Why We Don’t Travel Light

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We don’t travel light. We travel with 2 large backpacks, 2 small kids’ backpacks and 2 pieces of adult carry-on luggage, both containing laptops. It’s the absolute maximum we can carry, just within weight limits for planes and our bodies. We believe that travelling light with kids is extremely impractical, it’s also not a budget-friendly way to travel, despite savings on airline luggage fees.

Here it all of our luggage waiting for a train from Mirissa to Colombo in the early hours of our final Sri Lankan morning. It’s a terrible photo, but you get the idea. We were in Sri Lanka for a month, travelling for multiple years, multi-climate with kids. The trouble of carrying big bags were outweighed by the trouble of not having the things we need.

Why we don't travel light

We didn’t travel light back then and, to be honest, we didn’t aspire to, we were perfectly happy with our way, and a full luggage allowance, it worked.

Sure, some long-term travellers, even with kids, think it’s easier to throw everything into one carry-on backpack. Maybe it saves a few minutes at the airport and certainly saves you a few dollars on budget airlines, but for us, the inconvenience of not having what we need outweighs a little money-saving here and there.

travel light
This is what travelling light looks like for us today, with older kids and no budget worries, we simply throw a few things into our carry-on bags. If we need something, we’ll buy it.

We were happy to carry our big backpacks, and we liked the exercise.

It makes me feel hardcore to carry 20 kg on my back, more with my computer bag and one or both of the kids’ little packs. I quite like showing how tough I am at 47 years old, a perverse vanity.

Chef loves his big pack, he wouldn’t trade it for anything, so we’re happy travellers with heavy luggage.

We don’t have many clothes at all, so what’s taking up all that room?

Travel Light? No Way!

So what’s in our luggage that we can’t do without? What prevents us from travelling light as a family?

Occasional Use Items

We have a few travel items bought years ago for trekking trips, things like a down sleeping bag, mosquito nets and sheet sleeping bags. We don’t use them all the time, but every now and then we need them. When that happens we’re extremely glad we brought them.

Imagine checking into a guest house in a dengue and malaria area to discover there were no screens. Then imagine your children catching something nasty. You’ll be very glad you had a couple of these plus string and a nail.


Sometimes the sheets aren’t as clean as you’d like and sometimes it gets cold. Sarongs, sheet sleeping bags and down sleeping bags have all been useful.

Now, in London, we’re using sheet sleeping bags every night, the sleeping bags have saved us buying a duvet, so overall, being prepared has saved us cash.

Add to that torches, head torches, Swiss army knives and sporks. They all come in handy.

Strange and Unexpected Items to Pack

I carry some bizarre stuff in my luggage.

Plastic coat hangers and a few pegs. They make drying laundry infinitely easier and really take up no space at all. Many of the places we stay are aimed at backpackers staying 1 or 2 nights and don’t have hangers or wardrobes. Now I’ll even carry a plastic coathanger in my carry on sometimes.

Marmite, Tabasco and Earl Grey teabags. Not all the time, but they slip into my pack occasionally.

Mosquito killers. Coils, sprays, plug-ins, we’ve carried them all and we’ve certainly needed them. We choose not to use anti-malarials, so we don’t muck about with mozzies.

Electronic Spaghetti

We absolutely could not travel without our electrical items! Well, maybe not the 2 semi-broken cameras, but I’m waiting for the opportunity to get them fixed.

electronics for travel

But I don’t have a hairdryer, I’m proud of that! The eBags packing cubes have been brilliant for carrying leads and chargers, if you click this link and buy a set I make 5c. Yay!

Packing Kids’ Stuff

This isn’t all of the gear we pack for the kids, bt the photo will give you an idea.

When we first left home, all we had was two little pouches with a few marbles, bouncy balls and Bakugan.

This lot has accumulated over time, we’ve had birthdays, Christmas and once in a lifetime visits like the Harry Potter studios tour forcing us to buy a wand.

Plus of course, a few school books, they come and go, as do the reading books, but we always have some along with a big bag of pencils, rulers and all the normal stuff kids need.


I think denying the kids some favourite things would be incredibly mean, I’m happy to carry it for them. Even Boo’s bottle top collection, so yes, it’s essential.

We recommend you don’t buy travel games, things like travel chess or travel Scrabble, as the pieces are too small and fiddly. Instead pack family card games like Uno and Monopoly Deal, the former for younger kids, the latter for older.

Winter Wardrobe and Cruise Upgrades

At the top of the page I said that we had hardly any clothes, well that’s not true any more.

We started out with just tropical gear and a couple of fleeces. We moved from Asia to the UK at Christmas and in the January Arctic Vortex we moved to New York and Canada. We had to buy a few things.

Our 2 Trans Atlantic cruises required a moderate level of tidiness, something beyond flip-flops and baggy fishermen’s pants, so we made a few more purchases.

To offset the new buys a lot of items have worn out, by some miracle, everything still fits in our backpacks.

Three Large Washbags

Everything in those washbags is essential, there’s nothing fancy, not much beyond dental stuff, shampoo miniatures, antiperspirants and shaving gear plus medical kit, supplements, sunblock and bug repellent. Not much takes up a lot of space.

The Problem with Travelling Light, You’re Not Prepared.

All this stuff takes up a lot of space and weighs a ton but for us it’s totally worth carrying, it’s all proved itself or we would have ditched it by now.

It’s absolutely true that whatever you need you can buy locally, but you usually find that you need something right now, not the next time you make it to the shops. Travelling light means problems.

I don’t think it makes any sense to leave stuff at home if you have it already. Maybe don’t rush out to buy a sleeping bag, but if you’ve got one, take it, you never know when you’ll need it.

I’m not talking short trips here, if you’ll only be away for a few weeks it’s easy to predict what you’ll need and pack accordingly, I’m talking RTW, long-term, go-where-you-please travelling, our favourite sort.

We all have our own ways of doing things, I’m not saying our way is the only way, but it works for us.

Once the kids were old enough to not need school books, Harry Potter wands and 16 cuddly toys, we started to travel with carry-on only. This is our preferred way to travel today, we find it easy to travel for weeks with just a 7kg cabin bag allowance. For more information on that, see the related posts, below.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

27 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Travel Light”

  1. I love how realistic and practical you are in all your posts. This one cracks me up because so often you read about how to travel light but I think you may a good point especially when it comes to kids and their comforts.

  2. I agree with you I cannot go on a trip without any gadgets like camera, smartphones to be connected in my social media account and be updated.

  3. Yay for not travelling light! My reason is that I basically like to have access to all of my clothes. Wearing the same things over and over again makes me totally miserable, and I have no intention of making myself miserable. I live in Oaxaca, where it is never cold, and I still have about 15 pieces of knitwear with me 🙂 It just makes me feel happy and more comfortable wherever I am.

  4. Hey, as long as you’re not asking me to carry it, I don’t see why I should argue! I laughed at the bottle top collection because we gained one on our latest trip as well.

    Definitely for a trip like that I can’t see anything much from your list I’d leave behind – especially those mosquito nets. Maybe the pegs. I usually just twist up the clothesline and then shake out the crimps in the shoulders, especially if I have access to coat hangers for the good stuff, but I don’t imagine pegs are really breaking your back. 🙂

    I do cringe sometimes at those airport travel shops looking at all the “must have” travel gear. There are some useful gadgets out there but there’s an awful lot of barely-useful tat as well that wouldn’t earn its weight in many packs. I think it’s the marketing that gets to me with that – making a sale on people’s insecurities about travel.

  5. Hi Emiel, we only use the nets if there are open windows, which there were, almost all the time, in Sri Lanka. Most hotels provide nets there. Or if we’re trekking or staying in huts. In a normal sort of hotel room you’ll be fine. Particularly if you have a large can of mozzy annihilator!

  6. Love this! The mosquito thing is always something to indeed think about. We travel to Myanmar coming months and we decided to take malaria pills. But also nets and other sprays could be in our bags! Your post made me go back to the hotels we booked to check if they have mosquito nets or not. Otherwise we might pack them as well!

  7. I don’t think that is a huge amount of stuff at all – I’m ashamed to admit that when my son and I catch the train from Scotland to London for a week’s visit later in the month we will certainly be taking more than 50% of the volume you carry, despite being only 1 adult & 1 child staying with friends! A lot of that will be stuff for the c12 hr train journey – any tips on amusing an almost 5 yr old in such situations gratefully received!

    I’m curious to know how much clothing you carry for each of you? And do you handwash clothing in bathrooms in your accommodation or find launderettes?

    • Both Ruthy, if we have a big load we take it to a laundry, but rarely a laundrette, they’re usually full service, you hand over your dirty stuff and get it back dried and folded. We normally do that at least one a week. But I’m always washing small items by hand too, as much as I can. The kids were down to 3 sets of underwear each by the time we arrived in London, so I was constantly washing them to keep up. Clothes, well I’ve got 2 pairs jeans, 1 pair black linen pants, 1 beige cargos, 1 pair thai fisherman pants, 1 dress ( worn once) 4 or 5 vest tops, couple of long sleeve t shirts, 1 blue shirt, 1 cardigan, 1 micro fleece, 1 proper fleece, big coat, 1 pair flip flops, 1 pair hiking shoes, 1 pair slightly more fancy flip flops (crocs, bought for the cruise). I live in the jeans, I hardly ever wear any of the other stuff. James has next to nothing, I think 2 jeans, 1 combats, 1 board shorts, a few shirts and T shirts, running gear, fleece coat. The kids have an assortment of shorts and T shirts and at least 1 pair of long trousers each. They only have 1 pair of crocs each. A big fleece and a big coat. We’ve thrown a lot of stuff out as we’ve gone. Any day now one of my jeans is going to rip, I’ll replace those, but any of the other trousers won’t be replaced, I don’t wear them.
      My best tip for your train trip, don’t take any stuff, maybe pens and paper. Just be prepared to be in the moment with your child, to talk, look out of the window, play verbal games, that’s what we do, they sleep a lot on any moving vehicle, too.

  8. Love the sheet sleeping bags, I’m going to pick up a few more in London. So many places don’t give you a top sheet or it’s just a skanky blanket, really glad we took them. James sleeps in his every night here

  9. I think you’re carrying a pretty reasonable amount considering there are four of you; there are kids toys to consider and you’ve travelled through different climates. We started out as really light packers with just a 35 and 38L pack but accumulated an extra day bag by the end of our trip, we also periodically chucked out old clothes. There are things we hardly used but like you, we were glad to have our sleep sacs when we needed them – we always make room for Marmite and teabags too 🙂

  10. I think you’re using that magic wand to make all the newer clothes fit. 😛

  11. I can walk just fine with the big pack, for hours, but I do find the laptop bag a real pain, it’s so heavy and a shoulder bag is a crappy choice. If we’re not catching a plane the laptop is much easier in the main pack.

  12. And I’m not really sure why it’s showing my recent posts on WordPress as links to random blogs and once it happens I have no idea how to remove the link!

  13. I think that as long as you can carry it comfortably, then you are traveling “light”. For me, once my pack is over 10kg or so, I find it burdensome. If I can’t move around freely, or if I’m making decisions based on when or where I can stash my “stuff” in order to get my freedom back, then I’m back to being controlled by my belongings instead of the other way around. It’s a huge challenge when traveling and so much harder when you have kids along with different priorities as well. We’re still trying to find our balance. I once had most of my stuff stolen on a train in Egypt when I was backpacking around the world and it was incredibly frustrating but also incredibly liberating, so that colours my judgement as well.

  14. Is it me or did the link to the spaghetti-cubes disappear??

    We always had our kids’ cuddly toys with us … and one of those used to be a genuine pillow! (not just the pillowcase) Not necessarily heavy, but quite cumbersome in tight spaces like aircraft-cabins! Anyway, we managed to travel all over the globe WITH the pillow and it’s still here!

  15. We are in the process of packing for SE Asia now and I think we will be similar to you. The kids don’t have many “things” and their clothes are much smaller, so they will be fine. I am just worried about us “big” people. We won’t easily be able to find replacement clothing in Asia. At least I don’t think we will.

    Anyway, we are down to the minimum now during our last 2 weeks in Spain. I can’t wait to pack it all up and make sure it fits. We too will have 4 backpacks and 2-3 carry on sized wheel bags.

    We each have a laptop, so that will add to the Spaghetti!

  16. I always find it interesting to see what others take – I love the bottle top collection!! You are right how everyone has their own way. I thought the most hardcore traveller I ever met was hardcore as he literally just carried everything (which was really only a few things) in a mostly empty plastic shopping bag. Apparently you can use bicarb for anything.

    I spent a lot of my longer trips travelling in Central America and big packs just did not work – did you manage to get chicken buses around with this luggage? I found just carry on gave me a lot of flexibility – with transport anyway. I don’t carry around bedding anymore as I took it on a few trips and barely used it – until I started travelling with a baby anyway and we do take his travel cot. I am happy to pay more on accommodation to not need my own bedding though and I rarely found I needed to.

    • No, we just used the backpacker buses and overnight bus system in Guatemala, but we’re very experiences bus-ers. Laos, Sri Lanka, India, even on the roof, no problem with a big pack. We can carry them comfortably, I’ve stood on a train for hours in Sri Lanka wearing my pack, it was OK.


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