The truth is, in our case, it’s true. We’ve been packing everything but the kitchen sink for many years?. We literally pack up all our belongings and take them with us. Over and over again.
That’s why I’ve decided to share with you the ultimate list of equipment for a long trip or vacation abroad, with or without the children.
The list includes necessary equipment, recommended equipment that is fun to have, and a whole suitcase full of tips. I promise you’ll find things here that no one else has written about and upgrade your next vacation.
But before we get started: Dear men, we take the whole house because that’s how we are. It’s in our DNA. And it makes us feel bad when we must apologize for it. So just accept it. With a smile and understanding and love and think only how thankful your arms and chest muscles will be ?.
Backpack – shoes – everyday bag
These are the cornerstones of every trip. If you’re on a budget, these are the three things that are most important to invest in. These three things will dictate your quality of life on a daily basis.
Backpack or wheeled suitcase?
For a trip to the East or South/Central America, whether it’s a short vacation or a long-term journey, I overwhelmingly recommend backpacks every time.
Take one large and one medium backpack per adult, and a backpack per child (the size of the bag depends on the age and size of the child, of course).
For Europe, the USA, and other Western destinations either option is viable. I still think backpacks tend to be the more comfortable option, as there will always be trains, apartment buildings and hotels that don’t have elevators or escalators. Your choice will depend to some extent on the type of trip you are planning.
With young children, it’s important that your hands are as free as possible. And it’s also important that whoever is pulling a suitcase can also pick it up when necessary.
I recommend that every child should look after their own case or backpack
This case is their own private ‘space’ for the entire duration of his vacation. For this reason, it’s important that each child carries with them personal items that hold meaning to them, and that will provide a sense of stability, privacy, and independence.
Tip: For children who are particularly sensitive or who need stability, I suggest you also take a ‘transitional object’ :-). It might be a little mobile, a special dream catcher, or anything that they associate with their room at home. Hang it wherever the child sleeps during your vacation or trip.
In our case, every child has their own case. The two older children have backpacks, and the little one has a trolley suitcase. Each has their own towel, toiletries bag, flashlight and more. (Read on for details. .)
Where to buy: As much as the Internet can offer amazing options, I always recommend buying your bags in a physical store.
The biggest tip I can give you about this is: don’t buy new shoes especially for your trip/vacation. They need to be broken in and comfortable.
New shoes might look nice, but they usually cause blisters and cuts. Flip flops can be bought on the road though! (Especially in Brazil, where the Havaianas flipflops are world famous. They’re durable, comfy, worn by all the locals and much cheaper in Brazil than anywhere else…)
Flipflops aside, for a few years now, the girls and I have only been wearing Sketchers. They’re incredibly comfortable and we can walk in them for days without our feet or legs hurting.
How many pairs?
Take one pair for a daily walk for each of you, and flip-flops/sandals (waterproof) for each. Of course, if you’re planning on trekking, take some off-road shoes. Make sure they are worn in before you set off!
Where to buy: If these are a type of shoe you’re not accustomed to, I recommend going to a physical store. If you’re buying shoes you are already accustomed to wearing, it’s better to buy online because the selection is bigger, and the price is usually lower. But even so, don’t set out with brand-new shoes. Buy them with enough time to do some ‘breaking in’ walks first.
I think it’s important for each child to have their own little bag. (size and model obviously depends on age…)
You don’t have to take all your bags every time you leave the hotel or the guesthouse for the day. That’s why I recommend a day bag for each of you, as well as slightly larger backpacks or cases for taking on board flights, for overnight trips, etc.
Where to buy: The internet has some increasingly good options. Here are some I like:
I’ve been using this THULE case for two years. It’s a little big for every day, and I mostly use it when we go on short trips away. I just love that the case can adapt to the number of things I have to take. It can adjust in size, so I have room for a jacket when I feel like it, and when I wear the jacket, I can make the case smaller. I also find it very beautiful. You can take a peek and see for yourself.
I also love TIMBUK2 bags, such as this bag, which can also be made larger or smaller according to your needs. TOPO recently came out with some beautiful backpacks. But the biggest hype right now is around NOMATIC’s amazing backpacks.
Okay, we’re done with the Holy Trinity.
Baby carrier or stroller?
Let’s completely resolve the dilemma. A baby carrier is, to me, a necessity. It will keep a baby or toddler close and always within your sight, leaving you free to watch the other children, read the signs at the train station, or look for a nice restaurant where you can finally sit down after a day walking through busy streets. I highly recommend a backpack-style carrier because they’re comfortable, fit into a bag and don’t take up half the hotel room.
So, there’s no wavering about a carrier.
Deciding whether to take a stroller is a matter of what you’re used to. Do you use one every day?
Is the destination you are travelling to stroller friendly? Are you planning long walks and long days without breaks? Does your baby like to sit in a stroller? Are you renting a car? Are you planning to visit attractions where queues will be long? If the answer is yes, then take a stroller.
Are you planning lots of trips, on various types of transport (think buses, rickshaws, ferries, trains…)? Are you bringing more than two suitcases? Do you like traveling light and being spontaneous? If the answer is yes, then you better ditch the stroller.
What to take in the big backpack/suitcase – 7 non-negotiables
I’m a big fan of lightweight travel towels, which dry quickly and can be hung comfortably so they don’t fall or fly off the railing of the balcony.
Where to buy: Online.
Look at these, for example:
A ‘Discovery’ towel is both very soft and cozy and great for travel.
This JML towel, comes in a package of two, both of which are good and big, and I like that they come in vibrant colors like pink and purple:-).
And here’s a towel especially for kids – it’s a special sand-proof towel (yes!), suitable for both beach and bathing, and it comes in cheerful prints. perfect for traveling with your little ones.
My recommendation: These towels are good quality and go for around $10-$20, which is much cheaper than most physical stores would charge, so it clearly makes financial sense to buy them online. Just make sure you’re ordering the size you need!
2. A charging unit with multiple sockets, which also has a decent length cable and is small and foldable, is a must for any trip.
I’m using this one, and each of the children has one too, each a different color. This product is incredibly convenient and comes with a small case (in which I also store some USB cables and a mains adapter into). It’s one of the objects we use the most.
Look (I have the pink one…):
3. Folding Lamp
Yes, this is a thing. It’s especially useful for those going out into the wilds, or on a remote camping trip, but it’s useful in other situations too. Bring lamps for as many rooms/tents as you plan to stay in. Sometimes there’s a power outage of a few hours and these lamps are much more pleasing to the eye than the phone’s flashlight. Sometimes there are no night lamps in the guesthouse and in cases like this I pull out the lamps. It makes a big difference
This is a lamp that takes up almost no space (it folds into a flat position) and is charged by USB or solar.
Then there’s this one, which doubles as a backup battery and is waterproof:
4. Luggage organizers in different sizes
Whether you’re traveling with a backpack or a suitcase, these organizers are an absolute must for keeping everything handy. For a few years now, the girls and I have been unable to pack without them. It’s convenient and makes it easy to quickly get everything you’re looking for. Honestly it’s a game changer. Here’s an amazing set that also includes a toiletry bag and a document case (not cheap, but worth the investment if budget allows..).
And there’s this one, in a million colors. $25 for the purple, $20 for gray:
You’ll also find many similar organizers, for less than US$20.
5. Toiletries bag
Only buy toiletries bags that can be hung up.
Where to buy: Unequivocally online. Look at what a huge selection there is :
The prices of all these are between $16 and $26. I bought a bag like this about six years ago, in a cool, expensive store in Saigon. For a few days I debated whether or not to buy, because I really wanted to, but it was relatively expensive. I ended up buying. And I use it to this day, so it was actually one of my most successful purchases. Convenient and simple and accessible. Each of the girls has one, too ?
Tip: If you’re going on a pampering vacation, take a few bath treats for yourself and the kids ?.
My travel recommendation: Take a lightweight projector so that you can screen movies for the kids, and some fun games for the car/restaurant/quiet time in the room.
6. Lightweight chopping board
This is convenient to use everywhere for cutting fruit, making sandwiches or tasting the cheeses you bought at the deli. When the kids were little, we played games on it, we made plasticine, and we put puzzles together. I’m including it in the packing essentials. It doesn’t take up space and doesn’t weigh anything, but makes life a lot simpler for parents.
By the way – to complete the kit: a cutting knife (with a protective lid) and a fruit/vegetable peeler– also go into the backpack or suitcase
7. Folding Bowl
I’ve been carrying one of these since we left our home country. You wouldn’t even know it was in the bag at all, it’s so light and compact. Recently I also bought them for each of the children, because it is always useful ?saves a lot of time and money.
Here are some good examples on Amazon:
And this one comes as a set, with a cup and cutlery:
It’s also a good idea to take some dish-washing liquid in a small bottle, and a small sponge – this one helps, and in general it’s also advisable to wash the cups that are provided in your hotel room before use.
And one last tip: If you’re traveling with children of milk-tooth age, don’t forget to take a special little box in case they fall off their teeth during your holiday. If you’re traveling and your kids have wobbly teeth (or are likely to have wobbly teeth) then it’s nice to carry a letter and a gift from the tooth fairy (or whatever is the custom in your family).
Little Gali lost 5 teeth (two on the same day!!) during a 40-day Mongolian adventure in the middle of nowhere!
What to pack in the smaller bag:
I love that each member of our family has their own flashlight. And that doesn’t include the flashlight on the phone?..
There are those who like headlamps, but lately I’ve been preferring the flashlights you can plug into a USB, or the solar-charged ones. It’s such a relief not to have to carry or buy batteries all the time 🙂
The internet offers lots of great options. Here’s a good one.
2. A mandatory laptop/tablet case for each traveler.
Look what lovely cases I found here.
3. Organizing case for cables and chargers
not an absolute necessity, but certainly makes life on the road much more comfortable when there is one
4. Backup headphones
especially helpful during transitions.
We spend a lot of hours on long commutes, and the kids like to listen to music, podcasts, or watch videos. That’s why I’m not taking a chance. Parents of adolescents – doubly important.
5. Walkie Talkie – for when you are out with young children.
Be sure to buy that a walkie talkie with a wide range on one side, and legal for free use, on the other :-). Another important thing to pay attention to is the life of the battery. I’ve bought a few over the years, and especially like these ones, which are similar to ones we bought in Bangkok. Not only can you keep in touch with the kids when you’re sitting having coffee and they’re playing in the park next door ?, but they’re also a lot of fun.
6. First Aid Kit
7. Tablet/phone charger
8. Camera (preferably waterproof..)
9. Makeup bag – I don’t usually wear makeup but I like to carry the basics, and this lovely makeup bag I found can be used for jewelry too.
10. Hygiene products
Very important!! Hand sanitizer gel, wet wipes and ‘paper soap’ sheets.
11. Water bottle
One of my hobbies when I go into a travel shop is to check what’s new in terms of water bottles, because we use them a lot, so I find myself buying them at least two or three times a year. Here is a bottle with a charcoal filter and also a cool bottle that can be folded up to go into your pocket when it’s empty. And then there’s Mizu’s classic bottle, which comes with a filter and a straw.
12. A reusable drinking straw
(unless you want to drink your mojito from a cardboard straw that crumples down within a few minutes..).
12. Hat and sunscreen – always!
13. Mosquito repellent – always!
14. Small folding umbrella
I like everybody to have a compact umbrella in their bag, especially since they became old enough and started to go out alone. Sounds silly, but an umbrella can be a real life saver when the heavens open.
Those last three items are related to the fact that we cannot predict the future – even the very near future. I learned this the hard way, which is why my I strongly urge you to always carry these things. There’s no telling when you’ll be stuck in the blazing sun without you anticipating it, and even the umbrella can come in handy as a sunshade for small children.
tip: If you’re planning to visit the ‘Forbidden City’ in Beijing, for example, or the Colosseum in Rome, or indeed any very popular attraction where long queues are inevitable, make sure you bring these things, plus plenty of drinking water.
15. Pack of cards/family travel game
These can help pass the time when boredom might otherwise set in and lead to quarrelling (waiting for food in a restaurant, waiting for a bus, waiting for a flight, etc…)
16. One very important recommendation (last but certainly not least): Tracker stickers. Everybody worries about losing valuables during their trip, so I really advise you to get some of these. Stick them on your phone, camera (most important to me..), suitcase, bike, kids.. :-). With these small devices you can find everything that really matters to you. They work on bluetooth, but in my opinion, these ones have a huge advantage over other tracking devices in that anyone registered with the app can help you find what’s lost, and send you an exact location. Here are all the details.