What To Pack for Full-Time Travel: Mama's List
Alright moms, let’s be honest for a minute. As excited as I was for full-time travel and all the adventure, I had a few big hesitations.
One of them: leaving my closet behind!
I know, that sounds vain. It is vain. However, I’ll bet in your closet right now you’ve got more than all my current clothes combined. Maybe even all the clothes of my whole family!
I had a lovely walk-in closet with all the typical stuff…
My old high school pants that I **hope** someday I’ll fit into again.
That college shirt that I got asked out in and still think is stylish (but probably isn’t). It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t fit ANYTHING like it did in college anyway!
My wedding dress (really, why do we hold onto these anyway?? Yet I’ll never part with it).
My color coded shirts/sweaters/jackets, which take up the majority of the closet (sorry Chris).
Many dresses and skirts for church and dressing up.
Multiple pairs of jeans, along with other pants, shorts, too many swimsuits, a sock drawer that wont’t close, shoes littered all over the floor, etc, etc. You feel me, right?
No matter what your budget, clothes are cheap and we probably all have too much of them. I had signed up for Stitch Fix while pregnant with Grace and loved it. TJ Maxx is my BFF, but my closet was overflowing!
I wondered, how would I live out of a backpack?!
We did determine that, of course, we would have to buy clothes along the way. Initially Chris told me I could just buy clothes in each location and leave them. However, this is too much again my do-not-waste mentality and I also get attached to my clothes. The more I buy, the more I tend to try to fit in my luggage.
The good news? Shopping is currently VERY limited in our family! If we shop, it’s because we have items we are ready to part with. Either they are too stained, too worn, or we are just sick of them. This can open up your budget if you, like me, participated in some retail therapy (Oh Target… how I miss you and our date days/afternoons/nights/anytime I could slip out alone).
How do I feel now about what I pack now?
It’s great! I’m always craving a bit more variety, but I’ve learned to select HIGH QUALITY pieces that will wear for a while. Alternatively, I do pick up an item here or there that I know will just be for that location. Like the PJ shorts I’m wearing right now that are very baggy and unflattering, but are so cool and breezy and the standard wear here in Thailand for locals. When it’s 90-100 degrees outside and I know no one, I care less :)
Onto my detailed list of what the Mama of this crazy clan travels the world with:
Side note: remember how we were going to JUST have backpacks and everything had to fit in there? That’s how we started, but it didn’t last. I could do it, but it was SO heavy. The kids were dying every travel day and it wasn’t worth it anymore to call ourselves “backpackers”. So now the backpack serves for essentials and we have stuff in checked luggage. Any “extras”, especially for the kids, have to go in the backpack as well. This keeps accumulation down to a minimum! Do you want that thing enough to carry it around for hours at a time on your back as we travel??
Click on any linked items to purchase for yourself.
First, my backpack itself. We picked Kelty hiking backpacks for a few reasons: they are meant to the WORN for a long time with a lot of weight. If I get the waist strap going on my pack, it really doesn’t bother me much even when it’s darn heavy. The water bladder pocket is PERFECT for laptops and tablets- it is padded. There are zillion pockets, they are weather-proof (aka kid proof) and they are durable. Plus, they do make great hiking backpacks anytime we hike!
While are aren’t true “backpackers” since we have plenty of other luggage, I do really like having the backpacks. My vision of 3-4 of my kids having rollers in a crowded airport is one of my nightmares. They’d be running all over people’s feet, playing bumper bags, etc. I like making them carry their stuff and really feel the weight of it- haha!
Travel Foam Roller. I suffer with some residual hip pain (from having babies) that can radiate into my lower back, especially when I try to get more diligent about working out after a long stretch. This travel roller can do wonders! On a long flight I sometimes put it on my lower back to keep the angle right. Hence why it is in the backpack.
Extra Outfit. This is crucial. If we are only staying somewhere for 1-2 nights, I may mandate this to be two outfits for everyone. That way we don’t have to break into the checked baggage. It is also crucial for two more reasons: sometimes your luggage gets lost for a day or two OR if you have an overnight layover somewhere, you luggage will likely head to your final destination without you even seeing it. This was the case when we flew to Bali. We had 14 hours overnight in Taipei, so we gladly booked a couple hotel rooms to get some sleep. We never saw our checked luggage at all until we reached Bali.
PJs and Toiletries. These are obviously totally personal. I do travel with full size shampoo and conditioner in the checked bag. I use it too often and want a good quality brand that can be tricky to find (or read the label when you do find it).
Mesh bags. I love little little bags for organizing toiletries. I have one that is mostly hair stuff and the other that is makeup and travel size toiletries.
Acne wash. TMI: I’ve have clear skin MY WHOLE LIFE. It was a big deal to get a single zit. However, heat and humidity have done a number on my skin. I have to now use a serious acne wash and lotion to keep it in check.
Makeup. I don’t really use makeup. I’ve always felt kind of foolish about this, like I should be better at using it, but it’s proven useful while traveling to not have to use much! I use a good quality mascara and eyeshadow sticks. I also love a good tinted lipgloss or Burt’s Bee’s Peppermint Chapstick. That’s all I use for makeup! Bring your own essentials or just embrace the natural look :) . You won’t know anyone, after all!
Hair supplies. I brought a curling wand that is just a waste in any kind of humidity. Why curl your hair when it will be gone 10 min in this heat? Now I try to rely on messy buns, braids (YouTube has great braiding tutorials!!) or letting it air dry and be somewhat flat. I do have lots of mini, clear rubber bands for braiding and bobby pins. Lots and lots of hair ties! I also recommend a good quality brush.
Jewelry. I’m not a big jewelry person, but I do love a little bling in the occasional earrings or necklace. I just have a few pieces that I love and keep them in a small jewelry bag. I left my wedding ring, but did bring a diamond right-hand ring. However, after leaving that in Hong Kong and paying $70 to ship it home, I’ve left that now too!! I got these silicone wedding bands that are perfect for me. I also picked up a little silver CZ ring when I want to be a bit more fancy. :)
Ear Plugs. For me, these are a MUST HAVE. Sleeping in new cities with lots of sounds or in close proximity with my kiddos, I am woken up easily by strange noises. I sleep with ear plugs now most of the time (we are currently sharing the room with baby Grace). These can take a bit of time to adjust to, but help me sleep a ton.
Also, check out the kid’s list for our white noise makers. I also love the White Noise App on my phone, but it can be tricky to get white noise going for a kid while I still want to use my phone, so I prefer the separate machine.
Computer/ Tablet. I bought a MacBook, 12 inch, 16 GB memory and it has served me SO well. I love this computer bag also.
For tablets, both Chris and I got iPad Pro 12.5 inch. These are just as big as our laptop screens and can serve as a “second monitor” of sorts. We can have some windows open on the tablet while we work on the laptop. We also use these for homeschool, entertainment, digital kid’s books, etc. These are work horses for us.
Chargers. I like to be in charge of all the plugs and charging cords for the family, so I found this great organizer. I carry it on the plane with me in case we need to charge anything last minute or we lose our luggage.
Speaking of chargers, I started using a Mophie Charging Case for my iPhone before we left and it has saved us many times. It basically is an extra battery for your phone and it extended the life of your phone a ton. When I am using Google maps and checking stuff constantly, it helps SO much. Side note: there is some debate on whether these are OK to bring onto planes due to the battery. So far, I’ve had great luck and no problems.
Money/Important Documents. Always carry these with you, for obvious reasons! I love this passport necklace to keep them very handy on travel day. Remember to keep a pen with you in your passport bag for all the customs forms!
Side note: I have to have passport numbers so handy that I’ve actually created a private note on my phone. Passport numbers themselves are less worrisome to share than other personal info and I use this note constantly as we travel. I also have the expiration and issue date for everyone to get a moment’s notice. This is SO nice when I’m filling out forms on the plane to not have to shuffle through seven passports.
As for money… we don’t like to carry a lot of cash, but I do recommend at least $500-1000. Sometimes ATMs are hard to find, but currency exchangers usually are not. ATM fees can be steep also, depending on your bank. Or, exchange money at home first. Customs doesn’t usually care about cash less than $10,000 USD.
Shoes. I have a pair of fancy flip flops, like these, my favorite Chaco’s walking shoe and nice tennis shoes (currently Nike). My Chacos are not that cute, but man, I can walk for DAYS in these shoes. I can even run and hike! They don’t make my back sore, they can get wet, they have help up amazingly well.
In checked luggage:
The rest of my clothing is in our checked luggage.
What luggage did we decide on? Well, we have switched since we left, but love our most current choice that we’ve had now for five months. These Thule bags are super awesome. Each bag is essentially two bags, so you can separate them into a roller and duffel. Some airline have pretty strict weight requirements and this made me nervous. So far, we haven’t had to split them (I think all the gate agents we’ve had so far are overwhelmed by all our kids and must have pity on us because we ARE overweight!!), but we can to avoid fees. We have enough tickets passengers it isn’t a problem for us to have four bags instead of two. Plus, these bags just are wonderful quality and the rollers are wonderful. It is balanced just right so it isn’t tipping over as you drag it. I have split the two bags into four sections: mom, dad, boys and girls. We also fit home-school books in there, some vitamins or other bags, etc as we can stuff things in.
We have one REI bag we use for tech and other life items. See our other posts for those packing lists!
Dresses. I’m a fan of dresses. I love this Chicos simple black travel dress. In SE Asia you can also find tons of lightweight, cheap dresses and I tend to have one of those also.
Bottoms: Two shorts and two pants. I LOVE Athleta brand. Their stuff last a LONG time. I’ve also just been introduced to Prama brand and am excited to try out some new pants I had my mom bring to Bangkok. For shorts, I like these Chico’s shorts. Great travel material. I wish they had a back pocket, but still love them.
5-6 Shirts. The only tops I still have from when we left are a Columbia botton-up ( similar to this one) and Athleta tops like these. Everything else I buy as we go. Tops are the things we need to replace the most, both for wear and tear and for variety.
Full size toiletries. Are you a fan of dry shampoo? I love this stuff. I stopped carrying it after a few months since I couldn’t find a replacement, but this is a lifesaver if you don’t want to wash your hair as often!. My favorite brand is Batiste.
Curling iron (not needed). I’m sending it home- too much humidity!
Workout clothes/underwear. Again, I can only shout out to Athleta. I love their stuff! These are my favorite workout pants and I often wear them on travel days because of the side pockets. I also LOVE this workout top and this bra. All my Athleta clothes look as good as the day we left, seriously!
Travel TRX Bands and Jump Rope. I was a gym rat and not getting to the gym is hard for my mental health. However, sometimes a gym is too hard to find or too expensive to use short-term. These are both great options for a workout on the go! I also love this workout band.
Hopefully this helps give you an idea of what to pack for yourself, mama!