Museum Visit Packing List

PackingforaMuseumVisitOne of the universal truths of having young kids is that you don’t travel light anymore. Even an overnight trip requires jamming the trunk full with the portable crib, stroller, diapers, and MAYBE a small duffel of clothes for the adults on the adventure!

But there is a reason we do it. If you have the “right” stuff for your particular small human then the likelihood of a successful and fun trip goes up 1000%. Some might call it superstition, but I’ve been on the trip where something has been left behind and it isn’t pretty. Parents take the motto “Be Prepared” to new and amazing heights.

It is with love and empathy for that parent (because I am that parent) that I’m writing today. I’ve had a few people tell me they WANT to take their infant or toddler to museums but “what do YOU bring?” So, below is my museum visit packing list, the things that helped me have a good day when my son was an infant and that keep us going now that he is a toddler. I’m sure you could do it with less, I’m sure some of you will bring more. This is just a suggestion based on what works for us.

Two things to remember especially if you are taking a stroller downtown. 1. The Metro is accessible, but keep an eye on elevator outages around the system. Also, aiming for pre/post commute time is better since the trains get REALLY crowded. 2. Many museums have a security screening when you go in.  They won’t forbid you to have snacks/water with you, but they will need to see inside all your bags.  Consider this when you are packing so you can more easily take things out for them to look at.

OK!  On to the main event…


So when my son was an infant the museum visit was basically an all day affair.  I’d leave just before his first nap (which was conveniently post rush hour) and take the Metro downtown.  The train was like a big swing and he would generally fall asleep.

I’d walk around the museum until he woke up and then find a place to feed and change him (for my running list of baby friendly areas in the museum you can read this post).  After that I’d spread out a blanket somewhere quiet and let him wiggle and look at what was around him.

Then, back in the stroller and either more walking around or heading home.  I’d generally pack my lunch so I could eat as we walked (outside of course…not in the museum!) and try to time it so he was ready to nap for the ride home.  They were long days, but no more stressful then being home or trying to do errands!

So, what did I bring?

  • Pre-loaded Metro card: I have a “SmarTrip Card” that means it has all the money on it and you just swipe through the gate.  I highly recommend even if you are just here for a long weekend. Much easier, saves you $1 on fare and is sturdier then a paper ticket.  Whatever you choose, make sure it is loaded up for the day so if you have to race to catch a train you aren’t caught without fare.
  • Stroller: I was a stroller person, if you prefer to wear your baby that is great too.  I like the stroller because it also serves as my “car” for carrying all the stuff I need.  I used the car seat insert but as soon as I could I switched to just the regular stroller.  He seemed happier in there, better able to look around etc.
  • Diaper Bag: Seems like a no-brainer right?  Make sure you have a change of clothes (I’ve forgotten and really regretted it) and anything you need for feeding baby (formula, nursing cover etc.). Obviously there are stores if you forget anything but they are a few blocks from the Mall, which doesn’t help if baby needs…it…NOW!
  • Blanket: I liked to get him out of the stroller and let him roll around and play a little.  You can easily find a quiet, out of the way spot and there is so much good stuff for them to look at!
  • Food: I would bring a water bottle and lunch/snacks.  I stashed them in the top of the stroller so I could munch as we walked around outside or have easy access to them in areas where I could eat.
  • Layers: D.C. is notorious for aggressive air conditioning/heating and equally miserable outside temperatures.  For both of us it was key to pack for extremes with layers!
  • IPod/Book: For the Metro if he was sleeping, or if I was walking around outside to eat/let him finish a nap
  • Toys: I always packed a few things for the Metro in case he got fussy
  • Camera: Once again…seems like a no-brainer but you definitely want this!


Once my son hit the toddler stage (not just the walking but the…temperament…) our planning and packing changed slightly.  Now I head out right at 9:00am.  We miss the commuters (much easier then trying to jam a stroller onto a packed Metro car!) and are downtown when the museums open.

We have an hour or so to walk around the museum and see what we are interested in before I have to find food for us.  I generally pack for him (and frankly often for myself) and then get some “extras” at the cafeteria.  We eat lunch together, get changed and set and are heading back to the Metro around 12:00.

This hopefully means that I get him home and in his own crib for his 1:00pm naptime.  Obviously he can still stroller nap, but it is really better for both of us if he is back and I get a break!  The museum visits now are more tiring since he is more of an active participant, so making it home for nap works for us.

So, what do I bring for him now?

  • Pre-loaded Metro card: For all the reasons I stated above!
  • Stroller: I still bring the stroller, and my “good” one.  Umbrella strollers are lovely and light-weight, but I use the stroller as my luggage cart so I don’t have to carry anything.  Also, he is just more comfortable in there and if we do end up needing to nap-on-the-go, it works much better.
  • Diaper Bag: Just makes sense right?
  • Food: I bring lots of snacks and water for both of us.  It has saved us on a delayed Metro ride (I know, you aren’t supposed to eat on the train…it was a desperate time) and also covered me when I couldn’t find a good lunch option.
  • Layers: As I said before, the inside vs. outside temperatures can be pretty extreme
  • Books and Toys: I bring something for me just in CASE he falls asleep, and plenty of things for him.  I try to theme it to what we are going to see (“Go Dog Go” for the Transportation Hall etc.) and make sure it won’t bother other commuters/museum goers)
  • Camera: Trust me…you’ll want it!

See? The list isn’t that bad!  It is no more then you’d take for any day trip. Obviously you edit based on your family needs, but it is totally workable I promise!

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