I like to think of myself as very organized and detail oriented. And I am. It helps me to sew and knit and keep track of where every penny I spend goes. I like to make detailed plans and follow them. Paying attention to the little things, the piddly little things, is what I’m good at. I can focus very well on a task that is directly in front of me.

What I’m not so good at is keeping on task when I’m packing for outings. When a job requires me to walk around and gather objects I nearly always fail at it. Unless I assemble a list of everything I need well in advance of a family trip I’m toast. I know this because I go on regular outings with my kids, I have no list, and I always forget something important.

Girls in a tent
Hannah and a friend in a tent at the park – I did not bring the tent

For example, when we went to Spanish Banks I brought hot dogs, and even scissors to open the hot dogs. I had changes of clothes for the kids and two bottles of sunscreen because one was getting low. But I forgot dishes of any kind. Luckily someone gave me a couple of napkins and let me borrow a plate.

It’s just the way I roll. We’ll end up at the park with 3 individual water bottles and toys to play with but no food. Or I’ll remember everyone’s hats but forget the camera. Meanwhile, the other moms are pulling out their bags of snacks and their beach toys and loaning my kid a spare pair of flip-flops. I am reduced to accepting playground charity because without it we would have to go home and my children would cry.

Jacob rocking out on the playground
Jacob is in socks because I forgot one of his shoes at home

I realize exactly what the problem is. I am very easily distracted. I’ve always been this way but it wasn’t a problem when it was just me. I don’t require gear like my kids require gear. So I find myself trying to accumulate gear and then I wander off course. This is how it goes inside my head:

“OK, I need to pack for the park. I should go get diapers. Oh, but first I’ll just grab Hannah’s socks. What is that book doing there? Let’s put it away. What was I here for? Um…we’re going to the park. I’d better make sure everyone visits the bathroom first. Oh, and I should probably check my email…”

Amber and Hannah at the park
We are freezing in this photo because I forgot sweaters

I spend 15 or 20 minutes packing and I mostly get the job done but not completely. Before I leave the house I run through what I need and pat myself on the back because I packed all the buckets and shovels. I am clearly On Top of It. Only not, because what I did was put the buckets and shovels in a bag that was left on the stairs.

Please, please, please tell me I’m not the only incurable scatterbrain. Or share your strategies for remembering everything you need when traveling with kids. I need help, and I will take it anywhere I can get it.

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  1. You're not the only one. I have to make a list for practically everything I do and I have no kids to worry about. I even have to get ready for work the night before and out everything at the front door so I trip on it when I leave in the morning. I have a 3 page checklist for when I go camping!

  2. I would LOVE to help… but I can’t. I have the same problem. So at least you’re in good company!

  3. kimberly says:

    You’re not. You’re describing my life pretty exactly.

    Here’s how I semi-solved it: I have THE BAGS. They are ALWAYS packed.

    For summer, THE BAGS will have:

    Sunglasses for everyone.

    Flip flops for each of The Ladies

    (The Children’s Place makes this uber-afforable to do–at 2 for $8 sunglasses and 2 for $6 flipflops, we have multiple, multiple pairs of both items).

    2 Towels. (Cheapy beach towels from Zellers. Or $$$ ones bought on sale. Whichever.)

    Bathing suit for each kid (generally last year’s suit that is worn but not outgrown)

    mini hairbrush with ponies wrapped around handle

    plastic dishes (got mine for .99 at Shoppers–plate, bowl, cup, spoon, fork.) 2 sets. Stored in string bag inside THE BAG.



    Snacks that will not spoil–All Bran bites, cheddar buddies, granola in baggies.

    Water bottles.

    Juice boxes

    shorts and t-shirt for each girlie


    wee bag with bandaids, bactine, tylenol, afterbite….

    hand sanitizer/wipes

    baby powder (great for getting sand off)

    a couple of those Annikins minipicture books.

    Some happy meal crap toys.


    Whenever I come home from an outing, I pile up what came out of the bag and IMMEDIATELY return said items to bag in replenished form. I leave the pile of crap there and only throw out an item once I have replaced it in THE BAG.

    Because THE BAG is ALWAYS packed, the panic of running around the house trying to find items is removed. We can just pick it up and go and I no longer have to rely on the kindness of strangers at the playground.

    Sure, it’s pretty much like being required to still haul around a diaper bag even though the kids are out of diapers, but it beats the alternative.

    (Believe it or not, all this stuff will fit in one of the big Lululemon bags…Plus, I have smaller ones for when I’m not anticipating I’ll need towels/suits that just have the toiletries, sunglasses, toys, and snacks in them….)

  4. Jasie VanGesen says:

    Wow… we are ever so similar in this respect.

    Next baby, I’m totally carrying a diaper bag. A proper diaper bag… and it’ll have baby stuff in it. I swear.

  5. Um. I leave the little diaper bag packed and by the door. It contains diapers and wipes, spare shirt for her, spare shirt for me, my cel phone, my ipod (which I use as a calendar as well), camera, a tube of vaseline, nursing pads. I deal with the dirty diapers, shirts and wipes as soon as I get home and replace them. Once a week I totally unload it and make sure I have everything in there and repack it.

    I’m currently trying to pack for a few days away and have NO CLUE. But I also have a partner whose philosophy is, “Forgot something? We’ll buy it when we get there.” The first time we went away together, I forgot underwear for myself. Really.

  6. I carry wipes, bandaids and neosporin in my purse, buckets and shovels in the truck of my car, sunglasses and the zoo map in the stroller pocket.

    That helps, but I still forget stuff. I’ll remember to bring my iPod to the playground but forget to put sunblock on my kid. I’ll remember the water bottles but forget the snacks.

  7. Oh man am I in trouble when I have kids! I went out with my mom today and purposely left the house unlocked because I didn’t want to have to carry my purse and didn’t want to put my keys in my pocket. The only thing I wish I had with my was my chapstick.

  8. Oh, THE BAGS — what a brilliant idea.

    Kids just need a lot of crap, is the thing. Mine aren’t even babies any more, so the forgotten things are rarely as disastrous, but still — a lot of crap, and a mother who can’t keep an idea in her head without it bouncing and wobbling right out within a minute and a half or so. It’s a recipe for ending up at Brewer’s Park with a wet son, and a clean, dry t-shirt and underwear — but no shorts. And this time? It was an improvement.

  9. I’m with Kimberly…we keep our park bag packed and sitting in the garage in the wagon at all times, ready to go. Stuff we use gets re-added to the bag the minute we get home (I bring the bag to the kitchen and plop it on the counter, where it will sit wagging its finger at me until it’s full again).

    I also keep a bag in the closet by the front door for mall trips or playdates with friends (contains snacks, small toys, diaper stuff, epipen), a bag for each sporting activity (the soccer bag, the swim bag), and a bag for doctor’s office visits (contains snacks, many books, and stickers/art supplies).

  10. Now that both kids walk, they remember their own shoes, but I used to forget shoes ALL THE TIME.

  11. Saver Queen says:

    As you know, I don’t have kids, but I do have one suggestion. Before you pack, make a list while imagining the days events. Picture exactly what you will do, activity by activity, and write down everything you see in your mind’s eye. I do this sometimes and it helps because it is systematic.

  12. L-O-V-E the idea of the bags – I used to have one of these BAGS ready, when I was single, for weekend motorcycle trips. I had two of everything toiletry-wise and super small ones as everything for a weekend had to fit into a small backpack which fit into the saddlebag on the bike. It indeed worked well!

    Now that I have kids, I always start a list a few days in advance and leave it on the kitchen counter so I see it several times a day. Every time I think of something, I write it down. Mind you, this is usually for “big trips”. But if you have a “standard list” that is posted somewhere in your house – inside a kitchen cupboard for example – you could always refer to it and add to it if need be too.


  13. I’m right there with you.

    Last week, I forgot baby wipes in the diaper bag, for the my 12 week old. But I had enough diapers for 2 centuries, and multiple sets of sweaters and pants just in case our tropical climate suddenly became Antarctica.

  14. I have a girlfriend who is always prepared and I always envy her “having it all together.” When we go to parks, she has snacks, she carries diapers and wipes, toys, etc. She is a mommy genius. But then we start talking and I realize that even she does not quite have it all together. None of us do.

    I’m glad I’m not alone in having parts of the puzzle in place but not quite all the pieces . . . 🙂

  15. keep the buckets in the car (or the stroller) so that they are already there when you head to the playground.

  16. We always forget something, but our mantra is: what we forgot, well, we didn’t need! But mainly, I started early on getting my kids to help with remembering and taking at least their own things, “delegating” is always a good system:)!

  17. I always forget my camera, which bugs me to NO end! But if I leave it in the car, then I don’t have it if someone else drives…which solves nothing!

    I need to have a checklist of items I must have in hand when walking out the door!

  18. That’s ME!
    One thing I did to save myself for the summer is I had a BIN in the back of the car with necessities… an outing survival kit: Sun Hats, Sunscreen, change of clothes (play grubbies), diapers and wipes, a big towel, a roll of papertowels, a bucket, a few bottles of water, a sealed container of either cheerios-fishycrackers-granola bars- raisins.
    If I used anything out of the bin I put a replacement in when I got HOME.
    It saved my bacon TONS!
    I never got organized enough to have a winter version of the kit…
    Still to this day I am scatterbrained for outings! Even for myself!
    Your monologue of distractions is VERY like my daily train of thought…. that’s how laundry doesn’t get dried, dishwasher gets half unloaded, toys get half put away, vacuum gets left out, I get eyeshadow but no mascara on, and I discover all this when I get home from the grocery store (for which I forgot my watch, my list and the check I was going to deposit while I was out)!!!

  19. Oh my goodness…have you been following me around with a hidden camera;-)

    Seriously, I’d like to know how I went from an organized career gal to a scatterbrain!! Ah, but getting paid in hugs & kisses sure does make up for all the, what was I going to say…

  20. I am so like this too it’s not even funny. My friends must think I’m a mooch I’m always saying “I can’t beleive I did this again but do you happent o have any wipes I can borrow?” Or “Is Holden still in diapers? Oh thank god! Can I borrow one? M just had a blow out and guess who forgot to bring diapers again?! – Oh yeah, and any wipes I can have too?”
    I’m SO bad about diapers and wipes. It’s embarassing! And change of clothes and toys for travelling and water…. The list goes on. Thanks for making me feel I’m not the only one!

  21. I’m getting some great tips from the comments on here! I too become a little scatterbrained when trying to pack for a daytrip, and my efforts are further hampered by my husband, who firmly believes that I make the diaper bag too heavy. So if I try to put little books or toys in there to entertain Ryan at a restaurant, they get taken out as soon as we get home so I have to remember them all over again. I remember reading the scene in Little Children where the lead character was beating herself up over forgetting snacks at the playground and thinking, “this is me.” Hopefully I can make use of some of these suggestions!

  22. Oh, I hear you!! And thanks for letting ME know that I’m not the only scatter brain who forgets the obvious at outings! Like a blanket for a picnic, or sand toys for a play date at the sand box, or… or… the towel for the pool or the water park… or… leaves the b-day gift on the stairs on my out to the birthday party… or… Well, you get the picture. 🙂

    What I try to do (notice the “try”) and that I find helps some is to pack the bag the evening before. This way I can do it more leisurely (DD is sleeping), and I have PLENTY of time to remember stuff. It helps too if I sit down and write a list. Like if you would take you scenario above, and instead of doing it in real-time, write it down. So when you scatter out, at least you won’t forget what you thought before-hand.


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