Like many frequent travelers, I love to talk about packing. I want to share some of the essential items and products that we bring with us when we travel, and the things that I have learned to keep home. But before I get to that, I feel the need to step on my soap box for a minute to explain why we only bring carry-on luggage. Many people have opinions about this, but I feel very strongly that nine times out of ten it is best not to check a bag. Here are my reasons why:
- No lost luggage. It’s happened to me about 10% of the time I have traveled, and the airline has always gotten my stuff back to me, but when it happens it’s a huge inconvenience.
- You have less and smaller luggage to cart with you as you travel in other modes on your trip (not on the plane). It’s so much easier in Ubers, taxis, trains, subways, boats, etc to just have your personal item and maybe a large backpack (which is what my husband and use for our luggage).
- When you are coming back from a foreign country you have to claim your bags at the point of entry, then re-check them, which adds more time to the already drawn out customs and immigration process. Since we don’t live near a major airport we are almost always entering back into the US on a layover. This means we have to clear customs and immigration within the time frame of our layover, and sometimes this can take over 2 hours! Having global entry to speed us through helps, however if you are trying to get through everything as quickly as possible to make it to your next flight, it is so much easier not having to claim and re-check your luggage.
- Unless you have a credit card for a particular airline that will allow you to check luggage for free, most airlines will charge for a checked bag, at least for domestic travel.
- Just having less stuff when you travel is usually a good thing.
There are of course some exceptions when I will check bags. If I am traveling somewhere where I know I will want to bring a lot of stuff home (such as fabric from Europe), I will stuff an empty bag in my carry-on and check a bag on the way home. Also you can read about how we fit 3 weeks worth of car-camping gear in four checked bags on our trip to visit many National Parks. Finally, if I am traveling somewhere we we are bringing a lot of items to donate to local charities, it makes sense to check a bag.
I highly recommend that no matter how long you are traveling for you try to fit everything in a carry-on. If you roll your clothes up tightly you will be amazed by how much you can fit and the rolling actually keeps the clothes from getting wrinkled. I also wear the bulkier items on the plane, such as my biggest shoes and my outerwear (sweater or jacket or coat, depending on the season).
My favorite items to bring
Here are some essentials that I always have with me.
- Medicine in non-liquid form. The most important being chewable pepto bismal and imodium caplets. Lots of tummy troubles can happen when traveling, so bring plenty. It’s small and easy to pack. But you can also get chewable Tylenol!
- Travel size bottles of sunscreen (if traveling somewhere sunny). Sunscreen tends to be very expensive in other countries, so I like to stock up at target on the small bottles (so they can go through TSA).
- OFF bug wipes with DEET. These are a great way to bring your own bug spray in a way that passes TSA and takes up very little room! My youngest son is like a bug magnet so I always like to have this for him.
- Baby powder. My kids always get chafed in their crotch area on beach vacations and when hiking. It also helps get wet sand off.
- Little pocket tissues and antibacterial wipes. Have these in your bag as you are sight-seeing. You never know when you will need toilet paper (hence the tissues) or need to wipe something down (the antibac wipes)!
- Headphone splitter. Very useful if two people want to watch the same thing on the same device.
- Portable chargers. It is extremely likely that your phone will die while you are out and about exploring during the day. Then you will be sad because you won’t be able to take pictures or have access to GPS!
- Multiple charging cube. One of those plugs that has several usb ports (I bring one with 6). Between everyone’s devices, cameras, and portable chargers, you will likely be charging at least 6 devices a night!
- Go pro camera (if snorkeling) or doing some other outdoor activity.
- Outlet converter if traveling to a country with different electrical outlets.
- Make sure your phone has these apps: a currency exchange, google translate, and something for reviews such as tripadvisor or yelp.
Clothes/ fabric items
- Some sort of waterproof hiking sandals. I bring my keen Rose sandals on pretty much every trip! You can hike in them, go walking through the city in them, and go in the water with them. They are the best!!!
- Travel towels. Also called camping towels. These things are the best when traveling because you never know when you’re going to stop by some little swimming hole and need a towel! They’re quick drying and pack up small.
- A packable rain jacket can be helpful, as well as a very small umbrella (if you have room).
- A portable tote bag. I like the ones that you can squish up small so that it takes up little space but can be useful for taking things to the beach, pool, etc.
- Some small games. Don’t go crazy with the games and activities because chances are you will be so busy the kids won’t have time to use them. We like to bring Uno and one or two other small games.
- A notebook they can use as a travel journal and some pens and pencils.
- One comfort item, like a stuffed animal. It can be stressful to be away from home and this helps the kids feel more secure.