round the world

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!

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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 America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying flights)

I realized this weekend that we’re down to just over 6 weeks until we fly to Guatemala!! (Cue mild panic.)

This is a busy time right now, trying to do everything that needs to be done further in advance and giving myself enough of a window to not have any last minute panic.

Reality check: There will still be last minute panic. But I’d like to avoid it as much as is humanely possible.

Right now, some of the things that are on my list include:

  • Renewing passports for our two youngest boys. They’re technically still valid for our entire trip, but I’m feeling like it might be worth renewing them before we go since some countries prefer you to have a full 6 months left on your passport and they’ll only have about 3 months left.
  • Ordering the gear we still need. I’ve been shopping around online for about a month, comparing brands and prices, as well as checking out local thrift and consignment stores to see if I could save any money on pricey items before buying them new. I’ve also dug through all the bins in our storage room and through the kid’s current clothes and shoes so I know exactly what we have and need. But at this point, I’m feeling like it’s time to start placing orders for everything I haven’t found yet to allow for shipping (and potentially, return shipping) and just to know that we’ve got all our gear (bags, clothes, medicine supplies, etc.) at least a couple weeks in advance. We’re lucky in that we already own a good deal of what we need because of our previous travels, which is why I can leave this as long as I’ve left it. Back when I planned our first big trip, I started this gear shopping more like 3-4 months in advance.
  • Booking our first accomodations. We don’t book many of our accomodations before we leave. In fact, I book a whole lot of them at the last minute, a couple days before we show up somewhere. But for that first week or two on the road, I love having details tied up with a bow so there are less decisions to make while we’re adjusting to jet lag and life on the road.

What’s not on my list anymore? Buying flights.

Because we purchased them about two weeks ago. And that’s when it gets real, people. We’re really going!!!

It was a little later than usual for us. I prefer to buy more like 10-14 weeks in advance, and this time we were just around 8 weeks out of our first flight. Such is life.

In update #1, I walked through how I begin planning and developing an over-arching vision of what our trip will include. So let me catch you up on what we’ve done since that last update:

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

How we bought our flights

Since flights are probably your single biggest line in your travel budget (as they are in ours), let’s park here for a while.

We knew the most costly flights would be going down from Canada to get to Central America, and then the flight back home at the end. In between, we’ve got a few short hops between countries to cut down on travel time or to cover areas that might be particularly tiring or even unsafe to travel by land.

Our order of flights/countries is a bit odd this time around, because we had two very specific places we had to be at the beginning and then the end of April, right smack in the middle of our travels.

As a result, instead of doing a more logical loop or traveling in a linear fashion, we ended up deciding on this:

  1. Fly from Ottawa to Guatemala City
  2. Fly from Guatemala City to Merida, Mexico
  3. Travel overland to Belize
  4. Fly from Belize City to San Jose, Costa Rica
  5. Travel overland through Costa Rica and up into Nicaragua
  6. Fly home out of Managua, Nicaragua

 

We looked at all sorts of variations on this plan, going in and out of different countries or cities, comparing flying or going overland, etc. In the end, this was the plan that a) made the most sense for our goals and what we wanted to do in each country, and b) saved us the most money.

Some of the possibilities we considered that we didn’t choose in the end:

  1. Booking a return (rather than a one-way) between Ottawa and Guatemala City. This would have required us to travel overland from Nicaragua through El Salvador, to get back to Guatemala to fly home at the very end. It would have saved us about $100-$150 per person, BUT we would have spent some money on bus tickets (cheaper, but still) and it would have possibly been an exhausting way to finish up our time there. Ultimately, it didn’t feel worth the small savings.
  2. I spent a lot of time looking into the possibility of renting vehicles to do the driving ourselves but it’s complicated to bring a vehicle across international borders and most rental companies won’t allow for that, not to mention that many Central American roads are truly not safe to travel on as a non-local and not safe for anybody to travel on at night. It was just too complex, so we flushed that idea down the toilet.
  3. We considered more overland travel by bus between countries to avoid one or two of these flights, but the comfort, cleanliness and safety of the bus options seemed potentially sketchy and some of the distances would have been quite long. Not to mention it would eat up valuable days we’d rather spend enjoying a country, not trying to pass the time on a smelly bus with bored, restless kids (been there, done that). That said, we did keep two overland portions in our trip, when the distances were significantly shorter.
  4. We explored other possible cities to go in and out of – Cancun instead of Merida, Dangriga instead of Belize City, Liberia instead of San Jose. Ultimately, sticking with the main airport hubs in this region saved us a lot of money and since local transportation is cheap (buses or shuttle vans), it made sense to fly in or out of the larger airports. This isn’t always the case in every region, but in these countries, it seemed to be true pretty consistently.

How did I research flights? These are my favorite tools for comparing options and prices:

Google Flights

I’m quite partial to how they display all the prices for every possible date. You can clearly see which days are cheaper and more expensive, and if you’ve got flexibility in your dates, this makes it easy to maximize your flight money.

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

Kayak

Although they don’t show the incredible date/price spread that Google Flights offers, Kayak does still offer a better look at flexible dates and prices than most other sites. They also show a lot of “hacker fares” and sometimes include flights that other websites don’t include in their database.

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

Airtreks

Out of all these options, Airtreks is the only one that isn’t DIY. They actually provide a service for travelers like us, piecing together one-way, budget, international flights. More on this below.

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

Expedia

Though it’s not my favorite, I still usually run a comparison search on Expedia because every once in a while, it finds a flight that I didn’t see anywhere else. Out of all the bigger travel sites, this is the one I like best (though I couldn’t give you a particularly substantial reason why).

Central America Trip Planning Update #2 (and a detailed look at buying our flights): In this second trip planning update, I share my process for buying flights for our family and the other details I'm focusing on as we get ready to go!

It may seem strange to use multiple tools that seem similar, because sometimes the prices and flights are nearly identical.

But other times, I’ll find vastly different options and then I’m always glad I took the time to compare.

Ultimately, we bought our flights through Airtreks…

BUT I’m still glad I spent so much time previously researching it, pricing it out, comparing the options.

Because I was so well informed about which dates, airports, airlines, etc. were cheaper and better for us, by the time I presented the itinerary to Airtreks and had them run it through their system, I could make some really educated suggestions and have them use their more high-powered tools to search for exactly what I wanted.

In the end, their prices were pretty comparable to the prices I had found in my searches, but they do all of the actual booking work for me (which gets tedious for 7 people!), they include a great travel insurance package (which ultimately saves us money from having to buy insurance separately), and if anything changes with one of our flights or we run into any troubles, they’ve got our back and will help us sort out the issue.

In my next trip planning update…

I’ll share the gear, clothing and footwear I’ve been purchasing and why I chose it. I’ll talk more about securing those early accomodations.

I’ll also share an update on all the other things we’re working hard to take care of before leaving – what to do with our current house, what we’ll bring with us for work and homeschool, how we’re preparing to stay healthy on the road, and more.

Any questions for me? How do you like to source out your flights when you travel?

Miss our first trip planning update? Read it here.

Family World Travel for Less: How to Save Money on Travel Gear: It doesn't have to be so expensive to gear up your family for extended or adventurous travel. Here are 9 ways we've found to save money on travel gear.

Family World Travel for Less: How to Save Money on Travel Gear

I know, I know… walking down the aisles of an REI or any other travel or outdoor store doesn’t make figuring out how to save money on travel gear feel like a particularly realistic goal.

But honestly, it doesn’t have to be so ludicrously expensive to gear up your family with the right bags, clothing, shoes, or anything else for travel. You just need to plan in advance, do your research and get a little creative.

Here are 9 ways we’ve found to save money on travel gear for our trips:

Buy used

Particularly for those big ticket items, it always pays to search your local Craiglist, Kijiji, etc. before looking at buying new.

Now, you may want to go to a store and try bags and brands on for size and preference first, so you have a better idea of what you’re looking for. But then by all means, see if you can’t find something used that will work.

Family World Travel for Less: How to Save Money on Travel Gear: It doesn't have to be so expensive to gear up your family for extended or adventurous travel. Here are 9 ways we've found to save money on travel gear.

It’s also definitely worth looking for items like kids shoes and coats, since kids often use these items lightly before growing out of them like bad weeds, and many parents would like to recoup some of what they paid for them.

I recently needed waterproof pants and warm layering sport tops for our kid’s Forest School program. Not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars to buy it all new, I actually sourced it all from thrift stores and a big church rummage sale. It wasn’t all gorgeous or what I would have chosen new, but it was all practical and useable and perfect for our needs.

I’ve also found barely-used Keen sandals for the kiddos from garage sales and thrift stores. Plus, I’ve scored excellent fleeces, hoodies, high-quality rain/shell jackets (like Columbia and North Face), and shoes/sandals from consignment stores as well. In Canada, I love the store Once Upon a Child. (Does anyone in the USA have a consignment store to recommend?)

Check your local store for special deal days

Most REIs have a “garage sale” day where they sell previously opened/returned goods at clearance prices (note: you need to go early to get the good stuff). At the larger REI locations, you may also find a “bargain basement” set up with their cheapest clearance items. I once scored an excellent jacket this way.

The Canadian store Mountain Equipment Coop has an online gear swap that’s pretty sweet, and sometimes local stores offer special clearance sales once or twice a year or gear swap events hosted at their location.

Family World Travel for Less: How to Save Money on Travel Gear: It doesn't have to be so expensive to gear up your family for extended or adventurous travel. Here are 9 ways we've found to save money on travel gear.

Try REI Garage

Previously REI Outlet, the REI online store now has something called REI Garage which carries discounted gear, often up to 30-50% off.

For example, the 18 L REI Tarn backpack for kids is $39.95 from REI.com (in the newest colors/updated style) but REI Garage has last year’s model in two different colors for $26.73. Trust me – you don’t need the latest colors. Take the cheaper one. (Note: I highlighted both of these size bags in yesterday’s video.)

(Although I will say that I was super excited looking at the new kids backpacks- there seem to be more great options every year, so much more than when we started traveling four years ago!)

Also, be sure to get an REI membership and earn your dividends as you make purchases, because they become credit to put towards gear, and you can use this while shopping online.

Always shop around

When you find a brand or item you like, always search the web and compare on places like Amazon to see if you can find a better price. I don’t always, but a few times I have and the savings have been worth it.

Consider brand sponsorship

Do you already have a blog or large platform of some sort? Look into sponsorship with companies you’d like to work with.

While we never used this option for our travels because we actually wanted to do it ourselves with no obligations, I’ve done a lot of brand sponsorships previously with my old blog and it was fantastic (and something we may consider for future travels).

Family World Travel for Less: How to Save Money on Travel Gear: It doesn't have to be so expensive to gear up your family for extended or adventurous travel. Here are 9 ways we've found to save money on travel gear.

Spend your big bucks wisely

It pays to be choosy about what’s worth buying expensive and what isn’t.

Our “expensive” list: Backpacks (though we still look for deals), jackets, primary pair of shoes (like Keen sandals or hiking shoes), one warm layering fleece or sweater when we travel in cold weather, one pair zip-off pants per kid, bottoms for adults (since we don’t grow and are likely to be able to use pants or a skirt for several years/trips), adult underwear, liquid containers for toiletries/medicine (ie. ain’t nobody got time for spills).

Our “who cares” list: The bulk of our daily clothes (especially for the kids), a second pair of shoes (like runners or flip flops), kid underwear and socks (the only exception is high quality socks for cold weather), laundry bags or zip pouches for inside our bags (holding clothes or dry items).

Take one down, pass it along

In our storage room in the basement, I’m forever saving all the best clothes and shoes from each child to pass down to the next. When you’ve got five kids, you save everything that’s in good shape.

We’ve been able to easily pass waterproof pants, expensive layering pieces, jackets, gender-neutral backpacks, and shoes down as our small kids grow into the big kid’s hand-me-downs.

You never know when a deal will surprise you

I’ve learned to always be on the lookout. Now that I know the types of gear we like to have for our travels, when I see something that would work, I grab it.

Whether it’s too-big sandals at a thrift store or last Christmas when I stumbled on beautiful warm layering pants on clearance that would work for our girls, I just snatch them up and set them aside.

Once you know that you’re either a) planning a trip with a general idea of when you’ll go or b) you know travel is becoming a regular part of your family’s lifestyle, it just makes sense to keep your eyes open and stock up when the price is right.

It’s not exactly saving money, but…

One last way to afford gear is not by saving money on it, but rather by getting rid of stuff so you can afford it.

Before our year long, round-the-world trip, we did a whole lot of purging before packing up our belongings. As part of that process, we held a garage sale and sold some larger items on Craigslist.

We then put the earnings towards purchasing our gear and truly, every little bit helped.

31 Days of Family World Travel... for Less. Do you wish you could travel internationally, especially as a family, but worry that it's too expensive? This series is for you.

This post is part of the series Family World Travel for Less:

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