Ultimate Nomad Family Packing List: Top 10 Nomadic Essentials

November 11, 2023

If you could travel the world with your family, what would go into your nomad family packing list? Would you bring the bare nomadic essentials, or would you bring sentimental items too? What must have for family travel would you take?

From 2018-2021, our family lived out of backpacks and slow traveled around the world. Our lifestyle was even documented and featured on CNN travel!

Must have travel item and nomadic essentials for a nomad family packing list
Traveling through Dulles airport (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

We traveled through the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, and France. Additionally, we visited Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam. After weathering the pandemic in the United States, we finished our around the world trip with stays in the UK, Spain, and Mexico again.

Throughout our travels, we’ve met some amazing traveling families - other digital nomads. And something that families often ask us is, “what's in your backpack?” They would ask about the nomadic essentials we bring along and what our must have for family travel was. Essentially, they were curious about our nomad family packing list.

To answer that question, I’ve put together my list of top digital nomad gear. These are the travel items for families we can’t live without. 

This post was originally published on May 31, 2020.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don't worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.

Top nomadic essentials for families

Want to know what our top 5 family travel essentials are for a digital nomad lifestyle? Here are the nomadic essentials we always take with us when we travel. Add them to your gap year packing list.

  1. Packing cubes
  2. Grayl water bottle
  3. Carbon monoxide detector
  4. Bluetooth speaker
  5. Osprey Sojourn bag

The top 10 travel must-haves you need to buy for your trip

When it comes to our must have travel items, the list is relatively short. Aside from clothes, worldschooling resources and supplies, kids toys, and work related materials, we try to choose items that will be necessary for us in a variety of situations.

Many of these must have for family travel items are also things you can have at home. So you don’t need to be traveling to make use of these things. And as much as we can, we buy eco friendly travel products that don't contribute to a lot of waste.

Really, I just want to give you all a peek into what our daily digital nomad life was like when we traveled around the world and share with you our digital nomad travel essentials. Here are the top 10 things to take travelling with kids.

Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.

1. Packing cubes

A basic must have for family travel we take along with us are packing cubes. These nomadic essentials 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!

A packing cube with rolled up clothes sitting on a bed, a must have for family travel
Packing cubes, a must have for family travel (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

The packing cubes we take with us are Bagail and TravelWise. But lately we’ve also started traveling with Cotopaxi packing cubes. We love Cotopaxi as a company because they use repurposed fabric to make their unique and colorful bags. It’s a great eco-friendly choice for a responsible travel packing list. 

Click on the buttons below to buy your packing cubes.

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. The nomadic essentials we always take along are waterproof jackets because they are light enough to serve as rain jackets, but heavy duty enough to serve as cold-weather coats when we add a sweater or base layer underneath.

Using my lightweight jacket in Vietnam (photo credit by Clint Bush)

My Columbia women’s jacket is a must have for family travel because they’re functional yet stylish. This jacket came in handy when we were visiting the West Midlands in England during the fall months and helped keep me warm and dry.

Unfortunately that exact style of jacket is no longer available. However, there are a few jackets that are similar in style that you can purchase for your nomadic essentials. And also look for jackets for your kids and partner too!

Click the buttons below to buy some good quality waterproof jackets for you and your family.

3. Water bottle

Another must have travel item we always travel with is a water bottle. But the bottle we like best is not any old water bottle. This bottle is called a GRAYL, and it has a built in water filter and purifier. We like taking the GRAYL wherever we go, whether it's hiking in the outdoors or spending a day in Disneyland!

A GRAYL water bottle, a must have for family travel (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

With the GRAYL, you can essentially drink water from anywhere in the world. And you don't have to rely on buying bottled water anymore. It's one way you can help reduce your reliance on single-use plastic when you travel. Another win for eco-friendly nomadic essentials!

We bought our GRAYL bottles back in 2018, and since then they’ve upgraded the look of the bottles. But they are still just as effective at giving you safe drinkable water. GRAYL bottles also now come in two sizes: 16 oz and 24 oz. Click the buttons below to buy a GRAYL bottle for your family.

Check out my sustainable travel tips for families.

4. Travel scale

Something that we never travel without is a miniature travel scale. This must have for family travel 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 we're staying healthy and not enjoying ourselves too much when we travel, if you know what I mean.

Staying active in Vietnam (photo credit by Clint Bush)

However, a scale also comes in handy when you have to make sure your bags are within the 50 lbs weight limit (or sometimes less, depending on the airline). The scale has definitely helped us make sure we keep our bags light and within the airline's weight requirements.

When choosing our nomadic essentials, we like having items that serve multiple purposes. And this travel scale certainly fits the bill. Click the button to buy the travel scale that we like to use.

Learn more about the amazing family travel resources we use for worldschooling!

passport, journal, and sunglasses

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 a must have for family travel for us is a knife sharpener. Taking along a knife sharpener lets us sharpen knives to cook wherever we go.

Making homemade pasta in Italy (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

The knife sharpener that we used to travel with is now longer available. These days, we travel with a much larger sharpener: an Orange Ninja knife sharpener. It takes up more space in our bag, and is heavier. But as a family who loves to cook, we don’t mind giving up bag space for a tool that can sharpen virtually any knife we come across. It’s one of our top nomadic essentials.  

Click on the buttons below to add a travel knife sharpener to your nomad family packing list.

6. Carbon monoxide detector

One of the most important pieces of gear we take with us is a carbon monoxide detector. It’s a must have for family travel that gets overlooked, but is crucial for your family’s safety.

Our carbon monoxide detector that saved our life (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

Each year, over 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Carbon monoxide is a gas that can be found in homes with furnaces, gas stoves, or wood burning stoves. And it’s quite deadly if you’re exposed to large amounts of it for an extended period. 

During our travels, we often stayed in older homes and buildings that were sometimes not well-ventilated. Once, while in Mexico, we had a carbon monoxide poisoning scare when a water heater wasn't venting properly at our Airbnb. Instead, it was building up carbon monoxide inside our room. The carbon monoxide detector literally saved our lives!

When it comes to life-saving nomadic essentials, a carbon monoxide detector needs to be at the top of your list. They’re lightweight and battery operated, so you don’t have to worry about plugging it into a local outlet. 

Buy this carbon monoxide detector for your nomad family packing list today

Read about how this carbon monoxide detector saved our lives during our travels: Why A Travel Carbon Monoxide Detector Could Save Your Life.

7. Tablets and other electronic devices

This might be an unpopular opinion, 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.

An iPad in a purple kid protective case, a must have for family travel
Using an iPad, a must have for family travel, for music lessons (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

Our kids use their iPads to do math work, reading, and even to practice writing. My son makes stop motion movies on his iPad, and my daughter does graphic design artwork on hers. They’re part of our nomadic essentials where we go.

When carrying around an electronic device, make sure they’re protected in a durable case. We like protective cases that are lightweight and durable. Whatever tablet or electronic device you get, be sure to protect it with a case so you're not constantly buying a new device. That can get expensive!

Click the button to buy the case we like using for your nomad family packing list. 

Read my tips for finding good international WiFi for your devices.

8. HDMI cable and adapter

We like watching movies when we travel, but nothing's worse than watching a movie on a laptop. So for us, a must have for family travel is an HDMI cable. An HDMI cable lets us plug in our laptops to the TV. If your laptop doesn’t have a full-size HDMI output, you’ll need an adapter as well .

A laptop, one of our nomadic essentials (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

We actually travel with three items related to HDMI. We have a long cable that connects a USB-C to HDMI. This is the cable we primarily use, but it’s harder to replace if it stops working as not all electronic shops carry it. As a back-up, we carry a standard HDMI to HDMI cable, along with a USB-C to HDMI adapter. Our trusted brand for these nomadic essentials is Anker.

Add these items to your nomad family packing list.

9. Bluetooth speaker

We're also big music lovers in our family. I mean, who doesn't like to rock out to music in their living room or kitchen? And let’s face it, the sound quality from our phones or laptops just isn’t that good.

Playing music at our Airbnb in Vietnam (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

For our musical entertainment, we take along a Bluetooth speaker as part of our must have for family travel. We have a UE (Ultimate Ears) Boom, which is portable and compact, but still offers a strong high quality sound. 

When we get together with other traveling families - whether it’s at a beach or in our Airbnb - our UE Boom is perfect for creating a festive musical ambience. And now that we’re settled in one place, we still love using our UE Boom rather than messing with a full sound system. Even though we’re no longer nomadic, it’s still a part of our nomadic essentials for when we do decide to hit the road again.

Click the button below to buy a UE Boom for your nomad family packing list.

Family travel resources for a famiy

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10. Cloth drawstring backpacks

Our final must have for family travel is a drawstring backpack. We use these as laundry bags that fit inside our packing cubes. Using drawstring backpacks for laundry bags is great because when it’s laundry day, each person and adult can carry their laundry themselves to the laundromat or laundry place.

Carrying our drawstring bags for laundry in Mexico (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

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. 

Buy these super-cute cloth drawstring backpack nomadic essentials for your travels:

See what other travel essentials you should take when you travel.

What else is a must have for family travel?

Even though we’re fairly minimalist travelers, we still do carry a fair bit of stuff with us. In general, our checked bags include two 80 liter bags and two 36 liter bags. We also have four backpacks, which we take with us as carry-ons.

passport, journal, and sunglasses
Minimizing our nomadic essentials travel gear (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

We like using Osprey brand wheeled luggage for our checked bags. For carry-ons, my husband uses a Cotopaxi backpack, my kids use an Osprey daybag, and I use a Thule Landmark travel pack. We also carry with us a ukelele. It’s our one luxury item that is actually a necessity for our mental health.

Here is where you can buy the bags that we use and love:

Get prepared for any emergency with the insurance made for digital nomads!

Even more nomadic essentials for a digital nomad packing list

Besides the 10 travel items I’ve listed above, as well as the digital nomad backpack options I’ve mentioned, we also travel with a few other nomadic essentials from time to time. 

My husband wearing a Merino wool sweater in Spain (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

Some of these items are useful for ensuring we can work while we travel, like an external hard drive or a power bank. Other items are useful for keeping us comfortable on the road. For example, a Merino wool base layer is helpful for keeping us warm. And we also like traveling with sturdier sandals rather than cheap flip flops.

Consider adding these items for your nomad family packing list.

Adopting a minimalist mindset for our nomadic essentials

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.

Our possessions in a Uhaul truck (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

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?”

Going through this monthly process of active purging really helps us see how much stuff we own. And it also helps our kids understand the privileges that come with living our digital nomad lifestyle.

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.

Read how you can prepare for an around the world adventure.

Taking our must have for family travel items everywhere

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.

Have my packing tips been helpful for you? What gap year travel essentials would you take with you? Or, what are some of the must have for family travel that you have at home that you just cannot live without? Let me know!

Ready to make that leap into full time travel? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

Must Have Travel Item For Family Travel: A Nomad Family Packing List | The Wandering Daughter | Pinterest article outlining nomadic essentials for families.

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