One year of travel: what you really need

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What do you really need to travel with kids? We’ve been traveling for over a year now, and here’s our guide to help you pack smarter and lighter!

We’ve been traveling for over a year now, and we’ve had quite a bit of experience with our gear. I think we’re ready to talk about what you really need for your trip.
To start, here’s a list of what we carry, updated.
So now I’m gonna tell you about the things we really think are necessary for a long-term trip and a review of our gear.

What everyone needs

– A good backpack or suitcase. We like backpacks because we can carry up stairs and don’t need to worry about pulling huge suitcases. It’s also easy to carry through an irregular ground. The thing is that sometimes, I do wish I had something with wheels. This is especially true with the kids. Sometimes we have to carry our bags for 20~30 minutes walking and I feel sorry for them to have to carry all of their things on their backs when they could (mostly) pull it. So maybe, when it’s time to change their bags, we’ll trade them for something with wheels if they want to.
Packing cells or cubes. It helps hold a lot more stuff into a smaller area and it helps keep things organized. We bought many varied sizes, but we end up using the medium and small sizes most. Angelo uses one big size, but that’s all.
– Clothes, of course. What to pack depends on what you’re doing, where you’re going and how long you’re traveling. We’ll talk more about that later.
– A camera – be that a DSLR, a mobile phone, an action camera, whatever. You just really need a camera. I can’t imagine traveling without one. Don’t forget all the cords and cables.
– A smartphone – useful to keep photos of documents, maps, keep loved ones informed of your whereabouts, social media, listening to music, watching movies, and whatever else you want. Take the charger with you.
Hand sanitizer to clean up hands, everywhere you’d touch on a plane or bus, and even to help clean up public toilets.
Paper tissues/wet wipes. So useful for millions of things.
Water bottle, because it isn’t cool to have to buy plastic bottled water. Carry it empty until after security and fill it after it.
– Some meds – pain killers, allergy meds, activated charcoal, propolis, tea tree oil, nose spray, eye drops… We do carry all of those, but you’ll know what you need most.
– A pen to fill out the forms in planes or just to draw with your kids. Maybe even to make a bun on your hair.
– Documents: passport, driving license, proof of onward travel, visa, vaccination proof. It all depends on where you’re going, but you can’t forget your documents. Have the real one, photos on your phone AND paper copies of at least the passport.
– Credit cards and cash. Carry a little cash because some airports charge a fee after you’ve passed all the ATMs. Make sure it’s either local currency or USD. And credit cards, of course.
– All the cables, plugs and stuff you’ll need to charge phones, cameras, etc. Take extra caution as they’re easy to forget!

This is basically it.

packing, loading

Our bags, during the NZ road trip – a lot more than what we carry nowadays

Good to have, but not essential

– A computer – I can’t really live out of a phone. I need it to at least download the photos from the camera. But maybe if you’re not traveling long term and have enough memory cards, you won’t need it.
Coconut oil is just magic. Works as a moisturizer, cooking fat, hair treatment mask, a remedy for skin ailments, as tattoo ointment, and can be taken as is to boost immunity. Don’t forget oil pulling!
Duct tape because it’s also got loads of utilities, like fixing little holes on backpacks, shoes, and tents (sometimes even clothes), fixing cables, even as the treatment for warts and some other things. Seriously.
Universal plug adaptor because worldwide, plugs come in a wide variety. Buy a good one and travel everywhere with it. If you’re always staying in hotels, though, you probably won’t need it as they should have some.
– Grooming items like tweezers, nail clippers, hair brush, razors, and makeup. They’re personal and if you have a good one, you won’t want to use a crappy one, so take yours if your trip is longer than a week. If it’s shorter, you can handle without them. Well, we can.
Travel towels because they dry so fast and can be used as sheet, blanket, beach mat, and they’re so small! We used ours very little because we almost always stay in places that have towels but the few times when we had to use them, we really did. One per person is good enough!
– An e-reader. SO useful! I love it.
Raincoats. We bought them, we carry them, but we used very little. We don’t really like to have wet feet and since we only have 2 pairs of shoes each, so when it’s raining, we’re usually inside.
– A scarf. I have 2 and I use them for everything. They were used as beach mat, blanket, towel, hat, teepee, everything.

boarding time santiago airport

The poor kids after waking up – right before boarding. You can see here Melissa’s and Jose’s bags

You can bring, but you could also buy locally

– Toiletry and food. You don’t need to take anything unless you’re on a really tight budget, as these things aren’t expensive mostly and you have the time to go shop for them. We usually go to the supermarket first thing when we arrive somewhere but we do carry our own toiletry.

For the kids – only because we’re traveling long term. Otherwise, we wouldn’t take any of those. 

– Toys. I don’t know about yours, but my kids like to have toys. Half of their bags is filled with toys, games, sketch books, pencils, and things like that. In a long-term trip, I really believe they need to have their most loved items with them. It used to be in Angelo’s bag (at least the bulky stuff) but now they all carry their own stuff. Angelo carries what belongs to everybody, like origami and copy paper, exercise bands, and things like that.
Blu-tac because it works as play dough and to stick stuff to the walls and give the houses a homey feeling without damaging the walls. It’s also pretty cool to calm down an anxious person (be it a little or a big one). We probably wouldn’t carry it if we weren’t traveling with kids, though.
Hair elastic also works as hair bands, to keep cards tidy, to close plastic bags, as toys.

hobbiton nz

The raincoats, in one of the only times they ever needed them (Hobbiton, NZ)

Don’t need at all

– PJs. Seriously. Wear any of your clothes, or better yet, sleep naked.
– Guide books. We’ve been very happy with the tourist information centers around the world and their guide maps. If you ask, they’ll even tell you the best places to eat. Plus, there’s Google and Pinterest and internet almost everywhere.

The extras

We do carry a LOT more stuff than what I put here, you can see it all on this post. It’s been updated because we do buy some stuff and leave some others.

What we’re considering buying SERIOUSLY

A good knife. We wouldn’t be able to carry on only but sometimes we’re in a house for 2 weeks or longer and the knives are horrifyingly dull. Nothing makes me grumpier than a dull knife that doesn’t cut anything. Most of the places we stayed only had dull knives. Seriously.
But if you don’t/won’t cook (although I suggest you do), you won’t need it, of course.

Clothes

It really depends on a lot of factors, but you DON’T need more than 7 pairs of clothes. We carry 7 pairs each and never needed more. EVER. In a YEAR. With 4 kids. Do your own laundry or find a laundromat, they’re everywhere. We did need to replace some clothing items because kids grow, clothes rip or shrink or stain. But we never needed more clothes.

We carry basically 7 tops, 5~7 bottoms, 7 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of socks, 2 sweaters (or jackets or jumpers, depending on the likes of each of us). Then a pair of hiking shoes (that we’re considering replacing with regular sneakers), flip flops and or a Crocs or sandal. We rarely use our flip flops, really and might loose them soon, although they are useful when we’re at the beach.

guides for planning

These guides were all free from the Tourist Information Centres in NZ – every country offers maps (some are simpler, some are fancier)

For the ladies

A menstrual cup. It’s super important, super useful, and super cool! If you’ve tried one before and didn’t adapt well, do try other brands. I’ve been using for 10 years and can’t imagine living without it anymore. I’ve never needed pads or tampons again.

Carry-on only vs checking bags

We do both. When we have one direct flight, I almost always choose to check my bag, but when we have connecting flights, I carry on. My bag is an Osprey Farpoint 55 and I haven’t had a problem carrying on. It weights around 7~9 kg (15 ~ 20 lb). I LOVE it – despite the color, the lack of outside pockets, and the size being a bit over the carry-on limits.

The kids always carry-on. Coral (5) has a small wheeled kid’s bag. José (9) has a Mac Pac Junior hiking bag that I don’t like because it only opens on the top. It’s 30L, it fits all of his stuff there. João (12) has a 35L Kathmandu hiking backpack and I dislike it for the top open. Melissa’s (13) 40L Kathmandu backpack opens all around, but the compressing straps are in the way, so it’s not easy to use. It’s also taller than the carry-on size but since it’s never full, we haven’t had a problem. They don’t want to risk to lose their precious stuff, so they never check them. They all weigh around 6~7 kg.

Angelo has an 80L Macpac backpack that opens all around BUT the zipper is hard and difficult to use and has so many tiny adjustments that make me crazy. I couldn’t pack it, it’s too much work and it’s a bit too big. We’re thinking about getting him a smaller and easier to pack, although he’d never carry-on because he carries a pocket knife, little computer tools, and all the toiletry. We did, though, fill it to the brim when we’d just started. It used to weigh a bit over the 23 kg (50 lb)- now it’s weighing less than 20 kg (44 lb).

kid bored store

And here you can see Coral very excited about our gear hunting days. Thankfully, they’re over now.

Electronics

They’re bulky and heavy, but we can’t really drop them. Angelo carries a 30L daypack with his computer, external HD, USB sticks and plugs and cords, plus the cameras.
I carry my computer in my 15L daypack, my tablet, and Coral’s Kobo.
Melissa carries her own computer and e-reader in a small daypack.
João carries the boys’ computer in his 15L daypack and José carries the boys’ tablet in his little bag, plus they each own an e-reader.
Coral has a tablet and carries it in her bag.

And phones, they all have phones. I don’t believe we could make this any lighter, as these electronics are used to play, to study, to learn, to keep in touch with friends and family.

It’s the biggest thing we carry – it ends up taking as much space as clothing, and being 3x as heavy.

This is basically it. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments!

3 replies
  1. argeymumSarah
    argeymumSarah says:

    This is a really great post! So much of your must-have list is on our list too… Just on the backpack thing: We bought some really good quality hybrid trolley backpacks for the whole family – Backpacks with wheels. This was the best investment even though it was a small fortune. We put them on our backs when we stay in places with stairs (old hotel apartments in Europe for example) and for jumping on and off trains etc, but the rest of the time we wheel them. I even let the son jump on my backpack when I am wheeling it, and he drags his bag behind both of us. I will probably pay for it later – I am sure the handle will break eventually (especially as he gets bigger) but for now it is standing strong! We also bought fabric pens for the daughter, and she decorated her 50L hybrid for something different. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thais Saito
      Thais Saito says:

      We’re considering it too! The kids are a bit reluctant because of the weight of the hybrids! They’d have to drop some of their stuff or they’d have to check their bags – they want none. Haha.
      Thanks a lot for your input! I’ll let them know!

      Reply

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