One question we are regularly asked is ‘What should we pack for our family gap year?’ Or just, ‘what should I pack for kids?’ When we decided to take our four kids out of school and head off on a family gap year, there wasn’t a lot of good information to guide us. Instead we relied on past travel experience and a desire to keep our luggage to the bare minimum. I’d say we didn’t do too badly, but after traveling around the world for nearly 18 months, we are now expert packers.
Of course what you pack will depend on where you’re going, but the goal when traveling with kids should be to only pack the essentials. Do your kids really need five pairs of jeans when you’re going to have access to laundry? Sandals, flip-flops & sneakers? One of the many liberating things about traveling is you don’t have anyone to impress. You’re not seeing your same friends or colleagues or neighbours each day. You can wear what you love and wear it to death. Consider it your travel uniform, to be worn proudly day after day. Having a variety of outfits is just wasted space and extra weight for you to lug around each travel day.
Turns out that packing just the essentials isn’t so easy, so don’t leave it until the night before you go. Give yourself a couple of days to work through it. Start by grabbing everything you think you’ll need on day one. Place it in neat piles on your dresser or floor. Then go back on day 2 with the goal of cutting those piles in half. If you’re really ruthless, go for round three the next day. In the end you should be left with the things your kids really love to wear and just a few of each… except undies. Best to pack plenty of undies. ☺
For our adventure we decided to follow the sun. We were rarely outside of summer so we needed little in the way of cold weather gear. This really reduced the weight and bulk of our luggage. If part of your journey involves snow sports or high latitudes, you’re going to need a bigger suitcase.
Below is more or less what we packed for our family gap year. Actually it’s better. It is what we would pack for our kids if we were setting off again today with all the lessons learned.
We wanted our kids to be able to tow their own luggage. With six of us going through myriad airports and train stations, this seemed a necessity for a family gap year. So each was packed in a carry-on size wheelie bag from Herschel Supply Co., which they could easily tote themselves. The older the kid, the bigger their clothing, the tighter the squeeze, but we made it work. In hindsight, even softer luggage could have helped when cramming bags for six into the back of small rental vans. Duffle bags, or better, duffle bags with wheels, might be the ideal.
Each kid also got to bring along their own backpack on our family gap year—also by Herschel Supply Co. They got to fill it with a few of their favourite things, but the deal was it couldn’t be too heavy. It was going to be their responsibility to keep track of their things and carry their backpacks through the airports. Plus, they had to save space for future souvenirs.
CLOTHING FOR KIDS:
– 2 swimsuits & 2 rashies for sun protection
– A sunhat (preferably one that folds up in a suitcase)
– 4 or 5 t-shirts for the boys
– 3 or 4 pairs of shorts for the boys
– 4 or 5 dresses for the girls
– 1 long-sleeved tee for each boy and 1 long-sleeved shirt for the girls (great for layering under dresses if needed)
– 1 cardigan for each girl
– 2 pairs of leggings for each girl (great for layering under dresses if needed)
– A cosy wool jumper (we did not bring along scarves or boots or mittens, though we bought some wool socks on a particularly blustery summer day on the Otago peninsula of New Zealand!)
– One raincoat/waterproof shell
– A pair of socks (though they were hardly ever worn!)
– 5 to 7 pairs of undies
– 2 pairs of pyjamas
– Native Shoes – A sneaker and water shoe in one. Easy to put on and off themselves. Useful to have closed toes for walks
– A pair of Saltwater sandals or Birkenstocks
– A Turkish towel from Morihata — a very comfy take on these great space saving towels that dry quickly on the clothesline
In addition to the kids suitcases we had two other carry-on sized bags. These were for kit. The first was a mix of accessories such as phone chargers, camera lenses, power adapters, first aid kit and so on. The essentials in this bag were:
– Our portable speaker. We’ve since bought the UE Boom waterproof speaker that we love even more.
– Waka Waka Solar Charger & Light. Having a spare charge and a torch/flashlight came in super handy.
– Portable Laundry Line
– Small, foldable duffel (for temporary items like dirty laundry that couldn’t be cleaned before a travel day)
– Water Purifying Bottle. In the end we never used ours so we donated it to a family in Sri Lanka. Still, if you’re going somewhere with limited access to potable water it’s nice to have.
– Medical Travel Kit: Not sure this is available everywhere but this compact kit with an assortment of antibiotics, topical treatments and first aid supplies was great to have along. Thankfully we didn’t use much more than the band-aids.
– Inflatable booster seats: For the bigger kids, these inflatable ‘Bubblebum’ boosters have made car travel so much easier.
The second kit bag was entirely home school supplies. In here we had:
– School books — We mostly used this series from the UK
– Workbooks/Practice books for handwriting, spelling, etc.
– Journals – Our favourite momentos from the journey. We’ve written a whole other post on these. Full size and hardback is key. Moleskin offers a good option if you can’t find the Leuchtturn ones we used.
– Blackwing Pencils with a good metal sharpener
– A ruler/straight edge
– Playing Cards
– Washi tape & glue stick
– Watercolour paper and paint
Now, having gone through the grueling process of culling your items down to one small suitcase per kid we have a final piece of advice: Don’t take up surfing!!! By the end of our journey we were lugging along two surfboards and five wetsuits from country to country. And to think Michael talked me out of packing a small travel-sized hair dryer because it took up too much space! Haha. ☺