February travel essentials – the round-up

The end is in sight… the end of winter at least. Well, apart from the occasional storm. As February comes to a close, I’m starting to think (desperately) of spring, sunshine and summon up a bit more enthusiasm for the rest of the year.

Girl in a field with a suitcase - my travel essentials for the month, from beauty, books and fashion to my latest suitcase must-haves

Between ongoing winter hibernation and a week spent dashing round Wales in search of dragons – and finding three great family days out in Pembrokeshire for starters – my attempts to brighten up my wardrobe, even with a few new jumpers, have been met with slight failure and 90% of the things I bought going straight back to the shop. Except a new pair of jeans. Dull but practical, I suppose!

But there have been a few new February travel essentials that I’m adding to my must-pack list and travel-themed collection this month.

Travel essentials
For years I’ve had people telling me to get packing cubes. I’ve seen them on travel blogger packing lists. I’ve spoken to other travellers who rave about them. I’ve always intended to get some. I never quite got round to it.

So when I was asked if I wanted to review a set of ProPacking Cubes, I could hardly type ‘yes please!’ fast enough. Finally a chance to find out if these really are all they’re cracked up to be. And don’t I feel silly… because these are marvellous. It is not an understatement to say they have transformed my suitcase.

ProPacking Cubes set of six - my review and why they're a new travel essential

I’ve had enough practice and lists to be pretty good at packing now, even if I loathe it. I can turn a heap of disparate clothes and electronics and whatnots into a neatly packed case, which shuts without too much effort. By the time I get back, the inside of the suitcase isn’t quite so neat. Washing is shoved haphazardly into corners, things have been unpacked and repacked so often that I usually find something I’d forgotten about squished at the bottom – you get the idea.

But with the cubes? Firstly, everything seemed to pack down into a smaller space than even my practised folding. More importantly these meant I could organise the contents of my suitcase a bit more easily – one for my daughter’s clothes, one for mine, a small one for electronics, another small one for underwear and socks, a spare one tucked away for dirty clothes (conveniently also concealing a dragon… more of that below).

They have mesh sides so clothes can breathe and promise to compress the contents by up to 30%. They’re really good quality too, tough and resilient enough to not need treating with kid gloves, including a sturdy zip and carry handle, plus they come in eight colours. As a bonus, they weigh almost nothing and you get a set of six cubes (one large, three medium, two slim) for 29.99 currently on Amazon, with other sets available.

During the trip, as we stayed in a couple of different places, I could go instantly to one bag and pick out the item I needed without having to completely unpack (something I rarely do if we’re only staying for a night or two) and without the frustration of realising the thing I wanted was right at the bottom. And when we were dashing to check out, it was much faster to slot things back into their own little cube and to tidy them in to the case.

The proof is in the organisation of my suitcase on the day we arrived home – the packing has shuffled around slightly, inevitably, but it looks very nearly as tidy as when we left. This has never once happened before. Ever. Not even close.

Packing cubes in a tidy suitcase - how my packing looked after our trip

This is only the beginning of their usefulness – I can imagine having one cube for essentials if we’re arriving late somewhere, so instead of hunting desperately for one missing item, I can just scoop the cube out by its helpful handle and worry about the rest in the morning.

For a week away, we used the three medium cubes (none full to bursting), one (full) small cube and one (half-full) small cube so I haven’t even tried the biggest packing cube yet. The long small ones are great for chargers and adaptors, rather than having wires tangling around everything, while the others can lay flat or sit upright in a standard size suitcase as you need.

I am such a convert, I decided to use those and my suitcase for an overnight stay in Kent, rather than lots of smaller bags. Presented with a cube, my husband subtly rolled his eyes but evidently decided it wasn’t worth arguing about and dutifully packed his belongings into one of the medium ones – I had another, Minnie a third. Less than 24 hours later, he’s a convert too…

As our trip to Wales was based around following the country’s legends, I thought I’d hunt out some versions of the classic myths and tales for kids – it proved a little trickier than I’d hoped online. Cathryn from Cardiff Mummy Says suggested looking in some of the Cadw sites for The Mabinogion for children, which was a great idea and I rather belatedly found this version by Gwyn Thomas on Amazon as well.

Fluffy red Welsh dragon toy sits next to a cup of coffee - one of my February travel essentials as we went dragon hunting in Wales

I also downloaded these Welsh Fairy Tales for free for my Kindle (there’s a paperback version available too) and read a couple of the stories to Minnie before we left, albeit with a bit of paraphrasing! The idea of a magic harp in one really seemed to capture her attention, along with the tales of King Arthur I dredged from my memory en route, although the true hit was the fluffy red Welsh dragon toy that we ‘hunted’ through the country.

She spotted me hiding the clues I’d prepared on about day two and was not persuaded that I was helping the dragon who didn’t want to come out in the rain or that the dragon had used magic to appear in a tree on our final day, but despite this uncompromising four-year-old logic, she decided, ‘I don’t mind, it was fun!’ So that’s good.

Between traditional tales, we’ve also had a few great books sent for review. My London: Colour, Draw, Explore does exactly what it says – as well as acting as a mini kids’ guide book, you can draw in your own skyline, add details to the city’s major landmarks and colour them in as you go. There are fun facts thrown in too (did you know why Westminster Bridge was painted green? I didn’t) and it was perfect for grabbing Minnie’s attention on our mini tour of London’s landmarks.

If you’ve just visited London and want to keep the memory alive, it’s a lovely souvenir but even better to buy it in advance and take it around with you as you explore, I think, especially with younger kids. Minnie very proudly posed in front of Big Ben after checking out the page on Big Ben.

The best part is that although there are suggestions on each page as to the activity, it’s easy for kids to tailor it to their own ability: design your own skyscraper could be intricate and inventive if you’ve got older kids, fun and imaginative for younger ones. I think it’s best for school age children, or older preschoolers (four and up) although there’s no reason younger ones can’t join in with a bit of colouring.

And just as I started to fear our stocks of sticker books might be running low, Lonely Planet brought out three fab new ones in the Lonely Planet Kids series – Let’s Explore Desert, Let’s Explore City and Let’s Explore Mountain. We previously had the ‘Ocean‘ version which was easily one of her favourites, transporting her to an undersea world, complete with 250 stickers, so the new ones were met with squeaks of delight.

Three new sticker and activity books from Lonely Planet, in the Lonely Planet Kids Let's Explore range - my February travel essentials

The desert book was pounced on instantly to take away with us this weekend, visiting friends; the illustrations are as lovely as ever, they’re packed with all the travel facts you’d expect from Lonely Planet and there are all kinds of activities to entertain as well. While Minnie loves any kind of stickers, now she’s getting a bit older, the ones which add to her ongoing quest for knowledge are definitely winning out.

And one last genuine travel essential this month as I realised Minnie’s passport, her very first, expires this year. I can hardly believe the difference from that tiny baby in her first passport photo to the well-travelled four-year-old now. Fingers crossed her new one will be back with us soon – and that it’ll get its first airing not long after that!


Disclosure: All opinions remain my own for any products mentioned, including those sent for review. This post contains some affiliate links: any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a few pennies back – all are products and retailers I’ve personally tried or recommend.

Main image courtesy Pixabay. ProPacking cubes image courtesy of the retailer. All other images copyright MummyTravels