packing tips from a veteran parent

As more REUNION families choose to bring their kids on mission with them in the DR, veteran team member Amanda Warren has found herself in the position of giving packing and trip advice to other parents. Thanks, Amanda, for sharing your knowledge and for helping other families have a successful DR trip!

As a four-time short-term missionary mom, I’ve learned a few things over the years about REUNION’s general packing list. While it works for the majority of adults on our teams, for families, a kid-specific expansion is helpful. Of course, every parent has to do what’s right for his or her family, but hopefully these pointers will be useful to families who find themselves in similar shoes.

Money. The routine with REUNION trips is to bring American cash, which GO staff will exchange for you within a day or two of arrival so you have spending money for snacks and gifts.  Team Warren really likes to have at least a few Dominican pesos with us in case that exchange gets delayed.  It is amazing bargaining power to be able to tell your kid they can have a treat/snack/drink at the little store down the street, and it can be super frustrating to have to delay using that tactic. Consider getting a small amount of money exchanged into pesos before you leave Boston.

Clothes. Bring more than you think you’ll need, especially for the little ones.  Olivia tends to get very dusty and dirty in La Mosca because she plays in the street with the kids, then she gets very sweaty at night, even if the rest of us stay pretty clean doing an evening activity back at the dorms.  This means she inevitably needs two outfits per day that aren’t re-wearable from day to day.  I often try to bring things she’s growing out of or that I know she won’t fit into next summer and then I just leave all of them in the DR.  The Vargas family will clean and package them up as donations for kids in the community after we leave.

Shoes. Whatever shoes your kids bring to wear in La Mosca will likely be completely unwearable or useless back in the States due to dirt and grime.  Bring an old pair of tennis shoes that no one cares about or buy something at Savers or Goodwill before you go.  Remind anyone who’s old enough to care that no one cares if their shoes don’t match their outfit.  Also, we’re asked to wear “something nice” to church on Sunday (a dress for girls, slacks and a collared shirt for boys), but we’re also asked to wear closed-toe shoes in La Mosca.  Many adult women cheat the rule on Sunday because they aren’t going to be getting too dirty that day, but for kids it can be more important because they tend to play even when the rest of us are still.  Make sure your kids (if they’re picky about matching) are happy with their Sunday choices.

Bathing suits. For the littlest ladies, the “no two-piece suit” rule is flexible.  I bring Olivia in a two-piece suit (she wears tankinis) because I do not believe in pulling a wet one-piece off a toddler every time she has to go to the bathroom. No one has ever judged me.  Older girls on our trips, however, have worn a one-piece or have worn non-white shirts over their suits, which is what we ask adults to do.

Shorts and tank tops. We often hear verbally at meetings that we need to be modest with our clothes in the DR: no shorty shorts and no spaghetti straps.  I know this has been tough for preteen and teenage girls on our trips in the past. Sometimes parents have been surprised about needing to do some last-minute shopping for shorts longer than what we often wear in the states.  I’m sure those of you who parent preteens and teenagers know how hard it is to find stylish stuff that’s “long enough for school.”  Same problem in the DR.  For Olivia, she wears mostly dresses with leggings or bike shorts 365 days a year. Similar to the bathing suit rule, I think for the littlest ones the spaghetti strap part is overlooked.  But the older Olivia gets, the more I pay attention to this rule (when she was two and three I was less worried) and try to put her in something closer to mid thigh/knee length when possible just to avoid any concerns.

Sleeping gear. Don’t forget to remind your kids (or whoever is packing for them) that we often go back to the dorms at the end of an evening, shower and put on jammies, and then come out into a common space to hang, sing, play cards, whatever.  So if their pajama plans are a tank top with shorts (like many of us do because it’s so hot), they might want to bring something long to put over it for community time.

Toys, gear, and screens. The Warrens always try to bring a few travel toys with us for little people—we expect Olivia to carry her own backpack and she can bring whatever little things she wants that fit in it and that she’s willing to carry.  I usually also have things like a bag of crayons or a deck of cards in my backpack too, for entertainment during long van rides.  We do try to avoid screen time of any kind in the DR, but we’ll use it when Olivia is nearing meltdown point, which can occur if she has to go without her usual nap or when she’s up hours past her usual bedtime. If you’re in the same boat, don’t forget to download any essentials/favorites before you leave! We’ve also had preteens, teens, and adults alike bring an e-reader for books for when they just want to zone out.

On a different note, before the trip, it might be worth talking with your kid about toys and when they’re appropriate. Our first year in the DR, Olivia got out crayons and a coloring book while other local kids were around (well, she was two… I did it, not her) and it turned into mayhem because everyone wanted a crayon and we didn’t have enough for the dozens of kids who came running.  Lesson learned.  Now we save our toys for times when us Americanos are alone, or we get out things that can be played with by many (like a ball or a Frisbee).

Water bottles. Given Olivia’s propensity to drop things, we have found it’s essential for her to have a water bottle with a lid that fully closes, so she doesn’t have to put her mouth on the edge, because it often rolls down the street in La Mosca.  There are millions of options; we used a Foogo Thermos early on and now have this Thermos (she uses it 365 days a year at home too, so it’s not special or new for us).

Snacks. REUNION brings a large team stash of snacks (usually things like granola bars and peanut butter), but in years past, I’ve been known to bring Olivia’s favorite granola bars, fruit snacks, dehydrated fruits, oatmeal packets, Goldfish, Cheez-Its, and other easy snacks.  Mealtimes can be unexpectedly delayed by minutes or hours, so plan on having kid-friendly food in your bag at all times.  Go ahead and splurge on the single-serving packages, even if you wouldn’t normally due to cost or extra plastic wrap/trash. It’s worth it to grab and go.  I usually bring way more than I need, because food in the DR goes better for Olivia than I ever think it will.  So if your kid sees something that Olivia has and he or she wants it, don’t be worried.  We’re happy to share.  Also, our team will have a shopping opportunity at La Sirena, which can be a good place to stock up on any other kid-friendly essentials if food is a worry.

Constipation and other illnesses. GO staff is always around, including someone who’s medically inclined, and they can help if a crisis occurs. However, before you go, be sure to stock up on anything you usually use in the US and maybe even a little more. Things like chewable Tylenol, Miralax, cough drops, and a few extra Band-Aids can go a long way when you’re far from a shopping venue and you’re stuck on someone else’s schedule.

Hand sanitizer. You know the little one- to two-ounce bottles that have a loop so you can hang them off things? I’ve had years where I literally hang it off Olivia’s dress. Other years I hang it on her backpack. We talk a LOT about hand washing.  Think about practicing before you go if you think your kid is going to have trouble with this type of thing.

I hope this list is helpful for other parents who are considering short-term missions with their kids but feel overwhelmed by whether or not they know what to do. If you have questions please feel comfortable reaching out!