So you’ve decided to hit the road with your kids, and now there are a host of things swimming through your brain. What should you bring? Should I bring two bathing suits? Will I need a dress shirt? What about shorts? There is a lot to take in, especially when bringing a child or a few. First things first, take a deep breath, detach yourself from your expectations, and read through our exhaustive list. Here are do’s and don’ts when backpacking with kids.
Do make sure you pack light.
The average person can handle roughly 10% of their body weight on their back – that goes for kids too. Children should carry their own packs, with their own belongings. It fosters independence, responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment. Keep in mind it is inevitable that as a parent you will be carrying your pack, a kids pack, and maybe even a kid more than occasionally. What’s the plan when your child is unable to go any further and you have to grab it all? Remember every ounce counts.
Do double, and triple-check your kid’s gear.
Children are the definition of stowaways and can manage to double any pack with rogue items. It goes without saying, that you should check your children’s pack before leaving, but you may want to triple check that pack – because they are crafty and you might inadvertently bring more than you bargained for.
Do make sure to bring the kids favourite toys.
Contrary to popular belief, toys should come. No matter the length of time you’re abroad, kids crave a sense of normalcy. Bringing along that favourite lovey or matchbox car will ensure that they are comfortable, and have a sense of home. This may mean a few extra ounces/grams, or worst yet, pounds/kilos, but it will be well worth it.
Do, pack books and art supplies.
If you’re vacationing or travelling it’s a good idea to bring some educational tools with you. They can be lightweight, yet provide a lot of diversity when on the road. You can use these activities for long waits, or to focus on a particular study. Also bring along a notebook for your children to journal out some of their favourite experiences from each day, or just draw pictures. This will help them remember over time and strengthen the memory for years to come. For an in-depth break down visit Home Educating While Abroad: a Beginner’s Guide.
Do bring a lean, well-curated medical bag.
You must bring a medical kit. It doesn’t have to contain a lot of items, but it should consist of things that are hard to get in a pinch. Make sure your kit includes antihistamines, bandages, a topical antibiotic, a self-adhesive bandage, and liquid stitches. These are the bare minimum, but carefully consider what you would require in various situations, and plan accordingly.
Do have a hard copy of vital records.
Some countries require original or apostilled documents, so it’s best to research before you arrive. In any event, you should keep a backup of all your documents, as well as your children’s. This should include copies of birth certificates, passports, and if you’re married, a copy of your marriage certificate. You may also want to consider a formal signed or notarized letter giving consent to travel with your children alone, should you or your partner get separated. Keep one copy on you, and put one in your email or online in a cloud drive.
Do bring empty bags.
In this case, the travelling stone will inevitably collect moss, and multi-use items are key. Make sure to bring a lightweight loose style bag to use as a personal item on the plane, or train. You will also be able to use this at grocery stores, or to and from the market. If you use a durable, weatherproof bag, you may also be able to use it in a pinch to secure your bag for the airport, or for last-minute additional checked luggage.
Do bring your gaffer tape
This is the secret weapon for any parent travelling with children, or travellers period. Gaffer tape is great for securing a place with sharp objects (coffee table, metal door, etc), and it can be used for crafts or to repair your gear from time to time. It does not leave any marks on furniture nor a sticky residue so it’s perfect for hotels or vacation rentals.
Do get the Google Translate app.
In a pinch, the Google Translate can be a lifesaver. It even has augmented reality which will show you images, packaging, street signs, subway signs, and menus in your preferred language. It’s definitely a must-have if you are lost in the world and having trouble communicating with people locally (which should be your first choice).
Don’t pack more than two of anything.
Anything you have can be washed and usually dried within a day. Baring in mind that you can pick up things here and there along the way, which will enable more flexibility. You won’t have to lug around a ton of stuff that you don’t really need, and will rarely use. Keep your packing minimal and streamlined, and you will have a much more fulfilling adventure.
Don’t bring too many toiletries.
Toiletries and extra shoes are hands down the biggest weight drain on any pack, especially when travelling with children. Nearly all things are available in all places. Unless you have a prescription item or something incredibly hard to find, then leave it at home or bring a tiny, tiny bit to give yourself a few days to purchase locally. It will probably be cheaper and less of a hassle to obtain at your destination.
Don’t forget bubble gum at the airport
The one thing that is top of the list is to bring gum or lollies for the little ones. Air pressure is tough on their tiny ears, and some really chewy gum can help loosen up their inner ear pressure. That said, kids really should cut back on their sugar intake a week or two before any flight to keep their immunity up for the dreaded plane germs.
Don’t bring car seats
Another polarising opinion, but most places have car seat rentals as well as different car seat laws from your home country, and in other cases, it might be cheaper to just buy one locally. Additionally, many locations have third-party rental companies that will meet you at the airport or your lodging with various baby gear, including car seats. Car seats are heavy, not guaranteed to fit in your vehicle, get broken by airlines, and are a huge pain to travel with. While safety comes first, comfort and ease come second, there are enough safe options out there that will surely work for your child age and weight restrictions, that bringing your own device is no longer mandatory.
Don’t rely on Google to book your trip
If at all possible hit the ground in your destination and then start booking longer-term accommodations, it will save you more than you can imagine. If you are faint of heart, and not game to take that risk, then you should leverage the local search engine for your destination. This is another great option to help ensure you get a great price on your hospitality, excursions, and flights.
Don’t believe the hype
Try to find message boards, and groups on social media of people who are living or travelling in your proposed travel destination, and learn what you can from them. We tend to hear a lot of filtered news and media around a specific area, yet it doesn’t always ring true when you have boots on the ground. Especially when it comes to children and travelling safely and comfortably, make sure you are connecting with people who are actually in the area with their little ones.
Don’t forget about climate
Some places are hot in the day and cold at night, make sure to prepare for a few layers to ensure that you are covered in case it snows in Georgia, or rains in Dubai. It happens, and it may put a damper on your trip if you or your kids aren’t equipped with the right clothing for the climate. Scarves, socks, and long underwear are all great staples that transition easily to various climates. They are light, work independently, and can really solve a lot of weather issues that might come up out there. Visit Holiday-Weather.com to check average temperatures and other climate information before you travel.
Don’t overthink it
Kids are nimble, adaptable, and easier to travel with than you would imagine. Although it sounds daunting and like a lot of work; remember it’s a fun adventure, and all that comes with it is a learning experience. Do your best to go with the flow, and remember there is nothing a scoop of gelato can’t fix. You’re building memories, and someday you will look back and laugh at the misadventures.
Travel is about seeing the world, connecting with kind humans, and enjoying the road less travelled. That’s why backpacking with kids is more about letting go of your expectations, rolling with the punches and experiencing something amazing that you and your children will never forget.