Ninety-two days. That’s the last time we saw our house, and that’s three full months we’ve been living out of a backpack. We started in Cancun, Mexico and are now in Cusco, Peru. We’ve travelled through 9 countries and have several different types of experiences. When backpacking with kids, one of the most important considerations is your filling your backpack with the right stuff.
Disclaimer: I have added links to items we found useful, or not. I am not endorsing any website over another, nor am I currently making any money from these links. I did this to give you an idea of the products that we have purchased. Feel free to click, or not. Get ideas and hunt for the best prices.
Backpacking with kids: The story so far…
My wife, Charo and I had been backpacking before, however, this was the first time we took the kids along with us. Like all parents, we tried to plan for every eventuality. We’ve learned a few things since we packed and hopefully, I can give you some helpful tips for your backpacking trip with your kids. I know I’ve already written about some things I’ve learned after a month, but now after three months of travel through Central and South America, I think there a few new things to help plan a backpacking trip with kids.
Size of the Backpacks
This part of the post is for us seasoned backpackers, and I’m not talking about being an experienced backpacker, but more in terms of life experience. As we wander the streets, I can’t help notice all the 20 something backpackers with a 60 – 70-litre pack on their back and then a smaller day pack on their front. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I would have done the same thing. I’d like to say that now I’m in my 40’s and a little wiser, but that’s not necessarily true. I just don’t want to carry a heavy pack, so how do you do that? Reduce, reduce, reduce. Lucky for me my brother Frank and his family visited while in Costa Rica. When he returned home he also returned home with my Osprey Farpoint 55-Litre bag and some carefully selected contents that I’ll mention along the way. We are now carrying a Gregory Baltoro Goal Zero 75 Litre, two 50-Litre and one 38-Litre Osprey Ace backpack and we can fit almost everything in them. We are still carrying the 10-Litre daypack for the Farpoint, and a couple of packable daypacks just in case.
That’s 4 backpacks for 5 people. Admittedly, the Gregory Goal Zero 75 Liter is packed pretty tight. We are therefore looking to purchase another 40 Litre adult pack to help lighten the load across the packs.
If we had to do it again from scratch we’d investigate carry on sizes only. If you are looking for a carry-on only first look at the 40-Litre bags. You can probably get away with 50-Litre bags as carry-on some airlines, but not all will allow it.
Getting Lighter (What we got rid of)
What do you need to live? What can you live without? The answer to both these questions is pretty easy. The only thing I can’t live without is my family. Everything else is replaceable, purchasable or rentable. Don’t go crazy thinking about everything you’ll possibly need.
So what did we get rid of? Happily, we got rid of the kids snorkelling equipment. Did we use them? Yes. Is it worth taking them? No. If we find ourselves at a place we need them there is always a rental we can go to. Three sets of snorkelling equipment take up one backpack worth of space.
To the dismay of the kids, we got rid of a bunch of toys and games. Truthfully, they don’t even miss them. Now, we just replaced a deck of cards because we wore out our first deck.
We also got rid of some clothing. Charo and I now debate if this was a good idea. One thing I got rid of was a nice warm Columbia sweater. I’m writing this in the Sacred Valley, Cusco region of Peru and it’s colder than I hoped it would be. Charo also got rid of a long-sleeved shirt. I do not regret our decision. We are only in the cold for a few more weeks, and we can purchase warm sweaters if we need them, they are cheap and plentiful. In fact, we both picked up an Alpaca wool shirt while we are here.
The life of a backpackers usually means that you’re spending time in hostels with other guests. Now I’m a glass-half-full kind of a guy and I do believe that in general, most people are good. Travelling for a year, odds are, you’re going to run into someone who’ll want to take advantage of a situation, like when my phone was stolen in Bogota.
So why take a risk? We purchased the pacsafe 12 Litre portable safe. I know that it’s not perfect, and if someone really wanted to could break into it and steal the contents, but it is a deterrent.
Our pacsafe came with a three-digit combination lock. We are easily able to store all our technology, passports, and credit cards in it if need be.
Pants with Zippable pockets
Speaking of keeping things safe, I suggest having zippable pockets if it at all possible. I had mentioned before my phone was stolen in Bogota. To make a long story short, my phone was stolen out of my front pocket when walking I was crossing through an intersection. It most likely would not have happened if my pockets had a zipper on them. Once again, this is only a deterrent, but it’s better than nothing.
Travelling for a year is costly. You end up trying to find places to save a few dollars here and there. One way to save some money is to do your own laundry. That’s where the Scrubba comes in. If you consider that the laundry cost is 5 USD or over, it’s easy to figure the Scrubba has more than paid for itself on this trip. The following is how Scrubba is described on their website:
“Our ultra-portable washing machine makes your journey easier. This convenient, pocket-sized travel companion allows you to travel lighter and helps you save money, time and water. Weighing less than 142g (~5oz.) the Scrubba Wash Bag is a modern take on the old fashioned washboard. It is twice as effective as hand washing* and a lot more hygienic that a dirty hotel sink.”
The only drawback to the Scrubba is the amount of clothing we can put in at any one time, so doing the laundry for five is time-consuming. Let’s face it, doing the laundry for 5 is time-consuming no matter what. If you’re planning on saving a few dollars and hand washing your clothes, the Scrubba is well worth carrying in your pack.
As an added bonus, if any of your children suffer from motion sickness it is great to keep handy on those long bus rides or can be used as a dry bag.
Safe Drinking Water
One constant concern when travelling is water quality. Living in Toronto, Canada we’ve always been lucky enough to have clean, safe tap water to drink. We’ve seen this isn’t true for the rest of the world. There are two solutions. First is the obvious, purchase water. In some hostels, especially in Central America, promote refilling bottles by having free water and that’s where our S’well water bottles came in handy. Like I’ve mentioned before they are well worth the price.
When you take a look at the S’well site, you’ll notice there are a few different types to choose from. We have the bottles and the travellers, and between them, I would choose the traveller. First off, it is way easier to clean. Secondly, we can easily use our SteriPEN Ultra in it. What is the SteriPen? This is a device that will clean out over 99% of bacteria and microorganisms from your water using a UV light. It is lightweight, USB rechargeable, and can clean 0.5 litres (45 seconds) to 1 litre of water at a time (90 seconds).
A quick demonstration of the Steripen
Do we not rely on this as our go-to right now, as we often buy the largest container or bag of water we can find. We do, however, use it to clean our water when we are preparing food or having to brush our teeth.
Finding a place to stay: Airbnb vs Booking vs Calling
Charo is a master at finding us amazing places to stay. As a backpacking family, we take up a lot of room. We’ve found that we can squeeze ourselves into 4 single beds comfortably, and at one point we all slept on one queen bed together, not so comfortable but we did it. Our first recommendation is to ask friends and family for a place to sleep. You’d be surprised at how many people will welcome you into their home. While we were in Xiabe, and San Ignacio Belize we had the opportunity to live with our friend Marcos’ family.
Most times you don’t have the option of staying with family or friends so what to do? We’ve found using Booking.com and Airbnb.com the easiest way to find what we want. The question is, what do you want? Do you want your experience to be social? Or do you a quiet place you just can focus on your family?
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been mostly focusing on AirBnb’s. We’ve been able to find a lot of great places to stay close to historic city centres at reasonable prices. You can usually find places that can house 5 guests but always take a good look. The last thing you’ll want is one of the sleeping arrangements to be a sofa bed because honestly, it’ll be you sleeping on it. Some of the benefits of getting an Airbnb it’s quiet, you have the place to yourself, and if you pick the right one it’ll have a washing machine so you’ll get a break from using the Scrubba.
Warning: If you do go to an Airbnb, especially in South America, you won’t always find a coffee machine of any type in it. We’ve been learning that most people drink instant coffee here. I’m currently trying to figure out if we have enough room in our pack for a French press.
Over our journey, Charo and Marco have found that Airbnb is their favourite way to book our travel.
Do you want a little more social journey? Do you enjoy meeting other travellers who are experiencing the world just like you are and exchanging stories and ideas? If you do then Booking.com is the website you’re looking for. You can find an amazing hostel, or a spectacular bed and breakfast to stay at.
If you’ve been following along on our journey I’ve tried to post pictures of the places we’ve stayed. They have been mostly great stays, but if you asked Charo and me were the best stay was, it was at Casa de Cafe in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. I have never had a stay anywhere like it. If you want to feel like royalty, book a stay at Casa de Cafe you will not be disappointed.
As for the kids, I love them, but I’ll be honest, having the kids 24 hours a day for several weeks at a time with little to no breaks can be tiresome. That is where a stay at a hostel is more than welcome. In most of our experiences, hostel owners, guests, and clientele have been all been very welcoming to us as a family. In fact, if you quizzed Marco, Mateo and Daniela they’ll name Mano a Mano Eco Hostel as their favourite stay in Las Penitas, Nicaragua.
Over our journey, Mateo, Daniela and I have enjoyed our stays we’ve found on booking.com
Calling ahead for better deals
Before we started this trip Charo planned out our first month of travel and every place she wanted to stay. Instead of booking through the website she every place she was interested in. Now that we are at the beginning of month 4 she doesn’t do this anymore. Why not?
Firstly, many Airbnb and Booking hosts want your reviews, they are very important to them. Secondly, it takes a lot of time to call every place you want to stay in. We found that if you want to extend your travel you can usually negotiate a better price, after all, they probably already have the review they are looking for. So what price is fair? Speaking to an owner, they mentioned a 10% discount is the right amount. This ensures the owner makes a little extra and you save some money as well.
The Babysitter… Travelling with Technology
I hate to say it, but yes, sometimes it’s nice to have the kids on the tablet. We have been great adventures during the day, but when we get home it’s nice to have a little me time. The only way to get it is to let the kids have some tablet time to play their games. Luckily it’s not bad. I’ve got the kids hooked on a math game on prodigygame.com. Not only is it fun, but it’s helping brush up some of their math skills. I can control the curriculum on it and focus on their individual needs.
Prodigy is designed to be a free game. It does offer a paid subscription as well. To begin, we started on the free game. We found that the paid subscription was useful. It allows the kids to gain more bonuses, and therefore it’s more interesting for them.
As for the language part of the curriculum, Marco and Daniela are really enjoying their Kindle e-readers. They’re light and portable and for a voracious reader like Marco, it sure makes our backpacks lighter. A few weeks ago Marco uttered “The Harry Potter series is only 7 novels long? That’s only 7 days of pleasure.” He finished them in 10 days. The only reason, we didn’t have wifi for three of those days. With all these books they’re reading it makes our Kindle unlimited membership, that I have written about it in the past, worth it.
The big picture
When we take a picture a moment lives forever. So what’s the best camera to use? I’m pretty sure I am not qualified to answer that question. I do know one mistake we’ve made, that I’m hoping to soon correct. I think every kid should be armed with a camera in hand, their experiences are so much different than ours. When I purchased our Olympus Tough TG5 I wanted the kids to use it. What I didn’t foresee was their pure enjoyment at taking pictures. They fight over the camera, and each one of them has a different idea of what a good picture should have. Whatever place we go, they enjoy experiencing the moments a little more when they control the camera. So, on that note, I’ll be writing Santa a note, and reminding him that we do have room in our backpacks for another camera or two that will survive my kids.
I’d like to thanks everyone who has been following along. It’s been encouraging getting all the feedback. I know I have to post a little more often, but I’m also trying to focus on the experience, and also focus on the kids as well. I’m hoping over the next few weeks to post some videos of the kids answering questions from other kids about travelling and their travels.
Thanks for reading and happy adventuring!
The last time I updated you it was after 28 days on the road.
Joe you are doing an awesome job with your posts. Thank u so much for letting us share your journey. Hugs for you, Charo and the kids.
Thanks Elizabeth, trying my best 🙂
Great update and info! love the alpaca sweaters and hats the kids are wearing btw! Travel safe and enjoy!
Thanks Jill, The alpaca hats are the talk of the town. Even the locals are commenting on them.
Loved the read and the tips! Thx Joe! Got some things to think about before the Parrish pack heads off…
Not too much longer till we meet up with the Parrish pack. I can’t wait
Really enjoying reading about all of your adventures! You are amazing parents!! The experiences you are having and the things your kids are learning are extraordinary!! Xox
Thanks Joanna, we are trying our best.
Like this tips,,,, great for backpacksrs or road trips or any parent travelling with kids. Keep having fun and sharing withus the great moments. Pleaze be safe. Miss you all
Camila and Giovanna
Thank-you for letting me enjoy your journey from my chair. Your ideas, tips and links are going to be a lifesaver as I prepare to journey into Colombia in a few short days. You have the right attitude for the journey is the reward and not the destination!
Thanks Antoinette, feel free to email any questions about Colombia.