(Apologies for this longggggg post; only those parents currently scratching their heads over their suitcases might want to scroll all the way down…)
Packing tips: the headlines
The key lessons I’ve learned from 7 months on the road are:
- Only bring what you like. You’re going to be wearing the same clothes again and again. This is totally depressing if you don’t like them.
- Label everything remotely precious, even if it does smack of first-day-at-school, and check these labels haven’t worn down after a few months on the road. Bring labels and a permanent ink Sharpie pen with you.
- Avoid carrying said precious things in black. When you’re trying to get your stuff together in dim lighting while landing on an overnight flight and you’ve had to change seats twice to accommodate overtired kids, Things in Black will become invisible and will be left behind in seat pockets/down seats/under seats. Glasses cases, wallets, iPhones, cables: decorate them all in garish neon so they’re immediately recognisable. This also has the benefit of making them distinguishable from your host’s, if you happen to be staying with friends who have identical models of glasses cases, wallets, iPhones and cables already littering their living space. As evidence of this rule, we lost/left behind multiple versions of these aforementioned black objects, and yet we seem to have, despite my best efforts, returned home with a full complement of multicoloured Beano comics and garish plastic tat from McDonalds.
- Packing cubes are the bees-knees. Every time we moved on, I felt a moment of smugness as I slid my (bright orange) cube of clothes into my neatly arranged suitcase, while my husband worked around a bottomless container of screwed-up garments. Perhaps he didn’t care, but I took my wins where I could.
- Remember to bring: scissors & sellotape (for wrapping birthday presents), adaptors (for electrical plugs), head torches (for power cuts & camping), and a universal travel plug (for a sink).
All together we had 3 check-in bags (one mine, one Jonathan’s & one full of general junk), and quite a lot of hand luggage (plus a car seat, until we lost it in Peru). This luggage was made up of:
- 1 rucksack (carry-on)
- 1 hard suitcase (check-in)
- 1 document travel pouch: high on defensive RFID and anti-thief attributes, and agonisingly low on style.
- 1 rucksack (foldable) each – when we started this was packed away, but gradually filled up as we went along.
- 1 wheely carry-on bag each to hold their clothes, books and tat.
- Various bags, containing a disorganised mix of camera gear, bicycle gear, snorkelling gear, and a couple of pairs of pants. For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to delve any further. He can add his own insight at the bottom…
This amount of luggage, we have learnt from experience, is the absolute maximum you can squeeze into a small car with a family of four.
Packing lists: the basics
- T-shirts (half the amount you think you’ll need, but at least one quick-dry one)
- Shorts: ditto
- Leggings/tracksuit trousers: ditto
- Hoody & kagoul: for cooler/wetter days. I also bought a down jacket in Peru for cold desert nights.
- Hiking/gym gear: especially good boots & socks, & trekking poles
- Swimming gear: including rash vest & goggles. We took snorkels & flippers but they are super bulky and frankly we could have hired/bought them just when we needed.
- Sun hat & sunglasses (frequently lost/broken)
- Flip-flops and/or sandals
- Hiking boots
- Reef shoes
- Toiletries, including ear plugs
- Factor 50, child-friendly sun cream
- Sheet sleeping bags
- Travel towels
- Head torches (super useful. Ours were USB-chargeable and brilliant)
- (Plus the travel plug that we didn’t bring but should have)
- Kindles (we ended up with one for each of the kids after spending too much money at airport book shops)
- Travel battery & various charging cables
- Music player & headphones (child headphones were super useful on planes)
- Plug adaptors of various shapes (large cube ones didn’t always work with socket switches, so vary them)
Sundry family stuff
This was the stuff that had no particular owner, and which filled up our third check-in bag:
- 1 family first aid kit
- The things we used include: hand sanitiser, large amounts of plasters, some basic painkillers (paracetamol/ibuprofen/Calpol), antiseptic cream, insect repellent, Dioralyte, lots of Imodium & some verruca treatment).
- We also took: eyewash, water purification stuff (larger kit sent back home), sterile needles, antihistamine for bites/stings, elastic and crepe bandages, and threadworm tablets (regular visitor in England, delighted to find they didn’t come away with us).
- 3 plastic tupperware boxes for kitchen/utility stuff, including:
- washing up gloves, travel washing line (LOVED THIS!) & some pegs, a sachet of laundry powder (don’t get laundry liquid as it always leaks), salt, sugar & coffee sachets, teabags, a black pepper grinder (my indulgence), a tea towel, a washing-up sponge, some bag clips, usually some bits of food taken from one Airbnb to another (ie dry pasta, parmesan), a wine bottle stopper, and a Swiss Army knife including – KEY FEATURE – scissors. Not many of these things were vital, but they all made inconsistently-furnished Airbnbs a lot more manageable.
- 1 reel of parcel tape (useful when sending stuff back / fixing things) + some sellotape.
- 1 small Nerf gun, bought under duress and now confiscated.
- 1 deflated football that is so useless and still so bulky it makes me furious every time I see it.
Note from the husband
Kate’s right to be smug about her packing cubes. I had to burrow around in my case for ages trying to find stuff.
With respect to my cycling gear – I brought too much. I didn’t need pedals – whenever I rented a road bike I was always offered Shimano pedals for my SPD-SL shoes. However, I failed to bring a puncture repair outfit and small pump – both of these would have been very useful, not so much for the road bike hire, but for the numerous times I picked up a mountain bike, often as part of the accommodation, and which didn’t have any equipment. My multi tool and lights were very useful.
So now you know!