People are frequently surprised to find out that we sold our house and took off traveling. They first ask how long and where we traveled and then they say, “With the kids??” As if we were going to leave them home for so long! And of course we wanted to do this trip while they are still with us, before they leave our home and start their own lives without us. What rewarding family times we have when we share these experiences together!
People are also surprised to hear that we lived out of backpacks. So we thought we would show you what our kids brought along in their backpacks for extensive travel. And maybe you can use this for a guide for when you make that crazy move and start your own travels!
A lot of people might be held back from traveling with kids because it is just too overwhelming or they think it is not possible because kids just need so much stuff. Not true! It is possible to travel with kids using only a backpack! We do only have boys, so of course this list will need to change a little if you have girls, but you can still get a basic idea. Our boys were 8, 13, and 17 when we headed out. In this post, I am just referencing things the two younger boys used, as the oldest was already using man sizes.
What stores are the best for travel things? We shopped at REI whenever we could. They only sell quality things that will last, and if they don’t last because that is all you have worn for a year, they have a one year return policy! So awesome! We have used this policy, and they really do take things back a year later. But surprisingly, even though we were really rough on all of our clothes, most things we bought from REI held up well. REI also offers free shipping if you spend over $50, so it’s alright if you don’t have a store close. And if you are a member, you get a percentage of your purchases back, and you get to be a part of cool sales.
We also bought some things from Amazon. They have a lot of little things you can’t find anywhere else.
Sierra Trading Post also had some great deals at times. They have a 90 day return policy, only if the item isn’t used, and you do have to pay a little to return things, so make sure the item will probably work before you buy.
We included some handy links in this post to make things easy to find!
One note about packing for kids long-term. Unfortunately, kids grow out of things as you have probably noticed, and it can be hard to find quality clothes on the road, depending on where you are headed. So, keep that in mind when shopping for what you need, and buy a little large when possible to give room to grow.
Ok! So what did our kids use to travel to multiple countries and climates for almost a year?
First, the backpack!
Travel packs for kids are hard to find. There are not a lot of world traveling kids out there, so there aren’t a lot of options. We found the Gregory Wander 50 for the two younger boys and we love them.
The packs can open from the top or from the middle, giving more access to their stuff. I would have loved if the middle opening was bigger, but I can’t complain. And there are some compartments to separate and organize things. I also love that there is an attached rain cover that doesn’t fall off and get lost!
We relied on packing cubes to stay organized. They come in many sizes, but we used the small ones by Dot&Dot. The larger ones in that brand would be great for bigger suitcases, but took up too much space in a backpack. These REI expandable packing cubes are also a great choice and we used some of these, too. You can stuff them full, zip them closed, and then keep zipping to compress them to make more space.
2-3 pairs of pants
Ezra lived in the Sahara Convertible Pants. They double as shorts if you want, so you get 2 for 1! REI sells girl and boy versions of these pants.
The Kuhl Renegade Boys Pants are Micah’s favorite. Perfect for hiking, climbing, lounging.
The North Face KZ Hike Pants are also an awesome option! Ezra just got these and loves them.
We only used the 32 Degree Shirts because we found a 2 pack of them at Costco for $7. They are lightweight and dry super quick and lasted the whole trip without problems or super stank. We didn’t take cotton shirts at all, and we had a really hard time finding options for kids. But there are more becoming available all the time, like this one! Just try to find t-shirts that are quick drying. Shirts used for sports or exercise would totally work, too.
1 lightweight button-up long sleeve
Great for mosquito-infested places or if they need to try to look a little nicer. We used REI button-ups. I can’t find them on their website anymore, but here is a similar travel shirt.
2 warm long-sleeve shirts (preferably a non-itchy merino wool)
These are awesome. Not too hot, not too cold, not too stinky, and you can get away with wearing merino wool multiple times without too much funk if you need to. A lot of people are afraid of wool clothes, thinking they are thick, hot, itchy and will shrink. Not so with merino wool! They are soft and you can even launder them normally, just on a cooler setting in the dryer.
1-2 pairs of base layer pants
Necessary for layering in colder weather!
Puffy packable jacket
Micah used the REI Stratocloud Jacket. It packed into it’s pocket and kept him warm.
We are also in love with the Patagonia Nano Puff jackets and will get those when the kids grow out of their current ones. These jackets are packable and cozy and warm without being bulky. And Patagonia guarantees their products FOR LIFE, even without a receipt. We have used this guarantee twice (not because our clothes wore out, but we bought 2 jackets used, and they still replaced them! One was too big, and one had a broken zipper when we bought it. They gave us 2 new jackets! I am a fan for life!)
There are a lot of rain jacket choices out there for kids- just make sure to bring one along! The more thin and packable, the better. Do not get a rain jacket that also has warm layers built into them- you can add these in if needed. Many times we needed rain jackets in warm weather and would have been sweltering if there was added warmth.
Optional, because we only brought quick-drying pants anyway, but they came in really handy when we were out in torrential rains. We didn’t have them for the adults, but I thought it was important for kids to stay dry.
This long tubular piece of cloth is really versatile! We got the merino wool ones of course, because we are such big fans. There are junior sizes, but unless you have babies or tiny kids, the adult size works just fine. Our youngest was 8 when we set out, and he said the junior felt too tight. These can be worn as a beanie or neck warmer in the cold, or you can get it wet on a blistering hot day and wear it on your head or neck to keep cool. Also a perfect eye mask to help block light in airports. We all used these ALL the time.
You might also want a beanie for you kids so they can wear the Buff around their neck and put a beanie on their heads.
Great for cold days in the mountains or hiking through Patagonia.
5 Pairs of underwear
No cotton! Merino Wool or bamboo are great choices, or try to get some kind of sporty, quick drying type.
5 pairs of socks
Smartwool and Darn Tough are our favorites! Both sell merino wool- anti-stank and temperature adjusting- important in a sock choice. Darn Tough because they guarantee their socks forever, and kids love to get holes in their socks, so they can keep getting new ones forever! Just don’t lose one to the dryer monster!
Even if your kids don’t like to wear them, they are needed for nasty showers. Bonus if you can find some with a strap that can double as water shoes for your adventures!
1 pair of shoes
Choose some that can be used for hiking, running and playing. We used trail runner shoes for their versatility. Get a good quality pair that will hold up.
Waterproof shoe bag
Needed to hold wet sandals or muddy shoes and to keep the nasty off of the rest of the clothes in the backpack.
Hat for the sun and for taming crazy hair
So important! Find one they love so they will wear it always and make sure you love it because it will be in all your pictures. It doesn’t have to be super compact, because they can wear it while traveling.
Long sleeve swim shirt
This is needed to avoid sunburns, as safe sunscreen is impossible to find in some countries, and the chemical sunscreens that are available are crazy expensive. The swim shirt can double as a mosquito-blocking long sleeve in jungle weather. Two for one!
Get ones that can also be worn as normal shorts for another two for one.
Most places we stayed did not provide towels at all, so we always needed our own. Travel towels are thin, foldable and quick-drying.
This one is self washing and dries super fast, but not soft at all. It is kind of scratchy-feeling at first, but maybe the exfoliation is good. Ha! But when the kids are super grimy, it is good to have something to scrub them off with.
Travel Sleep Liner
We debated bringing these but are so glad we did! A travel liner, also called a sleep sheet or a sleeping bag liner, is a thin sheet shaped like a sleeping bag. When the beds were questionable, or had obviously unwashed sheets, these saved us! They even cover creepy pillows. If we wanted to spend a lot of money, we might have gotten silk liners, supposed to be the best. But they are crazy expensive, so we went with cheap and were happy. We used these ones. Just make sure you get one that is thin enough to pack and not intended to add warmth, or you will be sad in hot weather.
Everyone does their own hand washing when we travel, so we make everyone carry their own. We use grocery bag-sized sacks that are washable. You could even use a packing cube that opens from the top so you can shove stuff in and stash it well while traveling.
Each kid carried their own emergency snacks to be used on adventures- hiking up volcanoes or for venturing deep into the jungle. Packable snacks saved the day many times, because healthy options just don’t exist everywhere, and we needed fuel for exploring. Some of our faves? Chomps and Wildway. Chomps are savory grass-fed meat sticks packed with only healthy ingredients and are a great mini-meal on the go. Plus you can shove them into every last speck of space in your backpack to get as many adventures out of them as you can. Wildway has some awesome granola, also made only with healthy fuels to keep the kids going. We used the granola as bribery to make it to the top of the mountain or to the end of the hike when little feet were getting tired.
For audiobooks, ebooks, school work, and taking pictures, but if this was left behind, it would not be such a bad thing. It was also useful for the older kids to keep in contact with friends and relatives back home.
Science, Travel, or Drawing Journal
We had the kids document animals they saw or places they visited in journals to try to keep a record of their trip. They love drawing, and it was something fun to do, so they both included a drawing journal.
Mechanical pencils with packs of lead or pencils and a sharpener.
1 small toy and games
A little Lego man was what Ezra took. they will find souvenirs along the way, so don’t fill their backpack with toys. A deck of cards was really helpful, as was The Aerobie! It is so lightweight and provided us with hours of fun with locals.
Headlamp with extra batteries
A water resistant one is good to have, along with a red light mode to keep bugs from being attracted to the light.
Toothpaste or Toothpowder
Tooth powder lasts a long time and is not a liquid at risk to be taken away by airport security. You can find toothpaste in other countries, of course, but we are kind of hippies and don’t use fluoride, so we use Redmond or make our own.
We make our own with essential oils and water and each kid carries their own in their day pack so they have it when they need it, which is often since hand-washing is sometimes not readily available. We use about 15 drops of the OnGuard oil in a little spray bottle. Works amazingly well!
We love REI’s collapsible bottles for shampoo- They take up hardly any space when empty. They are getting rid of them, sadly, but hopefully you can find them in-store before they are gone.
If your kid is old enough to need it.
*Toiletry items are readily available in every country we visited, but again- we use natural stuff so brought our own when we started and then bought only when we ran out.
We love the Sawyer Mini filters! They are so compact and kept us from getting water-borne sicknesses. Safe drinking water is not common in most places. They are so small, every person carried their own and easily filtered their own water.
Hydroflask water bottle
These are a little bit heavy, but they are so durable and keep hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold. We prefer not to drink out of plastic all the time, so these were important to us.
Platypus collapsible water bottle
These were packed on adventure days and thrown in the day packs when we would need more water than could fit in our Hydroflask bottles. When empty, they are flat and lightweight.
Photocopy of passport in backpack
This is in case we get separated. They knew to find an embassy if they were really lost.
List of important phone numbers
This is very important, as you don’t want the kids to lug around their big backpacks with everything to go exploring. Water, snacks, and rain jackets were always stashed in the daypacks. We used packable backpacks, but regretted it because they were just too flimsy and things would poke into their backs. Get a smaller sturdy one, and the kids can wear it on their front instead of packing it on travel days when their larger pack is on their backs.
Whistle in the daypack
They never needed this, but it would have been good to get our attention if needed in an emergency.
Completely unnecessary, but it might be fun for some older kids who don’t mind carrying a little extra. Micah carried one everywhere. A small lightweight hammock is a must for packing purposes. Make sure you have straps to go with it! Some come with straps and some don’t, so check and try it out before you go. ENO makes great hammocks, or here is one that is a little heavier, but cheaper.
And that’s it!
It was a bit difficult for us to figure out what to pack when we first headed out, because we had no list to reference. We ended up taking some unnecessary things and then just donated them along the way. Let us know if you have anything that your kids used that should be added to list or just couldn’t travel without! And of course, let us know if you have questions! We love to connect with other travelers, or future travelers and love to help you to venture out and explore the world!