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Backpacking with Kids - To-Do List - What to do before you go

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

So you’re nearly there! You’re off soon, and we’ve got you covered in the next stage of organisation. We’ve now backpacked twenty nations with at least one kid (7 countries with all three!) and the preparation for our current/more recent trip (Central America 2022) was surprisingly zen. This was thanks so a refined to-do list, revised and perfected over many years, which I could casually check off the jobs as we approached D-day (departure day!). It is my pleasure to share this with you now!

This list does not deal with the planning of the actual trip itself (itineraries, hit-lists, accommodation search, tours, route planning, insurance, car hire/bus/train tickets, flights, travel money, budgets etc) – for that, please check out “Backpacking with Kids: Planning the Adventure”, coming soon. This one is what you need to do to physically leave your home in the run up to your adventure (as we know from past trips, the planning of the actual trip can be done on the road is necessary or if that’s you’re style)!

3 months before +

Ensure Your Passport is Valid

It might sound simple but there is nothing that dampens your pre-holiday excitement quite like the realisation that you can’t find your passport or that it’s out of date. This is vital! Some countries require that your passport is valid for a particular period from the date of arrival. For example, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and Turkey all require a minimum period of six months to be left on your passport from your date of entry. Being from the UK, we are aware that several very unfortunate families have been turned away at check in due to their passport expiry dates not complying with new post-Brexit EU rules on validity, so do all you can to check this.

Should you need a new passport, the waiting time states 10 weeks, however it might be 12 in this nightmare post-Brexit-post-Covid nation of ours. Do this at the earliest convenience.

Organise Your Visas

This can take a while and be surprisingly expensive, so best to do this as far in advance as you can. It took most of an evening to sort our USA ESTAs and at least one evening to figure out Visa requirements for China and Vietnam so don’t put this off!

Arrange Pet Care

We are lucky that we have a lodger who is in fact our oldest and bestest friend – he’s lived with us on and off for 15 years and treats our Labrador-German shepherd cross as his own, so thankfully we’re ok for dog care. The stick insects and fish we had to write a few notes for him, but he had it covered. We did have to pre-order a load of medication as he’s getting a bit old and has sore hips these days – so we booked a vet appointment, got a six month prescription and ordered it all online in advance (saving a lot of money too!)

Arrange House Sitting and Garden Care

This might not be required specifically for everyone, but even if I don’t need someone to actually watch my house or pets, I would still like the plants watered and lawn taken care of. We didn’t bother with this for 3-4 week adventures in the past but sadly lost some treasured orchids and chili plants. The worst we had was 4 months in South-East Asia in 2019 when we came back to thistles almost 2 meters tall in the garden. Our neighbours were displeased!! So by the time Central America 2022 rolled around, we hired a friends highly recommended gardener to cut the lawn once a month, and set up some reminders for our lodger to water the plants. Perhaps you have a friendly neighbour who you could owe a favour to? Add to this job, taking the garden waste out – it’s not great to come home after months of grass cuttings rotting in a bin – see if whoever takes care of this for you can leave the bin out, or again, ask a neighbour to drag it out to the road and back.

Consider Insurance

Travel insurance I deal with in “Backpacking with Kids: Planning the Adventure”. However, I did discover when I was doing my annual adjustments a few years ago that my home and contents insurance was deemed invalid if we left the property for more than 30 days! We decided not to do anything about this and take our chances, but if you’re more risk-averse than me you might want to call your provider to make arrangements for your property while you’re away.

Book Airport Transfers/Airport Parking

If you are planning on parking your car at the airport, make sure you book in advance to get the best price. We always use a third party provider such as Purple Parking at the major London airports for anything less than 2 weeks. Anything more than that and we use “Go Zero” – a low carbon taxi service. We’ve previously got from Reading, Berkshire to London Heathrow for £40 using their fleet of Teslas. More recently we’ve had to get the 7-seater model X during rush hour with a car seat or three which has been more like £150 for a return trip, but much better than parking there!


We keep militant vaccination records and are usually in the position where we know what has expired, what we need and what we don’t need. Sort this out much earlier than you think you need to as it regularly takes 6 weeks for an appointment, and then once you have it they are out of stock of something etc. Its been a nightmare for us the last few years.

Prepare the Schools/Nurseries

If you are taking your children out of school then you will want to speak to the head teacher, the local authority and your child’s teacher to get the lay of the land. Will you be paying a fine? Doing any home schooling? What curriculum will you be missing/teaching? Make sure any accounts are settled before you leave and make a plan for any work on the road. We use Twinkl a lot for world schooling!

Learn the Language & Culture

Speaking of learning, we always try to make sure we have the basics when visiting a new nation. This stems from several uphill battles in China during my early 20s! It's good to know if there are some very different table manners before you go! In terms of language, we use Duolingo as the greatest way to get the basics of a language, and it's free! Aside from hi, bye, please and thank you I think the numbers are the most important so you can haggle and understand pricing! We started with Spanish a year before our Central America trip and it made our lives SO MUCH easier!

1 month before

Postpone (or Cancel) Subscriptions and Services Not Required

This is a very wide ranging and personal list. We are super frugal and don’t have many direct debits or services in our household, however I expect that most people might want to cancel or postpone things such as:

  • Cleaners

  • Regular deliveries such as

    • Milk

    • Veg boxes

    • Newspapers (does anyone do this anymore?)

    • Cleaning (we use Smol for sustainable, plastic free, low carbon dish, clothes and surface washing agents)

  • Anything related to the TV – Cancelling Netflix, Disney, Sky etc might save you a good few quid if you’re away for a long time

  • Anything related to children

    • Magazines

    • Kids classes – music tuition, gym classes, swimming lessons etc. Ours let us have a half term of fees off when we went away

Collect Essential Documents (Everything Else That Isn’t Visas)

I like to upload a folder of important documents to whatever cloud drive and also keep the same folder directly on my USB/laptop offline, just in case. This might look like:

  • Driving permits

  • Boarding passes

  • Hotel confirmation

  • Banking Details including card numbers and contact information in the event you need to cancel cards

  • Essential passwords and login details of anything you might need while away

  • Photocopies:

    • Passports, passport photos, driving licences – we’ve required electronic copies of all of these in the past and safer just to have them on USB/online should you need them.

  • Emergency numbers

  • Embassy details – you don’t want to be fumbling about wondering where to do in the event of a real emergency

  • Any tickets to events or tours

  • Travel/Covid insurance policy numbers and insurance emergency contact/claim numbers

Packing Lists, Shopping Lists, Check/Attic Lists!

Once you have written your packing list, you’ll want to convert the missing bits into a shopping list. Shopping list is bound to have things like new sun cream, deet, airplane snacks, magazines etc. on it. We also usually end up with a third list which is a “check/attic list” which is getting stuff out of long-term storage and checking the condition/fit of certain things that we don’t use in everyday life – things like thermal layers, mac-in-a-sac coats etc. It’s a good idea to check these things a month before you leave so you can add to the shopping list in plenty of time.

Practice Pack!

Do a dry run of everything (and I do mean everything) and weigh your bag (you can buy luggage scales for a few quid or just weigh yourself with and without your bag on bathroom scales). This practice pack will help you to relax in the knowledge you physically have everything you need, and you won’t be one of those cretins standing at check-in with a bag that’s too heavy, trying to disperse some of the weight by putting it into your hand luggage or paying extra etc.

Arrange Your Finances

I discuss this in more detail regarding cash, cards and accounts in our “Backpacking with Kids: Planning the Adventure” blog. However, it’s good to include in a comprehensive to do list – decide how you’re getting money out, what cards you’ll be using and get it arranged. We always order foreign currency cash from the post office for special delivery at home – this service is 48 hours and costs around £6 – totally worth it if your local post office is a nightmare like ours is! We also then transfer everything out of our holiday savings fund into the account we are using for the trip (Monzo).

It can also be important to make time to contact your bank to let them know that you are going abroad. This is because any sudden overseas activity can cause them to become suspicious and without warning your card could just be stopped. Also be sure to take an emergency phone number to contact them, just in case (see “Collect Essential Documents”).

On the subject of money – our household finances often involves online transfers and standing orders to each other or our own separate piggy bank style bank accounts. For long term trips we often reduce the amounts down as we are no longer paying for petrol, kids classes, food or whatever it is. I’d recommend doing a cash-flow forecast and adjusting your transfers.

Plan Your Offline Entertainment

Check out our blog here to get your started (and finished!) with entertainment for you and your children during your adventures. Some preparation might be required such as buying/downloading games, apps, e-books, audiobooks, moving films to USB or adapters for offline watching etc. Plan it now – make a list.

1 week before

Make a Meal Plan

We hate food waste and will plan our last week of meals in the UK around what is left in the fridges. It’s worth considering a week in advance so you’re not buying anything you don’t need or running out of food.

Haircuts/Self Care

We tend to get everyone a haircut before a long-term trip. We also trim everyone’s nails and tend to any adhoc self-care bits and pieces!

Wrap Up Work

I have two jobs, I am self-employed half the week and PAYE employee half the week – both require a massive handover when I go away, but particularly my consultancy self-employment. I always spend a good chunk of an evening the week before we leave sending final invoices, check everyone else in my team has all they need etc, paying myself etc.

All the Washing

We somehow did FIVE loads of washing a two days before we left – we return just days before school returns in September as well as everything we needed for the trip.

This doesn’t just mean clothes – we also have washing up to do in terms of collapsible Tupperware, baby bottles/sippy cups/cutlery etc – this all needs to be done and dried with enough time to spare.

Pack – For Real This Time

Don’t do this the night before, the night before you want to go to bed early. You need all the patience, calm and zen you can muster for the airport. Do this two nights before and live in dirty clothes if you need to for the last day or two!

Keep a list alongside your packing list of things that cannot be packed in advance such as kids cuddly/comforters, toothbrushes, phone chargers etc – you’ll need this to avoid getting in a flap the morning you leave.

Clean Up Phones

I always need to wipe my phone of any apps I won’t require, download any updates, offline maps, photos etc. This is to guard against running out of storage space, lose or break my phone. Backing things up before you go away is a good move, not so important if you have icloud or similar. I also make sure I download the essential travel apps - Google Translate (and download the offline language, download any offline Google Maps, Agoda,, Air BnB etc.

Revisit the Schools/Nurseries

We have gone away in between phases a few times, leaving in the June and returning in September when our kids have then moved schools or year groups. If you plan to buy any thank you cards/gifts, say goodbyes, collect books/boots/coats etc, now is the time.

1 day before

Finalise Your Entertainment

I join Audible and Kindle the day before we go away on a monthly subscription or free trial. It makes sense not to do this too early, so I always plan to do this the day before. I usually have a list of what games, film, e-books, audiobooks I want, so all I have to do is join the platform and download them. (you’ll have done all your searching and coming up with the ideas/lists of what you want at the “1 month before” stage right?).

Charge All Batteries

For us this is battery packs (my husband and I have one each in our day bags to charge from in an emergency), phones, ipad, MP3 player and laptop.

Clean Out the Fridge

You don’t want to come home to food left in there for months.

Tidy Up

This includes the garden – stuff gets left out all the time in our garden so put those scooters and bikes away as well as the inside toys you don’t want to trip over when you’re coming home in the middle of the night.

On the Day

Secure your home

Double and triple check doors and windows. Put car keys somewhere safe. Ask a family member or a trusted neighbour to regularly check on the house and remove any mail from behind your front door. It may also be worth considering investing in light timers.

Remember that if you were to suffer a break-in while you were on holiday and you had not secured your home properly, your insurance could be deemed invalid – so taking the time to do this really is important.

Turn Off Plug Sockets

You don’t want to be paying for this stuff while you’re away. Big items include the bedside sockets for any chargers drawing a vampire load, all the TVs, games consoles, printers, PCs, speakers etc. All of it needs to be off!

Reset the Bedrooms

We always end up coming home at night so we make up the rooms as if it’s bedtime – make sure there are clean PJs out, it’s all tidy, bed is made etc so we can flop straight in after what is almost always a hellish trip home.

Take the Bins Out

If you decant into your external bin then ask one of your neighbours if they can take it to the roadside and back for you while you’re gone.

Grab the Last Bits

As I mentioned about there will certainly be a few bits you can’t pack in advance that are in use and you don’t have duplicates. One our last trip this included:

  • Car seats

  • iPad

  • Our batteries that were charging

  • Bottle, bottle teat, bottle lid etc

  • Babys sippy cup and lid

  • The last snacks that weren’t dry snack (such as baby-bel cheeses, raisins and grapes)

  • Phone chargers

  • PJs

  • Toothbrushes

  • Childrens cuddly toys/blankets/comforters

  • The babys sleeping/gro-bag

And that's it!

Have I forgotten anything? If so I'd love to hear from you via the comments or contact page.

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