Over the years, the topic of what to pack in one’s backpack has been discussed a few times. I myself have covered different aspects of packing and planning on more than one occasion; however, these days, when times are changing and my children are growing, I find myself carrying a few unexpected items in my backpack that I thought might be worth sharing.
Gone are the days of nappies (diapers) and dummies (pacifiers) for our family. My children in their early and mid-teens are now both well and truly taller than me, requiring a lot less of those disposable items. Alas, as much as I would love to think we could go hands-free at Disney, that is not my place in life just yet.
Ziploc bag in every size
Every time we leave for a Disney trip, someone makes fun of me as I collect one of each size Ziploc bag and fold them neatly into the outside pocket of my backpack. And I mean every size; the little baby ones, right up to the big ones, and I sometimes include two of the jumbos – I know, I’m such a rebel. Even though it might be funny initially, that one smirking smarty-pants always seems to be the first person to need something from my stash.
Soaked travel umbrella that needs to be carried? In it goes to a jumbo. Leftover churro that you can’t quite finish but you are late for that Genie+ reservation? In the snack bag. Are teens worried about their cellphones getting soaked in their pockets on Splash Mountain? On the cranking incline before the final drop, out come the medium bags, passing them up the log. Not so funny now, is it, family? Apology accepted. Bonus tip: Need to protect a fragile souvenir that’s coming home? Fill the bags with air and close them for extra padding around those special items.
A bag of candy
One of those ziploc bags gets packed pre-filled with candy. Something small and easy to carry like M&Ms or Skittles, jellybeans even. These can be used for so many different things including a quick pick me up when the family gets restless in those long lines. A small handful of little treats can do wonders for morale, especially if an unexpected wait time has pushed you past your usual food break times.
This one is also known as the bag of bribery and comes in handy as a reward for those mid-queue math quizzes. When waiting in lines, your family is a captive audience; this is a great time to start a rousing conversation or practice those education basics, in particular, if you are missing school to be there. Push their creative limits by asking them to list adjectives and verbs that might be fitting for the attraction for which you are waiting, rewarding each appropriate answer with a single piece of candy. Maybe it’s the daughter-of-a-school-teacher in me, but I always try and fill downtime with fun quizzes or discussions.
A poncho, but not for the reason you think.
In one of my first articles for The DIS, all those years ago, I disclosed that I am pro-poncho when it comes to the age-old debate on how to deal with wet circumstances in the parks. The short story is, a poncho will always be in my backpack. Sure it can be whipped out when the rain comes pouring down, but you can also use them for so much more.
If that breeze kicks up while you are waiting for the fireworks, throw that poncho on anyone from an adult to your sleeping child in the stroller as a windbreaker. Don’t want to sit your family down on the wet curb after a rainstorm for the parade? Smooth out that poncho as a ground cover before you sit. Even if you don’t plan on wearing it in the rain, you can wrap it around your own backpack to keep all of your belongings dry. Don’t underestimate the potential of a poncho.
Backup battery source for my phone.
Though many park-goers have been swearing by these for a long time, it wasn’t until Genie+ came along that this one made it onto my list. Outside of the good old FastPasses, I previously tried to avoid using my phone other than for taking photos. These days, if you plan on using Disney’s latest jump-the-queue service, you will need to have a backup battery source for your phone on hand.
Not all portable chargers and power banks are created equal. Some of them are heavy and don’t provide enough recharge power for the space they take up. Do your research and if you think you will need to recharge more than one device, consider one power bank with a high capacity rather than lots of smaller ones for each person.
No joke, this tip has saved me more times in all my travels than I can even put into words. Inside my backpack is a second backpack! An extremely lightweight, travel backpack that rolls up to about the size of an empty toilet roll. It’s like the reusable, fold-up tote taken to theme park professional level.
When I am in the parks particularly, having a second way to carry things on the fly makes such a difference. In the middle of the day, take off those light outer layers and have someone else carry them in the extra backpack, then just fold the bag back up when you put them back on like nothing ever happened. Want to carry that last-minute purchase that you had to buy before dinner? Bring out the second backpack and keep your hands free of shopping bags.
Bonus tip for younger children
One of my best tips if you have younger children, even though it isn’t really a “thing” you carry. It doesn’t actually feel very nice to think about this topic, but if you are ever in this situation, you will be glad you did.
Every morning, take a quick photo of your younger children in your resort, against a blank backdrop like the back of your door. If one of them accidentally wanders off and you need to ask for help, you have a clear photo showing what they are wearing for the day to help identify them. Coming from someone who never thought they would be in this situation — and was — when that moment comes, your mind is scrambled and this trick helped so much in getting my kid back safe and sound.
What are your pro-level backpack tips for multi-use items while in the parks? Do you have an unexpected item in your backpack that might be helpful for others to keep in mind when packing for their next trip? Share them below.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.