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Backpacking With Kids - Packing

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

As we loaded up for a 3-day trip to Lyme Regis recently and struggled to slam the boot shut, we wondered "How the hell did we ever backpack 3 countries in 4 months carrying it all on our backs?!". I'm not sure how or why short weekend trips in our home nation seem to require a full car when we got by perfectly with an extended trip with such minimal stuff! Something to do with filling a car because we had it, I guess. The irony is, probably the thing I get asked about the most is how we’ve managed to travel so light abroad with small people.


We felt that we packed perfectly for our first big 4 month adventure, with a 4 year old and an 8 week-6 month old. There was nothing we missed and we didn't bring anything we didn't use. So here it is, my backpacking packing list, now updated for a 7 year old, a 3.5 year old and a 10 month old. A downloadable list can be found here:

Backpacking packing list
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How To Pack Like A Pro



Toiletries – share products

I followed some tips about decanting shampoos and other toiletries into reusable baby food pouches (labelled with a Sharpie), but actually these seemed to leak and didn’t really save much space compared with small or lightly packaged products. So since the first trip, probably the best tip I have is to ditch half of what you think you need, especially in terms of “men’s” or “women’s” or “children’s” products – they are the same thing so just take one. For example, 1x 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, 1x razor (a blade for mum and a blade for dad), 1x shower gel, 1x shaving cream etc. I am fairly extreme in that I don’t wear make up or “do my hair” so cosmetics aren’t something I feel I need to bring.


Sections for all

Packing cubes or cloth bags make life on the road so much easier. In our case, we section everyone's clothing off into their own drawstring bag.

This makes finding what we need a lot simpler as well as providing a clothing allowance in terms of space – if it doesn’t fit in the bag, you can’t bring it. One of the large ones each for clothing, and the smaller ones help to provide a bag for “toiletries”, “utilities” (duct tape, washing line etc) “toys” etc - we always have one for toothbrushes and deodorant separate from the main toiletries bag for quick stop overs of one night or overnight trains etc.


Clothing – think “7 days”

We have found it ideal to ruthlessly pack clothes for 7 days ONLY. We always plan to do washing every week, either hand wash in the hotel/hostel (a small pouch of washing detergent is always on the list!) - with an Air BnB or homestay it’s even easier. We also used plenty of launderettes (really straight forward in Asia – just drop off some clothes in the morning and collect in the afternoon).


For women and girls, I’d recommend dresses that can be scrunched up and won’t crease. I also have 2x pairs of “marzipants” (now called Kundalini Rebels) which are absolutely perfect for rainforests, hiking, beachwear – think thai/yoga/fishermens trousers, but with a large pocket for phones and valuables as well. We also have a pair each for the kids. They're quick dry, lights, fold up small and have a good sized pocket as well.


Swimming kit

I love the compactness of our “Little Bodhi” Microfibre Towels so much that I use these preferentially even doing swimming/beach trips at home. They dry so quickly, are really light weight and nice bright colours - we’ve even doubled them up as sheets for cot bedding in the past where we’ve had to.


We ALWAYS take our swimsuits in our hand luggage. This stems from my journey to Tanzania back from my pre-kid travel day where my bag never made it on the plane. I can live without most stuff but as a 36H bust, I NEED my own swimming costume. Trying to find something in the third world to fit my frame was NOT going to happen. We also dress our kids in bright coloured suits (not blue) so they’re easy to spot, and favour long sleeves and long legs for sun protections. A “rash vest” or two-part suit is also much preferred to a wetsuit all-in-one style, because we’ve done too many “mum I need a wee” trips, soaking wet to toilets - having to peel the entire suit off to get to the bottom half is no fun, not to mention what a pain it is to get back on!


Utilities

The full list of items can be found in the list above, but I’d highlight a number of more random items that we wouldn’t be without – food bag clips, bin liners for dirty washing, collapsible Tupperware, travel washing line and our clip on rechargeable fans – we always bring two, one specifically for the baby to clip on the carrier or push chair, and one to share for the rest of us. We've also found that an umbrella can be pretty handy for shade around things like ruins etc.



Car seats

This isn’t something we bothered with in the past, seemed unnecessary in Asia with TukTuks and taxis and maybe hiring a car for a week or two. But for our 2022 trip we realised it made sense to hire cars for larger portions of our adventure, maybe 6 weeks or so in total across 7 nations. The cost of hiring 3x car seats was astronomical, so we made a decision to get Mifold travel car seats for the 7 and 3 year olds, and hire just for the baby. Whereas most car seats work on the principle of moving the child up to a safe position relative to the seat belt, the Mifolds work by bringing the belt down to a safe position by clipping it in place. We have been so impressed by the Mifolds that we’ve started using them when using friends or grandparents cars at home! They fold up to a bigger fatter sunglasses case type size and weight. We got ours second hand for £50 for the pair, amazing.


Entertainment and toys

We could definitely stand to reduce this part, but I think this is only because we’ve never ended up in absolute nightmare weather. I have a feeling this is going to change on our next trip (Central America in hurricane season), so a rainy-day entertainment plan is vital.


Since homeschool we’ve become Twinkl members and with help from Nanny, made books for the 7 and 3 year olds out of worksheets specific to the destinations and culture we’re about to immerse ourselves in. “Buster Activity” make some fantastic bumper activity books for 7-9 year olds which are perfect for our son, and this Usborne travel activity book is amazing and we’ve bought repeated purchases as the next child becomes old enough! In general, toys are small and QUIET.


Baby’s items

Stroller or no stroller? We’ve heard lots from both sides on this one. We never leave home without it. Not only is it a requirement when you’re outnumbers kids-to-parents to ensure safety, but it doubles up as a highchair at meal times, and a sleeping-station at nap times. We bought a second hand Baby Zen Yoyo and never looked back – you can’t say no to the first pushchair that folds small enough for an overhead bin in the aeroplane cabin!


When travelling with a baby who is no longer breastfeeding, but too young for cows milk we’ve brought along a Milton sterilising tablet for each day and a few spare – this worked great over 4 months in SE Asia, we used water boiled in a our travel kettle and filled up a sink, popped them in and jobs a good’un. We always bring some kids cultery for the little ones and a small fold up waterproof bib in the day bag.


In terms of sleeping we recommend the Koo di pop up Travel Cot, which we've used on every trip across all three kids for 7 years at the time of writing - and, as usual, we got this second hand for £25! This gem is small/light (2 kgs), compact, easy to set up and put down, cosy and has an inbuilt mosquito net as well as a secondary blackout net. It zips all the way up and has a roof so it's really great for peace of mind and doubles as a play pen of sorts in desperate situations. You can see from the photo below, we also pack a roll mat mattress with a waterproof backing for a bit of extra comfort as it's very thin on the bottom.


Fitting it all in

So we are good to go with the list of stuff, how does it all come together? In backpack vs suitcase, it has to be backpack. We’re outnumbered children to parents and need all the hands! One 60l Bag for mum contains all 5 individual clothes bags in the main compartment. The bottom section holds all the towels, rain coats, The 64l for dad contains almost everything else! In addition, a Koo-di pop up travel cot/tent with inbuilt mosquito net is a staple of any trip for us. This we count as one of the kids checked luggage and also stuff a sheet and a bit of padding (mattress) in with it! Job done.



Do you have any comments or tips for packing like a pro? I love to hear from you so make sure to leave a comment below or get in touch via the comments section.



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