are a few tips to help you perfect your next family journey, so you can actually relax and enjoy yourself.

1. Make a list

Car stuffed with luggageA couple weeks before you leave, make a list of everything you want to take, and then see if you can pare it down. Compare your packing list to your schedule, and match up your clothes and items to your events. This will not only make sure you’re not missing anything, but gives you time to fill prescriptions, and replace lost, missing or worn items.
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