Must Have Travel Items: A Nomad Family’s Packing Guide

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We have been traveling around the world for the past three years. It’s still unbelievable to think about! Since 2018, we’ve been living out of a backpack with our must have travel items, and slow traveling through different countries around the world. 

We’ve traveled through the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, and France. We’ve also traveled through Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam. After a brief stint in the United States as we weathered the pandemic, we are back on the road exploring the world.

As we’ve traveled, we’ve met many families along the way. And some of things that families always ask us is, what’s in your backpack? What are the things that you take with you when you travel? What are some of your must have travel items for you and your family?

This post was last updated on May 6, 2021.

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Must have travel items for long term travel
Traveling through Dulles Airport (May 2019)

Adopting a minimalist mindset when putting together our must have travel items

Over the past few years, we’ve worked hard to achieve a minimalist lifestyle. These days, the possessions that we don’t travel with can fit neatly into a 15 foot Uhaul truck. But it wasn’t always that way. There was once a time when we filled a 2,000 square foot home with stuff.

The journey to becoming minimalist travelers wasn’t easy, and it took a long time. We literally went through every possession we owned and asked ourselves, “is this something that we want to come back to in three years time?”

Even now, as we travel, we continue to go through this process of assessment and purging. Over the course of our month or more stays in destinations around the world, we collect things. We acquire souvenirs. We amass stuff. And when we have our packing days, we go through each of our world travel items and ask ourselves, “is this something we want to keep carrying around for three or more years time?” 

Minimalism is a daily practice. It’s actively choosing to live without things. But it’s also mindfully choosing to live with the things you have.

So what are our must have travel items?

Even though we’re fairly minimalist travelers, we still do carry a fair bit of stuff with us. In general, our bags include two 80 liter checked bags, as well as 4 backpacks, which we take with us as carry-ons.

We like using the Osprey Sojourn wheeled luggage for our checked bags. For carry-ons, my husband uses the Cotopaxi Allpa bag, my kids use the Osprey Daylight Plus backpacks, and I use a Thule Landmark travel pack. We also carry with us a ukelele. It’s our own luxury item that is actually a necessity for our mental health.

But when it comes to our must have travel items, the list is relatively short. Aside from clothes, homeschool supplies, kids toys, and work related materials, we try to choose items that will be necessary for us in a variety of situations. In actuality, many of these must have travel items are also things that you can also have at home. So you wouldn’t need to be traveling to make use of these things.

Really, I just want to give you all a peek into what our daily life is like as we travel around the world, share with you our long term travel essentials.

passport, journal, and sunglasses, a few must have travel essentials
Minimizing our travel gear (May 2018)

#1: Packing cubes

One of the most basic must have travel items we take along with us are packing cubes. These are great for keeping all your clothes in one place. We have one for every member of the family. And we also use various sized packing cubes to keep our loose stuff organized, like toys, travel electronics, even shoes! The packing cubes we take with us are Bagail, but there are plenty of other good quality packing cubes available as well.

Packing cubes, one of the must have travel items
Packing cubes for travel (November 2016)

#2: A waterproof jacket

When it comes to packing minimally, the key is choosing clothes that will be useful in a variety of situations, especially outer gear. We like taking along waterproof jackets because they are light enough to serve as rain jackets, but heavy duty enough to serve as winter coats when we add a sweater or base layer underneath. I like my Columbia women’s jacket because they’re functional yet stylish.

Using my jacket in Vietnam (February 2020)

#3: Water bottle

Another must have travel item we always travel with is a water bottle. This is not any old water bottle. This bottle is called a GRAYL, and it has a built in water filter and purifier. So you can essentially drink water from anywhere in the world. And you don’t have to rely on buying bottled water anymore.

A GRAYL water bottle, one of the must have travel items for families
Our GRAYL bottle in Mexico (November 2018)

#4: Travel scale

Something that we never travel without is a miniature travel scale. This must have travel item is a bit of a vanity choice. But we like to carry one with us, like the NewlineNY Step On Super Mini travel scale, to make sure that we’re staying healthy and not enjoying ourselves too much when we travel, if you know what I mean. But actually, a scale comes in handy when you have to make sure your bags are within the 50 lb weight limit.

Staying active in Vietnam (February 2020)

#5: Knife sharpener

We like to cook a lot when we travel. But when we get to our vacation rentals, the knives are always blunt and dull. That’s why one of our must have travel items is a knife sharpener, like the one by Faberware. It folds up small and compact, and lets us sharpen those dull knives to our liking.

Making homemade pasta in Italy (June 2019)

#6: Carbon monoxide detector

One of the most important pieces of gear we take with us is a carbon monoxide detector. Each year, over 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. We stay in older homes and buildings a lot. And often, they’re not well-ventilated. Last year, in Mexico, we had a carbon monoxide poisoning scare when a water heater wasn’t venting properly at our Airbnb, and was essentially building up carbon monoxide inside our room. The carbon monoxide detector thing literally saved our lives!

Our carbon monoxide detector that saved our life (January 2019)

#7: Tablets and other electronic devices

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but our kids’ tablets and electronic devices are some of our most important must have travel items. Not only do we use them for entertainment, but we use them for homeschooling too. Our kids use their iPads to do math work, to do reading, and even to practice writing. My son makes stop motion movies on his iPad, and my daughter designs fashion dresses and graphic design artwork on hers. When carrying around an electronic device, make sure they’re protected in a durable case. We like protective cases like the AVOWO Kid Case.

An ipad in a purple kid protective case, one of the must have travel items for families
Using our tablet for music lessons (April 2020)

#8: HDMI cable and adapter

We like watching movies when we travel, but nothing’s worse than watching a movie on a laptop. So we travel with an HDMI cable. This lets us plug in our laptops to the TV. And because my laptop doesn’t have this size input for the HDMI cable, we carry along an adapter as well. We use the Mokin HDMI adapter.

A laptop, one of the must have travel items
Using our laptop for entertainment (April 2020)

#9: Bluetooth speaker

We’re also big music lovers in our family. I mean, who doesn’t like to just rock out to music in their living room or kitchen? We take along a Bluetooth speaker when we travel. We have the UE Boom, but you can find a fair number of other good quality speakers that are easy to travel with.

Playing music at our Airbnb in Vietnam (April 2020)

#10: Cloth drawstring backpacks

Our final must have travel items are drawstring backpacks. We use these as laundry bags that fit inside our packing cubes. Using drawstring backpacks for laundry bags are great because when it’s laundry day, each person and adult can carry their laundry themselves to the laundromat or laundry place. We purchased some cute handmade drawstring backpacks from women vendors in Mexico in 2019, but you can purchase your own cloth ones online. We like ones made of cotton or canvas rather than nylon or polyester because we can stick them in the wash along with our clothes. 

Carrying our drawstring backpacks in Mexico (November 2018)

Taking these must have travel items wherever we go

These are a few of the things we like to take along as we travel around the world. They really help make travel much easier for us. And they help provide some conveniences of home no matter where you are in the world.

What kinds of things do you like to travel with? Or, what are some of the must have travel items that you have at home that you just cannot live without? Let me know!

Must Have Travel Items: A Nomadic Family's Packing Guide | The Wandering Daughter

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5 Responses

  1. I am ordering a Carbon Monoxide detector ASAP! That is so scary – I also need that HDMI cable… this is an awesome list! I pack too many clothes and shoes – which is funny bc Im not a fashionista at home. But on the road…

  2. Excellent tips. Read with interest and pinned for referring to later as we’re planning our own six month family travel adventure (delayed due to Covid-19, but hoping to start in 2021).

  3. Travelling full-time with kids is such an amazing thing and I understand why you need only the essentials. This is such a useful list for families planning to do the same.

  4. This is such a great look into packing for a nomadic family! I would’ve never thought to bring a knife sharpener but so smart!! We also subscribe to a minimal-ish lifestyle and love it!

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!



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