We have been on the road now for several months, with a real on the road test of what are essential travel items for RTW family travel. My main go-to items for travel that are on my ultimate gift guide for traveling families are still some of my favorites. However longer term travel definitely has its own set of requirements, which has prompted me to write this post.
Below are our favorite must haves for everyone hitting the road for short and long term travel with kids.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
My Top 3 Travel Essentials for RTW Family Travel
Recently someone asked me my top travel essentials and I have to say that my Skyroam Solis is at the top. Traveling as a solo mom with my 8 year old means I need to feel secure. Being connected online while we are out exploring helps bring that peace of mind for me. I always have access to Google Maps, local taxi services or even Skype to make phone calls to hotels or tour companies. It has been essential for continuing to work while on the road. (As I write this post on a beach watching my son play!)
I currently subscribe to the $99 a month subscription which is the best for our needs right now, but I have also used the day passes for shorter trips. If you use this affiliate link (and code NOBACKHOME) you get 10% off the purchase of your own Skyroam.
Grayl GEOPRESS Water Purification /Filter
The next item on my essentials list is my new Grayl Geopress water filter/purification bottle. I also have their previous bottle that was a filter, but this new iteration is said to be 99.99% effective against all bacteria, viruses, and harmful products found in water all over the world. They say that it can be used to purify water from Vietnam to streams around the world.
I will admit I was a bit nervous to use this on our first stop in Bangkok, but since that first run through (after not getting sick!) we have used it daily throughout SE Asia and love it! It is so easy to use that Cian usually does it himself. Fill the bottom container up with water and then press the top one down. Within 8-10 seconds you have clean purified water.We use it to make ice, to refill our other bottles and to clean things in the room that we don’t trust in tap water. After 6 weeks in Asia, we can say it’s amazing! A must have travel item.
It’s still on preorder, but put your name down. You will love it!
Patagonia Hip Pack
With one internal zipper pocket and two outside pockets it is easy to keep all your items organized. I keep my current day’s budget on the front pocket with extra cash and cards on the inside zipper pouch. My phone also easily fits into the big pocket as well as chapstick and a small sunscreen which means we always have just what we need!
I love this pouch! It has become a must have for me while traveling.
Travel Luggage for RTW Family Travel
Osprey Nova Daypack
A friend of mine has an Amazon Basics laptop bag that seemed perfect for our travels. I took it on the first leg of our trip and loved it. But as usual, I overstuffed it and used it a bit too much that it got a hole in the water holder after just 6 weeks. Since I loved it so much, I set out to find one similar but stronger. Enter Osprey!
The Osprey Nova (for women) or Nebula (for men) are both very similar in that they have all the pockets you need to keep life organized and a lifetime guarantee. I absolutely love it. I have my laptop, our homeschool folder, iPad, camera gear, water bottle (the Grayl and my regular bottle), and so much more in it. There is also a secret top pocket where I keep our passports and extra cash too. The price point is much higher than the Amazon bag, but after 6 weeks on the road it is showing absolutely no wear and tear and I still love it. Someday perhaps I can not overpack it with electronics and use it as an overnight backpack!
Osprey Ace 38 Backpack for Kids
After months of research and even purchasing several bags, we finally settled on the Osprey Ace 38 Backpack for my 8 year old. It is a little tall for his small frame now, but it will grow with him through the years. The fit is great and even though we could overstuff it, we had been good about keeping it to no more than 12 lbs for him to carry easily, but after a few months in the road it has definitely gotten heavier!
So far on our adventures he has used it as a travel backpack and even for an overnight camping excursion on a volcano! It worked perfectly for both instances and has been a favorite for both of us. We highly recommend this bag for traveling families.
REI Tarn 18 Day Pack for Kids
If you aren’t looking to backpack, but would rather get a daypack for your kids, we love our REI Tarn 18 Daypack. It holds so much stuff, has a waist belt and plenty of bells and whistles for kids to enjoy. My son particularly loves the little pockets on the waist belt where he can hide his collection of rocks he picks up on the way! This fits a decent amount for a weekend away as well if you want to start testing your kids out on carrying their own gear.
Or if you still carry their gear, this will hold their flight essentials, snacks and a sweater easily!
Travel Essentials for Kids (Chosen By A Kid)
Buff for Kids
My son was gifted a buff this summer and it has become his number 1 travel accessory. He uses it when he’s hot to keep his hair back and when he’s cold to cover his head and ears! He wears it almost every day, which if you know him is a total change from his normal hat wearing days! There are tons of options on Amazon, but we also love the ones sold by our favorite traveling family – The Bucket List Family.
Age Appropriate Camera
My son has transitioned over the years from a toddler camera to a sturdy rough and tumble point and shoot to now a digital mirrorless camera. Giving kids a way to document their own travels is such an amazing gift. I find it so wonderful to go through my son’s photos to see what he thought was interesting and important about our trips. Depending on the ages of your kids there is something out there for everyone. I have also found that having a camera helps him focus more on where we are even if it may not be the most interesting typically for kids!
The ones we have had and loved are:
VTech Kids Camera – This is a great little camera for the littlest of the bunch who want to look like their siblings or parents. We had this as a starter camera for the first few years and my son loved it. It definitely helped his love of photography develop.
Nikon Coolpix W100 – This camera has been a hit for 2 years. All of my son’s friends have even purchased it seeing how much fun my son had with his. This camera is waterproof, shockproof and in my view kidproof! My son has dropped this thing a million times and it’s still going strong.
Sony Alpha a6000 – This camera was mine, but has now been handed down to my son who is LOVING it. It is super light, easy to carry around and takes great shots even with the kit lens. Unless you kid is responsible and/or super into cameras I would probably just give them a hand me down or look for a used option. But this is a great camera to get more serious about changing settings and understanding photography.
Gift Cards for Photos Books
This summer I realized that my son has been to so many places in the world, taken so many photos but doesn’t always remember the places we have visited. I thought a great way for him to remember his trips a bit better would be to start making photos books of our excursions. So far he has made one for Brazil, Borneo and Singapore. He often talks about taking certain photos because he wants to add them into his book. We use the iPhoto app on the Mac, but you can also use online services like Shutterfly for kids who are a little more computer savvy.
My son got the Garmin VivoFit for his birthday and it has been HUGE on our travels so far. He absolutely loves being able to track his own steps each day, as well as his sleep. In addition to that, he loves having it as a watch and a timer. He uses all the functions almost every single day. It’s been a nice addition for me as well to keep track of his sleep to see how much our travels are impacting his sleep patterns and if we need to slow down a bit so he can catch up on sleep. His current step record is almost 30,000 steps.. not sure when we will beat that one!
The benefit of this “fitbit” versus other ones made for kids is that this does not need to be charged! It uses a watch battery so should last about 1 year. Also, it is waterproof. My son has swam with it and takes a shower with it most days. After testing out several, this was the best fit for a busy lifestyle.
Apple iPad Mini
The Apple iPad Mini may not be something for everyone’s budget, but having an iPad Mini has been great for being on the road. On this trip my son is carrying all of his own gear, including his iPad. It is imperative that everything he brings along is light and easy to pack. He has been reading books downloaded from the library on the Kindle app as well as doing his homeschool work through different online programs. It’s been amazing and I highly recommend getting a small version for the kids if you can. (Don’t forget a slim, but protective case as well!)
I cannot tell you how many pairs of headphones we have gone through during our travels over the last 7 years. Too many! The current favorite are these JBL headphones we picked up at Singapore airport after we broke another pair (the second of those even!). They are light, fold up well and provide safe sound technology so I don’t have to worry so much about how loud he is playing his music or shows. So far these headphones have been with us for almost a year and to more than 7 countries and they show no signs of wear and tear yet!
Essential Travel Clothes for RTW Family Travel
One of my favorite purchases over the past 2 years has been my Patagonia down jacket. I know it is so cliche, but seriously this is one of the best purchases you can make. I can’t tell you how many times I have used this. It is so small and light that even packing with only carry-on during our Central America trip, it has come with me.
Even in warm Guatemala where I thought I wouldn’t need it, I used it twice to climb volcanoes! I have also used it in Ireland and Iceland and Wisconsin in just the last 3 months! It comes with a hefty price tag, but it is worth it for the lightness and ease of traveling.
North Face Rain Jacket for Adults
Both my husband and myself have this North Face Rain Jacket. It is lightweight, folds up well and is pretty water resistant. I used it in torrential downpours in Borneo and the part that my jacket covered was the only part of me still dry!.
Puffy Down Jacket for Kids
Just as for us adults, this puffy down jacket has been a perfect travel accessory for my son. It packs so small, keeps him warm in a pinch and has been perfect to layer over other things to provide even more warmth. Combined with his rain jacket, he has been set even in the cold of Iceland (well, with 5 layers underneath!) We have one from REI, but reading the contents on the label, it is the same make up of down as the ones above on Amazon!
Kids Marmot Rain Jacket
My son’s Marmot Rain Jacket has come in useful all over the world as well. He has worn in in the jungles of Borneo to the wet waterfalls of Iceland. It is lightweight and can be used as both a wind jacket and a rain jacket. It is his final layer for the cold climates and used for the rain. This is definitely a great buy for traveling families who will be in a variety of locations.
Merrell Hiking Boots for Kids
If you know my son, you know that at home he lives in his cowboy boots, but when we are on the road he takes only two pairs of shoes – his Teva water sandals and his Merrell Hiking Boots. These boots are comfortable, waterproof and light making them perfect for traveling in a range of conditions. These boots have already seen black sand beaches in Iceland, volcanoes in Guatemala, city streets of Ireland and rice paddy fields of Vietnam!
Eco-Friendly Travel Essentials for RTW Family Travel
HydroFlask Water Bottle
Yes, I am one of those people carrying around my HydroFlask. I love it. I love to have cold water to drink and this bottle keeps my ice frozen for up to 2 days. I’m not joking. It is so good. Mine has been beaten up like crazy, but it still is holding strong. This is a must have for travel or just day to day life at home. I promise you will drink so much more water when you have it with you all the time. It doesn’t spill, it doesn’t have condensation on the outside. It is just perfect. If you don’t need cold water like I do, you could manage with just the GEOPRESS recommended above. I need cold water though so I have two water bottles with me!
If you have been following our adventures this past year you will know that we are Eco-Warriors in training. After our visit to the South China Sea this summer my son has been dead set on reducing our plastic consumption to zero. One of the ways we attempt this goal is by taking our own straws with us. We have both the curved and the straight, but prefer the straight straws for ease of cleaning. This set includes some of both with a cleaning brush that is easy to travel with. While at home we keep some in the car as well!
The other eco friendly item we travel with these days is our Sea to Summit Cutlery set. My son hangs his from his backpack so we always remember to use it when we are eating on the road. So far we have had no problems getting these through security in our carry on bags either. (Update: yes, we did have one problem. El Salvador refused to let me through with the knife. Somehow they missed my son’s hanging off his bag. So now we check them when we go through countries that we are not certain about.) We have had fish and chips on the roadside in Iceland, avocado on a volcano and breakfast in Guatemala using these. Definitely worth getting at least one set, although we now have one set for each of us!
Essential Electronics for RTW Family Travel
This Anker Battery Pack is a bit bulky and heavy but it has been a lifesaver! It has several USB connections so you can charge several items at once. It also holds a ton of charge. I have used this to power my phone, Skyroam and two cameras on an overnight trip to the top of a volcano and I still had plenty of charge left to keep on going. I love this charger so much that it comes with me on every single trip and day trip! Definitely invest in one of these before you go away.
Multi-Unit Charger Adapter
I love my multi-country travel adapter. (Sorry for no direct link, but Amazon won’t allow a direct link to the one I have – I think they are all pretty similar though!) My travel adapter has 4 USB slots and a plug so that I can charge many things at once. We typically have the Skyroam, camera batteries, phone and external battery pack charging each night. And then I can still plug in my laptop when needed! A must have for multi country travel.
The one thing we did not bring with us on our first leg of our trip is a travel headlamp. We made sure to bring this headlamp on the second leg! When you travel off the beaten path, you often find yourselves in areas with limited electricity. This has been the case with us several times and we wished we had our headlamps. I have a feeling it will come in handy more often than we think!
Sony Mirrorless Camera
If you do not have a good camera, definitely invest in one before your travels. Your iPhone X takes great photos and videos, but there are times when you really need a great camera to get the right shot. I highly recommend the Sony Mirrorless Cameras. I have the 6300 and I love it. I wouldn’t mind upgrading to one of the full frame options, but for now this one is perfect. I would recommend purchasing only the body and then buy the lens that you want instead of getting a kit lens. My preferred all around travel lens is the 16-70mm. It is not cheap, but it is a great all-around lens that will get you the shot 99% of the time.
These are our favorites for family travel. Do you have something else to add?
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