Let’s talk about family travel gear, the stuff we’ve used and loved for 5+ years of full-time world travel and the things you actually need to carry on a holiday or vacation. We travel as a family, we have 2 kids, but most of what’s on this page relates to travel equipment needs for everyone. We’re updating for 2021 currently because, well, things changed.
We want you to travel smarter, better, and cheaper, not weighed down with expensive non-essential travel gear and accessories. There is no piece of travel gear on this page that we used and can’t recommend, from bags to backpacks to packing cubes, these are our best picks but if you can, as an eco-conscious traveller, buy less not more. Consider second-hand, making, and sewing, or borrowing gear from friends. A few new products for 2020, we haven’t had to use yet, we’re including them as possible ideas.
Family Travel Gear
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 or vacation, I would recommend the following items. Take into account the length of your trip, destination requirements, and what you enjoy doing.
There are a lot of travel gadgets, gear and equipment that nobody needs, ever. We won’t tell you to buy those, promise. Use your discretion to consider your own needs and don’t buy things just because a marketer or travel blogger, myself included, tells you to.
Travel Items to Carry Always
You will need to have the items below, wherever you travel, these are the basis of a family travel gear packing list.
- wash kit
- medical kit
- travel towel
- electronics (laptops, phones, kindles, cameras, video gear, power banks) with adaptors and plugs depending on need.
- travel organisers (below, also packing cubes – a luxury not a necessity)
- regular, all-purpose multi-climate clothes.
- sunglasses (we recommend the brand we mention below highly)
- regular footwear
- water bottles to avoid plastic
- the kids’ special bear or comforter plus a card game or special toy for long waits.
- school books and pens for long term travel.
- documents, passports, travel insurance, money
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. ( We have a full post on trekking gear here)
- waterproof jacket and/or trousers
- down jackets
- ski wear
- trekking poles
- solar powered chargers
- formal wear for some cruise ships and special events.
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, the same one can do for both, within reason.
- A large cotton or other natural fabric scarf, multi-purpose in heat or cold or glamorous. Great for men and women.
- multiple co-ordinating layers for every climate
- underwear that fits, is comfortable, can be hand washed in a hotel sink.
- comfortable shoes that you can wear anywhere plus flip flops.
What you wear is mostly personal choice. I wear jeans in every climate and have done for years. Lately I’m packing my running leggings more and more. 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.
Clothing is really quite a minor consideration in terms of family travel gear. You can always buy a T shirt, you probably won’t be able to buy many of the items on this page at your destination.
Sun Protection Travel Gear
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, it works, but I rarely stick to it. I’m getting better though, for carry-on only travel I’ve recently been managing with just 3 pairs of trousers, it’s been OK.
Pack Less, Buy More.
There are always lovely, climate-appropriate clothes at your destination, you don’t need to shop like crazy before departure. The clothing industry is very damaging to the planet, so only buy what you absolutely need.
Laundry is usually very easy to organise, and cheap with privately owned laundry services by the Kg in South East Asia being superb. Find them on almost any street where you find travellers, shop around for the best price. If you plan on taking whites, take enough to make up a full white wash. But really, don’t take whites.
Expect self-operated laundries in Europe or the US, alternatively there are hotel’s own laundry service, which are often expensive.
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 and most things dry overnight ( even jeans) in hot climates with fans or aircon. I carry 2 hangers in my pack, it’s easier and quicker than using a travel washing line.
Footwear for Travel
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.
I’m very fond of Mountain Warehouse IsoCool hiker socks, they’re fairly thin and light but have extra cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot making them great for running or hiking. We all have a few pairs of these. They’re also one of the cheaper hiking socks on the market suitable for city or every-day use.
Family Luggage – What Style To Choose?
Should you choose a large suitcase plus a carry-on item or would you be better off with a good backpack plus carry-on luggage? Should your carry-on be a wheeled hard-sided suitcase or a day-pack? Our pick is always soft luggage, backpacks, and daypacks. These items are far more practical for the style of travel we do.
If you will be moving from place to place, using transport often with your luggage and maybe doing some hiking or trekking, you don’t want to take a suitcase. Suitcases are good for business travel and classical vacations consisting of two weeks in one hotel.
More and more we choose carry on only travel, where our daypack is our only luggage for the entire trip. It’s actually pretty easy to pack enough clothes and gear for months, not weeks, into just a carry-on backpack.
When choosing your daypack consider intended purpose. For city use, trains, buses and hostels take a look at our pick of the anti-theft daypacks. For light hiking, you will need a dedicated trekking daypack. For serious hiking, such as Everest Base Camp, my trekking pack is in the photo below.
A Good Backpack For Family Travel
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. The backpacks above are our current favourites, the best backpacks for family travel we’ve found so far, and we’ve tried many! They are for different purposes, of course, general luggage, trekking, carry on and for adults or kids. The small dark blue backpack we bought for a 9-year-old, the dark grey Osprey we bought for an 11-year-old. All 3 are adult sizes. The blue backpack is mine and it’s my luggage as well as my trekking pack. The dark blue and grey ones have both done service as carry on bags, the big blue one is checked or hold luggage only. To check it, I put it in a protective bag, you can buy these cheaply and they’re well worth having. They’re here. Read more about these backpacks below as well as backpacks for smaller kids.
This is the backpack I now use, own and absolutely love. It’s an Osprey Aura 65 ladies’ pack. It’s my main luggage and my trekking pack, 65 L is a very good size for a woman to carry, plenty of room for all your travel gear and some of the kids’. The Aura has been updated since I bought mine, the new model, below is even more amazing. Mine is the big blue one in the photo above. Click through here to take a closer look at the Osprey Women’s Aura AG 65 Backpack
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. If you want a smaller pack, look at the Osprey 40L ( the dark grey one in the photo), I use this one often as a carry on backpack. It’s not suitable for trekking. ( In the photo is a Farpoint, this is the men’s version, I use it often, the women’s version is the Fairview, also 40L see here)
For years I carried a travel pack. Travel packs zip open rather than being top loading, but now I’ve switched to a traditional backpack I’d never go back. It is far lighter and nicer to carry. The harness is amazing and I’ve carried this bag to Everest Base Camp – I know how good it is. I’m also in love with the various pockets and compartments on this bag, you can even remove the top part completely as well as keep your smelly stuff separate in the bottom pocket. I do still use and need packing cubes and pouches in this big bag or I’d never find my underwear.
The Osprey I use now is too big to be carry-on size. The dark blue and grey backpacks in the photo both work for carry on. I talk about those below in the section called backpacks for kids. Neither of the kids has ever checked their own luggage, they’ve only had carry on. Often though, mum or dad would be carrying a lot of their luggage in the big backpacks.
Travel Backpack for Men
There is a men’s version of the 65 L Osprey Aura above and it’s great, but my husband currently uses a bigger pack for both luggage and trekking. The men’s pack is the next size up, at 85 L Take a look at that one here. Osprey Men’s Aether 85 AG Backpack with a convertible lid to day pack.
My husband likes a bigger backpack and prefers a conventional design top loader backpack over a travel pack. He also uses his big luggage backpack for trekking. He’s carried a 90L pack around the Himalayas on long hikes. His Lowe Alpine that he’s had for over a decade is now unavailable. The Osprey the pack we link to above is a good size, a good quality brand ( almost all of our bags are now Osprey) and is a best seller with excellent reviews. When it comes time for a replacement for him, we’ll go with this one.
Kids packs, suitcases and luggage are mentioned again in the kids’ travel gear section further down the page. 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 10 years) is the time to invest. But of course, you can buy them wheely bags, cute animal packs and so on, just for fun if you want the extra hassle of supervising small kids’ bags. The two smaller backpacks in the main backpacks photo are what my kids currently use. More detail below.
The dark grey Osprey bag ( D is carrying above in Thailand) is a 40L Farpoint. It’s a travel pack rather than a traditional backpack, in that it completely zips open at the front rather than being a top loader. It works great for carry on or as main luggage and we bought this for him at 12 years old. It’s technically a fraction too big to use as carry on on some airlines in Asia, but we’ve always got away with it. You can take a look here, its an Osprey Farpoint.
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 to keep them safe. Check you have the right size/year case for your Kindle Paperwhite as designs do vary.
We prefer the Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ for reading, I’ve read that the Kindle Fire isn’t as easy on the eyes and giving the kids the options of built-in games just isn’t so smart. These new Kindles have double the storage and are waterproof, they’re pretty cheap for something that will give good service for so long. They also make great gifts.
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, and the winner was the soft grey towel bottom left in our picture. You can see it here. A larger size travel towel is great because some of us like a towel that wraps right around us after a shower. I go for 150 cm or 180 cm. 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. We’ve owned Mountain Warehouse towels for years but our new favourite is the one below. It comes with a tiny hand-sized towel as a useful bonus and its good-looking presentation box makes it a great gift.
Microfiber Travel Towel – Large 52″ x 32″ with Free Hand/Face Cloth in Gift Box – Super Fast Quick Dry – Antibacterial – Best for Backpacking, Beach, Camping, Gym, Swimming and Sports
If you can’t find the EcoDept Journey Towel above in your country, Mountain Warehouse large or extra large size travel towels are also good, see here. Choose microtoweling or microfibre, both work.
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 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.
Sunglasses for Travel and Activities
Protect your eyes, it’s absolutely essential particularly around water or snow. We’ve found a brand that we love and want to recommend to you. I’ve always bought Oakleys, they were the only sunglasses that I found impossible to break thanks to their arm to frame pop out hinge. If an arm comes off, you just snap it back in. Now we’ve found the same feature at a lower price point and it comes with a LIFETIME BREAKAGE GUARANTEE. That’s amazing! We’d like to introduce you to Sungod. Visit their website, customise your eye-wear, choose from frames, styles, colours and mix and match. Order your custom designed glasses and your pair will arrive in the post, we’re huge fans. Chef uses Sungod PaceBreakers ( above) for his Ironman events, he says they’re the best he’s ever owned. Less sporty, more fashionable frames are also available.
A Reusable Water Bottle
The water bottle you can see D filling in the photo above was a cheap supermarket buy. It’s small, under 1 L but it’s been great for us. The lid doesn’t leak at all, even upsidedown in my day pack and it’s slightly insulated. I love steel over plastic too. You’ll need a bigger one for any active travel, here he was refilling at an airport before a flight.
Previously we loved our Siggs! Sigg water bottles are the Rolls Royce of the water bottle world, they’re expensive and we had them for years. These days we carry the cheaper stainless steel bottles above. Ours have some insulation, which isn’t always a good thing, if you put hot liquids in them to cool ( for instance, boiled water for drinking) it will stay hot forever.
Yes, you’ll need one, most certainly for any sort of adventurous travel, particularly trekking or hiking and for refilling at airports. You also need one to take plastic shop-bought water totally out of travel. You should never need to buy water in plastic and it’s getting easier and easier to avoid. Most civilised airports have water dispensers for passengers to fill up now. There is a huge push towards plastic-free.
Sigg water bottles are clean, green, BPA free, ultra-tylish and pay for themselves. We have tried cheaper bottles from supermarkets with plastic lids which broke fast. Our new, cheap steel ones are wearing well and never leak in my bag. The Siggs never leaked either. Avoid gimmicky lids that can break. We tend to use Nalgene bottles more for trekking, it’s personal choice and we already owned the Nalgene bottles. I prefer the steel.
Do you need one water bottle each? No, they’re too bulky to carry. Perfect the art of pouring water from the bottle into your mouth and your kids’ mouths, that’s a trick that keeps bottles clean and hygienic to use when you share them. It’s a skill we taught ourselves in India 20 years ago. View Sigg Water Bottles here
Do You Need To Carry A Metal or Bamboo Straw for Travel?
Will you need metal or bamboo straws? If you buy canned drinks a lot, yes. If you can’t drink your fruit shake or smoothie without a straw, yes. Otherwise, no.
We are mostly capable of drinking direct from a can but I’ve seen too many with mouse poo on the top. Always give them a good wipe anyway. I prefer my kids to use a straw.
The same goes for glass refillable soda bottles in India, Nepal, and so on. Take your own straw for those. Be ready to tell your server no straw every time you order a drink. Take a look at bamboo straws here and metal straws here.
A Good Carry-On Size Backpack with Laptop Pocket
The big name in carry-on size backpacks is again, Osprey. This 40 L pack which zips open for easy access, has a padded laptop pocket and is the perfect size for European airlines. It is fractionally too big for AirAsia carry on, but we looked at bags and backpacks for the Air Asia size limits and bought the Farpoint 40 anyway. There was just nothing that came close to this standard. It’s a superb bag and we haven’t once had it checked or weighed on over 12 flights with AirAsia or Air Malaysia.. My 11-year-old child carries this pack and it takes all of his clothes and toys with room to spare. It fits me and my husband.
Look at the Osprey Farpoint here for more information.
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!
Our pick of the packing cubes.
We always used to recommend the sets of 3 packing cubes with small, medium and large, but honestly, 3 mediums is probably far more useful! If I were to buy more I’d certainly buy the 3 medium cubes from e bags.
Our pick of the organisers.
Travel Organizer, BUBM Universal Double Layer Travel Gear Organizer / Electronics Accessories Bag / Battery carrying Case- Grey and Orange
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.
Watches For Travel
For straight-up, regular travel or a family gap year, you don’t need any special travel watch. A multi-time zone feature would be nice, but really, no, you don’t need a travel watch.
However! If you are trekking, hiking, climbing mountains, running, skiing, sailing, cycling, or taking part in any kind of outdoor activity, think about getting a watch with GPS. Because my husband is an Ironman triathlete, he adds a heart rate monitor with a chest strap to his travel watch requirements. If you are doing these sorts of activities, take a quick look at our post on trekking watches and see if you think you need one.
Travel Plugs, Power Adaptors, Rechargeable Power Packs
Most families carry a lot of electronics. That makes keeping them powered-up essential and adapters a very important part of your family travel gear.
You don’t need one power bank per person but I’d say at least one per family is essential. You’ll really need them on long travel days by plane, bus or train.
Make sure you have enough travel plugs, leads and chargers for your family, for each country you visit. Electrical sockets vary around the world with most of Asia taking a variety of different types. I should do a post around this.
USB chargers are becoming more and more common in airports, in Asia and beyond. You can often expect the best tech and superb WiFi in some parts of Asia.
See a fantastic international and worldwide travel plug here, with USB charging.
For domestic travel, if you don’t need to worry about different shaped sockets and varied voltages, you’ll still do best if you take some sort of travel multi-plug.
Solar Charger,Hiluckey 25000mAh Solar Power Bank, 4 solar panels, Waterproof Portable Solar Panel Energy Rugged Shockproof Dual USB Port With LED Flashlight. Dual 2.1A output for iPhone, Android Smart Phone or tablets. This is our pick for trekking, remote, outdoors or countries with lots of power outages.
These days we carry solar-powered rechargeable battery packs and we find them great (amazing!) for trekking, camping, or anything outdoors. You can find a full review post on rechargeable power packs and chargers here. You’ll also want a regular power bank that carries a lot of charge and is small and lite. The Anker Powercore 10,000 ticks those boxes for us, it’s in the power bank post above.
Travel Gear for Photography and Video
As we are professional travel bloggers, this is something we need to get right. After years of using a DSLR I’ve switched to phone only for photos and videos and the results are superb.
I’m currently using a Motorola twin lens phone, waterproof and with gorilla glass, those are 2 vital features to look for along with good photo / video capabilites, quick charging and long battery life.
Two specialised travel photography gadgets that we hugely recommend to take your video to the next level are below. Both are relatively low cost, the microphone is tiny and the gimble / stabiliser is a lot easier to pack than a DSLR. You can buy an add-on for the gimble to turn it into a tripod.
Saramonic SmartMic Mini Flexible Condenser Microphone with High Sensitivity for Apple IOS iPhone 8 8x 8 plus 7 7 plus 6 6s 5 5s iPad Smartphones
This tiny microphone plugs into your headphone jack and will make your sound quality off-the-scale better, be it picking up background sounds, cutting wind noise, or talking to camera. One of the best things I ever bought for just a few bucks.
Zhiyun Smooth-Q 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphone Like iPhone X 8 7 Plus 6 Plus Samsung Galaxy S8+ S8 S7 S6 S5 Wireless Control Vertical Shooting Panorama Mode (Zhiyun Smooth Q Black)
My new toy, oh how I love it! Super smooth video while walking or panning, it’s just fantastic.
The DJI Osmo Gimbal is very popular (DJI make some of the best drones on the market). We went with the Zhiyun, above, it was cheaper (roughly half the price) and so far we’re very pleased with it. You can see the DJI Osmo here to compare.
The drone we own is the DJI Mavic Air (see here). It improves on both the Mavic Pro and the tiny Sprite, to give all the features I currently want in a drone. Chef (my husband and electronics technician) put a whole post together on buying a travel drone and what to think about.
The phone I use for photography and video is a Motorola rather than the new Samsung or i Phones because it’s got the features I want, the more expensive phones didn’t at that time.
Laptops for Travel
We originally took our old laptops travelling but when they needed replacing we bought smaller ” travel ” laptops. A smaller, lighter laptop will make your life easier while travelling. If you’re not a digital nomad, if you don’t work online and are happy booking flights and hotels on your phone, don’t take a laptop. Laptops really slow you down at airport security because they always have to be removed from your bag. We buy all our tech gear in Bangkok now because the range and prices are great. Remember you can claim tax back when leaving many countries. Our whole family are big Lenovo fans and our latest laptops are from the Lenovo Ideapad range. I own the model below, it’s smaller and lighter than my old Acer at 15.6 inches and that makes a huge difference to me. It has an i5 processor and heaps of memory making it suitable for video editing, something I couldn’t do on my old laptop. Mine is a 320S below, but check specifications and your needs, there are so many variables. Mine came with Windows 10, many we looked at didn’t include this. We have a full post on travel laptops here.
Lenovo Laptop Ideapad 320S 15.6-Inch (Intel Core i5-8250U, 8 GB DDR4, 1TB HDD, Windows 10 Home), 81BQ000EUS
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 FLAT. Your washbag is usually the last thing you pack and the first thing you unpack on arrival, this washbag is designed to make your life easy.
A flat bag is far easier to fit in the top of your suitcase or backpack. On arrival just grab it, unzip the centre compartment, and hang the whole thing from a bathroom hook. When you undo that U shaped zipper you’ll find a hanging point inside and every pocket can be accessed easily while the bag hangs. A wash-bag is much better hanging in your bathroom that sitting on a wet or grubby washroom surface (in shared hostel showers it’s a dream).
The centre pocket is great for small items, even makeup or jewellery and multiple pockets keep all of your wash gear organised and clean. The bag is big enough to take my hairbrush and gel spray in one packet, toothbrushes and paste in another and both stay clean, hygienic and dry. My solid shampoo slots in their easily too. Solid shampoo not only helps you save the planet through using less plastic, but it also makes carrying it easier, less mess, no liquid bans in carry on. You do have to be careful to keep all solid toiletries dry though, or they disintegrate.
I’ve been travelling with my E Bags Pack it Flat for over a year now and honestly love it, it’s one of my favourite travel items and makes travelling that little bit easier on everyone. This is another item that would make a great gift and is loads better than the old style hanging wash bags. We once owned one of those and threw it out because it was too bulky and heavy, this one isn’t. For the mums, yes, it will take the whole family’s toothbrushes if you need it to.
Take a look at the eBags 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, I used to use them for vacations in our pre-nomadic days. If you want to travel carry on only, make sure they are under 100mls and keep them ready in a clear plastic bag. These days we buy as many solid toiltries as possible but mostly we’ve cut down our toiletries to absolute essentials only ( toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, solid shampoo, conditioner, for the one of us with blue hair, also solid, shaving kit )
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. Buy second hand if you can, or share with your fellow travellers. People generally leave them behind in hostel, guest houses, and hotel libraries. It’s so much better for the planet to pass things on. Find your country or region-specific Lonely Planet guide here, direct.
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, fiction 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. We’ve published a post on best travel reading for India, more are to come.
Specialised Kids’ Travel Gear
Lots of people ask me about kids travel gear, quite honestly, they don’t need anything special for kids, just clothes and 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.
Travel Medical Kit For Kids
Obviously kids’ paracetamol is essential for fevers, 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 chewable tablets now. I don’t know what’s available in the US, sorry. Chewable paracetamol is perfect for travelling kids. Paracetamol is the one thing I always carry, get them onto adult tablets as soon as you can.
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.
Electrical Travel Gear for Kids
Do kids need special electronics for travel? No. But we carry plenty. Kindles are the only piece of travel tech kids can’t do without. Unless of course, yours are already hooked on tablets and phones. Then you’ll have to take them.
We travel with a monster array of electronics for working online, photography, and electronics. We generally have phones, chargers, laptops, a drone, at least one trekking watch, a gimbal, microphone, bluetooth selfie stick, GoPro, and a selection of lenses for underwater and scuba photography. Find details on these in our travel essentials post.
Hopefully, you don’t need to carry as much as us! Can you travel with just your phone as all the laptop and camera you need? Yes, absolutely you can these days. But take a look at the post above, see if anything hi-tech jumps out at you. We certainly need a travel laptop for business, planning and the kids’ education.
Do the kids need electrical travel toys? We think not. Kindles are essential for us and older kids love phones and music players, but for little ones, no, they don’t need them.
Kids’ Backpacks and Luggage
My boys, at 6 and 8, started with little 18L kids backpacks like the blue 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. They were more hindrance than help and mum generally ended up carrying them.
My elder son, at 9, graduated to a 45 L small adult pack, it was only half full so not too heavy, but the great harness design and airflow cooling system made 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 first, shorter Everest region trek. It’s a good buy., very simple and basic, lots of room, little by way of organisation. This makes it cheap and your money is spent on a decent harness with this one. A poor harness and a luggage-style bag is not suitable for trekking or hiking.
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. Are they good for long term travel? No. They’re basically a novelty toy.
Specialist Travel Gear for Adventure Travel With Kids
Some people travel with travel towels, sleeping bags, liners, mosquito nets, crampons, waterproofs, and scuba gear. Most people don’t.
Of the above I’d say that picking the best travel towel for you is a good idea. A nice big one, whether or not you get one for each child depends on you. The other items depend on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, kid sized trekking gear, scuba gear, everything, is available but harder to track down.
Travel Clothing for Kids
Essential kids travel gear for us, are sun (UV) protective rash vests or sun shirts ( rashies) ideally long sleeved and high necked. They wash and dry quicker than T shirts and cover your child’s delicate skin more completely. It’s better for the environment and your kids to cover skin with clothing and shade, that sunscreen. Sunscreen is also expensive and difficult to transport for travellers. Honestly, we rarely use it other than for outdoor activities like trekking or snorkelling, we wear clothes and hats to keep the sun off instead.
In some parts of the world, including Queensland, our former home, a one-piece stinger or sunsuit 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. 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 protective hats, regular shorts or long trousers, T-shirts, and long-sleeved shirts. Sadly for 2020, I’m going to have to mention sun hats with built in visors. These could be a better option for kids than annoying masks. Please check safety data for yourself.
Shoes for Travel for Kids
On their feet our kids wore Crocs or similar when they were small. They could walk just fine in them and they loved to be able to slip them on and off easily. Crocs are water-tough and when it’s cold you can add socks. My kids didn’t learn to tie shoelaces until they got their first hiking boots for Everest.
Now my kids are older they each have flip flops (thongs) hiking boots and running shoes. These are the only 3 styles of shoes they own and the running shoes are for running (we’re a family of runners) and for short trips we don’t take them. We always travel with flip flops and hiking boots or shoes, every time. We’re trying to find non-plastic rubber flip flops. That’s hard to do, but I have seen them online.
If you travel with kids you’ll know that every special toy has to go with you. That’s the bears, blankies and general comfort items that the kids can’t be parted from. We also carry some travel toys and games to keep the kids amused at airports, over long lunches, and at bus stops. You need something to pull out for when you’re just hanging about. You can find our favourites in our travel gifts post.
Card games like Top Trumps (above), Monopoly Deal and UNO are our absolute favourites. UNO for the smallest kids, Top Trumps for new readers, Monopoly Deal for bigger kids. But kids and adults love UNO.
Baby and Toddler Travel Gear
Baby travel gear you will need includes:
Travel Changing Mat
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. Graco Pack ‘n Play Care suit, Playard Maxton
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 cot 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. Outlook Shade-A-Babe Buggy Sunshade Black/Black Trim
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.
We’ll never try to sell you something you don’t need and we only recommend travel gear we actually use or have used, that’s a promise. Over the last 6 years of full-time travel we’ve had plenty of opportunities to figure out which travel equipment you need, which you don’t. If you’re more interested in the electronics we carry with us, you’ll need our travel essentials post for full details, as mentioned above. We make a point of trying new products to find the best gear currently available into 2020. Keep an eye on this page, we add great new travel products as we find them.
Friday 21st of June 2019
awesome list u guys provide its help me a lot for travel. Thanks for sharing this blog. I will certainly plan our trip with my kids as per the items mentioned on your blog.
Wednesday 4th of April 2018
Awesome list! I always love seeing what gear other families are finding useful these days. Pick up some tips and try out new things to see if it can make the travel experience a bit better. We personally love using our packing cubes as we all share suitcases and find that backpack style carry on for the kids keep them from complaining less (in comparison to the wheelie ones).
Tuesday 2nd of January 2018
Hi, I really like the trunki bag but I have already purchased it and since then my daughter plays with it during our travels. I like all the accessories you mentioned in your blog and I am looking for a backpack for my 10 years old son. I will surely buy it to make him happy too. Thanks!
Sunday 24th of December 2017
Thanks for the list, its helping me a lot. What car seat did you use for your boys when traveling thru Europe? I'll be traveling with my 3 year old for 4-6 months.
Alyson Long for World Travel Family
Sunday 24th of December 2017
we used our British car seats Aimee.
Sunday 17th of December 2017
We are planning a long trip in south America with three kids. My wife and myself travelled a lot before. We've got our own backpacks. Our elders son is ten and is able to carry his own backpack. But we need to carry the luggage of our two youngest children... We were thinking about buying a rolling suitcase for carrying the extra luggage (eg rolling thunder north face). Anyone any experience with traveling with smaller children and using a rolling suitcase? We welcome any advice, Thx Erwin