Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo flies 250,000 miles a year, mostly with his family. Needless to say, he packs (and unpacks) a lot. We asked him for his best packing tips — specifically what he always takes with him when he travels, and what he never takes. Here’s the scoop for what to pack, straight from a travel expert himself!
We discovered a long time ago how to limit what we pack:
1) We use packing cubes. Each of the kids only gets to bring what he/she can fit into one packing cube. The adults typically get one per trip as well, although we may stretch that to two.
2) We never take more than two medium-sized rolling duffels with us (checked baggage) and three small carry-ons. That gives us five total bags which we can keep track of at airports, on trains and ferries, and when getting in and out of taxis.
We’ve been able to stick to that 5-bag limit regardless of the trip and regardless of the weather, from a 17-day African safari, to renting a villa in Italy for a month, to Disney cruises, to traveling all around Chile. The carry-ons are easy: I have a backpack with my laptop, camera, headphones, and reading material. My wife has a bag with reading material and snacks. And one of my kids will bring a backpack with notebooks, pencils, electronics, headphones, and stuffed animals for all three kids, as well as power banks and charging cables. We discovered when we let one of the other kids bring along a backpack too that it invariably got left behind somewhere, so we quickly went back to only allowing one bag among the kids.
So what do we pack every time we travel?
- Pants/shorts/skirts, shirts, underwear and socks for 3-4 days. It’s hard to imagine a trip where we would need more than a few outfits. No one cares if we wear the same thing every other day for an entire summer! Be sure to choose colors that go together.
- Three pairs of shoes max for each of us. We take comfortable walking/hiking shoes, a slightly nicer (but still comfortable) shoe for evenings, and flip-flops for the beach and pool. Depending on our anticipated activities, this could easily be reduced to two pairs.
- A warm jacket if necessary
- A fleece or light sweater
- Swimsuits, sun shirts and goggles if there’s a beach or pool
- Sun hats
- Standard toiletries
- A kids medication kit, including stomach, pain and allergy medicines, a thermometer, electrolyte tablets, blister wool, Neosporin, and Band Aids
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- Detergent packets for doing laundry in hotel sinks
- A linen towel. We use it as a towel if the kids play in a fountain or otherwise get wet, but it also makes a great blanket for impromptu picnics.
- A Frisbee. Instant entertainment in parks and at the beach.
- Playing cards. Instant entertainment on flights, during downtime, or when the check is taking forever.
- Blue painters tape. We use it to keep sunscreen and toiletries closed, to mark water bottles, to tape up purchases, for crafts, and much more.
- An extra duffel on the off chance that we purchase something. The smaller, the better.
- An electrical strip/surge protector (220v with a European plug) and plug adaptor, if needed.
And what do we never bring?
- A stroller. Our kids are bigger now, but we never traveled with a stroller. We found it far preferable to purchase a cheap umbrella stroller at our destination, abuse it for a month (think European cobblestones), and then leave it behind.
- Extra shoes or impractical shoes
- Any clothes that would only be worn once. Even for formal nights on cruises we opted to be slightly more casual and pack far less.
- Umbrellas. If we’re somewhere and it’s pouring, we’ll purchase a couple of cheap umbrellas.
- Watches, jewelry, and anything else small and valuable that could be lost to theft or left behind.
- Actual books. Kindles aren’t quite as satisfying to hold when sitting at the beach, but they’re far lighter than books, they take up less room, and it’s convenient being able to download a new book instantly anywhere in the world.
Note: I would say we’re decently light packers. I’ve seen a lot of traveling families lugging far more through airports and train stations, but I’ve also seen some that get by solely with a few carry-ons. When I’m traveling with one of my kids, we limit ourselves to one checked bag and one carry-on, or we only travel with carry-ons. This summer I’ll be traveling around the world with my 10-year-old, visiting very different climates over 18 days (Greenland, the Seychelles, Abu Dhabi, India, and Singapore) but we’re still going to limit ourselves to two small carry-ons — because a delayed checked bag would never catch up to us, and because the extra hour at every airport with checked bags (having to check in half an hour earlier, and waiting half an hour for luggage) adds up over the course of a RTW trip.
What are your top packing tips? Do you always take along something that I’m not listing here? Please comment below!
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