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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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Tuesday 10th of February 2015

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.


Wednesday 12th of November 2014

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.


Friday 20th of June 2014

But knitwear dies so easily David, how are you managing with getting it washed? Not shrunk yet? I dream of knitwear.

David Backpacker

Friday 20th of June 2014

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.

Bronwyn Joy

Wednesday 18th of June 2014

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.


Thursday 19th of June 2014

There were over 300 bottle tops at one point Bronwyn! We suggested some streamlining. Oh man, all those travel gadgets, complete waste of money, we hate them too!

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