Backpacking With Kids.. sorta kinda

The littlest backpacker.

After a week in very hot & humid Bulgaria, we are back in Deutschland.  Woohoo!  I am so glad.  No matter how nice the hotel, the best bed is always your own.  And no matter how fun the trip, kids behave so much better on their own turf.  Home sweet who-knows-how-long-we’ll-be-here home.

We did something this trip that I don’t think we have ever done before.  We did not check any luggage (!).  Slightly ridiculous?  You betcha.

Every one of the four of us took a backpack.  Doc Sci and I have Kelty packs from back in our early days and the boys have their itty bitty, only-room-for-four-cars-and-a-book bags.  Though you may not believe me and probably think I’m crazy, that most likely would have been enough for all of us for six days.  The problem is that I only half committed to this idea of backpacking.

In case you have only girls, I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret fact.  Boys are messy.  Like big time.  So unlike their parents who could re-wear outfits, that just ain’t gonna happen with my two.  Thus, when I choose where to stay, I almost always make washing machine availability a priority.  (And the place has got to have a pack & play because I sure as all get out am NOT going to lug that thing around the world!)

This trip, I only sorta kinda decided I would do laundry.  I’m torn between my personal love of options and my hatred of lugging around a mountain of crap.  So, truth be told, I brought more than I should.  If you’re going to try this at home, lay out everything you think you need and put back 1/3 to 1/2 of it.  Really.

Unfortunately, what I definitely could not put back were the wedding clothes for four.  We were able to make more room by Doc Sci wearing his humongous shoes on the plane and deciding the boys would go to the party in beach attire (because they’re so cute who is going to care anyway?).  However, I thought I should wear some fancy schmancy heels when really I just should have just gotten over myself and worn the flats that I was bringing anyway.  What a waste of space – those spiky shoes were ditched at the beginning of the reception.

Now, it is true that we only brought carry on luggage, but this comes with a few disclaimers.  First, we did bring one suitcase to put in the overhead bin.  This was to help make room for the semi-formal attire and for my running gear (that dang marathon thing follows me everywhere!) as well as to hold one of the car seats.  I made myself one of these (because I can’t bring myself to pay $15 for a strap) and when used to attach the car seat to a roller board suitcase, it doubles as a makeshift stroller.

Second, we did gate check two car seats and one stroller.  Bringing the car seats was a big, hairy, seriously annoying mistake.  If you are going somewhere and renting a car, duh, bring your car seats.  We were only going to be in airport transfers and on a few excursions, all of which were in small, European buses.  We didn’t end up using the car seats on the airport transfers and the seats were too big for the buses.  And we were not allowed to use our FAA-approved car seats on the plane.  But that’s a story for another day, maybe tomorrow.  Next time, we will rent car seats when we are unsure of the frequency of use!

Now that I’ve come clean, I thought I’d share my packing list with you.  I love, love, love lists and they are the only way I can keep the important thoughts in my brain in any sort of order.  Maybe this will help you pare down and figure out what you really have to have.

  • Passports!
  • Cash (best when traveling to Eastern Europe)
  • One credit card for emergencies
  • Printed confirmations: airline and hotels
  • Train tickets and Deutsche Bahn cards
  • Cell phones and one charger
  • Cameras and chargers
  • Plug adapter (for electronics)
  • iPods and one charger
  • Nike+ and armband for iPod
  • Walkie talkies and charger (ours have a baby monitor function which allows us to have some alone time somewhere nearby the hotel room while the boys sleep)
  • Two books each (for the adults – one might have been enough)
  • DVD player and a few movies out of cases
  • Eye masks (great for putting boys to sleep on late or early flights)
  • Car seats.. grrrrrr
  • Travel clothesline (duh for laundry but also for hanging up the next item)
  • Queen size, flat black sheet (for making rooms dark or dividing them)
  • Ziploc bag with two scoops of powdered laundry detergent
  • Diapers and pull-ups (I like to take them because it makes room on the way back for any purchases)
  • Wipes and rash creme (nothing like trying to explain that in another language)
  • One stuffed animal and one blanket each for boys for nighttime
  • Small cars and paperback books for boys
  • Water bottles for all
  • Snacks for traveling
  • Two each: plastic kid cups, straws, bowls, spoons, and forks (can be ditched if need be)
  • Sack ‘n Seat
  • Sunscreen (in travel-size bottle)
  • Bug spray
  • Bathing suits + cover ups
  • Sandals for all
  • Hats for boys
  • Shorts and shirts for everyone for four days (I actually ended up with more like six days’ worth – not necessary!)
  • Running gear for me
  • Nice outfit for welcome dinner (only Doc Sci and me)
  • Wedding outfits for all + shoes + belt
  • Flat iron (totally did not know Bulgaria was too humid to even bother trying to straighten my hair)
  • Travel hair dryer with diffuser (if you don’t have curly hair, just use the one at the hotel)
  • Small plastic poncho and small umbrella
  • Sunglasses
  • Small day backpack
  • Small “purse” to hold passports, cash, little camera, sunglasses and phone (use one with a strap that goes across your body to help fend off would-be pickpockets)

This list is not exhaustive; it’s simply meant to show you that with a few tricks and the right gear, you can travel light with kids.  I think this will get even easier as the boys grow older and need less toys and comfort items.  They’ll also be able to carry their ever-growing clothing.  Score!

Have you taken a trip with kids and not checked any luggage?  What tips and must-have gear make it possible for you?

3 thoughts on “Backpacking With Kids.. sorta kinda

  1. I recently took a short 4 day trip with a 2-yr old and checked no bags. Easy compared to your travels with 2 boys, BUT I learned something kinda cool! Because we had 2 carry on bags that happened to be too big to fit in the overhead compartments, the gate attendant gave us luggage tags and we got to check our bags right at the gate with the stroller! It was perfect since we had to change planes – less to drag around! It was a way to check bags without really checking bags – and not having to pay extra for themt!!!

  2. Pingback: Trip Report: Bulgaria « Thrifty Travel Mama

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