Travel can be hectic or it can be bliss. In the same day.
If you add kids, the highs and lows get more extreme. You almost cry with joy showing your kids a village in north Asia. You almost cry when your kid spills coke over the businessman next to you, like our daughter did. At the start of a 10 hour flight.
For more joy in the highs and more sanity in the lows it is good to be organised, and, to travel with a light heart and a light bag.
My husband and I come from different parts of planet earth, so travelling has been a part of life since we met. When our daughters were born they got absorbed into these north-south trips. Travelling, especially between Australia and Sweden, has been a non -negotiable for us to see our families, but it is also our favourite thing to do. There are few things as amazing as being in a whole different place and culture, language and food.
We have travelled with and without kids (mostly with) and we have travelled on various continents and in various climates. In order to maximise travel experiences, we have intentionally tried to travel lighter and simpler.
It is a pretty big deal to move through different cultures, climates, languages and time zones. Let alone different transport modes and accommodation rooms… Let alone keeping track of children and suitcases…
These following 5 simple travelling strategies have helped us travel with more joy and less stress. They made travelling simpler.
- Pack thoughtfully so you include the essentials. Water, snacks, a battery pack for devices. Medications, eye covers, ear plugs, and an inflatable pillow. Clothes that can be layered up or down. And small lightweight activities for kids – that don’t matter if they get lost.
- Leave non essentials at home. For me that means a few extraction sessions from my suitcase prior to departure day. One really doesn’t need much! That means there’s less to carry around, less to keep track of, and less to repack at each step.
- Spend time before the trip getting organised. Have travel insurance, and email a copy of passports, itinerary and accomodation to someone else for backup. Read about your destination, drops pins on google maps of places you want to see.
- Be intentionally chilled out. Once you leave your front door and are on your way (the best moment!) it is time to let go and be intentionally and seriously chilled. To the point you won’t fret if your flight is delayed or the hotel gives you a room without a view. Chilled out attitudes means everyone has fun no matter what! OK not so chilled out you lose your children in the airport but you know what I mean.
- Only do half of what you’d like to do. Save some sights for next time and enjoy a getting the feel of a place and chatting with the locals. That gives you a deeper visit. Don’t just take some photos and rush to the next destination.
Here are two contrasting scenarios from our travels.
A lightweight relaxing holiday in Greece. Looking back I can see we did this trip well. We researched the destination country. It was a cheap destination (less stress right away). Despite travelling with two young children we travelled light and simple. We parents each had a stroller with a daughter in, and one backpack and one day pack. That is pretty light travelling for four people. The strollers meant our girls had something familiar with them, and didn’t get tired while we walked around sightseeing. One of the strollers laid back flat so our youngest (5 months then) could sleep in it, even at night. We packed only the ultra essentials and summer destinations are so much easier for travelling light as you don’t need a lot of bulky clothes and shoes to stay warm. Having packed light we had minimal stuff to keep tidy, worry about, or cart around. We stayed in a simple low cost room and splurged on eating lots of Greek island seafood instead. (Our youngest was breastfeeding so that was easy! Every day we all relaxed at the beach. Our two year old made sandcastles and we created very precious memories. We went home very refreshed.
A slightly crazy trip in Thailand with a dozen bags. When our four daughters were in the middle years we had a phase of quite the opposite and travelled heavy. I have no idea why but it is easy to fall into this trap. One time we went to Thailand and we all had a big suitcase plus a cabin bag each, and some of us had a handbag. As we were 6 people that was more than a dozen items of luggage. I am sure there were some extra little bags and plastic bags that ended up travelling along with us too. That many bags of stuff can turn a nice hotel room into a crazy zone real fast! But even worse.. One day we had to take a series of boats to get from the mainland to a small island. My poor husband had to lift those dozen luggage items from bus to boat, and from that boat to a smaller boat, and then to a small ferry, and then to a mini-bus. I was helping the kids. It was so stressful, and embarrassing. The bags almost fell in the water and the locals looked at us like we were crazy carting around more stuff than they probably owned. This was the moment we ALL said ‘NEVER AGAIN DO WE BRING SO MUCH STUFF’.
From then on we became dedicated to travelling whenever possible with only cabin luggage plus a small backpack. Sometimes we have to take one check-in suitcase between us all, but we prefer not to.
How we travel light:
- Try travelling with no check-in luggage – just a cabin bag and handbag. Freedom!
- Get a new suitcase. Suitcases from the last 5-10 years are lighter than old ones. Design musts for me are lightweight, an external pocket that fits my laptop/tablet so I can easily get it in and out at every X-ray points, robust wheels, internal pockets, and it must be expandable. We recently searched hard for a new cabin suitcase that ticked all the boxes. Amusingly we found it at Kmart for $39! Quality is not too bad but time will tell…
- Pack clothes that mix and match in style and colours. On my recent trip to Thailand I only took 9 items of clothing! However I had endless mix and match outfits. Pack things that can be worn in layers for layering up or down, to get warmer/cooler or more formal. Leggings, a simple dress and cardigans are my fave layering sets for trips. Packing similar colour tones means you can wash them in one load. (p.s. natural fibres are much more comfy when moving between different climates).
- Give kids their own small case rather than sharing with you. They love having their own little case to keep their treasures in and to tidy up. It actually helps them feel more settled when on the road.
- Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes when checking in if you are concerned about your hand luggage k.g. limit. You can peel off a layer once you get through the checkpoints.
- Two pairs of comfortable shoes are often enough. Many expert travellers take only 2 pairs of shoes. Sometimes I buy a cheap extra pair when travelling if I need it.
- Charity shops at your destination can be good if you flew to a very different climate and don’t have the right clothes. For example you are an Aussie and just landed in -20C somewhere. If they were cheap one can even leave them behind when flying home.
- Pack only take mini sizes of our most necessary bathroom/makeup stuff.
- Roll-up hanging bathroom bags with zip pockets are the best!
- Skip packing a towel. Every hotel and friend you will stay with will have one. If you really must then take a lightweight one which takes less space and dries faster.
- Pack a sarong. Serious travellers love sarongs as they can be so many things: a beach dress / sheet / towel / bag.
- Packing cubes are fantastic. They are weightless, zip up travel cubes to separate stuff. You can buy quality ones at adventure shops or much cheaper ones at Kmart- that are pretty good actually. I have one for tops, one for bottoms, one for underwear and PJ’s, one for technology/cords and other random items. I also use one for gifts. If you don’t use cubes then fold clothes KonMarie style (standing up) so they take up much less space and you can see what you have easily, and just have the smaller stuff in cubes.
- Dress up an outfit with a necklace or scarf rather than taking a separate dressy outfit.
- A 3 metre string is handy for hanging stuff to dry in a hotel bathroom. Use the hangers in the room or take a few pegs.
- Download music and movies before you go. For weightless entertainment download a couple of episodes of your fave series as well as your Spotify playlists before leaving your home wifi. Buy a book or two on your Kindle app. I have my Bible on an app too. Such lifesavers when waiting or in need of downtime.
- Put any liquid toiletries that are in your cabin luggage, in clear ziplock bag. Most airports say max 100ml containers of liquids (gels/creams) in your cabin luggage and some airports want them all together in a 1 litre clear plastic bag.
- A couple of lightweight re-usable cloth shopping bags are very handy in flights, markets, at beach etc.
- This is all about packing, but I will just add: always always always carry water around with you. Stay hydrated.
My husband and I just went on a 10 day trip to Thailand. The tickets were extremely cheap as they did not include any check-in luggage. I can’t describe how great it feels to travel the world with only a cabin suitcase and a handbag. One feels so free and light. Everyday life is heavy enough so when on a holiday one should unshackle from all the stuff at home and go light as a feather. Try it out!