Let’s talk about travel gear, the stuff we’ve used and loved for 4 years of full-time world travel and the things you actually need. We travel as a family, we have 2 kids, but most of what’s on this page applies to everyone. There are a lot of travel gadgets that nobody needs, ever, we won’t tell you to buy those, promise. We have recommendations under the following categories on this page:
- Overview, What You Do and Don’t Need
- Luggage, How to Carry Your Gear
- Family / General Travel Gear and Accessories
- Guide Books
- Travel Wash Kit and Medical Kit
- Kids Travel Gear
- Special Travel Gear for Babies and Toddlers
We also have more detailed review pages on the following, click through:
- Best Smart Luggage and tracking devices 2017
- Suitcase, Travel Pack or Backpack
- How to Travel Carry-On Only
- Best Travel Organisers
- Best Travel Coffee Maker
- Best Rechargeable Battery Packs
- How to Simplify Packing
- Travel Gear for Nepal and Trekking
- Devices to stop you losing your kids!
Use your discretion, consider your own needs and don’t buy things just because a marketer or travel blogger, myself included, tells you to. We want you to travel smarter, better and cheaper, not weighed down with expensive non-essential gear.
Overview: Travel Items to Carry Always
You will need to have the items below, wherever you travel.
- wash kit
- medical kit
- travel towel
- electronics ( laptops, phones, kindles, cameras, power banks) with adaptors and plugs.
- travel organisers (below, also packing cubes)
- regular, all purpose multi-climate clothes.
- regular footwear
- the kids’ special bear or comforter plus a card game or special toy for long waits.
- school books and pens
- documents, passports, money
Overview: Items for Specialised Travel, or as Needed
You will not need any of the following for most regular, non specialised, travel. We own many of the items below, so we carry them. If we didn’t, we’d buy them as needed.
- sleeping bags
- sheet sleeping bag liners
- mosquito nets
- hiking shoes/boots and socks or high-tech walking sandals.
- waterproof jacket and/or trousers
- down jackets
- swim wear/beach wear
- ski wear
- trekking poles
- solar powered chargers
- water bottles
- formal wear for some cruise ships and special events.
Overview: Packing Lists and Clothes to Take Travelling
I don’t write detailed packing lists. I think they’re a sales gimmick. Let’s throw the rules out of the window! Take whatever clothes you own that make you feel good. We don’t own any special, branded travel clothes or underwear. They’re unnecessary for most kinds of travel.
Clothing That Comes in Handy When You Travel
- A hat for sun or cold
- A large cotton scarf, multi purpose or glamorous
- multiple co-ordinating layers for every climate
What you wear is mostly personal choice. I wear jeans in every climate and have done for years. Some women like skirts, others like shorts. My husband wears jeans, board shorts and running gear, the kids wear jeans and shorts. Your own comfort isn’t the only thing you need to consider, please be aware of cultural norms in your destination country and cover up.
Protect From the Sun. We’re very aware of how damaging the sun is, so you’ll find long sleeved T shirts and cotton shirts with collars in all of our packs along with rashies for beach and swimming.
One to wear, one to wash, one spare. Is a good one, but I never stick to it.
Pack less, buy more.There are always lovely, climate appropriate clothes at your destination.
Washing Clothes. Laundry is usually very easy to organise, and cheap. Exceptions include India and sometimes Sri Lanka or Nepal, laundry can become troublesome in those countries. I hand wash a lot of items, shampoo or hand soap are fine for this. I dry clothes on plastic coat-hangers. I carry 2 in my pack, it’s easier and quicker than using a travel washing line.
Footwear. I carry trekking or trail running shoes and rubber flip-flops. They cover all bases, from beach to Mount Everest. Rubber flip flops are sometimes vital for showers and bathrooms so I would never travel without them to Asia. My husband normally has running shoes and flip flops, the kids have Crocs and walking shoes or city shoes as needed.
Family Travel Gear and Accessories
We don’t think you need much. There are a few items that we love for their practical usefulness, packability and low-cost, we wouldn’t travel without them. If I were setting out into the world to travel for a while, I would recommend the following items.
A Good Backpack for Mum, Dad, Maybe the Kids.
For most of our travel we use backpacks, for shorter trips we’ll take carry-on size backpacks. Suitcases aren’t for us, but we have a post on making that choice above.
I’m a small-ish lady, I’m almost 5 foot 5 inches and I normally carry a women’s backpack that weighs in at 15-20Kg and has a capacity of 65L. I could go a little bigger. 20-23Kg is a typical weight allowance for checked baggage on planes.
My Backpack, the Lowe Alpine ND60 is hard to get and often unavailable, so I’m recommending a similar pack here for 2017 from a good brand, Osprey. These bags are travel packs rather than traditional backpacks. They have good harnesses so are easy to carry but they zip open more like a suitcase for super-easy access and the harness folds away for airline use. This one, like mine, has a detachable day pack. To me they are the perfect bag for travel. I really dislike top opening backpacks.Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Pack – 3173-3356cu in Jasper Red, S/M
My husband likes a bigger backpack and prefers a conventional design. Unlike me, he uses his big pack for trekking, he’s carried a 90L pack around the Himalayas on long hikes. His Lowe Alpine is also now unavailable, the pack above is a good size, a good quality brand and is a 2017 best seller with excellent reviews.
Kids packs, suitcases and luggage are in the kids’ travel gear section, below. We feel that after living it, travelling with kids and bags from age 6-13 years, it’s best if you don’t burden small children with their own backpacks. Once they are big enough to carry a small adult pack ( around 11 years) is the time to invest. But of course, you can buy them wheely bags, cute animal packs and so on, just for fun.
A Good Carry-On Size Backpack with Laptop Pocket
The big name in carry-on size backpacks is again, Osprey. This 45 L pack which zips open for easy access, has a padded laptop pocket.Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack (Hoodoo Red)
Packing Cubes and Organisers
I’d be lost without my e Bags packing cubes. We bought a 3 piece set as shown below 3 years ago and they’re still good as new, mine are pink, but there’s a huge range. They work just as well for backpacks or suitcases and if you’re like me, love to be organised, you probably need to buy a set for everyone in your family, right now. Packing cubes minimise packing stress and help you find things. I also carry a travel organiser in my day pack, every day!
For other packing cubes, pouches and sets, see our post on travel organisers here. They’re also great for nail files, pens, note books, makeup, or jewellery, passport, cash, phone etc.
A Travel Towel
A family needs multiple travel towels in a variety of sizes. We own several enough for our lifestyle and together they take up less room than one large bath towel. We’ve done some research to find the best, nicest travel towel available today, click through to see our results.. The larger size travel towel is great because it’s big enough, at 150cm, to wrap right round me after a shower. These travel towels can also make good impromptu blankets or clean sheets. They wash and dry quickly and easily and I never leave home without mine. Read more about travel towels here . We own the Mountain Warehouse towels below but we now have a new favourite for softness, size, quality and value, click through to see.
Some travel bloggers will tell you that you don’t need a travel towel, we’ll tell you that you do! As a young single traveller I managed with a sarong, now, as a more mature mum, I want towels. You won’t need to use it all the time, but on those occasions when you do you’ll be glad you bought one. For trekking of any sort you will need one, also for some hostels and budget guest house. If you are taking a day trip to any sort of swimming hole, waterfall or river activities, you’ll need a travel towel. We even use these “at home” in London and Romania, they’re so much easier to machine or hand wash and dry.
A Kindle and Kindle Cover. Essentials!
We can’t carry books and book exchange shops are becoming rarer on the backpacker circuit. You need a Kindle, or 2 or 3, I lost mine to my son quite a while ago. You can download your guide books onto Kindle, fill them up with first readers or young fiction and use them for school work. Buy a Kindle cover at the same time, they’re essential.
We prefer the Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ for reading, I’ve read that the Kindle Fire isn’t as easy on the eyes.
Travel Plugs, Power Adaptors, Rechargeable Power Packs
Most families carry a lot of electronics. That makes keeping them powered up essential and adaptors a very important part of your family travel gear.Solar Charger,Hiluckey 10000mAh Solar Power Bank Waterproof Portable Solar Panel Energy Rugged Shockproof Dual USB Port With LED Flashlight for iPhone, Android Smart Phone
These days we carry solar powered rechargeable battery packs and we find them great ( freaking amazing!). You can find a full review post on rechargeable power packs and chargers here.
A Reusable Water Bottle
We love our Siggs! Sigg water bottles are the Rolls Royce of the water bottle world. Yes, you need one, most certainly for any sort of adventurous travel, particularly trekking or hiking. Sigg water bottles are clean, green, BPA free, ultra stylish and pay for themselves. We have tried cheaper bottles from supermarkets, the lids broke. Our Siggs are over 10 years old now and we love them.
Wash Kit and Medical Kit
We’ve recently discovered the perfect travel washbag. Why perfect? Because it’s lightweight, light on bulk and it’s FLATeBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit (Aquamarine)
We travel full time, so little miniature travel sized pots and bottles aren’t part of our family travel gear. But, for short trips, where you can decant from your large bottles at home, they are sensational. I own an excellent set from Avon, with lids that seal vacuum tight and never spill. If you want to travel carry on only, make sure they are under 100mls and keep them ready in a clear plastic bag.
This Travel Bottles Set is TSA approved and claims to be leak proof. A few small plastic pots are useful too, for things like moisturiser, toothpaste or hair products. With that in mind, I’d be tempted to go for a set like this, they are from e bags, I know their packing cubes are excellent quality.
Lonely Planet have been our guide book of choice for many years. OK, these days you can do all of your research online, but for me, nothing beats having a copy of The Planet in my daypack. It’s handy for learning about the country’s history, culture and food along with working our exactly where we want to go. Lonely Planet give you plenty of maps, hotel and restaurant recommendations and an introduction to the local language. Totally awesome, we love them. For the last couple of years we’ve travelled without a guide book because of weight restrictions, but for our recent trip to Romania I went out and bought myself a hard copy. It was like running into an old friend again.
Find your country specific Lonely Planet guide here on Amazon. Or you can find them as hard copies or E Books on the Lonely Planet Shop website.
General Travel Books For Kids
We think it’s a great idea to get children interested in a destination by finding books about that area. This goes for simple picture books for toddlers right through to travel novels or histories for teens. It’s best to get them interested before they leave home if at all possible. Obviously, we prefer Kindle books, but if you’re not long-term travellers, you can buy the real thing. It’s a great idea for adults too, we love our travel literature here. We’ve published a post on best travel reading for India, more are to come.
Specialised Kids’ Travel Gear
A lots of people ask me about kids travel gear, quite honestly, they don’t need anything special for kids, just clothes and a very few toys. Older children need their own backpacks or luggage, but sometimes I still carry my younger son’s gear in my big bag. We find that the more bags you have, the more complicated travel becomes and the higher your risk of losing one. Most families share wash bags, medical kit, towels etc. But there are a few pieces of gear I’d recommend you pack for kids.
Obviously kids’ paracetamol is in there, I’m very glad that Calpol (UK) now do solid, chewable tablets for older kids rather the bulky, sticky syrup bottles. Panadol (Australia) also do chewables now. I don’t know what’s available in the US, sorry.
The only special piece of medical kit we carry because of the kids is a compact electronic ear thermometer , it’s by Braun and I love it, it always tells the truth and lets me know if I should panic or not.
Kids’ Backpacks and Luggage
My boys, at 6 and 8, started with little 18L kids backpacks like the one in the above image. They were cute, but not great packs. The hip straps never stayed snug so all the weight was on their shoulder straps. My elder son, at 9, graduated to a 45L small adult pack, it’s only half full so it’s not too heavy, but the great harness design and air flow cooling system make it much more comfortable for him. It’s a Mountain Warehouse Extreme pack and we’re all very pleased with it. We adults and kids all use this one as hand luggage from time to time, it works great if you want to fly carry-on only and I used it as my trekking pack during our Everest trek. It’s a good buy.
Trunki bags are all the rage with trendy travelling tots at the moment, sensational for little ones as they can take a rest in long airport queues by sitting on these robust rollers.
Travel Clothing for Kids
Essential kids travel gear for us, are sun (UV) protective rash vests or sun sirts ( rashies) ideally long sleeved and high necked. They wash and dry quicker than T shirts and cover your child’s delicate skin more completely.
In some parts of the world, including Queensland, our former home, a one piece stinger or sun suitlike the one above is needed at certain times of the year. They do double service, protecting your child from potentially deadly jellyfish while at the same time keeping them sun-safe. If you’re planning on snorkelling anywhere in tropical seas, get one. Jellyfish can be deadly. The Australian reef boats carry them to compulsory hire to visitors, but having your own for the beach or reef is great, much less hassle than sunblock, pain or (possible) death.
Other than these, we take no special gear for the kids at all, they just have sun hats, regular shorts or long trousers, T shirts and long sleeved shirts.
On their feet they wear Crocs or similar. They can walk just fine in them, they love to be able to slip them on and off easily and they’re water-tough.
My kids often have far more toys with them than you should carry! This is because we don’t usually have the option of leaving things “at home”. Every special toy has to go with us. We also carry some travel toys and games to keep them amused at airports and bus stops and when we’re just hanging about. You can find our favourites in our travel gifts post.
Baby and Toddler Travel Gear
Baby travel gear you will need includes:
Keep it simple with travel changing mats to reduce bulk. All you need is a clean, slightly padded surface that you can wipe with antibacterial wipes or sanitiser so that you KNOW it’s always clean for baby.
Travel Cot that Doubles as a Playpen
The Graco Playard is as simple and pared-down as you will find. A travel cot needs to be lightweight, these things are heavy! We carried our Graco all over the world and it saw us through 2 babies.
Baby Sling or Other Carrier
The ultimate baby hands-free-kit. On uneven pavements and dirt tracks you’ll be very glad to have a sling not the stroller.
Baby Mosquito Net
Two baby travel accessories that we always found absolutely indispensable were a UV and mosquito protector for the buggy and a baby mosquito net.
Shade- a -Babe Buggy Sun and Insect Screen
We used the Shade a Babe mosquito and UV protector for years, both boys always slept better under it, protected from bugs and sun.
There’s no way you will ever travel light with a baby, but luckily the big gear, like travel cots, are not generally included in your airline baggage allowance.
Want to See What Other Travel Gear We Are Packing?
- Travel Medical Kit you DO need supplies!
- Why We Don’t Travel Light (usually!) because I love my kids and my electronics.
- How to Pack and Travel Carry on Only family carry on only packing and flying.
- Travel Gear Gifts For Children and Families toys games books and gadgets.
- Travel Essentials what we needed and what we should have left at home.
- Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase which to choose for your travel?
- Best Travel Organisers My new best friend.
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