family travel

Central America Trip Update #1: Hola from Guatemala!

The past two and a half weeks have been a blur of airplanes, refried beans, cobblestone streets, beautiful cathedrals…

…ancient Mayan pyramids, broken Spanish, sick kids, sweaty nights, tropical birdsong, swinging hammocks, freshly made tortillas, a lost (and now broken) baby bed, bumpy boat rides…

*Look ma, no seatbelts*

…volcano vistas, eight people crammed in a taxi, and rooster wake-up calls.

As I began writing this post, sitting in a little cafe in a lakeside town called Panajachel, an old sappy song came on that threw me back 13 years. Ryan and I sang it as a duet in our adopted Japanese church, our way of saying goodbye to beloved friends we’d made while living there our first year of marriage.

It’s been quite the journey for us, from that first year in Japan, where we struggled with culture shock, homesickness and newlywed struggles, while simultaneously falling in love with the people, the culture, and with travel itself.

Somehow these years have seen us through eight moves, multiple career changes, starting four businesses, having five children, and visiting over 40 countries together as a family, all the way to sitting here today in Guatemala.

*The island town of Flores, seen from the lake it sits in*

I’m tempted to say it feels like coming full circle, except it really just feels like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and there’s no turning back.

Our life is so vastly different than I ever dreamed it would be, and that’s good news.

I used to want to travel a safer road, avoid risk, play it safe. We’ve done anything but that, and I’m surprised at how good it’s been.

Speaking of good, that’s how today felt.

I woke early to get the kids ready, so I could walk them to the Spanish school they’re attending for two and a half weeks while we slow down and stay in one place.

After dropping them off, I indulged in a few moments down by Lago de Atitlan, watching it wake up under the watchful eyes of the towering volcanoes on either side.

Then I spent the morning working on my laptop at a favorite restaurant and coffee shop, before picking up the kids and hearing colorful tales about their day.

On our way home, we ducked into a small tienda to purchase glue, pencil sharpeners and cups, before buying tomatoes, cilantro and a big stack of freshly made tortillas for lunch (all told, we spent about $3.75). In the afternoon, Ryan and I sat outside discussing business details while the kids played in the yard of our rental house.  #happysigh

*The house we ultimately rented, after stressing out over it for several days.* 

But not every day feels like this.

Only two days before, I was a bit of an emotional wreck, trying desperately to find a rental house for our family, before we ran out of time in our temporary digs.

We’d had sick kids for a week, including a baby who brought chicken pox all the way from Canada (we discovered it four days into our trip). We’d barely had a decent night’s sleep in over a week and were feeling sick ourselves.

*Creatively (read: desperately) trying to dry out still-wet laundry in a tiny hotel room before we had to pack up to leave town.*

All our laundry was dirty (read: puked on) and the machine at our rental was broken, the kids were being whiny, our rental house was too small, and I’d gotten freaked out by a turbulent boat ride the night before.

As I said earlier on Instagram the other week, travel is a package deal.

Good and bad, easy and hard, magical and maddening. We have to accept it all.

But as Ryan was encouraging the kids on one of our very bad, no good, terrible days when we all had cruddy attitudes… we were made to do hard things. All of us (yes, you too).

*Having fun at the ruins… sort of. We’re all pretty exhausted in this picture (case in point: note the heavy bags under my eyes, LOL!), but trying hard to have a good attitude and see what we came to see.*

Our kids are tougher than they think. They can adjust their attitudes in hard situations, choose to care for one another, and work together as a team.

Ryan and I can pull it together and find strength we didn’t know we possessed, even on our hardest days. We can lean into one another, instead of withdrawing or blaming, and we can choose joy and contentment even in those times when we’re wondering why we left home in the first place.

And God is here with us, in all of these moments, sustaining us and growing us into (hopefully) better and more grace-filled people than we were before we left.

That’s the beauty, both of travel, and of choosing to live a life where we’re not afraid to push off from the safe harbor and embrace the risk that comes when we unfurl our sails.

*Tuk-tuks fly past us on the main street in Panajachel*

A quick overview of what we’ve done so far:

  • Spent a couple days exploring the charmingly crumbling colonial city of Antigua.
  • Flew up to the northern reaches of Guatemala, to Peten department, where we explored the isolated ruins of Uaxactun and the more popular but stunning ruins of Tikal, as well as spending a day on the petite island town of Flores.
  • Flew back to Guatemala City so we could catch a ride up to Lago de Atitlan, where we’ve been ever since. We’ve plunked ourselves down in the town of Panajachel where we’re spending a couple weeks doing our version of slow travel… trying to live a little more like the locals, studying the language, shopping at the markets, working and running our businesses, and just doing regular life with a different view. We’ve put the kids into a Spanish school 5 hours a day, and Ryan and I are both studying with a tutor an hour per day. On some afternoons and on the weekends, we’re doing our best to get out and see as much of the surrounding area and sites as we can.

*Incredible temples and ruins at the Mayan city of Tikal, in Northern Guatemala*

Where to next?

On April 1st, we head back to Guatemala City for the night, just in time to catch a flight early the next morning to Merida, Mexico. We’ll be attending the worldschooler’s summit there from April 3-8, and then take another week to do work, school and take day trips around the Yucatan peninsula.

From there we cross over into Belize on April 15th, then onward to Costa Rica and Nicaragua after that.

If you’d like to follow along with our travels, you can find me sharing regularly on Instagram.

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How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel: This is what we bring in our natural medicine & toiletry kit when we travel as a family. While backpacking with kids, we've found the key is to combine packing light while still preparing for the unexpected.

How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel

At long last, we come to the final details of our packing — what’s in our toiletry and medicine bags.

I’ve already shown you what we pack for babies & toddlers and for children. But even though our kids carry all their own clothing, shoes, toys, school books, etc. Ryan and I are the ones who carry all the other miscellaneous items for the rest of the family

Of course, we’ve already got to carry all our own clothing, shoes and personal items, plus a few extra items for baby. Which means our toiletry and medicine bags need to stay as light as possible, while still taking into account they’re for seven people.

In this post I’ll show you what’s in the following four bags:

  • Our medicine kit
  • Our toiletry bag
  • My personal makeup bag
  • My purse (which goes on all outings, planes, etc. with us)

I’ve laid out every single item in each of these bags, with numbers that correspond to a list of what it is and what we use it for.

One little caveat before I show you what’s inside:

I’m definitely on the crunchy side and have very strong preferences about the personal care products we use, as well as how we treat sickness and injuries. As a result, I probably carry more than I might otherwise, because it’s harder for me to get the particular items I want, especially for our medicine kit.

I’m a “just in case” person who always wants to be prepared for every scenario (this makes it HARD to become a light packer, but it goes to show if I can do it, anyone can). We’ve also got very young children with us, and so I pack with more of a better-safe-than-sorry mentality when it comes to them.

To get around this, I basically re-package everything and try to make it as compact as possible. I store different kinds of pills and capsules together (I write a key for myself on the bottle or lid in black sharpie), I put powders and capsules in ziploc baggies, and use teeny tiny essential oil vials. I find every possible way to save space. This lets me get away with a really varied medicine kit in a relatively small bag.

What we pack in our travel medicine kit:

How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel: This is what we bring in our natural medicine & toiletry kit when we travel as a family. While backpacking with kids, we've found the key is to combine packing light while still preparing for the unexpected.

  1. Herbal tinctures – We use this set of three herbal tinctures for malaria prevention, and if needed, to begin treatment until we can get medical help. There is one for prevention, initial treatment, and then follow-up treatment. We used these on our first big trip when we were in Africa and still have enough left for this trip. We’ve already begun taking one bottle of the prevention formula before we leave, since we’ll be heading almost immediately to the jungle.
  2. Activated charcoal – for stomach upsets, diarrhea, food poisoning, spider or other bug bites, etc.
  3. AfterSun Balm (Badger)
  4. Essential Oils – Plant Therapy KidSafe Tummy All Better, Terra Shield (bug repellent blend), and small travel size vials of frankincense, peppermint, a homemade citrus blend, eucalyptus, headache blend, On Guard, melaleauca (tea tree), and geranium bourbon (for ticks and other bugs).
  5. Powdered vitamin C – immune boost, or to do a parasite flush (as directed by my naturopath)
  6. Bentonite clay – cuts and scrapes, bug bites, stomach troubles, diarrhea, skin rashes or irritations, and a facial masque for mommy if she’s lucky.
  7. Zinc lozenges – for colds or sore throats
  8. Betaine HCL capsules – part of a protocol I’ve been doing with my naturopath to heal some gut issues – I take them before eating something that may be hard for me to digest
  9. Various bandaids
  10. One large non-stick gauze pad
  11. Emergen-C electrolyte drink packages – one of the main things I wished I’d had on our big trip was these electrolyte packages. I could make my own rehydration drink with ingredients from the store (salt, lemon, honey, mixed with water) but this is much more convenient, especially when someone gets sick on a travel day.
  12. Silver gel – we use this instead of antibiotic ointment (like polysporin). It works amazingly well, as silver is a natural antibiotic.
  13. After-Bug Balm Itch Relief stick (Badger)
  14. Thermometer and tweezers
  15. Temperature-stable probiotics (Bio Kult) – to help feel normal again and repopulate good gut bacteria after tummy upsets
  16. Children’s Advil – we’re of the mind that it’s better to let fevers run their course naturally, but we’ve also been in situations (while traveling) where a child had a really high fever and was getting dehydrated and I wished I’d had something like this as an emergency fallback. So now it makes the cut.

The blue bag is an Eagle Creek Pack-it-Sac in medium.

I’ll also note that you can buy many of the ingredients you need for natural remedies almost anywhere — onions, garlic, raw honey, ginger, lemons, etc, not to mention far more than this if you luck out and come across a health food or vitamin store.

What’s in my purse:

This is the everyday purse I carry to go shopping, when we go sight seeing, etc. It’s a travel safe bag, meant to be protective against theft.

 

How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel: This is what we bring in our natural medicine & toiletry kit when we travel as a family. While backpacking with kids, we've found the key is to combine packing light while still preparing for the unexpected.

  1. Sunglasses
  2. Spray sanitizer (for hands, surfaces, etc.) – I bought this one at Whole Foods but it’s sort of like this
  3. Lip balm
  4. Visine dry eye drops (traveling on planes really dries out my contact lenses)
  5. Emergency snacks for a grumpy baby. 🙂
  6. Travel hair brush (this opens up and the brush part flips out – I’ve never used one before but I love it!)
  7. Ginger capsules for motion sickness, but this also contains some pain relievers and activated charcoal – I put them all in the same small container to save space.
  8. My mini first aid kit – herbal salve, mini essential oil rollers (one has a headache remedy, the other is a pain reliever), mini vial of lavender oil, motion sickness essential oil blend (put a drop behind each ear – it doesn’t take it away but it does help prevent/take the edge off), Emergen-C packets, cough drops, bandaids.

What’s in our family toiletry kit:

How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel: This is what we bring in our natural medicine & toiletry kit when we travel as a family. While backpacking with kids, we've found the key is to combine packing light while still preparing for the unexpected.

  1. Clear Care contact solution – I’ve been using this brand for years and it’s what my very sensitive eyes prefer, so I lug full-size bottles of it when we travel.
  2. Deodorant (mine)
  3. Deodorant (Ryan)
  4. Face lotion (mine)
  5. Toothbrushes (all but mine)
  6. Razors and extra blades
  7. Comb
  8. Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen (Badger makes my favorite all-natural sunscreen – this is our first time trying the anti-bug version)
  9. Shampoo
  10. Conditioner
  11. Liquid castile soap – we use this instead of bringing a bar of soap. It’s also lathers up well to use as shaving cream, and can be used as dish soap or do house cleaning in a pinch.
  12. Facial cleanser (mine)
  13. Contact case (mine)
  14. Nail clippers and Q-tips
  15. Toothpaste
  16. Bug spray (Badger)

The black bag we use is no longer available, but it’s a pretty standard toiletry bag with a hook for hanging it up in small bathroom spaces.

Though we may one day when the kids are bigger, we don’t currently travel carry-on only. We usually check at least Ryan’s big bag (it’s over the size limit, for sure) and sometimes mine, and then bring our day packs on the plane.

Since we check his bag, we can travel with larger amounts of liquids, so long as he’s the one who keeps our toiletry bag. I keep the medicine bag instead, since it has much less liquid and could pass through security if needed.

What’s in my makeup bag:

 

How to Pack a Natural Medicine and Toiletry Kit for Family Travel: This is what we bring in our natural medicine & toiletry kit when we travel as a family. While backpacking with kids, we've found the key is to combine packing light while still preparing for the unexpected.

  1. Makeup – 4 eye shadow, 2 lip balm (one shiny), colored lip gloss, liquid foundation, 1 eye shadow brush
  2. Earrings – Just a few pairs that go with most outfits, but I’ll pick up more as souvenirs. They’re one of my favorite things to buy when we travel because they’re memorable and cheap, but so compact.
  3. Various hair elastics, clips, bobby pins
  4. Extra contact lenses (3 month supply)
  5. Non-toxic nail polish – I always keep my nails painted in sandal-wearing weather and it can be tricky to find non-toxic polish in other places.
  6. Another fold-up hair brush (this way I’ve got one in my makeup bag for mornings, but also one in my daypack for transit days)
  7. Diva Cup – I’m a recent adopter (mostly in preparation for this trip) but man oh man, why did I not try sooner? I’m a total convert. Having previously experienced the joys of getting my cycle on the road (and in developing countries no less), I cannot even tell you what a game changer this is. I also picked up some small alcohol wipe packets and stashed them in my purse and daypack (they’re super cheap at any pharmacy), so I have a way to disinfect the cup if I’m stuck in an area where I can’t access clean running water.
  8. My toothbrush (I like to keep it away from the minions, er, children – Ryan does the same) and tweezers
  9. My personal supplements – Deep Immune (a mix of herbs, mostly adaptogens, that my naturopath recommended to boost my immune function which has been low due to gut issues and stress), plus grass-fed organ complex capsules (basically a superfood complex – read more here).

Phew! You have now seen ALL the ins and outs of what we’re bringing to Central America for three months this spring.

And this is essentially what we’d pack for nearly any length of trip, because it’s just about right for what we can comfortably carry without feeling overloaded with stuff.

The good news is that even those with strong preferences can still usually find what you need on the road. I found it to be true over and over again on our year-long trip that I could get anything I really needed, so long as I stayed flexible, maintained a sense of humor and used a little ingenuity.

That’s what we bring in our natural medicine and toiletry kit for family travel! Any questions or comments? Just let me know!

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Children

This is a continuation of my “travel light” backpacking checklist post from last week (babies & toddlers), only this time I’m focusing on what I bring for my bigger kids.

Specifically, I’m going to show you the backpacks and travel wardrobes for my 7 year old daughter, Johanna, and my 9 year old son, Caden.

As I said last time, we follow a one bag rule — each member of the family gets one bag. That’s it. And as our kids know well by now, the bottom line is that “if you can carry it [insert: happily], you can bring it”.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

*Caden, 9, looking rather pleased with his couch-pillow perch during morning reading time.

How I choose what to pack for big kids

Of course, I’m still the person who selects their wardrobes, shoes, bags, etc. Since it’s important that they have the right mix of clothing to suit our travels, I oversee the entire process carefully rather than leaving it up to them.

This is how we choose what goes into their backpacks:

  1. I create a generic list of what I think they need (2 pants, 3 shorts, 1 bathing suit, 1 pair sandals, etc.)
  2. I sort through their current clothes and anything we have in storage (like hand-me-downs or clothing from an older sibling) especially if we’re in the opposite season. For example, right now they’ve got winter clothes in their rooms, but we’ll be traveling in hot climates, so I ransacked the house for any summer clothing I could find before making a list of items to be purchased.
  3. Once I’ve got a stack of climate-appropriate clothing for each kid, I sit down with them for about an hour and get them to try everything on. We also check for major stains or rips (I like to at least begin each trip with decent-looking clothes, even if they won’t stay that way). If there are any clothes either of us dislike, we don’t even bother with them. When you’ve got such a small wardrobe, it’s only worth bringing stuff you want to wear.
  4. Then I take the clothes that fit and are in good condition, and get them to show me their favorites and we start matching up various bottoms and tops to see what matches.
  5. And finally, I purchase new clothing to fill in any gaps we discover along the way.

I think it’s critical for big kids to be part of this process, and also feel like they’ve got some control and options. Just like you, they’ll be living day in and day out with whatever ends up in their backpack and it’s not unreasonable for them to want to like what they bring.

So I’ll select a handful of clothes that will work for a certain purpose, say pants or tee-shirts. I lay out the options I think will work best and then say “Ok, show me your four favorite shirts out of this pile” or “If you could only bring one pair of jeans, which ones would you choose?”.

Sometimes, I still have to call the shots and make a final decision, but I always walk through this process with my kids first so they not only feel respected, but happy and excited about what’s going in their pack. Happy kids makes for a far happier trip.

A “Travel Light” Backpacking List for Children:

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

What’s in my 9 year old son’s backpack:

Backpack: Osprey Jib – 35 liter (which has now been replaced with the Osprey Ace 38L)

1 pair jeans

1 pair zip-off pants (= pants + shorts)

3 pairs shorts (1 doubles as swim trunks)

4 tee shirts

1 long sleeved shirt

1 zip-up hoodie sweatshirt

1 rain jacket

1 pair pajama pants (technically they’re lightweight black layering bottoms that he loves to wear for playing ninja or just being cozy around the house – and if the night is chilly, he can also wear one of his tees to bed)

1 baseball cap

5 underwear

2 socks

Rugged closed-toe sandals

Flip flops – we don’t have these yet but may add them

Note: Normally I’d want him to have one short sleeved shirt with a collar, but he didn’t have any decent looking ones that fit, so I’ll keep my eye out for one before we leave or once we’re on the road and might replace one of his tees with it. It’s not essential, but I like each child to have one non-scrubby looking outfit they can wear for church, a nicer restaurant, etc.

Also note: All of these clothes match. They’re in varying shades of gray, black, navy and blue.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

What’s in my 7 year old daughter’s backpack:

Backpack: MEC Escapade 32 liter 

1 pair leggings

1 pair zip-off pants (=pants + shorts)

2 skirts

2 shorts (one is board shorts)

1 bathing suit

1 dress (which is from last summer and almost too small but she’s hoping to buy a pretty new sundress on the road and ditch this one)

1 zip-up sweatshirt (it’s actually more like a yoga jacket and is reversible so she has two color options)

1 rain jacket

5 tees + 1 layering tank

1 light nightgown

5 underwear

2 socks

Rugged closed-toe sandals

Flip flops

Sunhat

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

Special note: Not only do these clothes match (they’re all gray/denim/navy mixed with white, purple and pinks) BUT you should know this is my fashionista. I allowed one more tee and one more skirt/shorts than I think is necessary. And that was after convincing her to ditch an extra cardigan as well as her skinny jeans (I gave her the final option between bringing the jeans or the second skirt, and she chose the skirt, which I think was wise since she already has pants and leggings). Thankfully, her clothes are small and light so even if she has a tad more than she needs, her bag won’t be too heavy to carry. And more importantly to her, she’ll look good doing it. #alltheclothes #girlpacking

Other items they’ll bring in their backpacks:

  • Kindles for reading
  • Math curriculum – ripped out pages for Johanna (she uses Math-U-See), and Caden will have CDs and a CD-ROM drive (he uses Teaching Textbooks).
  • A doll or stuffed friend (if they want one)
  • A few small toys – Caden will probably bring Bionicles and/or Lego in a ziploc bag. Johanna may bring Lego, extra doll clothes, or extra art supplies (she hasn’t decided yet).
  • A notebook for writing/school assignments
  • A notebook for art
  • A small pencil case with school and art supplies (pencils, pencil crayons, erasers, small scissors, etc.)
  • A small mesh bag to put their dirty laundry in
  • Canadian stickers, pencils, pins, etc. I’m looking for something small and inexpensive that they can give as gifts to children they meet.

Other related posts:

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers 

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads – coming soon! 

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers

When we say our family follows the “one bag” rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Packing light is a necessity for us no matter what age our kids are.

I know, I know — with kids it can feel like you literally need to pack the kitchen sink to make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected, not to mention make transitions smooth and bedtime better and just keep your sanity in general.

The truth is you can get by with far less than you think you need. Less than all the packing checklists on the parenting websites tell you bring. Less than you’ll be very tempted to pack.

Why you can trust me on this whole “packing light” thing…

We really have run the gamut when it comes to traveling with babies and toddlers.

Kepler was only 11 months when we left for our one year, around-the-world trip and Johanna was just three. A year after we returned from that trip, we went back on the road when Kepler was two and a half and I was pregnant.

Since then we’ve taken Oliver on a domestic flight at two weeks old and done extensive road tripping when he was two months. All in all, we’ve done the crawling, nursing, napping baby thing and the whiny, slow-walking, mess-making toddler thing, not to mention the outfit-changing, tree-climbing, knee-hole-ripping big kid thing.

All while traveling. With one backpack per kid. It really is possible!

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers

Back when we were first preparing to travel, I searched for good advice on specifically what to pack for kids and I didn’t find much.

Sure, there are plenty of websites and articles that teach you what to bring for adults, but a whole lot less when it comes to backpacking or traveling light with babies and small children.

My goal in sharing the finer details is to give you what I wish I’d had. Someone willing to open their bags and show me the contents. Here we go!

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

What’s in my 5 year old’s backpack

1 pair zip-off pants (= pants + shorts)

1 pair light sweat pants (for cold days and double as pajama bottoms)

1 rain jacket

1 light fleece hoodie

1 long sleeve shirt

5 short sleeve shirts (1 button up, 3 tees, 1 rash guard)

3 shorts (1 doubles as swim trunks)

1 hat (actually, this time I’ve got two because I know how easily little kid hats get lost and in a hot, sunny climate, I don’t want to be without one)

Keen sandals

5 pairs underwear

2 socks – these can be worn under Keens if we either hit a really chilly day (not likely, but it’s always possible) OR if we’re hiking and the mosquitoes are bad

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

**Notice that everything generally matches. It’s all varying shades of navy, brighter blue, red and gray, plus neutral khaki-colored shorts. The idea is to make sure all the tops can be worn with all the bottoms. If you have maybe one top that doesn’t match one bottom, that’s probably ok, but more mis-matches than that and you might get frustrated when half their clothes are dirty and suddenly you can’t pull together a proper outfit.

***How I would alter this for multi-climate travel – I actually wouldn’t change much if we’d be encountering spring/fall weather as well. I might swap one tee for an extra long sleeve and bring a couple extra socks. If we’d be in chillier climates longer I’d consider adding running shoes, although we’ve found Keens with socks can transition very easily between changing climates. I might replace the light sweats with jeans and add in one pair of really light pajama pants for layering. But this is very similar to how we packed for around the world, in which we hit all the seasons. When we were in cold climates we layered up really well, and purchased inexpensive hats, gloves and scarves (and better shoes once when we hit cold weather for a 6 week stretch) and then we ditched all the extras when we moved on from that climate. Of course, packing for extended travel in a mostly cold climate would look quite different, but that will have to wait for another post.

Optional: 

  • If his bag has room and isn’t getting to heavy, I may add an extra t-shirt to put in rotation as a pajama shirt/extra play shirt
  • I could swap out jeans for the light sweat pants, and I probably would for a bigger kid and let them bring pajama pants/shorts. But I’m trying to keep his bag lighter because he’s young and he really likes cozy pants, so I think he’ll be happier with these and they fulfill two purposes.
  • Flip flops – we may pick up a cheap pair along the way

Other things we’ll bring for Kepler:

  1. A stuffed friend (like a Beanie Boo) or possibly a handful of the smaller stuffed keychain Beanie Boos (he is obsessed with these toys and always sleeps with one or nine), and maybe a few small animal figurines.
  2. A small zip-up bag with lego (no bigger than a quart sized ziploc bag)
  3. A small notebook and pencil case with pencils and crayons

 

It all has to fit into the front zip compartments of his backpack and this is about the limit of what it will hold comfortably. I’m not a huge fan of sticking items into the mesh pockets on the sides, because I know from experience they can get lost that way.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

What’s in my 20 month old’s backpack

1 pair rain splash pants (these are a little warmer than the cotton pants)

1 pair light cotton pants (I intentionally chose these because they have elastic ankles to help keep bugs out)

1 pair of two-piece light pajamas

1 light fleece zip-up sweater

1 rain jacket

2 onesies (double as tee shirts or pajamas on hot nights)

1 rash guard

3 tee shirts

1 long sleeve shirt

4 shorts (one is swim trunks)

1 Flip cloth diaper cover (to use for swimming under his shorts)

1 pair closed-toe sandals

1 pair leather Robeez (slip on shoes with elastic ankles)

2 hats (same reason as above – and one hat is more covering, specifically for at the beach)

2 pairs socks

A few notes on what I chose: 

  • He got 4 shorts instead of 3 because there’s no such thing as zip-off pants for babies. That said, if it feels like overkill, I’ll get rid of one pair as we go (I just find places I can donate used clothing, just like I would back home)
  • I’m tempted to bring an extra onesie because they’re so handy, but his pack is already getting full and I can probably buy one on the road if needed
  • And again, I coordinated all of the colors – he’s got gray, navy, brighter blue, white and a touch of green and orange. There is one black tee shirt in there that doesn’t look good with the one pair of navy shorts, but everything else matches so I think we’re good. And if I’m desperate, we’ll mix navy and black and be cool like that. 🙂

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

Other things we’ll bring for Oliver:

  1. A stuffed friend or baby doll of his choosing
  2. A small zip-up bag with animal figurines, his current toy of choice.
  3. One glass bottle for nap/night. (We have this one)
  4. A portable baby bed – we chose the Peapod Plus and it will go in the bottom of Ryan’s backpack.
  5. Possibly an Ergo baby carrier (we’re just making sure we can fit it, because it has to go in one of our adult bags which are already carrying a lot, but carriers are amazing for when we go for walks or hikes). We did bring the Ergo on our year long trip when we had a younger baby and used it a lot until he got closer to 2 years near the end of our trip, which is why I’m a bit hesitant about it. Oliver will be almost 2 by the time we get home. But if it fits, it’ll come. EDIT: I did some more research, because the Ergo just really wasn’t going to fit. A wonderful reader suggested the Ergo Stowaway, which folds up much smaller. From there, I went on a rabbit trail and ultimately found the even lighter and more compact Boba Air which is what we’ve chosen to use.
  6. A sturdy lightweight umbrella stroller – I never, ever travel without a stroller for a child under 3. They make life a million times easier. We like the Chicco Capri stroller a lot (we’re on our second one, after our first was stolen while traveling – big bummer).
  7. One large lightweight blanket (like a swaddling blanket) – we’ll use this whenever a hotel or rental house doesn’t have extra sheets or blankets or for when we’re on the plane or bus. I’ll keep it in my bag.
  8. Disposable diapers, purchased in small amounts as we go along. I may try to potty train him once we arrive in the warmer weather, but we’ll see. He’s still young.
  9. A plastic bib that folds up super small (I think it’s a old version of this inexpensive Bumkins bib)

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers: When we say our family follows the "one bag" rule, that includes babies and toddlers. Here's a list (and photos) of what we pack for our youngest travelers.

Who’s carrying Oliver’s things?

He is, sort of. We’ve got a very small, toddler-sized backpack for him (it’s a 12 L REI Sprig – now called the Tarn). He can wear it so long as I pack it a little light. When I tried putting all his gear in, he was pretty wobbly and did a turtle-on-its-back move.

All the “extras” (bed, bottle, blanket, stroller, etc.) will be carried by either Ryan or I. Oliver’s backpack will contain a lightened version of the wardrobe listed above. The extra items will go either in one of our backpacks, or possibly in one of our two oldest children’s packs, depending on who can take it best.

But realistically, Oliver will hardly wear his pack (at least until he walks more steadily – he’s competent but still a tad wobbly at times). Mostly his pack will be slung over the stroller handle or over my backpack’s handle (I have a convertible pack with wheels and retractable pull handle).

So why still bring a pack for him? Well, mine is just large enough that most airlines will probably make me check it, so I like to be able to bring his on as a carry-on for clothing changes as needed. I also like the separation of having each person’s things contained to one bag. And my new bag is a bit smaller than last time we travelled, so I can’t carry his clothes like I did on our round-the-world trip.

Plus, I’m a fan of training even small children to carry their own gear for short periods of time, so long as you’re not asking them to carry something that’s too much for their body size/ability.

So that’s what how we pack light for babies and toddlers! Up next… big kids!

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane!

Central America Trip Planning Update #1 (Or how I plan extended family travel)

Of all the questions I get about travel, one of the most common is “Where do I even begin? How do you plan a Big Trip?”

Well, fear not, friends. This is the start of a series where I’ll pull back the virtual curtain on my planning process, in all its messy and anticipatory glory.

Confession time: I am a research geek by nature. I cannot tell a lie. This stuff makes me giddy and keeps me up at night in a (mostly) good way. I truly find trip planning almost as exciting as the trip itself. And I understand that for others, the process may be more akin to poking a fork in your eye. I’m here to help.

Let me begin by saying that if you’re either:

a) somewhere in the planning stages of your own Big Trip

OR

b) considering one in the future, but freaked out about what the preparation entails

…then I’ve created something just for you…

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane! It’s called Planning Your Big Trip: A printable checklist & timeline for your next adventure.

It’s a free PDF that I’ll send you when you join our weekly newsletter list. (I promise… I am not a frequent emailer. No fear of being spammed.)

Basically, it walks you through the entire process of getting ready for a big trip. The stuff you do when you first make the decision. The important details in the middle. The last minute things you don’t want to forget. All put together in a timeline/checklist fashion to help make the process a bit more linear and sensible.

But I digress… on to how I’m actually planning this Big Trip of ours!

For those who are wondering “What trip?” The answer is: Our family is leaving on March 6th for 3 months in Central America. Guatemala, Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula), Belize, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. To say we are pumped would be an understatement.

As we prepare to head into the land of the Mayans, of coffee plantations, and towering volcanoes, and coral reef snorkeling, and nesting turtles, and cloud forests, and polishing up our rusty Spanish, here’s how we’re getting ready to go.

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane!

Step 1 – Learn all the things.

A slight exaggeration, I’ll admit. But as a researcher at heart, I feel like I can’t actually plan anything until I have a lay of the land.

By this I mean, yes, a literal lay of the land. I want to know the geography of the region and the countries. How far the major cities are from one another by plane and by land. Which areas are more remote and which are firmly entrenched on the tourist trail. Where the major sites we want to see are located, what type of topography we’ll find in different locations, and what types of weather we might encounter there.

But I also want to have a deeper understanding of the cultures we’re about to encounter. How do they function day to day. What other travelers have enjoyed doing there. What is the approximate cost of living and travel. Which areas are more or less safe. Which spots are overwhelmingly touristy or filled with party-loving, 20-something backpackers of questionable cleanliness.

How do I do it? Well, mostly I read. A lot.

The first stage of preparing for any trip for me begins with information gathering. I spend a lot of evenings googling things like “Best things to do in Nicaragua” or “best places to snorkel in Central America” or “Which Mayan ruins are worth visiting”.

This helps me start figuring out some of the well-known sites, and also hear a bit about the lesser known places where people left a piece of their heart. It also gives me an at-a-glance idea of what might be possible or interesting somewhere.

While I’m doing this, I’ll keep a running list of links to articles that were helpful (I categorize them by country) so I can return to them later. I’ll also jot down notes like Guatemala – Mayan ruins at Tikal. Belize – amazing snorkeling on the reef. That reminds me of things that looked good in a particular place when I get down to the nitty-gritty planning details.

I read travel blogs. I check out indie travel sites like Bootsnall. I will usually buy at least one guidebook of the area or countries we’ll be visiting. I go back to travel memoirs I’ve read before, to remind myself of where they went and what they did in a particular region.

Central_America_on_a_Shoestring_travel_guide_-_9th_edition_Large When it comes to guidebooks, I initially start with ones that cover a broad region, then as I narrow it down I’ll buy books for individual countries where we’ll stay the longest, or smaller guides for certain cities or regions. For this particular trip, I’ve only purchased the fat Central America on a Shoestring guide from Lonely Planet so far. I opt for Kindle version so I can bring them with me without the extra weight.

Now that we know for sure that we’ll spend our longest periods of time in Guatemala and Nicaragua, I may buy individual guidebooks just for those countries, but the more general book should be fine for everywhere else

Reading these guides helps to further cement in my mind what we might encounter, the vibe of different cities or regions, what transportation options will be available to us, etc.

Though I may not make any truly specific plans at this point, the information-gathering stage allows me to make informed decisions the rest of the way through planning, and for me personally, it’s crucial to feeling confident once we begin to firm things up (buy flights, book rentals, etc.).

creepy green snake

Step 2 – We decide what matters to us as a family.

Although family life does sometimes have to function as a benevolent dictatorship (“Because we said so, and when you’re an adult, you can bring as many stuffed animals as you like when you travel…”), we try as much as possible to approach our trips as a democratic republic. Sure, sometimes a autocratic ruling still slips through, but overall? We like to make our decisions together.

As we make preparations for an upcoming trip, we have a whole lot of conversations. About where we’re going, and what it’s like, and what we might do there. We involve our kids and ask what sounds intriguing to them and try to make a plan to hit up at least some of their must-dos.

I show them maps, books and photos of where we’ll be going. We search things on Google and look through the images to get a feel for the things we could see and do. Sometimes the kids surprise me with caring a whole lot more about something that I anticipated they would.

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane!

*On our first Big Trip four years ago, Abbie and I snorkeling in Australia*

For example, I remembered how magical it was to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but we’ve never been much of a beach family, and I didn’t think our kids would really care about doing a lot of beach stuff on this trip. Yet when I asked them about it and casually mentioned snorkeling at a reef as a possible option, their eyes all lit up like Christmas trees and they got super excited, and so we’ve planned some snorkel and beach time in three of the five countries we’ll be visiting.

As a couple, we spend a lot of time talking about the details, like how long we want to stay put in any one place. We make a wishlist of potential places to go, which ones are non-negotiable and which are up for discussion.

We talk about the speed of our travel, how much we want to actually sight see vs. simply living in a different place. We discuss our goals and values going into this trip and what activities would best match up with those. We discuss the needs of our kids, of us as a couple, and of each of us individually and try to take it all into account.

In other words, we hash through a lot of important conversations.

The more you can do this on the front-end, the less frustrated you’ll be in the midst of your trip when you suddenly realize how different your expectations are and you have to reconcile them once you’re already tired and jet-lagged and culture shocked (ask us how we know).

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane!

Step 3 –  I craft potential itineraries.

It starts to get fun (and real!) when you begin putting down dates and places on a piece of paper. (Cue planning geekiness coming out in full force.)

As I plan out itineraries, I play around by changing things like:

  • the order of countries
  • traveling overland vs. by plane
  • dates
  • including an extra place (or skipping something else)

I love using Google Maps to do this, but I also just write it out in my Notes app on my computer. Sometimes I sketch it out with paper and pen. Usually a combination of all of the above.

I compare the prices of one way flights with return flights, and I definitely look at different dates to see where the deals are to be found. I talk over the itinerary with Ryan as many times as he’ll allow me before his eyes begin to glaze over.

These are a few key things that really determine our itinerary decisions:

  • How long we can/want to travel for – this time 3 months felt just right.
  • The approximate dates/months/season we’d like to be gone for – we decided to leave in early March, just after a major project ends in late February and we didn’t want to be gone much more than 3 months, so we’ll come home the first week of June.
  • Which business events and deadlines will occur during that time – for us, we might look at which bundles we’ll be running and plan to be somewhere stationary during those times.
  • If there are any fixed-date events we’ll be attending on the road – this time we’re attending a worldschooling summit April 3-8 and then meeting up with friends from April 24-May 5, so those dates were cornerstones as we planned our itinerary.
  • We look at maps to see what might make sense as far as proximity, ease of travel, etc.

In my next update, I’ll share more about how I plan the dates and order of our trip as it pertains to flights and costs, and how I find the best deals for plane tickets. We try to hold as much flexibility as we can to allow for choosing the options that are cheapest.

Central American Trip Planning Update # 1 (or how I plan extended family travel): In this series, I share the details of how I researched & prepared for our family's 3 month trip to Central America. This is the first of several updates as I walk you through the full process from idea to getting on that plane!

Moving into decision-making mode

Based on all of the above, we got to a place in December where we felt ready to start making firm decisions – buying plane tickets, getting our gear, lining up just a couple initial accomodations, etc. Which means that Operation Gather-All-the-Information was a success!

Here’s what we knew for sure as we moved forward into our next step of trip planning:

When: Depart first week of March (whichever day was cheapest) and come home around the beginning of June (again, looking for the cheapest flight around that time).

How long: A total of 3 months, give or take.

Where: Guatemala (including Flores/Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan, and other places to be decided later), Mexico (Merida for worldschooling summit, then a few days snorkeling on the coast maybe near Majahual), Belize (a week on Caye Caulker), Costa Rica (fly into San Jose, 2 weeks with friends in Guanacaste, then 4-7 days traveling by land from Manuel Antonio up to the Nicaragua border, sight seeing along the way), and finally Nicaragua (San Juan del Sur, Isla Ometeppe, Granada, Leon, etc.).

What: We highly value staying put, renting a home in just one place, rather than always being on the go. So we’ve agreed to include three longer stays during our travels:

  1. 3 weeks in a small village on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
  2. 2 weeks in a house with friends in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
  3. 3 weeks in a to-be-determined town or city in Nicaragua (got suggestions for me?).

The rest of the time will still include a lot of 4-7 day stays in one place, with just a little bit of faster travel in between.

Activities we know we’d like to do: Spanish lessons in Guatemala and possibly Nicaragua, snorkeling, visit at least two Mayan ruin sites, several volcano day hikes, explore the rainforest and cloud forest, go to a famous market in the Guatemalan highlands, look for at least one volunteering opportunity, connect with other worldschooling families. And also? Run our businesses and homeschool our kids. That’s critical for us. This isn’t vacation. It’s “regular” life in a new and interesting place.

Phew! I apparently have a lot to say about how I plan extended family travel! Next time I’ll share what early decision-making mode looked like, what we settled on, how I researched it, etc.

Photo credits: Lake Atitlan, creepy green snake, rainforest bridge, Chitzen Itza ruins.
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