You’re a city parent and you’re on a mission. A free Saturday and a few kids await you and the city is at your fingertips! You’ve planned a day trip itinerary built around a playground, lunch at a new restaurant with outdoor seating, a parklet next to your favorite bookstore, the new splash pad, and transit to get you from place to place. All that’s left is packing your bag.
It’s not like you’re leaving for the weekend, but there are several essentials to take along—like snacks—that will make the day more comfortable and fun extras—like a portable speaker—that make you a Very Cool Parent™.
Your city is waiting to be explored! Just pack your bag with the essentials for a successful day criss-crossing the city and get out there.
On the other hand, there’s no way you want to be lugging extra stuff with you all day, so packing light is essential. If your day pack weighs as much as your toddler who’s just learning to ride the scooter, you might be stuck with several heavy things asking you to carry them home.
This Day Pack Handbook is the answer: we’ll walk you through everything you need to pack for a day in the city and leave out all the stuff that won’t ever see the light of day. It’s super nerdy, we admit, and maybe you’re not the type who wants to spend three minutes reading a handbook about how to pack a bag for you and your kids (if not, jump right to the part where you can shop all our day pack recommendations). But maybe you like to be prepared for whatever an urban adventure might throw at you—we certainly do. Let’s get packing!
The Right Bag
The bag you choose for your day pack is probably the most important part of the whole process, and it can be ultra-personal. There’s a sweet spot at the intersection of beauty and function, and that’s where you will find the best bag for a day pack. Here’s a guideline of what to look for in a day pack bag and a few of our favorites.
Durability. You’ve got many years of urban exploration ahead of you! A bag with fragile seams might only last a fraction of that time; why not invest in a durable bag that will hold up? A quick durability check can be done by testing the zippers. Do they catch? Are they made of plastic or metal? You can even turn the bag inside out to inspect the seams. Unfinished seams (look for fraying threads) are a telltale sign that the bag might not be the most durable option.
Washable or stain-resistant. You’ll be stuffing this bag under the stroller, tucking it under the chair at a sidewalk cafe, and carrying it with you for miles of adventure, so pick one that’s stain-resistant. Black look new for much longer and hold up against dirt, but a bag you can toss in the wash? The dream!
Size. If your kids are ambulatory and out of the diaper phase, you won’t need a bag big enough for all the accoutrements that small humans need. A smaller bag will do, and you might want to consider one that anyone in the family will be proud to wear—that way everyone can toss their bits and bobs into the same bag and you can all take turns packing it around the city. Need diapers and wipes and snacks and all the other things? Size up!
Unisex. Pick a bag that anyone in the family will be proud to sling over their shoulder. Ok, so maybe that’s taking it a little too far and there’s no one who cares about a day pack that much, but do find a style compromise.
Backpack-style. Trust us, there will come a time when you’ll need both hands free. Backpacks are built for that, and they’ll also distribute the weight evenly which is a big deal when you’re trekking two miles across Central Park. Messenger bags are second-best. Stroller bags seem nice at first glance, but they only have one job. City families are famous for prizing objects that have multiple uses (you know the living rooms that transform into bedrooms with the help of a wall bed) and most stroller bags have a limited use. Hooks are a better option, but we’ll get to that later.
Pick your perfect bag, add a patch to show off your urban pride, and start filling.
Snacks and Such
You’ve probably got a mental list of all the snacks your family loves and the best snack to pack is always your favorite one. There are a few other things that make eating (and drinking) on the go a little easier like an insulated travel mug that keeps your coffee hot or your iced tea cold for 8+ hours (no joke), a refillable water bottle, and reusable cutlery and straws that keep the landfills hungry.
We also love reusable silicone snack bags for all sorts of things; they contain crayons, transport snacks, and work like a charm for the half bagel that’s too good to toss. And there’s always an extra tote bag stuffed in the bottom of our daypack for collecting nature treasures or loading with groceries on the way home. The foldable ones take up almost no space and have about a million uses.
A little goes a long way when it comes to activities and toys for a day in the city. We’re big fans of playing anywhere games that require nothing more than creative thinking and unless we’re planning to spend several hours at the beach, it’s easy to pack light. A pocket-size car or favorite handheld toy, magazine (perfect because they’re lightweight), and art kit are enough to keep the kids entertained if we’ve got to wait in line at the pharmacy or need to take a long bus ride to explore a new neighborhood.
Sunscreen and hand sanitizer are never a bad idea, and a battery pack to charge your phone can be a lifesaver if you’re planning to be out and about for most of the day. Bandages are easy to tuck into your bag (or even your wallet) and can be the difference between a meltdown and a magic cure. Picnic blankets, especially foldable ones, make for a relaxing time at the park or beach, and we also love sticking in a portable speaker for the days we plan to just chill out. Having our own music feels like a luxury! You can also take it on family bike trips for maximum fun.
There’s a reason city families refer to their strollers as makeshift minivans. We’ve seen all sorts of objects and bags stuffed in the basket and balanced over the bars like a real-world Tetris (we ourselves have been known to wedge a scooter onto the stroller for use once we get to the park). Load it up! Add stroller hooks or a Tote-It to the bar to hold your grocery bags. Clip on a cup holder for your coffee.
When not-sunny weather arrives (we refuse to call it bad weather), grab your rain gear, bunting, mitts and boots. You’re an instant badass parent marching along the snowy sidewalks with your happy kid.
Your stroller brand probably makes custom rain covers and cozy buntings, but universal ones work in a pinch.
Of course you’ll need your transit card to get around your fabulous city (unless you’re biking). We’ve discovered that kids can last a lot longer on adventures across the city if they have their own set of wheels; a scooter or skateboard gives them an element of control and ups the fun factor. Both are small enough to take on the bus or subway and you can unfold and ride when you reach your destination.
Vacation Day Packs
Headed to a new city on vacation? Your day pack will be basically the same with more snacks! We also like to add an insulated bag for carrying snacks or a full picnic lunch (especially helpful on beach days) and a few more books or magazines for the in-between moments.
Your bag is packed! Grab your day trip itinerary and hit the road. Your city is waiting. 💙🏙