Central America Trip Planning Update #3 (buying gear for a family trip)
Buying gear for a family trip can be both fun and maddening.
Fun because it’s exciting to think how real your trip is becoming and how you’ll use these items in exotic places, and frankly because shopping and choosing shiny new items has a pleasant, anticipatory feeling.
Maddening because have you looked at the price of high quality outdoor and travel gear lately? Or the number of options there are to choose from? When you’re shopping for a family, your must-buy list can run long, the options are mind-boggling, and the cost adds up quickly.
But purchasing gear including luggage, clothing, footwear, and other travel necessities is a big part of the preparations and needs to happen sooner than later.
Because we’ve already traveled significantly, we’re fortunate to own a lot of our gear already. Here’s what we had going into this trip:
- Backpacks for five (possibly six – more on this below) of our seven family members
- Packing cubes (for organizing within our bags)
- Laundry bags (ours are a little smaller than these ones)
- A family toiletry bag
- Both a large and smaller bag that I use for my medicine kit depending on where we’re going and how much we need to bring (our large one is no longer available to purchase, but it’s similar to this and this)
- Rugged sandals, pretty sandals, and sturdy flip flops for myself
- Rain jackets for four family members
- Travel size toiletry squeeze bottles
- Travel size water purifier
- as well as plenty of summer clothing for various children in various sizes
Here’s the gear I still needed to buy as I started shopping:
- Rugged sandals for all five children and everyday shoes for Ryan
- Lightweight rain jackets for myself and two kids
- Bathing suits and shorts for several kids
- Convertible zip-off pants for four kids
- Portable baby bed (this is still up for discussion)
- Travel quick-dry towel
- A few summer clothing items for Ryan and I
- Travel underwear for us adults
- Medicine kit refills (herbs, essential oils, salve, charcoal, etc.)
- Backpack for myself and Johanna
Personally, I love to hear the details of WHAT other travelers purchase and WHY they purchase it.
So I thought I’d share more specifically what I’ve been buying, where I’m getting it from, and why I made these decisions:
Rugged sandals for all five children
This item was frustrating because the top quality ones like Keens, StrideRite, Merrells, etc. all cost at least $40 or up, unless you can find them on a great sale or in good used condition in the size/color you want. Particularly for us in Canada, they cost even more than this (more like $65 CAD) and snagging a deal is very rare.
The other reason it was frustrating is that we own a whole bunch of Keens that we’ve purchased new in the past or that I’ve scored at used stores, but when I brought them all out to try on the kids? Not a single pair fit any of the right children. Womp womp. I had practically every size other than the ones I actually needed.
I managed to find a pair of used Keens for Kepler, plus a pair of decent other-brand closed toe sandals for Oliver. But for the three big kids (one of whom actually wears ladies sizes now), this is where I ultimately bought their sandals.
Our decision to go with cheaper, non-name brand sandals was really determined by how fast the kids grow out of them (as evidenced by our pile of 8 pairs of unusable sandals sitting in our storage room) and the reality that what these sandals really needed to do was get us through 3 months. That’s it. By this summer, the kids feet could all have grown anyways, so if we get the full length of our trip and they’re still holding up, we’ll feel great about choosing the less expensive option.
Convertible zip-off pants for four kids
I know, not everyone’s a fan. In fact, I’ve read some travel forums or articles where people derisively share what a stupid purchase these pants are. We’re not going to win any fashion awards, but in my opinion, these pants are absolutely worth buying.
We took a pair for every family member on our one-year, round-the-world trip and I was so glad. These are very small and lightweight, dry quickly, and give each person a pair of both pants and shorts. They’re just the right weight for situations when you’re in a hot climate or you’ll be doing something physically strenuous but you want full-leg protection from the brush or from insects. If we were out all day and thought the weather might shift, we could start the kids in shorts and put their zip-on legs into our daypack (or vice versa, by starting them in pants and taking off the legs if they get hot).
Even Ryan and I wore them. I obviously forgo them when I’m in a beautiful European city and will throw on jeans or a skirt instead. But in so many places, they’re incredibly convenient.
I have a somewhat-stylish pair from Prana in gray, and the shorts are a bermuda short. These were perfect since even modest shorts can be culturally inappropriate in many places and these come almost to my knee. I’m bringing them again on this trip and I’m making sure that all our kids have a pair as well (except the 18 mth old – you can’t usually find them in sizes smaller than a 3 or 4).
Portable baby bed
I haven’t actually purchased this yet, but I’ve been researching it for weeks. Last time we traveled extensively with a one year old baby, night times were a hassle. We didn’t bring any sort of portable baby bed and at least half the time during our travels couldn’t access one. It’s easy to think, as someone who’s traveled in North America, that you can just get one from the hotel or house rental but in so many places, it simply isn’t so.
Because it made nighttime difficult and also my concern for our particularly curious and kamikaze 19 month old, I’ve feeling torn between purchasing something knowing it will be both expensive and another thing for us to lug around, or trying to spend the next five weeks training him to sleep on a mattress on the floor. To be honest, I’m leaning towards the baby bed.
These are the three I’m looking at. If you have experience with any of these, I’d love to know your thoughts!
- Phil and Ted’s
- Baby Bjorn
Travel quick-dry towel
We’ve never used one of these before, but here’s my rationale… particularly when in warmer climates (especially when beaches are involved) there are ample opportunities for swimming, and yet when you’re traveling you don’t always have easy access to beach towels.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter and it’s hot enough that we just swim, dry off in the sun, then throw clothes back on over our suits. But sometimes it gets chilly or a child really wants a towel or we avoid swimming altogether because we have no way to dry off. I found a towel set that comes with one massive beach-sized towel and then a smaller towel (slightly smaller than a child-sized bath towel), and both are quite thin and quick drying.
I’m not sure if I’ll regret it (and end up ditching it somewhere along the way) or be thrilled I brought it. Time will tell!
Travel underwear for us adults
While I stick with plain old, inexpensive cotton underwear for the kids, we do splurge on the pricey skivvies for ourselves. Our favorite brand is Ex Officio. It’s what we took on our big world trip. We each had four pairs and that was enough (though this time I’m bringing five).
What I love so much is they’re incredibly comfortable, stay pretty fresh even when you’re stuck wearing them during 36 hour travel marathons, and can be easily hand washed in a sink and dried overnight (but usually faster). This time I’m adding a couple MEC brand pairs to my own stash because I got them on clearance, so we’ll see how I like them.
*Taken at 10pm on my iPhone while comparing backpacks. This is the new Osprey Meridian. Yes, it sticks out pretty far. But… wheels. I’m still torn.*
Backpack for myself and Johanna
Both of these backpacks have caused some stress, to be honest. On our last two trips, I traveled with an Osprey Farpoint 70 L. It’s a fantastic bag. I don’t have any issues with it. But my detchable day backpack was starting to show a lot of wear and tear (I use it a TON as sort of a diaper/homeschool/work bag).
That was only part of the reason, though. I did figure out I could mis-match my bag and use Ryan’s better-condition black day pack zipped onto my still-fine khaki large backpack. Dorky, yes, but perfectly workable. The bigger reason I wanted to upgrade, though, was that during out three month Europe trip, Ryan upgraded to an Opsrey Meridian Wheeled Backpack 75L. Did you catch that? Wheeled. Be still my heart.
He chose it because I was pregnant at the time and he thought on days when my back was sore, he could wear my backpack and pull his and make it easier for us to get around (isn’t he thoughtful?). And it was a fabulous bag. I started coveting the wheeled aspect of his backpack, which can go between functioning like a suitcase and can also be thrown on as a backpack when needed. It also seemed practical since I could throw a child’s backpack over its handle and pull it all together those times when someone was tired and having a hard time.
So I researched it and bought myself a 60L Osprey Meridian. It’s 10 litres smaller than my last pack and the structure for the retractable handle takes a bit of space as well. But, it’s a wider and deeper bag, rather than long and narrower like the Farpoint. This makes it less comfortable to wear as a backpack (it throws off my center of balance more and I lean further forward to compensate) plus it has no hip strap (big minus). However, despite it’s small size, I feel like the shape actually makes it easier to pack and it can accomodate almost as much as my 70 L pack.
The verdict? I’m still deciding, test packing both bags and taking turns wearing them around in the evenings, with the tags still on my new Meridian. At the moment, I’m leaning towards keeping it, because I do love how it packs up, I love how it pulls (wheels!!!), and I think that being forced to pack lighter is good for me. I’ll let you know what I decide!
As for Johanna, she’s our 7 year old daughter and she’s really at an in-between place when it comes to backpacks. For reasons that elude me, the backpack industry seems to have decided that high quality children’s packs should jump from 18 L right up to 30-35 L, with zero options in between.
An 18 L is just too small for her age, and yet when I had her try her older sibling’s 35 L packs, it was clear this could result in a full-on meltdown if she had to carry it any distance on a day when it was too hot, she was hungry or thirsty, she was too tired, or it was the wrong phase of the moon (in other words, almost any time).
After literally weeks of frustrated searching, I did not come up with any highly reviewed bags in the 24-28 L range that I was looking for (I hardly found any at all). I came close to choosing the Deuter Fox 30 (it’s a 30 + 4 L pack), but finally chose the slightly cheaper but very similar MEC Escapade Youth Backpack (32 L). I still think it’s too big, so we’re going to pack it lightly and make sure the straps are very carefully adjusted to be as comfortable for her as possible.
Note to aspiring entrepreneurs: Please design me a 25 L rugged children’s travel backpack and I will forever sing your praises and send people in your direction.
Note to backpack manufacturers: You stink. I blame all emotional melt-downs during this trip solely on you. Please make in-between sized backpacks for in-between sized kids.
Other details we’re working on:
- Getting our house ready to list on Airbnb (update! Finished this a couple days ago!)
- Getting the kids ahead on some of their homeschool subjects to take pressure off while we’re traveling
- Upgrading some gadgets (Ryan was due for a new laptop, and mine needs a new case, plus both my phone and laptop need servicing)
- Final appointments with our naturopath, dentist, etc.
- Buying things like contacts (bought!), medicine kit supplies, etc.
- Laying out everyone’s exact wardrobes and pre-packing backpacks
Phew!! There you have it. An epic look into the process of buying gear for a family trip.
In my next update, I’ll start sharing detailed photos of what we’re actually packing for kids, and then another post about what the adults will bring.
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