travel

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads

So you wanna see the inside of our bags? That’s what this post is all about – a light backpacking checklist to show you exactly what a mom and dad (as opposed to just a single couple) bring while traveling with kids.

This is our third time backpacking for an extended period of time and so we’re getting a little better, but I think we’ve also gotten less strict.

On our first Big Trip we were newbie backpackers and keen to follow all the exact recommended guidelines we’d read about – bring only one pair of shoes, no jeans (or one at very most), 2-3 bottoms maximum (and definitely zip-off pants), etc.

Though we still do our best to travel light these days, we’ve not quite so militant and we’ve discovered it’s nice to allow ourselves little indulgences, even if it means a slightly fuller pack. For example:

  • Ryan wants two pairs of jeans. I tried to talk him down to one and his bottom line was since they’re his only pants (and he really doesn’t like travel pants), he’d like two to switch between, even if they’re bulky. End of story. Edited: Once he did a final pack of his bag, he decided to ditch the extra pair. 
  • I allowed myself three pairs of shoes. On our first trip, I had my Keens and thin flip flops only. This time I added a pair of cute sandals, because I got tired of feeling a little on the frumpy/sporty side when we weren’t doing something active.
  • I could probably ditch my black skort and be fine, but I really like the idea of using it as board shorts or something waterproof I can wear at the beach when I don’t want to wear swim bottoms. Same with two pairs of shorts – I could live with just one.
  • I’m ridiculous when it comes to a travel medicine kit. I’m very naturally-minded and knowledgable about home remedies, and bringing a good variety of them with me makes me feel better about 3 months in developing countries with kids, where we’ll be doing a whole lot of outdoor activities. I packed it as carefully and compactly as I could but still… it’s large.
  • We’re bringing our favorite new coffee (mushroom coffee – have you heard of it? We love it!). We decided to splurge and get a really large supply to last us most of the trip. Overkill? Totally. And we’re not 100% sure if we can fit it all (of course, we’ll use it up as we go along, so our loads will lighten). But sometimes you just want to bring things you enjoy.

Aside from those examples, we DO like to keep it light. When you’re trying to keep track of five children and their packs (including a baby in a stroller) packing light really is the only way to go.

Our goal is that when its required of us to haul all our stuff from Point A to Point B, we can literally thrown on one backpack per person, hold some little people’s hands and push a stroller, and voila. We’re portable.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

The backpacks we use

You’ve already seen what we pack for our kids and the backpacks we’ve chosen for them here:

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Children 

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers

As for us, I carry the Osprey Meridian 22″ 60 L pack with a detachable daypack. Ryan carries the same thing, but his is the 28″ 75 L version (the daypacks are the same). Mine is technically carry on size (with the daypack off), although Ryan’s is large enough to need to be checked.

Both are wheeled convertible backpacks, meaning they have a retractable handle and wheels and can be pulled like a suitcase, but they also have backpack straps that you can unzip and pull out when you need to wear it instead of pull it. The daypacks snap right onto the front of the pack, so the whole thing becomes a single unit. It’s a clever bag!

So let me walk you through exactly what’s in each of our bags for our upcoming 3 month backpacking trip in Central America.

A travel light backpacking checklist for moms & dads:

What’s in Stephanie’s pack… 

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Starting at the top left and working my way clockwise:

  1. Our travel medicine kit (it’s just a waterproof packing bag filled up with stuff I chose)
  2. Black packing cube – my tops and bathing suit
  3. 3 pairs of shoes
  4. Money “belt” (goes around my neck – I rarely use it but I’ll wear it for things like long bus rides)
  5. Undergarments
  6. Jacket and sweater (note: I’ve since figured out how to compress my sweater more and fit it into the packing cube with my tops – hurray!)
  7. Turquoise packing cube – my bottoms
  8. Purple travel towels
  9. Scrubba
  10. Baby blanket
  11. Pink wet bag
  12. Red make-up bag

*Don’t worry, there are more details about all these items below. I just wanted to give you an overview. 

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Dress:

  • Dark gray knee-length dress (MEC) – It’s worth noting that I can’t nurse in this dress, and if I wasn’t down to nursing only in the morning and at night, I’d have chosen something I could nurse in. This is a travel dress, in a quick-dry fabric, and I love that it’s casual enough to wear for everything (including hiking or the beach) but the color makes it classy enough for dressing up if needed.

Bottoms:

  • Black maxi skirt (Reitmans) – I opted for a maxi skirt instead of a shorter one because my dress is already knee-length, and women dress quite conservatively in certain parts of Central America, so I thought I’d be more comfortable with this and it’s pretty cool and airy in hot weather.
  • Linen shorts (Athleta)
  • Black sport capris  (Athleta) – these are a perfect everyday bottom for almost any activity.
  • Blue/white batik ankle pants (Athleta) – These were a surprising purchase for me and together with the linen shorts, they’re replacing my convertible travel pants (pants that turn into shorts). We’ll see if I’m glad I went this route or not, but these are made with very light, strong, moisture-wicking fabric, and yet they look cute and classy. These pants plus the shorts fold up to about the same size as my convertible pants, so I felt like it was a fair switch.
  • Dark blue skinny jeans – my most lightweight pair for faster drying (Reitmans, again – clearly, I’ve officially become a middle-aged mom)). Edit: Since writing this (literally, before I even published it) I started questioning this decision and I’m currently leaning towards bringing modest jean shorts instead – I have enough longer items for when I need to be modest in more traditional towns/cities so again, the modesty issue. But we’re hitting mostly hot weather and I think I’ll genuinely wear my shorts more than my jeans. EDIT AGAIN: I ditched both the jeans AND the jean shorts. Instead, I’ll save the space for buying a modest sun dress on the road and I’ll take my chances on being chilly a few times, and will have to just wear my one pair of ankle-length pants whenever the bugs get bad. This had been bugging me for weeks, but I actually feel great about this new decision. See a longer explanation below in the comments. 
  • Black sports skort (I got this on clearance somewhere last summer) – I’ll use these like board shorts for the beach and for exercising. Edit: I found a pair of black sport shorts that pack up a bit smaller and that I prefer to the skort, because they’re comfier to use as sleeping shorts as well. Yay!

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Tops:

  • 1 long-sleeve button up shirt (Eddie Bauer – mine looks similar to this but in more of a light-blue, almost-chambray sort of color) – this is light enough to use for mosquito protection in hot weather, or I can roll up the sleeves and wear it unbuttoned, like a cardigan or beach cover.
  • 3 short sleeved shirts (this, this and this)
  • 2 sleeveless tops (one black – Eddie Bauer clearance from last summer, one purple – sold out)

  A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Outerwear:

  • Dark purple yoga jacket (Lulu Lemon four years ago) – I bought this for our original round-the-world trip and it still looks amazing! It’s discontinued but somewhat similar to this. It’s warm and classier than most yoga jackets. EDIT: I found a new yoga jacket on clearance that folds up smaller (the main downfall of this purple one) but still feels warm and cozy, so I’ve swapped it. Same basic function, but less packing space = awesome. 
  • Black rain jacket (MEC) – Lightweight and folds up small. I chose black because it looks classy enough for Europe or any big city, but it’s rugged enough for hiking in the jungle.

Footwear:

  • Keen’s Newport H2 sandals (Amazon) – I wore these on our big world trip and they’re still going strong (although this may be their last trip). I use them for all athletic activities – hiking, running, ruin climbing, etc.
  • Chambray & leather sandals (TOMS – discontinued) – I bought these last summer for a trip to Italy and I adore them. They’re so comfortable and just dressy enough for when I don’t want to wear Keen’s or flip flops.
  • Flip flops – I bought these four years ago while traveling in Israel, at a night market. They’re Havaianas and still holding up. I like that they’re thin, so they pack well.

Other:

  • 2 layering tanks – one white (fitted, thin straps), one coral (less fitted, thick straps)
  • 1 dorky summer hat – I bought this somewhere on our world trip when I was desperate and have kept it because I don’t have any other foldable summer hats. If I find something more stylish, I’ll replace it. If not, at least I’ll be cool in one way, if not the other.
  • 6 underwear – mostly ExOfficio and two pairs from MEC 
  • 2 socks – one SmartWool (REI – but mine are gray), one cheap cotton
  • 2 regular bras (nude & black), 1 sports bra (white)
  • Tankini swimsuit (Costco)
  • A thin scarf – for shoulder coverage in churches, to dress up an outfit, as a light shawl in the evenings, etc.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

And because I know women care about this sort of thing, here’s a look at the clothes and some of the outfits they make.

Most tops can go with most bottoms, so I really do have a lot of options! (On a side note, I joked with Ryan that I was going to make him try on all his travel clothes so I could take photos of his outfits and he’s such a good sport that he was like “Well, ok” until he realized I was kidding. Do most men actually care about their “outfits”? I’m voting no.)

Other items in my big bag:

  • Baby blanket – Just a large, light blanket, like a swaddling blanket but big enough for a toddler
  • Our medicine kit
  • Wet bag with drawstring – for dirty laundry or wet bathing suits
  • Two small travel towels (Amazon)
  • Scrubba (Amazon) – super amazing, foldable bag for washing clothes on the road. This seriously saves my hands when I have to do a lot of hand washing. Plus it does a better job.
  • Eyeglasses
  • Make-up bag (also has hair elastics, extra contact lenses, small bag of earrings and a couple necklaces, a couple supplements I take daily, etc. Basically just my personal stuff.)
  • Coffee and tea. I like my beverages.

What’s in my daypack:

  • Kindle (Amazon)
  • Pencil case for homeschool (pencils, erasers, pens, a sharpener)
  • Homeschool books/blank paper – The blank paper is because we’ve found the kids often want plain paper for drawing and creating. We buy a large package of paper when we stop somewhere for a few weeks, then I carry a small amount in my daypack once we’re more actively on the road again. This time I’m trying to keep all our our schooling supplies to my Kindle, a pencil case, the iPad/laptops, as well as four duotang folders. I made one per big kid by ripping out the relevant pages of their math, language arts, spelling, etc. The three oldest will carry their own as well as a trip journal (where they’ll do daily journaling and writing/drawing assignments), and I’ll carry the 5 year old’s since his backpack isn’t large enough to fit it along with his clothes.
  • MacBook Pro 13 inch laptop
  • Diapers and wipes for Oliver (he’s 20 months old)
  • Trip details mini Moleskine notebook – this is where I write all our important details for flights, accomodations, addresses & phone numbers, important phrases in another language, etc. I learned to do this after having a hotel’s name and address stored on my email… and my laptop had died during our flight… and I couldn’t get WiFi anyways to retrieve it from my email… and it was 11:30pm in Buenos Aires and we were driving around lost in a taxi. Now I write it all down and keep it with me at all times.
  • Travel purse – I’ll pull this out when I just need a small bag for going out. It’s a Pacsafe CitySafe 50 Shoulder Bag. The idea is that it’s slash-proof, lockable, and RFIDsafe (to prevent card scanning through your purse). I like it in theory, but the strap is uncomfortable. For now, I’m using it until I eventually get something better. Within this purse I keep:
    • sunglasses
    • wallet/cash/cards/passport (when it’s not locked in a safe somewhere)
    • lip balm and eye drops
    • mini first-aid kit (a couple essential oils, band-aids, herbal salve, motion sickness meds, electrolyte powder, etc.)
    • iPhone 
  • Photocopies of important documents (passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, travel insurance info – Ryan will also keep a copy of all these)
  • Foldable plastic baby bib 
  • Reusable shopping bag 
  • Bose earphones (Amazon)

What’s in Ryan’s pack…

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Top left, going clockwise:

  1. Family toiletry kit (the entire family shares this bag) – Ryan carries this since it has a couple containers larger than the 3 oz. carry on size and his bag is too large for carry on.
  2. Shirts
  3. Supplements (B vitamins and magnesium spray in an old CleanWell bottle)
  4. Contact lenses
  5. Shoes
  6. Jackets
  7. Socks/underwear
  8. Pants and shorts
  9. KidCo Peapod Plus portable baby bed
  10. Missing from photo… more of that mushroom coffee, LOL!
  11. Also missing: Boba Air Baby Carrier (it came in the mail the day after we took photos)

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Bottoms:

  • 2 pairs dark blue jeans – Edit: he took one pair out, so now it’s just one pair of jeans. 
  • 1 swim shorts 
  • 2 casual shorts (MEC) – one cotton, one quick-dry
  • 1 jean man-pri’s (I lovingly bug him by calling these his version of capris, but they’re basically extra long jean shorts)

Tops:

  • 6 tee shirts -most are some sort of athletic or moisture-wicking fabric – Ryan loves him some LuluLemon tees and he’s got at least one from MEC as well. Edit: when doing a final pack, he removed one, so he’s down to 5. 
  • 1 short-sleeved polo shirt – I wanted him to bring one shirt with a collar in case we run into a situation where we’re invited somewhere that a tee shirt just wouldn’t be appropriate
  • 1 sleeveless shirt (LuLuLemon, I think) – moisture-wicking, good for running or exercising
  • 1 long sleeve layering shirt (LuluLemon – moisture-wicking)
  • 1 long sleeve lightweight pull-over sweater (LuluLemon – are you seeing a trend? This is Ryan’s favorite brand for everyday. He hardly bought any of this specifically for traveling. I think it’s discontinued but it’s this style.)

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads: In this post we show and tell our very detailed "travel light" backpacking checklist for moms and dads (because it's different than with kids in the mix).

Outerwear:

  • Casual zip-up windbreaker (H&M) – This is more stylish and comfy than it is travel-savvy. He just likes wearing it.
  • Black shell jacket (REI – Arcteryx – similar to this but I think his is discontinued) – Lightweight and folds up small. It’s more of a shell than a rain jacket, but it technically serves both purposes. Edit: When doing a final pack, he removed this to save space and kept only the windbreaker. Personally, I’d have done it the other way around, and kept the coat with the hood. But he cares less about getting his head wet, so he’s happy with his decision. 

Footwear:

  • Merrell Moab Waterproof Hiking Shoe (Amazon) Note: He’s decided not to bring these and just bring his Skechers. He really doesn’t love these shoes (he has finicky arches and doesn’t like many shoes) and these are clunky and he figures realistically, he’ll hardly use them. If he truly needs another pair, he’ll buy some while we’re there. And he hates sandals, so there’s that.
  • Skechers Go Walk 3 Charge Walking Shoe (Amazon) – Ryan wears these shoes day in and day out, including indoors while walking on his treadmill desk. He wears them so much I think he’s on pair number four. He just keeps buying them again, so I guess that he means he likes them.

Other:

  • 5 underwear (Ex Officio)
  • 10 socks (cotton ankle socks, H&M) – the man likes his socks. At one point during our year of traveling, we were going through our bag and he counted (and I kid you not) almost 20 pairs he had accumulated!

Other items in Ryan’s big bag:

  • PeaPod Plus portable baby bed (Amazon) – This is going on the bottom of Ryan’s bag. It’s a little bulkier than we were hoping but can be squished down a bit and only adds 3.5 lbs.
  • Our family toiletry bag
  • Boba Air Baby Carrier (Amazon)
  • Supplements – B vitamins, magnesium, etc.
  • Extra boxes of contact lenses 

What’s in Ryan’s daypack:

  • Kindle (Amazon)
  • MacBook Pro 13 inch laptop (but lucky Ryan has a new one that’s way thinner than my old one)
  • iPad Pro and pencil – he uses the app Duet and connects it with a cord to his laptop as a portable second monitor
  • Packing cube with cords, international plug adapters, etc. Basically everything for charging our various gadgets other than our large laptop charging cord.
  • Diapers for Oliver
  • Sunglasses
  • wallet/cash/cards/passport (when it’s not locked in a safe somewhere)
  • iPhone 
  • Photocopies of important documents (passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, travel insurance info – Ryan will also keep a copy of all these)
  • Laptop charging cord 
  • Bose noise reduction earphones (Amazon)
  • Eyeglasses
  • Productivity journal (Intelligent Design)

One item that’s missing from these photos are travel locks. We always lock our bags with these TSA-approved travel locks.

It’s funny how this list actually feels long to me when I write it out, even though it’s really a small amount of stuff. One of our favorite things about traveling is how light we feel living out of just backpacks, and how each time we return we wonder why we need so much stuff.

Got questions about backpacking with kids, or capsules wardrobes, or choosing what to bring? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

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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! 

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Central America Trip Planning Update #3 (buying gear for a family trip)

Buying gear for a family trip can be both fun and maddening.

Fun because it’s exciting to think how real your trip is becoming and how you’ll use these items in exotic places, and frankly because shopping and choosing shiny new items has a pleasant, anticipatory feeling.

Maddening because have you looked at the price of high quality outdoor and travel gear lately? Or the number of options there are to choose from? When you’re shopping for a family, your must-buy list can run long, the options are mind-boggling, and the cost adds up quickly.

But purchasing gear including luggage, clothing, footwear, and other travel necessities is a big part of the preparations and needs to happen sooner than later.

Because we’ve already traveled significantly, we’re fortunate to own a lot of our gear already. Here’s what we had going into this trip:

  • Backpacks for five (possibly six – more on this below) of our seven family members
  • Packing cubes (for organizing within our bags)
  • Laundry bags (ours are a little smaller than these ones)
  • A family toiletry bag
  • Both a large and smaller bag that I use for my medicine kit depending on where we’re going and how much we need to bring (our large one is no longer available to purchase, but it’s similar to this and this)
  • Rugged sandals, pretty sandals, and sturdy flip flops for myself
  • Rain jackets for four family members
  • Travel size toiletry squeeze bottles
  • Travel size water purifier
  • as well as plenty of summer clothing for various children in various sizes

Here’s the gear I still needed to buy as I started shopping:

  • Rugged sandals for all five children and everyday shoes for Ryan
  • Lightweight rain jackets for myself and two kids
  • Bathing suits and shorts for several kids
  • Convertible zip-off pants for four kids
  • Portable baby bed (this is still up for discussion)
  • Travel quick-dry towel
  • A few summer clothing items for Ryan and I
  • Travel underwear for us adults
  • Medicine kit refills (herbs, essential oils, salve, charcoal, etc.)
  • Backpack for myself and Johanna

Personally, I love to hear the details of WHAT other travelers purchase and WHY they purchase it.

So I thought I’d share more specifically what I’ve been buying, where I’m getting it from, and why I made these decisions:

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Rugged sandals for all five children

This item was frustrating because the top quality ones like Keens, StrideRite, Merrells, etc. all cost at least $40 or up, unless you can find them on a great sale or in good used condition in the size/color you want. Particularly for us in Canada, they cost even more than this (more like $65 CAD) and snagging a deal is very rare.

The other reason it was frustrating is that we own a whole bunch of Keens that we’ve purchased new in the past or that I’ve scored at used stores, but when I brought them all out to try on the kids? Not a single pair fit any of the right children. Womp womp. I had practically every size other than the ones I actually needed.

I managed to find a pair of used Keens for Kepler, plus a pair of decent other-brand closed toe sandals for Oliver. But for the three big kids (one of whom actually wears ladies sizes now), this is where I ultimately bought their sandals.

Our decision to go with cheaper, non-name brand sandals was really determined by how fast the kids grow out of them (as evidenced by our pile of 8 pairs of unusable sandals sitting in our storage room) and the reality that what these sandals really needed to do was get us through 3 months. That’s it. By this summer, the kids feet could all have grown anyways, so if we get the full length of our trip and they’re still holding up, we’ll feel great about choosing the less expensive option.

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Convertible zip-off pants for four kids 

I know, not everyone’s a fan. In fact, I’ve read some travel forums or articles where people derisively share what a stupid purchase these pants are. We’re not going to win any fashion awards, but in my opinion, these pants are absolutely worth buying.

We took a pair for every family member on our one-year, round-the-world trip and I was so glad. These are very small and lightweight, dry quickly, and give each person a pair of both pants and shorts. They’re just the right weight for situations when you’re in a hot climate or you’ll be doing something physically strenuous but you want full-leg protection from the brush or from insects. If we were out all day and thought the weather might shift, we could start the kids in shorts and put their zip-on legs into our daypack (or vice versa, by starting them in pants and taking off the legs if they get hot).

Even Ryan and I wore them. I obviously forgo them when I’m in a beautiful European city and will throw on jeans or a skirt instead. But in so many places, they’re incredibly convenient.

I have a somewhat-stylish pair from Prana in gray, and the shorts are a bermuda short. These were perfect since even modest shorts can be culturally inappropriate in many places and these come almost to my knee. I’m bringing them again on this trip and I’m making sure that all our kids have a pair as well (except the 18 mth old – you can’t usually find them in sizes smaller than a 3 or 4).

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Portable baby bed

I haven’t actually purchased this yet, but I’ve been researching it for weeks. Last time we traveled extensively with a one year old baby, night times were a hassle. We didn’t bring any sort of portable baby bed and at least half the time during our travels couldn’t access one. It’s easy to think, as someone who’s traveled in North America, that you can just get one from the hotel or house rental but in so many places, it simply isn’t so.

Because it made nighttime difficult and also my concern for our particularly curious and kamikaze 19 month old, I’ve feeling torn between purchasing something knowing it will be both expensive and another thing for us to lug around, or trying to spend the next five weeks training him to sleep on a mattress on the floor. To be honest, I’m leaning towards the baby bed.

These are the three I’m looking at. If you have experience with any of these, I’d love to know your thoughts!

  • Phil and Ted’s
  • Baby Bjorn
  • Peapod

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Travel quick-dry towel

We’ve never used one of these before, but here’s my rationale… particularly when in warmer climates (especially when beaches are involved) there are ample opportunities for swimming, and yet when you’re traveling you don’t always have easy access to beach towels.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter and it’s hot enough that we just swim, dry off in the sun, then throw clothes back on over our suits. But sometimes it gets chilly or a child really wants a towel or we avoid swimming altogether because we have no way to dry off. I found a towel set that comes with one massive beach-sized towel and then a smaller towel (slightly smaller than a child-sized bath towel), and both are quite thin and quick drying.

I’m not sure if I’ll regret it (and end up ditching it somewhere along the way) or be thrilled I brought it. Time will tell!

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

Travel underwear for us adults

While I stick with plain old, inexpensive cotton underwear for the kids, we do splurge on the pricey skivvies for ourselves. Our favorite brand is Ex Officio. It’s what we took on our big world trip. We each had four pairs and that was enough (though this time I’m bringing five).

What I love so much is they’re incredibly comfortable, stay pretty fresh even when you’re stuck wearing them during 36 hour travel marathons, and can be easily hand washed in a sink and dried overnight (but usually faster). This time I’m adding a couple MEC brand pairs to my own stash because I got them on clearance, so we’ll see how I like them.

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

*Taken at 10pm on my iPhone while comparing backpacks. This is the new Osprey Meridian. Yes, it sticks out pretty far. But… wheels. I’m still torn.*

Backpack for myself and Johanna

Both of these backpacks have caused some stress, to be honest. On our last two trips, I traveled with an Osprey Farpoint 70 L. It’s a fantastic bag. I don’t have any issues with it. But my detchable day backpack was starting to show a lot of wear and tear (I use it a TON as sort of a diaper/homeschool/work bag).

That was only part of the reason, though. I did figure out I could mis-match my bag and use Ryan’s better-condition black day pack zipped onto my still-fine khaki large backpack. Dorky, yes, but perfectly workable. The bigger reason I wanted to upgrade, though, was that during out three month Europe trip, Ryan upgraded to an Opsrey Meridian Wheeled Backpack 75L. Did you catch that? Wheeled. Be still my heart.

He chose it because I was pregnant at the time and he thought on days when my back was sore, he could wear my backpack and pull his and make it easier for us to get around (isn’t he thoughtful?). And it was a fabulous bag. I started coveting the wheeled aspect of his backpack, which can go between functioning like a suitcase and can also be thrown on as a backpack when needed. It also seemed practical since I could throw a child’s backpack over its handle and pull it all together those times when someone was tired and having a hard time.

So I researched it and bought myself a 60L Osprey Meridian. It’s 10 litres smaller than my last pack and the structure for the retractable handle takes a bit of space as well. But, it’s a wider and deeper bag, rather than long and narrower like the Farpoint. This makes it less comfortable to wear as a backpack (it throws off my center of balance more and I lean further forward to compensate) plus it has no hip strap (big minus). However, despite it’s small size, I feel like the shape actually makes it easier to pack and it can accomodate almost as much as my 70 L pack.

The verdict? I’m still deciding, test packing both bags and taking turns wearing them around in the evenings, with the tags still on my new Meridian. At the moment, I’m leaning towards keeping it, because I do love how it packs up, I love how it pulls (wheels!!!), and I think that being forced to pack lighter is good for me. I’ll let you know what I decide!

Central America Trip Planning Update #3: As we prepare for our three month trip to Central America, I share my process of buying gear for a family trip and the rationale behind my purchases.

As for Johanna, she’s our 7 year old daughter and she’s really at an in-between place when it comes to backpacks. For reasons that elude me, the backpack industry seems to have decided that high quality children’s packs should jump from 18 L right up to 30-35 L, with zero options in between.

An 18 L is just too small for her age, and yet when I had her try her older sibling’s 35 L packs, it was clear this could result in a full-on meltdown if she had to carry it any distance on a day when it was too hot, she was hungry or thirsty, she was too tired, or it was the wrong phase of the moon (in other words, almost any time).

After literally weeks of frustrated searching, I did not come up with any highly reviewed bags in the 24-28 L range that I was looking for (I hardly found any at all). I came close to choosing the Deuter Fox 30 (it’s a 30 + 4 L pack), but finally chose the slightly cheaper but very similar MEC Escapade Youth Backpack (32 L). I still think it’s too big, so we’re going to pack it lightly and make sure the straps are very carefully adjusted to be as comfortable for her as possible.

Note to aspiring entrepreneurs: Please design me a 25 L rugged children’s travel backpack and I will forever sing your praises and send people in your direction.

Note to backpack manufacturers: You stink. I blame all emotional melt-downs during this trip solely on you. Please make in-between sized backpacks for in-between sized kids.

Other details we’re working on:

  • Getting our house ready to list on Airbnb (update! Finished this a couple days ago!)
  • Getting the kids ahead on some of their homeschool subjects to take pressure off while we’re traveling
  • Upgrading some gadgets (Ryan was due for a new laptop, and mine needs a new case, plus both my phone and laptop need servicing)
  • Final appointments with our naturopath, dentist, etc.
  • Buying things like contacts (bought!), medicine kit supplies, etc.
  • Laying out everyone’s exact wardrobes and pre-packing backpacks

Phew!! There you have it. An epic look into the process of buying gear for a family trip.

In my next update, I’ll start sharing detailed photos of what we’re actually packing for kids, and then another post about what the adults will bring.

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.
How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids

We all want the precious bonding opportunities that come from traveling with our kids. But what about when you’re traveling without your usual support network?

What about babysitters and dates and time alone and time for you know what and just keeping your sanity in general for months on end?

If you feel selfish or guilty for asking that question, don’t. It’s a legitimate thing, one that many parents would do well to consider more carefully before stepping out on their next adventure.

When this question came up in our private EntreFamily Facebook group, I knew it was worthy of more than just a quick answer:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on having a support network while you travel. My husband and I are seriously considering a year-long RV trip with our 2 and 4 year olds, but I get nervous about losing the little support we have here (especially babysitters!!). Would love to hear what’s worked for others. ~ Catherine

We had four kids aged eight and under (including a baby) when we went on our first Big Trip (one year around the world) and it was definitely hard to both:

a) go without our regular community, family, & friends for an extended period of time

b) have no access to babysitters for the entire year

For the record, it’s not that we didn’t want to be with our kids frequently (and I think that’s what makes us feel guilty for even asking these questions). I mean, quality time as a family was sort of the whole point of the trip.

But let’s not downplay the fact that it’s actually necessary for the health of your relationship as partners to have that time together with each other.

Not only that, but being away from your usual community – whether that’s your extended family, good friends, your church, a sports team or book club, or wherever you regularly connect with others – just gets plain old lonely, and lonely isn’t good for anyone.

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

*Our family during the first month of our trip, in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.*

Being away from our tight-knit community back home was both one of the best and worst things that happened to us, to be frank.

It gave us time away to relearn who we were as individuals and as a family. We were able to explore many of our long-held ideas and values and ways of living, and let travel help us ask better questions about who we were, what mattered most, and what we wanted out of life.

The downside is that we were thrown into a state of spiritual deconstruction, questioning and rethinking much of what we’d believed most of our lives. This was one of the hardest things we’ve ever walked through (and are still walking through to a lesser degree) and yet it was also so good for us.

We also hit hard times in our marriage. Some things that had been festering for a while got big and ugly while we traveled.

I frequently tell people that whatever is already in your relationships before you travel will not get better. It will be revealed and you’ll have to deal with it fully. The stresses of travel are like bumps and jolts against a glass of water, and whoosh! The water that was already inside the glass comes sloshing out. Surprise! Now you get to clean up the mess.

We were blessed by a visit with friends while in Italy (they were passing through Europe, so we met up) and thankfully they recognized we were struggling and called us out on it. We did monthly Skype calls with them for the last 6 months of our trip, as accountability to keep working through our junk, and to give us a listening and compassionate ear when we had no one else to talk to about it.

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

Lastly, it was truly positive for us as a family. We bonded with our kids significantly. We learned how to function as a family unit, and how to be each other’s best friends.

We had so much stinkin’ fun together. We got to know our kids, each other, and ourselves so much better than before. We saw beautiful things emerge in each other. We formed precious memories in some very special places. We learned and grew and changed and sat in awe and wonder, together.

So as you step towards your own Big Trip or whatever your version of extended travel looks like, do so knowingly and thoughtfully. This isn’t an impossible hurdle. It just requires a little intentionality.

There are many ways to lessen the struggles and loneliness, stay connected with your support network, and keep your marriage strong while traveling with kids.

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

*Johanna and friend London playing together in Argentina – we met her parents Joe and Leann while we were on the road and spent a month hanging out together as families, including taking a road trip together!* 

Here are some practical things we’ve done to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids:

We made friends all over the place, mostly with friends of friends.

Missionaries, ex-pats, fellow nomads, military families, or even people we’d known online for years but never met in person. This was amazing. And every once in a while, there were people we felt comfortable enough with to leave our kids with briefly to get out and have a short date together. It wasn’t very often, but when it happened we really relished it.

Babysitting or not, these new-found relationships gave us more adult time and much-needed community.

We all need friends to talk and share our lives with. To grab a coffee with. To have long conversations over Argentine wine while our children run amok in a restaurant courtyard. To talk all day together while we stroll with our kids in a park in Kuala Lumpur. To listen and be a safe place as our new friends shared struggles of ministry and faith and weariness while serving in Israel. To have lunch in India and have them help you buy running shoes for your daughter because you don’t have a clue where to go. We all need community.

We gave each other permission to get out of the house.

Even if we couldn’t go out together, Ryan and I could send the other spouse out for an afternoon with a new friend, or to go sit in a coffee shop alone for a few hours, or just go for a walk on the beach. Those times were critical to our mental and emotional health as we traveled in new cultures with four small kids and lived in very tight physical spaces. We needed an outlet and going out by ourselves often provided that.

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

*Camel riding in Morocco with Grandma (Ryan’s mom)*

We flew in reinforcements.

We put out an open invitation to our friends and family that anyone could meet up with us during our travels. Only one person actually took us up on it, but man, was it awesome. Ryan’s mom flew to Europe to be with us for about three weeks. It was so good for the kids to have Grandma time and us to have another adult around, but it changed up our dynamic in a good way and we had a blast showing her around Spain and France, and even taking her briefly to Morocco and Portugal. We made sure to take several good date nights during this period of time, including one really special evening in Paris, which was as stereotypically magical as you’d expect.

We had in-house dates.

If we couldn’t get out, then we’d bring the date night to us after the kiddos went to bed. Did you know that you can actually get gelato delivery in Argentina?? Heaven help us.

We found as many opportunities to connect during our every day activities as possible.

If we were eating ice cream at the beach and the kids were occupied scrambling up a pile of rocks, we’d find a place to sit and have a nice conversation while we watched them. We’d do the same at parks, sitting on a bench sipping on a coffee, tea or liquado while they ran and played.

We tried to find local churches and communities in as many locations as possible. 

That way we could, at least briefly, connect and engage with others. Not only was this just good for our souls, but it allowed us to make many friends, get to know some truly incredible people, and better understand their lives in a different culture.

We did the usual Skype calls and texting and Facebook updates.

It seems like a small thing, but it isn’t. I tried to post a Facebook update once every day or two during our year long trip, and having that connection back home to the people we loved was invaluable. I could tell them when we were having a hard time, ask them to pray, or just share a few funny comments back and forth across the miles, and feel like maybe, just maybe, we weren’t so very far away.

How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids. Traveling with kids is precious bonding time. But how do you stay connected and keep your marriage strong while you're on the road?

*Our kids together with the Oxenreider kids, building their own “Teribithia” village during our month-long stay in Cadenet, France.*

Lessons we’ve learned and what we intentionally do these days to stay connected and supported while we’re traveling:

  • Plan our travel around meeting up with friends – We can’t always make this happen, but when we can? It’s such a gift. Traveling or meeting up with another family goes a long way towards our emotional and relational health. About two years ago, we met up with our friends Tsh and Kyle and their kids, and spent over six weeks enjoying Europe together. This spring, we have plans to meet up at a conference with other worldschooling families, plus two weeks together in Costa Rica with a family mastermind group we’re a part of, to help break up our time on the road in Central America (which we anticipate will be three months – more on this to come!).
  • Plan for longer stays in one place – The more we travel, the more staying put in one place matters to us. Last time we went to Europe we spent one month living in a small town in France. This time, we’re planning 3-4 weeks in a little lakeside village in Guatemala, and possibly another couple weeks in a Nicaraguan town. This gives us time to get into a routine, to meet both locals and ex-pats, to feel rested and settled, and gives us a far richer cultural experience. For us, it’s a must-do.
  • As word gets out about our travels, we find ourselves being connected with other traveling families and we’ve realized there’s more of a network out there than we thought! I love this Worldschoolers group on Facebook, plus there’s the conference I mentioned above, the upcoming Family Adventure Summit put on by friends I met this summer, our very own private Facebook group for fellow EntreFamilies, and numerous families I met when I spoke at the World Domination Summit this past summer.
  • Make sure we’re healthy and ready, before we go. We can never be 100% anything, but just being aware of the potential issues and hardships and trying to prepare ourselves beforehand makes a gigantic difference. So before embarking on your next adventure, consider planning extra time for your kids to be with friends and family before you leave. Do a few marital counseling sessions. Go away on a personal retreat (both of you) before leaving. Make actual plans to stay connected with friends and family while you’re gone, or to meet up with others on your travels. Put extra effort into being as physically healthy as possible before starting out. All of this goes such a long way towards a smoother journey.

How do you keep up a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids?

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