We fit everything we needed for a year into 1-2 backpacks each for practical reasons: it enabled us to move easily between places, and it minimized those extra check-in fees on airlines. But it was also an exercise in minimalism; in realizing that we really don’t need much to be happy.
Janet and I each carried one travel backpack (Osprey Farpoint 40 and Osprey Porter 46) which weighed about 10-15kg a piece, plus a small backpack (which we wore on the front). The kids each carried one hiker’s backpack that weighed about 7kg a piece. Althought these fit as carry-ons on most airlines, there are also weight limits, and we had to keep a close eye on making sure that our tickets allowed for them without excessive fees.
Here is a rough overview of how we packed, and what we considered to be essential for a year of travel with a family of five:
- 21x travel cubes: 13.75 x 9.75 x 3 inch travel cubes are lightweight and perfect for keeping things organized within carry-ons. We were able to keep track of where everything is, and to reassign various things to different packs to distribute weight as needed.
- “Tablets” travel cube: We consolidated all the touchpads and keyboards into one travel cube to keep a closer eye on these expensive items, and to make it easier to take them out for screening at airports. This “Tablets” travel cube held:
- 5x Touchpads: Samsung Galaxy S2 android tablets. The 9.7″ screen was a perfect balance for giving the kids enough space to read/do homework and yet light enough to pack everywhere. We also loaded it up with as much extra memory for educational apps and downloads.
- 5x Bluetooth keyboards: these were immensely helpful for writing emails, keeping up with the blog, and practicing typing skills.
- “Electronics” travel cube: a charging station with 5 USB outlets (invest in a good one that provides a solid charge to all five outlets), USB wires for charging the tablets & phone), a universal plug adapter, Roku (for being able to stream or mirror cast movies on TVs that have an HDMI input), a small portable battery pack (for those long days when we needed to boost our phone’s charge before getting back home), and a mobile hotspot (for use with local SIM cards to make internet available to our phone when we were out of the house or to all phones & tablets at once where our place didn’t have wi-fi).
- “Toiletries” travel cube: Toothbrushes, travel-size toothpaste, dental floss, shampoo, hairbrush, nail clipper, cosmetics, contact lenses & solution. Don’t forget to get the liquids in travel size containers so that they can pass airport screening.
- “Medicine” travel cube: band-aids, malarone (for malaria), antibiotics (fortunately, Janet is a veterinarian and more knowledgable than most on when is appropriate to use which ones), allergy pills (i.e. Zyrtec). We got all our prescriptions in the United States before starting the trip.
- “Documents” travel cube: travel pouch with our passports, credit cards, debit cards, drivers licenses, emergency cash, copies of passports and birth cerificates.
- “Transit” travel cube: things we keep handly on carry-on, especially for travel between countries. A card game, two small cable locks and two small motion alarms (for securing our bags), small matches, plastic spoons and forks, and a small waterproof pouch.
- 3x “Journals” travel cubes: each kid had a travel cube that held their three educational journals: History Journal, Writing Journal, Science Journal (see Curriculum). We invested in nice leather-bound, 3-ring journals that hold A5 paper, so that the kids would have nice mementos at the end of the trip; but some paper (A5 paper, or regular paper folded in half) would be a cheaper solution to meet whatever educational needs kids have.
- “School supplies” travel cube: pencil case, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, hole puncher, glue sticks, small scissors, small supply of extra A5 paper for the kids’ journals.
- “Art supplies” travel cube: we didn’t start with this one, but midway through the trip, we accumulated some colored pencils, pastels, charcoals, watercolors, and paper for doing some art. These can be ditched if space or weight is a problem, but they’ve been nice to have on hand.
- Clothing: we used some travel cubes for organizing clothing, but that isn’t necessary. The key thing is to pare down clothing to the bare essentials. For us, that meant 3-4 shirts/dresses, 2 shorts/skirts, 1 long pants/jeans, 1 waterproof lightweight jacket, 3-4 pairs of socks, 3-4 sets of undewear, 1 pair of hiking/running shoes, and 1 pair of hiking sandals per person. Given the amount of walking we’d be doing, we found it worthwhile to invest in durable sandals, such as Chacos. We were able to avoid having to pack significant cold weather clothing by sticking to mostly warm climates (“the chocolate zone”). And we made an effort to stay in places that had a washing machine so that we could cycle through clean clothes every 2-4 days. In some places, no washing machine meant having to wash by hand in the shower.
- 5x “Personals” travel cubes: each of us had one travel cube to hold personal items, such as a personal journal, keepsakes from home, or small mementos we found/bought on the trip. Occasionally, Janet and I bought some larger items, such as artwork, which we had shipped home, but overall having one “personals” travel cube each kept our attention on not accumulating more than we could carry.
- “Etc” travel cube: assortment of odds and ends, such as zip ties and some tape, and things we’d picked up along the way such as postcards. We would occasionally go through it and purge what was weighing us down needlessly.
- Portable printer: Canon Pixma ip110 (in a snug neoprene travel case) + extra ink cartridges. Depending on your goals, you could do without this. It takes up quite a bit of space and adds weight. But we loved having the printer primarily for doing History Journals (see Curriculum) on the go, as well as being able to print educational worksheets, tickets we’d bought online, or boarding passes.
- Phone: our Android touchphone was perhaps our most prized thing outside of passports. Not only did the phone case double as the holder for our ATM and credit card when we’d go out of the house, but it also served as our camera, our maps, and so much more. We kept a mobile plan in the United States that had favorable roaming terms, but for the most part we relied on local wi-fi to do everything from backing up photos to making phone calls. We thought we’d be saving costs and space by taking only one phone to share as a family, but in hindsight we wish we had brought two of them.
- Water bottle(s): at least one alumnimum water bottle that clips to the outside of a bag was handy and cut down on wasting plastic bottles. We did lose it early in the trip, and made do with refilling a plastic bottle instead.
Below: our packing for a year