Usually my approach is that the less you carry with you the better, and to just get things on the road as necessary. This is the most comfortable way (because you carry a lot less) and most if the time it’s cheaper too. But still, there are things you have to take with you. I list here the equipment that in my opinion is the most basic, things I would never have left Israel without.
A big backpack, comfortable to use and carry: whether you’re alone or a family, at least one high capacity backpack is a must. It’ll be used for all the trips and treks to which you only want to carry one bag with all the equipment for a few days, and also functions as an all-purpose bag/suitcase.
Very important that it be the most comfortable one for you. It’s one of the few things I’d never buy online but always go to the store and try it on. It’s vital that anyone who’s meant to carry the backpack will try it on and feel comfortable with it on.
Everyday bag– also comfortable to carry and use: same principles apply to your everyday bag. The difference between a comfortable quality bag and a shitty cheap bag is huge. It’ll effect how you feel physically all day long. If you’ll feel alert, energetic, and could keep going all day easily, or if you’ll feel back/shoulder pain, tired and exhausted by noon. Try it on before buying. And don’t compromise.
Excellent walking shoes– everything I said about the bags applies here too. Good shoes are the key to a good day. Both in hardcore treks and easy one-day hikes. If your shoes aren’t spot-on your whole trip will look completely different.
Towels that dry quick, antibacterial preferably- I’ve been using the same towels for 7 years. I didn’t compromise on the quality and bought the biggest they had. It’s the best feeling when getting out of the shower. And when you use them day after day for a period of time, you don’t want to be depressed at the end of every shower. They’re wonderful. Dry fast, don’t stink, and don’t get moldy. You can shower in the morning, hang them to dry, go have tea and when you come back they’re dry and ready to be packed.
High quality mosquito repellent– because when you’re out of the city, and the flies and mosquitoes fly around you, you want the best repellent there is.
Soap strips– on its face it looks like an unnecessary luxury. But it’s one of my favorite products. I keep one in every bag and sometimes even in my pocket. It’s always reachable and always gives me a quiet feeling that ‘it’s alright, there’s soap’. In every place and every situation, even on a 24 hour bus (with all the bug bags stored in the luggage compartment) on the road in the middle of nowhere.
Carrier sling- well, obviously. For treks, busy streets, packed cities, even to go shopping with nothing on your mind. A carrier sling the kid likes. And one that’s comfortable for the parents to wear. I don’t really need to go into details. It’s all so obvious.
first aid kit– always ready.
There are a few more things I wouldn’t recommend traveling without, but those you can buy on the road:
Scissors– always in the suitcase. I can’t even begin to count how many times over the years I suddenly needed scissors.
Knife with a plastic sheath– because you’ll get excited and buy a ton of great fruits and then realize at the hotel you have no knife.
Thin flexible chopping board– yes, you’ll be surprised but it’s much more comfortable chopping fruits or vegetables on it or even doing puzzles, clay art or writing something on the bed.
Thermos– I like having hot drinks with me, especially at long drives, and most especially when those are early in the morning. A thermos is also a lifesaver if one of the kids is sick and you want a steady tea supply.
Toilet paper and wet wipes– there’s nothing I make sure of more than that I always have both with me. To go out in Southeast Asia, especially with kids, is always a gamble. And I don’t like gambling. Well, not in this anyway.
A few empty plastic bags– because just when you need one you can’t find any. And there are some places in Asia that completely banned plastic bags, so you can spend whole weeks without seeing a single one. In any case they don’t weigh anything and don’t take up room. So why not?