Packing List for Family Adventure

11 minute read

While we were preparing for this big Latin American Adventure, I aspired to travel as lightly as possible. I knew we’d be in and out of taxis, trucks and hire cars and we’d stay in a wide range of accommodation. To keep things simple, I laid out a principle for everyone in the family:

We will all carry one adventure duffel and a day pack and that’s it.

This simple rule meant that we could all carry our own belongings and that luggage could be crammed and crushed into odd spaces like hostel lockers and tiny tuk-tuks.

In the end, we also brought along a horrible wheeled monstrosity we nicknamed “The Beast” and always seemed to have a chaotic constellation of carrier bags of food and random junk. So much for principles and plans.

So here is a copy of my original packing list and some thoughts on the things we brought. Use it sparingly to inform your own packing list and please let me know if there are essentials that you travel with that we should consider.

Packing List

Baja Cactii

Clothing

Item Notes
Bandana  
Baseball / Sun Hat  
Boardshorts I skipped these and just wore my running shorts. Totally fine.
Buff  
Flip Flops  
Jumper/Hoodie I took both a fleece and a jumper. I should have only taken the fleece. You need one, if only for the flights which are freezing
Liner Gloves  
Long Johns  
Rain Jacket  
Rain Trousers  
Running Shoes  
Sandals I only wore these on wet landings out of boats and dinghies. Arguably they were unnecessary
Sarong I didn’t take anything like this on this trip, but used my travel towel. Having a piece of fabric to wrap in, build makeshift sun-shades and create a little “home” is super valuable.
Shirt While you can get away without a collared shirt, I like having one so I don’t feel like a dick in nicer restaurants and on the plane.
Shorts  
Socks (x5)  
Sunglasses  
T-Shirts (x3) Mine were all identical blue from Howies. You just don’t need heaps of t-shirts.
Thermal T-Shirt  
Trousers/Jeans (x2) I took a pair of quick drying travel trousers that looked vaguely normal plus a pair of black jeans. I wore the jeans whenever the heat permitted it and barely wore the trekking kit.
Underpants (x5)  
Wooly Hat There always seems to be at least one cold night that justifies this. I can’t live without mine.
Yoga Trousers I use these for PJs and lounging. I did zero yoga on this trip. Should have left them home.
Swim Trunks I used my running shorts as trunks and carried a pair of cyclist-style Speedos which work well under a rented wetsuit.
Rash Guard A longsleeve rash-guard is sooooo awesome for playing in the waves for hours and not getting sunburned.

Equipment

Luggage Heap

Item Notes      
Clothesline/Accessory Cord 10m of 2mm cord will do. Endless other things this can be used for. About as big as a pack of gum.      
Compass Yep. Old Skool.      
Daypack (x2) I carry a proper climbing day pack as well as a £1.50 super light pocket rucksack. The cheap one is great for little journeys and shopping trips.      
Dry Bag These keep your clothes dry in the wet, but are also super useful for doing your hand-laundering in. Drop of soap, seal the bag and you can agitate away without all the fuss in the sink.      
Duct Tape        
Duffel Bag We took NorthFace Base Camp Duffels in sizes that matched our loads. These have usable/comfortable backpack straps and are pretty much indestructible and water resistant.      
Earphones I almost took my over-ear cans. I missed them, but I’m glad I wasn’t schlepping them around. Go small and cheap.      
Head Torch No, your phone won’t cut it. Take an actual battery operated torch. Much more reliable and if you’re doing any night tours, its great to have a light that will shine red-only light for your night-vision.      
Knife If you don’t know why you’ll need a Swiss Army Knife, then rethink travelling at all.      
Lighter        
Map Bag I use an Ortlieb waterproof map bag for my journal, my phone or anything that MUST stay dry. Just so awesome. A5 size seems the most versatile even if its overkill for a smartphone.      
Padlock We stayed in hostels and it was great to chuck our bags in a locker, padlock it and be worry free while we were away.      
Sewing Kit        
Sleepsack Some sheets in some places are icky. Maybe you won’t need it, but you’ll be glad you brought it.      
Spyglass / Binoculars        
Tarp / Shelter Since an accident years ago, I carry a rescue bothy, which is only good for emergencies. I’d advise some sort of lean-to shelter if you’ll be on the beach or in hot sun.      
Travel seat for car Check the specifics for the country you’re going to. The fines in some countries are eye watering. You can rent from hire car companies, but it’s nice to have your own. We used a Trunki BoostaPak which folds down small.      
Watch For the love of travel, please just take a cheap watch that tells the time. You hardly need to be charging and faffing with a so-called smart watch your whole trip.      
Water Purification Pump I left mine at home in the interest of space, but we ended up buying water everywhere. Its an essential if you want to see anything other than the loo while abroad.      
Whistle A whistle will save your ass in a life-threatening emergency. You can scream for 15-20 minutes. You can blow a whistle for hours. Carry one.      
Zip Ties (x5-10)        

Toiletries & Medicine

Panorama over the Colca Canyon

You’ll have your own prescriptions and favourites to bring. I’ve left mine off in the interest of privacy. If you’re travelling for an extended time, you may need several months supply. I suggest splitting that supply up into your travelling companions bags in case any single bag gets lost.

Item Notes
Compeed This stuff is a lifesaver if a blister hits you on a trek. It’ll happen eventually.
Conditioner Lush makes nice bars which saves on liquid mess in your bag
Condoms I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. Travelling in cramped quarters with family is about the least romantic thing in the universe. Have some handy, but these are available anywhere in the world.
Deodorant  
Earplugs Some hostels are crazy loud.
Ibuprofen  
Insect repellant I hate this stuff, but I always have scares with mosquito-borne tropical diseases that could have been prevented.
Lip Balm  
Nail Trimmers Trimming nails with a Swiss Army knife is horrible. Bring clippers on long trips.
Paracetamol/Acetaminophen If you end up with a fever, this is your best friend. Available everywhere, but take some to get you started.
Plasters/BandAids (x5-10)  
Razor I carry an old-fashioned safety razor because I’m a cheap hipster. You can find razor refills anywhere.
Shampoo  
Shave Brush You do not need 53 polymers and cooling astringents. Use soap and a brush.
Soap  
Sunblock I couldn’t believe what this stuff costs in Central America. Take a stash. And make it reef-friendly, you jerk.
Toothbrush  
Toothpaste  
Towel Everyone in the universe seems to be carrying the £5 ones from Decathlon. They pack small and they work. Get one that actually wraps around you.

Electronics & Office

Laptop and Journal

Item Notes
5v USB charger  
AUX Audio Cable Bluetooth is all good, but if your phone still rocks a 3.5mm jack, this is the easiest way to connect to hire-car stereos.
Battery Pack Your phone will die at the worst moment. Like when you haven’t written the hostel address in your notebook like an adult. I like having two, just in case.
Bulldog Clips I didn’t bring these, but wished I had. They’d even double as small clothes pegs.
Camera Charger  
Camera I fretted over this one. IMHO a smartphone will do fine, unless you enjoy photography. I brought my DSLR for wildlife photography and without a telephoto lens it was just an encumbrance. Then I broke it.
Fountain Pens I carry a Jinhao x750 for writing and a Rotring Art Pen (Extra Fine) for drawing.
Fountain Pen Ink/Cartridges I wrote and drew a load on this trip. I use fountain pens and kept ink in small Nalgene bottles. It totally enriched my experience. I brought Waterman Serenity Blue and Noodler’s Black
Games: Chess  
Games: Hero Realms We adore this game and since its just a large deck of cards its super portable.
Games: Playing Cards  
Games: Tak set We are addicted to this amazing open-source game. We played it on the beach with shells and rocks, but its nice to take a portable set along.
Games:Dice Minimally a couple of 6-sided dice, or a full RPG set if you’re like me.
Gluestick Perfect for sticking random memories in your journal/scrapbook.
GoPro If you’re going to be photographing or videoing underwater, then bring one. Otherwise leave it at home.
Guidebooks  
HDMI Cable Hooking up to hotel TVs is nice for making a movie night for the kids.
Journal A5 is the perfect size. This was more valuable to me than my camera. My richest memories are recorded in sketches and notes.
Kensington laptop lock I brought this to protect my kids’ Chromebooks. We never used it. Don’t take one.
Kindle A library on the go and electronic guidebooks rock my world. Fits in the Ortlieb dry bag I already mentioned. For the kids, I bought old 4th gen models for £15 a piece on eBay
Laptop & Charger We took one laptop and both kids’ Chromebooks. I’d argue against a laptop, but it enhances my travel. I write, I code, I watch movies. It’s a form of expression. The kids used their laptops for schoolwork, coding, films and games. .
Maps  
Mobile Phone & Charger  
PINSentry Device Some banking still uses these devices and it sucks to be caught out if you need to make a specific payment.
Packing Cubes/Stuff sacks These bring order to chaos. Being able to dump out your main duffel and just sort through smaller collections is a lifesaver. Extra points if you have them in various colours for sorting.
Passport  
Pencil Sharpener  
Pencils  
Reading Glasses Yes, I’m that old. Now get off my lawn!
SIM Changing tool Paperclips are fine, but I throw one in my pencil case and always have it when needed, which was often on this trip
Sketchbook I use a single journal for everything and work in ink and pencil. But nice paper is important if you use other materials or it fills you with joy.
Spare SD Card If you don’t take a camera, skip this one.
Speaker We didn’t use ours, but a bluetooth or wired speaker will make a party wherever you are.
Travel Adaptor Normally I hate these things, but I bought this amazing adaptor by Hyleton and was thankful the whole trip. Multiple USB, a USB-c and plug/voltage compatibility for everywhere we went.
USB Car Charger Some hire cars have USB sockets, but all of them have a cigarette jack.
USB Key with Ubuntu In emergencies, I can recover my laptop or install Linux on a fresh device and recover from backups. Tiny and a lifesaver.
Water Bottle (x2) Go on. Take two. Treat yourself.

Sports Kit

Backpack in Colca Canyon

Item Notes
Climbing Shoes & Chalkbag I carried these for 3 months and never used them. But I should have. They take up no space.
Hammock Yes, we took a hammock to Costa Rica. And we barely saw trees in Peru. Don’t take a hammock unless you know there are opportunities.
Kite A little pocket kite is good fun for kids on a beach or a hillside. It’s like a smile on a string.
Skipping Rope On a previous trip, I used a skipping rope instead of running. On this trip I did zero exercise. Still, its a good thing for the bag.
Slackline Trees notwithstanding, I wish we’d swapped the hammock for a slackline. Way more social and fun.
Snorkel, Mask & Flippers We snorkelled lots of places, including the Amazon. It was great having our own kit, especially since kids sizes can be hard to come by. Bulky, but cheaper than renting everywhere.
Swim Goggles  

School Supplies

Item Notes
Big Folder A huge plastic folder to keep all school supplies in makes for a classroom you can fit in a rucksack.
Exercise Notebooks (x5) I like these Silvine ones
Ink Cartridges / Ink  
Journals Try to get your kids to record things. Its a gift they’ll give themselves in the future. Just scrapbooking tickets and maps will trigger memories.
Pencil Case  
Textbooks I used textbooks on the Kindle, but workbooks are useful if you won’t carry a laptop/tablet.

Information

Yarn

Item Notes
Credit Card details If your cards get stolen/lost, having this information in your password safe or elsewhere will make recovery much less stress and hassle.
Master Passwords Know how to get into your password safe from anywhere. Know only this password.
Photocopies of Passport Electronic copies are great, but have a paper copy too.
Phrasebook/Icon card I saw these on the backs of people’s phones and on t-shirts. If your language skills are weak, these are super helpful.

Miscellaneous

Item Notes
Stuffed Animals You’re going to pick up cuddly souvenirs on the way, but make sure you bring a familiar friend from the menagerie at home to help keep away the homesickness.

Skeletons celebrating