By Deenaz Raisinghani
We all love travelling but when it comes to packing for a long or short trip, we do have concerns that range from the duration to the destination, the weather forecast, terrain, mode of travel, etc. When these concerns are multiplied with the addition of a child (or children) to your trip, it requires serious thought. Fret not, as the backpacking mama is here to guide you with some serious packing essentials for a real backpacking trip. Feel free to tweak them according to what suits your family best:
Make a packing list
This is one of the first things we do when we start planning a trip. However geographically short the distance to your destination, it is always a wise idea to plan what you will need in advance. We do this in the old school way of making handwritten person-wise lists and a common items list, but you can also print out some cool excel sheets and hand a copy to each of your family members. List out clothes and accessories/personal belongings in the individual lists as this also allocates responsibility for handling and maintenance of that item to that particular family member. For example, your kids’ books and personal toys/gadgets should come under this list so they remember to carry it with them and do not blame you for leaving behind their favourite toy dinosaur. For very little kids, of course, parents will need to double check this, but it may be a good idea to introduce this concept early on. This acts as a great starting point for things that you absolutely must not leave out while packing.
Leave ample time to plan
Unless it is a sudden burst of emotion that led you to plan a backpacking trip with your kids in the next two days, almost all parents plan a trip about a fortnight to a couple of months ahead. There are several things that are usually considered, such as the kids’ school schedule, their holidays, the season, flight rates, so make sure these considerations are taken care of. Planning ahead also gives you a chance to arrange for things you may need to order online or pick up for your trip. The extra time gives parents a chance to pick out the luggage, sort out what you do not require, wash and arrange clothes in time from the laundry and take a breather when it is all done.
Pack light and choose wisely
A proper backpacking trip involves a lot of walking and taking different types of public transport, so you will pretty much be your own beast of burden throughout the trip and will have to carry your baby and/or kids along. Remember to skip clothing that you will wear only once or are difficult to handle. Exceptions to this rule include that little black dress or Indian suit and a pair of high heels that you may need if you plan on hitting the town with your partner while the kids are being taken care of by a babysitter/family member. Other than that, pick out items for your kids and yourself that can be worn more than once in multiple combinations. Do not stress about not having enough at hand, as you will thank yourself when the bags on your shoulders are light. Discard bulkier items and ones that need to be ironed out each time you wear them. It may be wise to wear the bulkiest item on you while travelling, such as boots or a heavy duty jacket, and pack the rest in your luggage. Also, wear the backpack beforehand to make sure all the buckles are in place and you have good back and waist support. If you are carrying a baby stroller along, decide who will be responsible for carrying it most of the time. It is tough to wear both the backpack and the baby, so invest in a lightweight foldable stroller with sturdy wheels which can be tied to the rucksack or worn as a backpack, if possible. You can alternate between wearing the baby in a good baby carrier or the backpack and placing either on the stroller while walking around.
Pack for the season and destination
Checking the temperature of your destination before you leave is a great idea so you know exactly how many layers (or not) you will need. Remember that when you are travelling to regions colder or warmer than yours, kids can fall sick due to sudden changes in outside temperature. It is wise to pack according to the temperature at the destination. Summers are a great time to travel as your clothes are lighter and days are longer. Remember to carry sunscreen and a change of beach clothes (if you are hitting the beach) for your kids as they tend to get easily soiled and if it is winter travelling, do not forget thermals and a sunscreen again to protect against the harsh winter sun. Also, if you are going to be camping, make sure to carry insect repellents along with your camping kit and gear. It is also a great idea to carry along a portable toilet seat and disposable seat covers for both yourselves and the kids. This keeps you from catching any infections from public toilets and will also help your kid relieve himself/herself while travelling.
Plan for emergencies
This is something all parents develop a knack for once they start travelling with their kids more. We did as well, and were not completely prepared the very first time we travelled. However, looking at other travelling parents and reading family blogs online helped us predict what to expect and be prepared with. There are some fantastic family blogs on the internet that give detailed advice about preparing for travel sickness, accidents while travelling, safety issues, country specific issues, etc. I have personally learnt a lot through these resources and, therefore, make the most of them.
Consult your paediatrician before undertaking a long trip of any kind with your children as they can advise you about things like ear pain caused by cabin pressure, jet lag, tummy upsets while travelling, or even a stuffed nose which may keep you from enjoying your holiday completely. Carrying a small medicine pouch only for the flight/train/car with these emergency medications will help you. Stay abreast of country specific information and carry what is required in that specific destination while travelling. Travelling in most Western countries will require you to carry a car seat for the baby as it is compulsory, so either carry or rent one at your destination. There are also some foldable lightweight portable car seats available these days that spare you the trouble of lugging your enormous car seat during backpacking but read safety reviews and check if they will be allowed as a substitute.
Double check travel essentials
This is a must-do for all parents who backpack with their kids. Wearing a body bag will really help keep this stuff at one place, and also remind you to keep it back each time you use it. Stuff that you should put into this bag are your passports (keep passport copies handy elsewhere), tickets, wallet including your forex card (remember to keep some loose cash elsewhere as well on you so you are not left stranded if this bag is lost/stolen), destination maps including subway maps, photo IDs of all family members (give them a copy each as well), accessories. Even if you are travelling within India and are going to be taking public transport, this body bag will help you with all essential stuff at hand. Wearing/holding your baby and trying to take out tickets from a backpack behind you is a feat best left to a yoga guru, so carry a cross-body bag on you at all times that you can easily reach.
Recording your trip
In the age of Instagram and pinterest, how can you not record your travel adventures, even if it is for your private viewing? Kids relate to travel memories in a big way and it is a great idea to refresh them by carrying some travel-friendly recording equipment. It can be anything from your phone to a non-bulky camera, a selfie stick, portable hard drives and power banks, and a mini tripod to take that perfect family picture without having to ask anyone around. Pictures and videos are what survive after the trip has ended, so remember to record your priceless moments while travelling with your children and make a great travel album for your family.
I have tried to include a lot of packing essentials in each point as I feel sticking to these basic guidelines will help you pack effectively. What you finally pack will depend on your kids’ ages, your destination and mode of transport, so here’s hoping you find this article useful. So we are planning a backpacking trip to the North East of India where we will be applying all the above guidelines while packing. Happy travelling, folks!
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)