Canadian travel writer ROBIN ESROCK shares his tips from a 20,000km trip around Australia with his wife and two young kids
The first and most important thing you can pack for any journey is the right state of mind. With that platitude out of the way, the second most important thing to acknowledge is that you will pack more than you will need.
This is human nature. While I admire fellow travellers who can go months with a daypack containing just two shirts, two pairs of underwear and a lot of interesting bacteria, I can guarantee they are not travelling with young kids.
Kids can chew up that daypack in a single morning, and still need a new change of clothes by lunch. They do not do laundry, or buy clothes or pack suitcases. That is your responsibility, just as it is to feed them when they are hungry, warm them when they are cold and entertain them when they are bored – at least, until they become teenagers, at which point, they’d rather you didn’t have anything to do with them, except give them money.
Every family will need to pack:
- Whatever you think you might need
- Whatever you might probably need
- Whatever you might probably need at a pinch
- Whatever you probably forgot
The more you pack, the more you will be unpacking, cleaning, carrying and packing again.
The less you pack, the more you will be washing, spot cleaning and thinking of creative ways to entertain kids with books and toys they’ve long lost interest in.
As soon as she could walk, Raquel always felt more comfortable out of a pram. Her brother, Gali, felt differently about life on wheels, and so on arriving we cast our net for the lightest, easiest single travel pram we could find. Melbourne-based company Valcobaby’s Snap 4 was the perfect pram for our adventure, but it turned out we couldn’t walk 4m without Raquel wanting to jump into the single pram. In one of the better decisions of our journey, I drove to Valcobaby’s office and literally begged for their Snap 4 double, which also happened to be the lightest and best double pram we could find.
Finally, each kid had a side, there was peace in the valley, and we took the Snap 4 everywhere: on treetop walks, to cliff tops, mountains and beaches. Each seat could recline to full sleep mode, not that our kids ever felt inclined to use that feature. Look for a pram that has wheels that rotate smoothly, a simple fold-up and release mechanism, good shade coverage and a bottom pouch to carry things. Most importantly, the pram should be light enough to carry with one hand or have a shoulder strap.
Flying with prams
Should you check the pram in with your luggage, or check it at the gate? We found both options were hit and miss. Depending on the size of the airport, waiting for the pram to show up at the oversized luggage counter added a half-hour to transit, or else the pram magically appeared as we disembarked the plane. Neither of our kids felt particularly excited to stay in the pram at the airport, and nap times were screwed up anyway. Due to its size, we had to check in our double pram regardless.
Another fine decision was investing in an easy-to-set-up travel cot, which was also light to transport. Valcobaby again to the rescue! Yes, they helped us out as sponsors, but only because we begged and pleaded them to. Their Zephyr Porta Crib is a cinch to set up and take down for late-night arrivals and rushed morning pack-ups, and most importantly, Galileo really took to it. He loved his little bed, where he would bury his head under a pillow or push up against the netting to get comfortable. We parked it in passageways and wardrobes, in bedrooms and living rooms.
The joy of trailers
A Move Yourself trailer was a tremendous help with packing everything into the car. It allowed us to travel with more stuff (particularly food basics), have easy access to essentials and drive in a relatively uncluttered car. With everything else going on, do you need to spend an extra half hour playing Tetris with luggage in your car? On the downside, parking with a trailer can become a real issue, especially if you’re staying in urban hotels and not holiday parks. We called ahead to book an extra parking space for our trailer, and I became quite adept at hooking and unhooking it and moving it around to fit in different spaces. My lower back has never forgiven me.
When choosing travel toys for your kids, remember: the more pieces, the more picking up. The more expensive, the faster they’ll get bored of it. Other kids’ toys are always best, especially if you’re staying in another family’s Airbnb. Remember you don’t have to bring enough toys to get through the entire trip. There are bargains to be found at the Reject Shop, dollar stores and department stores. A $5 toy can buy you a few days of peace, after which, don’t feel bad leaving stuff behind or donating it to other families on the road. We often found beach hotels had a trove of abandoned beach toys, so ask the front desk or the pool attendants before buying more spades and buckets to add to their collection.
Pick a Berry
On long trips with younger children, it’s important to bring a favourite stuffed toy to give them emotional support and a sense of stability. Before we left, we bought Raquel an IKEA panda, which she named Berry, but pronounced ‘Bearie’ (she insists I make this absolutely clear). If your kids are young enough to feel strong attachment to a stuffed toy, choose one for them and look after it as if it is a family member. If you want to be really clever, buy two identical toys and keep one with friends as a back-up, just in case you lose the other on the road.
Leave the (physical) books
If you’ve never used an e-reader before, now is the time to invest in one. The space and weight savings are phenomenal. Alternatively, look for light, second-hand paperback kids’ books you can donate or trade as you go.
A kids’ backpack you can carry
When it comes to your kids’ daypacks, you will be tempted to buy something small and cute with dancing unicorns and decals of animated puppies. In all likelihood, you’ll end up carrying this bag, because small children and infants seldom feel the need to. In which case, small, cute and unicorn-y don’t make any practical sense whatsoever. Find as large a bag as your kid can handle, and make sure you can shoulder it comfortably when he/she tires of it (usually after about five minutes).
- You do not need to travel with a pharmacy
If you need something, buy it along the way, unless you’re going to the middle of nowhere, in which case, snake antivenin can be difficult to come by. Toiletries take up a lot more space and weight than people expect.
- You do not need to travel with a toyshop
If you need something, buy it along the way. Australia is blessed with a variety of discount stores where toys, books and stationery are staggeringly cheap. Bring toys that inspire imagination games – figurines, bubbles, dolls, colouring books, cards – and that are easy to pack.
- You do not need to travel with your entire wardrobe
You need enough clothing for a day in which anything can happen, from being invited to a royal event to tramping in the bush. Since royal invites are probably not forthcoming, one decent dress or shirt will suffice, plus enough shirts, underwear and socks to see you through a week without doing the washing (unless you love doing laundry – to each their own). Double or triple that rule for clothing options for kids, who have a tendency to burn through clothing like Nero burned through Rome. Fortunately, kids’ clothing does not take up much space.
- You do not need to pack a grocery store
Snacks that are nutritious and healthy can be replenished every time you visit a grocery store or petrol station, which you will be doing often. Watch the kids’ sugar and lolly intake. Keep snacks in a snack bag or compartment that is easily accessible, and always carry water bottles.
- You will start rusty, but gradually become a well-oiled machine
Reading blogs and books might give you an edge, but nobody sets off on a big adventure with their packing dialled in. Within a week, you’ll be cursing that you brought X and your last-minute decision to leave Y. Correction: if you have a partner, you’ll be cursing their decision to bring X and their last-minute decision to leave Y.
This is an edited extract from 75 Must-See Places to Take the Kids (Before they don’t want to go), published by Affirm Press.