Ask Us: Bringing Stuff to the Parks

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There’s a fine line between “be prepared” and “be a pack mule” when it comes to bringing items to the park. Recently, I saw a question from a person asking about whether other child-free people rent strollers to carry their bags of stuff with them. (And yes, apparently that’s a thing.) So I asked around the TouringPlans virtual office:

What do you bring to the parks with you, and how do you carry your stuff?

Here’s some of the responses:

James Rosemergy

I like to travel as light as possible in the parks and find wearing a backpack or even slinging a messenger bag over my shoulder to get hot and uncomfortable fast, so for me, my “bag” is a trusty pair of cargo shorts. And yes, I am aware that cargo shorts are, ahem, not universally beloved, but this is about function, not fashion. Indeed, they are so functional that there have been occasions, particularly on rainy days where I’ve got the family’s disposable ponchos on me, where the lower half of my body looks like a squirrel storing nuts in its cheeks, but whatever, it’s better than carrying a bag. As an added bonus. I don’t have a bag, so I can sail through the “no bag” line at security. Small price to pay for the fashion faux pas.

(Note from Laurel: There is no “small price” for a fashion faux pas.”)

Angela Dahlgren

For me, it depends on how I’m touring the parks–with my kids, with my friends, or as a “vlogger”. If I’m with my kids, I’ll carry a child-sized backpack full of things they may need. If I’m with friends, I’ll bring a smaller backpack that can fit my wallet, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, a water bottle, etc. If I’m there for work, I’ll bring a bigger backpack that can fit all of my personal items as well as any vlogging equipment. When I’m by myself I carry a wallet, MagicBand, AP card, sunglasses, headphones, phone charger/portable charger, poncho, water bottle, hand sanitizer, migraine meds, chapstick, sunscreen, toothpicks, mints, stain remover, and some bandaids.

Rikki Niblett

Personally, I carry a cinch bookbag that has my essentials. I make sure it’s as rainproof as possible, because you know, Florida storms come out of the blue. I also make sure it has some pouches, so I can easily find things that I’ll use often. It carries my umbrella (for said storms), a personal fan, a heavy duty portable charger and cables, an extra portable charger (because you never know), a smaller purse (which serves as my wallet), bottled water, ziploc baggies, ibuprofen, and lip gloss. And my phone, but most of the time that’s in my hand.

Tessa Koten

I find ponchos useless. They trap heat in, and there’s nearly always a place to go inside. I carry a tiny umbrella for sprinkles, a hat, and a plastic bag to cover my own bag up with or keep stuff dry in it if I get unexpectedly trapped in the rain. Then I just go inside. Otherwise I carry my wallet, keys, portable charger and cord, the new little Secret deodorant balls (SO AMAZING), and Tylenol because when do the parks not give you a headache? Anything else I leave in the car or know that I can always grab at first aid or a resort gift shop in an emergency.

Laurel Stewart

I carry:
* Small wallet (really small, like a card case) with just my Disney cards (DVC, AP, TiW), driver’s license, and a credit card
* My pouch with my house key, small hand sanitizer, glasses cleaner and wipe, a pen, lip gloss, a few tablets of my medication in case I’m out when it’s time to take it, 2 tampons (one for me and one for anyone who needs one), earbuds in case I need to take a call, and a small perfume. This is the same pouch I carry everywhere–whether I’m in the parks or not.
* My Phone
* I attach a MagicBand to the strap of my bag because I don’t like extra things around my wrist
* An umbrella if the forecast calls for rain
* I wear a hat to keep the sun or rain off
* A fold-up nylon shopping bag
Except for the MagicBand and passes, this is exactly what I carry on the streets of NYC every day

Heather Keller

I feel like I’ve run the gamut of park bags over the years. My options have ranged from two unnecessarily large and unsightly backpacks when our kids were super little, down to one backpack and “shove the overflow into the bottom of the double stroller”, and thankfully shrinking from there as the kids have aged. Now that everyone is old enough to be responsible for schlepping their on things, I’ve been able to play Goldilocks, testing some cuter options! Disney Dooney and Bourke–nope, too nice to ruin with a melting Mickey bar. Vera Bradley–washable makes it a plus, but the crossbody style I had just wasn’t comfortable. Kate Spade Minnie Mouse backpack? JUST RIGHT! I adore this bag for the parks. Spills wipe up easy. It’s the perfect size–just big enough to hold the essentials, but not too big to be bulky. it’s lightweight and super comfortable on my back, and let’s face it, I really love the fact that it’s completely adorable!

Tammy Whiting

If at all possible, to avoid the bag check line, I wear my camera on my shoulder, and cram everything else I can into the pitiful pockets they put on women’s clothing. If there’s no shorter line for those without bags (I’m looking at you Disneyland), then I’ll carry a Kate Spade backpack that I can fill to my heart’s content. Cute AND functional.

Julia Mascardo

It’s all about travel light. Whenever possible, I find shorts with deep pockets and carry the smallest wallet I can find with a few essential cards and some cash, my phone, and a fuel rod and cord. I clip my car keys to my belt loops with a carabiner, and off I go. If pockets don’t fit the wallet, I load everything into a lanyard and carry my phone in a Joto waterproof lanyard. That’s still technically not carrying a bag, so I can zip through the bag-free line. If I’m “going big”, I fit everything into an Aapporto bag with keys and hand sanitizer clipped to the outside. Each member of the family carries a similar bag for days when we’re going to be in the parks for more than an hour or two. Anything else that we need we can get on site, although we usually all wear hats that can also be clipped to the bags when not in use. The most stuff I’ve carried to the park was last year for the last day of Food and Wine, where I carried a backpack that had a half dozen food storage containers and did “carry out” from the best Food and Wine booths to bring home for dinner. That is certainly the exception and not the rule for me, however.

Liz Mangan

You know how Mary Poppins can pull almost anything out of her bag? I have used the same approach to Walt Disney World. Over time, I realized almost anything I might need is available there or is a short ride away, especially since I take a break back at the resort mid-day. So now when I head to the parks, I pack light. If I’m with my husband, I just ask him to throw my ID and annual pass in his wallet (shhh, don’t tell Laurel). He already has our emergency essentials like credit cards, health insurance cards, cash, etc. in his wallet, so I don’t worry about those. Then I just hold or pocket my phone. No bag, no purse, no wristlet, and more importantly, no bag check line for either of us. If I’m flying solo, then I bring a wristlet or small cross-body bag to hold my ID, annual pass, some credit cards, cash, phone, poncho (if rain is in the forecast), travel-size sunscreen, and clip-on hand sanitizer.

Does it surprise you all that most of us are in the “travel light” crowd? Are there any essentials you carry that you can’t believe we don’t take with us? What’s your essential packing list for the parks, and what do you carry your stuff in? Let us know in the comments, and if you have a question for next time, feel free to Ask Us.

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Julia Mascardo

Freelance writer and editor, living the dream in Central Florida with my husband, cats, and totally awesome homeschooled ten-year-old daughter.

25 thoughts on “Ask Us: Bringing Stuff to the Parks

  • September 6, 2018 at 9:09 am
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    A water bottle! Other than that and my iPhone which I keep in hand, I use a DCL lanyard to hold my ID/AP/DVC and whatever Disney gift card I’m using for incidental expenses. Since my kids are now college-aged, I refuse to be their pack-mule anymore and find the no-bags line a truly amazing concept!

    Reply
  • September 6, 2018 at 9:38 am
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    I’m with James: cargo shorts that hold my wallet, keys, phone, travel-size sunscreen, and ponchos on a day that looks like we’ll need them. I hate having to carry a bag around all day.

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  • September 6, 2018 at 11:44 am
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    @Tammy Whiting: Disneyland HAS no-bag security lines. I used them this August.

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    • September 8, 2018 at 6:01 pm
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      They do sometimes! But not all the time. Usually it’s during peak times and at the big lines like the entrance from the good neighbors and maybe the Disneyland Hotel. At the Grand Californian entrance they do not, and in fact yell at you if you try to go around the tables assuming you don’t have to wait because you have no bag. I know that part from experience. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 6, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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    Yeah, I’m with Meredith. Water bottle is an essential for me, and that will typically necessitate a bag of some sort. Generally, I don’t mind it though; my partner and I will have one bag between the two of us and just share the load throughout the day. Even if I’m on my own though, it doesn’t bother me and I like it so I can have/stow an extra layer of clothing for evenings, a hat, sunscreen, etc. We usually do have a fold-up nylon bag stuffed somewhere, as Laurel said (not just in the parks but for daily life), but that’s not comfortable as a “park bag”.

    So how about this idea to merge Laurel’s, Rikki’s, and James’s methods: get a cinch bag that you can stuff into your pocket, carry everything in your pockets to avoid the bag-check line, then put everything in the cinch-bag for the day. Would that work? Would you get stink-eye from security and guests for carrying a bag in your pocket through the bag-free line?

    By the way, this is a SUPER useful article. Really great to get some different opinions on this all in one place. Thanks much!

    Reply
    • September 6, 2018 at 1:19 pm
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      This is totally what my family does! We shove all our stuff in our pockets (sunglasses, wallets, ponchos, water bottles, ect.), go through security, and then load everything in to a cinch bag that we pass around throughout the day

      Reply
      • September 6, 2018 at 4:29 pm
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        Cinch bag also in pockets as you go through security?

      • September 6, 2018 at 5:22 pm
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        In a pocket is best (ie. less suspicious), but we have stuffed it under someone’s shirt along their back before and been fine.

  • September 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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    Correct answers above! (As little as possible.) Cargo shorts holds all you need. I still have trouble with sunglasses when I’m not wearing them. Pockets tend to break them, and I don’t like things hanging around my neck. But hands free touring is A+.

    Reply
  • September 6, 2018 at 1:38 pm
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    Colossally dismayed that there is no Burgan Fine Art (R) diagram of what’s in his own backpack

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    • September 7, 2018 at 7:29 am
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      I’ll see if I can get him to do something for that–but right now, he’s been working all week on “A Very Special Saturday 6”. Assuming that court orders don’t prohibit its publication, it will be something to see…. 😉

      Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 8:53 am
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      I sent a note to Derek this morning, and he said “Artwork? Don’t you know I am in the middle of an expose that has the potential to expose all expose-ness in all things…wait, what were we talking about?” But because everyone knows how he feels about his fans, he did say to pass this along. Some of the items are what he packs for the hotel, but a lot of them are more unusual things he brings into the parks. (A shower curtain liner? Well, okay…)
      https://blog.touringplans.com/2016/10/29/s6_whattopack/

      Reply
      • September 7, 2018 at 9:37 am
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        LOL Thank you! Looking forward to the expose-iest expose!

  • September 6, 2018 at 11:38 pm
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    I can’t believe none of TP team carry a water bottle! I would live to go bagless at WDW, but I always carry a water bottle with me in the parks. First, I need to stay hydrated, and second, the tap water at Disney is disgusting. I have a water votltle with a built in filter, so I’ll can keep refilling at the water fountains and not pay for Dasani. This way I also don’t have to stop and wait in line just to get a free cup of water. Since I carry the water anyway, I have just graduated to a full size backpack over the years. I carry a ton of stuff, but I’m always glad to have it!
    Poncho, sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen, big hat, personal fan, eye drops, sunglasses, a little pharmacy bag with advil and bandages and such, my phone, car key, autograph book, pen, and small wallet. I also love that I have room to put any purchases in my bag. When it’s chilly, it gives me somewhere to store my jacket since the afternoons get too warm for a second layer!

    Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 7:28 am
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      Can’t speak for anyone else, but I have no problem using the water fountains for a quick sip of water if I need it (having grown up in Florida, the water here is far better than other parts of the state), and then stopping frequently for free glasses of ice water throughout the day to fully hydrate. During the summer months, they’ve started putting ice water dispensers at certain locations so you don’t have to wait in line, which is a plus. (And, maybe now and then, I’ll also hit up Starbucks for a pina colada iced tea–not on the menu, but very yummy.)

      Reply
      • September 13, 2018 at 11:41 am
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        Florida water is the “taste of vacation” for me.

    • September 7, 2018 at 11:00 am
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      I’ve resigned to just buying a bottle of water when I get to the parks and refilling as necessary. Yeah, Disney water isn’t great, but it’s more about hydration for me and it checks that box just fine. I do carry water, I just don’t typically bring it through the gate with me. That way, if I need to jettison it or I forget it somewhere along the way, it’s not a huge deal.

      Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 11:11 am
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      I wrote water bottle in my answer! It’s definitely extra baggage but nice to have nonetheless. 🙂

      – Angela

      Reply
  • September 7, 2018 at 12:23 am
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    My sister and I carry two bags between us – a backpack with larger essentials that we’re not into all the time (water bottle, med bag for me, sweatshirts/jackets, wipes, power pack, etc) and a small crossbody with things we access all the time (phones, small wallets, small thing of lotion) and we swap back and forth throughout the day. I carry too much on a daily basis to be able to go bagless, especially since I have chronic headaches and cannot be without my meds.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2018 at 8:46 am
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    I usually carry a small handbag with my phone and charger and wallet/purse or cards/money – my husband carries our disposable ponchos and other things in his cargo pants. The bag checking policy does puzzle me a little bit because it seems that if someone wants to take some item not permitted at WDW, whether they have a bag or not, they just stuff it in their pockets and hope they are not randomly picked to go through the airport arch thingy. But hey, if someone takes a forbidden object into the parks I am sure they would be found out quite quickly as I presume you are being watched at all times and you risk being asked to leave. And I, for one, certainly wouldn’t want to take that risk for any item!!!

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  • September 7, 2018 at 8:48 am
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    I really like this one. It’s great to see the range of things you guys bring to the parks!!!

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  • September 10, 2018 at 1:16 pm
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    Thanks for this article – it’s fun to see how/what everyone carries stuff. I’d love to be able to go bag-free, maybe one day. Alas I carry a bag. I’ve used it on all of my travel trips. It’s a great adidas cinch type bag that’s a great size for travel and has mesh pockets on each side that we use to carry water bottles and a great zip pocket for stuff we need to get at frequently/easily. In the bag I bring: small wallet with necessary cards, wipes, phone chargers/cords, elastics, hairbrush, bandaids, aspirin, sunscreen, lip balm, ponchos, camera/batteries. I used to throw an extra outfit in there when my son was little but even then the bag was pretty light weight.

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  • September 13, 2018 at 11:45 am
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    “Going heavy”: Camera, phone, Maxpedition Accordion Utility Pouch with USB charger, cable, Kindle, poncho, hand wipes, and a tube of tablets that mix with water to make a gatorade-style rehydration drink. Also has a small pouch containing spare camera batteries and cards.

    “Going light”: Camera, phone, small pouch with spare camera batteries and cards in my pocket. In a pinch, my camera can go in a pocket as well.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2018 at 3:37 pm
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    I need a bag just for sunscreen LOL – I have a spray & one for my face, that in summer I need to reapply at least every hour – and that needs to be in a ziploc bag (been there, done that, had things soggy with sunscreen leaks)
    water bottle, cooling towel, poncho, fan, portable charger, band-aid & something for a headache. Even going back to the hotel in the afternoon, I can’t be in the parks for 6+ hours without that stuff

    Reply

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