The Gear Post: What We Packed For A Seven Week Trip With Kids

For those following our crazy seven week adventure in Mexico, you might be wondering what we packed for our trip.  Here’s the answer!

First a bit of philosophy.  While we were on our trip, we wanted to be nimble and not encumbered by heavy bags.  Large luggage with wheels means checked bags on airlines and the need to flag a taxi if you’re going more than a few blocks.  We chose to pack light and take smaller bags so we could walk a mile or so if necessary without needing to take a taxi.  Light bags mean we can stop at a store and grab something quickly without fumbling with huge luggage.  Packing light also let us hop on and off local buses and subways instead of calling a taxi.  This meant spending $1.30 USD to get to and from the airport in Mexico City, for example, instead of $20+ for a taxi.  It also means we can exit the plane with all our luggage in hand and proceed directly to our destination and not wait 30+ minutes at baggage claim (if the bags ever show up at all!).

Our light packing made us look a little silly at times.  We sometimes get the question “where is your luggage?” because we’re only carrying bookbags for a two month trip.

Another constraint on our gear is our general frugality.  We’re cheapskates, so we don’t like to pay much for anything.  This applies to luggage, tech toys, clothing, foot wear, and all the other stuff we brought with us on the trip.

 

The Luggage

We checked out larger backpacks that are designed for backpacking through the wilderness but often used by those “backpacking” across Europe or Mexico (usually by bus or air).  Two packs we checked out were the 43-liter Kelty and the Osprey Farpoint 40 liter pack.   Then we realized we might not need to buy larger backpacks if we commit to packing light.

We already had a pair of brand new largish book bags we picked up for free back in the days of Office Max giving away free book bags and other goodies via their Maxperks rewards program.  The bookbags’ thick padding on the back and shoulder straps plus good, sturdy stitching and fabric made them worthy candidates for our gear hauling needs.  An added bonus is a laptop sleeve built into the main compartment that fit my 15.6″ Dell laptop perfectly.

After a test run, we determined we could fit all our clothes, tech gear, and footwear into the book bags we already owned.  They are the Ful Sweet Melissa Daypacks.

A casual daypack great for primary school. The Sweet Melissa features two main compartments, organizers, and stash pockets in the backpack

From this description at Amazon, it sounds like we’re traveling the world with an elementary school student’s day pack.  I’ll take that as a compliment to our packing skills and minimalism.

We picked them up on sale for $30 each at OfficeMax a couple years ago (they were free after the Maxperks Rewards).  Seven weeks in, they are holding up well even though I’ve loaded mine to max capacity with 20-25 pounds of gear (once I throw a few bottles of water in them).  They are also fairly light at two pounds in spite of plenty of padding and thick fabric.

For the three year old, we went with a plush monkey bookbag ($8 at Aldi) that was a Christmas present.  He likes it and is usually okay carrying it.  And it makes people smile.

The older girls used old bookbags they used to carry to school every day.  They are generic bookbags ($8 from Toys R Us) and the quality reflects the price.  I had to stitch one of the straps back onto the bag to prevent it from ripping off completely.  Otherwise, the bags are decent – lightweight and comfortable with enough pockets to be useful.

This is all we packed for seven weeks in Mexico.

Yep, packing for seven weeks in bookbags.  52 pounds of luggage for the whole family.

We have two smallish thin lightweight sacks (weighing 1 oz and 4 oz respectively) that we put any overflow into. Good for packing light stuff, maybe some snacks and water, and random crap that won’t fit into our backpacks.

The Ful backpacks are pretty big but easily fit into the airplane overhead bins. They fit in some bus’s overhead compartments and fit underneath the seat fine.

 

Tech Toys

If weight weren’t an issue, we would each carry a full size 15 inch laptop.  They are cheap, offer a large viewing screen and are very versatile.  We can play games, watch movies, edit photos, surf, read, write, research, manage finances, and video chat all with one device.

The downside is the weight.  A standard 15 inch laptop itself weighs about five pounds.  Add in a mouse and the power adapter and it’s closer to six pounds.  As a result, we decided to bring only one full size laptop and rely on tablets and a phone for other computing and entertainment needs.  The 15 inch screen size worked well for watching Netflix movies or TV shows late at night after the kids were in bed.  A little taste of normalcy while on the road, sometimes accompanied by popcorn.

I skipped a laptop case to save on weight (and money) and relied on the laptop sleeve built into my Ful bookbag.  Once in my bookbag, the computer is padded by the plush back lining on one side and my clothes on the other so it’s fairly safe from damage while on the road.

I bought a refurbished Dell 3537 laptop a year ago for well under $300 and it has proven a good choice for our trip.

In the future if we do more extended traveling, I’ll be looking closer at ultrabooks and Chromebooks.  Both of those share one thing in common: they are light weight.  Otherwise they are completely different machines.

Ultrabooks tend to pack quite a bit of computing power into a compact form and usually weigh around three pounds (a two pound savings over run of the mill 15 inch full size laptops).  Prices range from $700-$1,000+ but you get a lot of features even at the lower end.  It’s like a half price Macbook that runs Windows.

Chromebooks go the opposite direction.  They tend to have lower end CPUs, storage, and RAM but come with a price tag of $180-$300 to match the lower specs.  Many come with smaller screens around 12 inches which pushes the weight down to the 2-3 pound range for the smaller devices.  Since chromebooks run on Google’s Chrome OS, I would lose access to some Windows programs and games that I own and that I’m already familiar with.  On the upside, I’m a power user of Google apps and services that tend to be well-integrated with Chrome.

In addition to a laptop, we packed three Amazon Fire HD 7″ tablets so each kid could have their own dedicated device.  These were new purchases for this trip, and we found each tablet for around $60-70 on eBay.  In hindsight, the Fire HD 7 is a great tablet for kids (and Mrs. RoG enjoys playing Call of Atlantis on it, too!).  The Amazon App Store has a ton of free stuff for the kids including books for them to read.

I spent $7 worth of virtual Amazon Coins I acquired somehow on Minecraft Pocket Edition which all the kids installed on their own tablets.  That’s been a big hit with all of them.

The Fire HD 7 is solidly built.  The three year old dropped his tablet (without any protective case) at least 20 times yet it still works flawlessly.  Battery life is okay to great.  Minecraft, for example, chews through the battery in a couple of hours but reading an e-book or surfing the net lets the battery last at least 5-6 hours.

One kid asked to buy an iPad but after seeing the price tag of 5-10x the cost of a Fire HD 7, she quickly decided that the Fire HD 7 was about the same as an iPad without the cost.

If these tablets ever do break, at least they were very inexpensive and won’t be burdensome to replace.  If I wanted a tablet for myself, I’d probably spend a little more and get some form of android tablet like the 8″ Samsung Galaxy Tab 4.  There are a few apps on the Google Play store that aren’t currently available on the Amazon App Store for the Fire HD like Google Drive.

Otherwise, the Fire HD 7 is a nice little tablet for goofing off and surfing the web.  It only weighs about 12 ounces, so it’s great for carrying on the road.

electronic-gadgets-for-mexico-trip

Five devices, five people. 7.5 pounds of computing firepower.

I brought my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone that I have activated on Freedompop in the States.  The service doesn’t work in Mexico, but it’s a great device to use for offline maps with Google Maps.  That’s been our go to navigation tool in Mexico.  I’ll research places to visit and save them through google maps in my Chrome browser on the PC, then the saved locations automatically show up as little golden stars on my phone’s Map app.  Pretty nifty, Google.  It’s also really easy to select a city you’ll be visiting and save the whole city in an “offline map” so you can view all the streets even if you don’t have cellular data or a wifi connection.

The Galaxy S3’s Battery life is wonderful.  I routinely make it through a whole day of intense navigation and other use and rarely exhaust the battery.  It’s also not a brand new phone so if it’s stolen or I break it, I’m not out $500+.

We brought another phone, the Nokia 1616 dumb phone.  It’s just a few ounces of extra weight and it’s been very handy a few times when we really needed to make a phone call but couldn’t get the phones or internet to work where we were.  We’re on T-mobile’s prepaid plan, and calls in Mexico eat about $1.80 USD per minute.  For an infrequent minute or two, that’s not a bad price since we have a big unused balance on the phone and rarely use it at home.

We unlocked the phone before leaving, so we would have the option of buying a Telcel or Movistar SIM chip for $5-10 USD if we needed to make calls more frequently.  Telcel has a prepaid plan where you can put 20 pesos ($1.30 USD) on the phone and pay under 1 peso per minute (about 6 US cents) with the airtime lasting at least 10 days.  Excellent choice if you need to order a pizza or call a taxi without using your own phone plan’s international rates.

The final tech item in our bag is the Canon A3100 12 megapixel point and shoot digital camera.  It’s not a dSLR so the pictures are just okay.  But it’s compact and weighs very little.  If we were going to upgrade, it would probably be to something like the Canon EOS Rebel T5.  Three times the price and three times the weight of our Canon A3100 point and shoot camera, but probably three times the quality, too.

 

Clothing

For each person, we packed:

  • 4 shirts
  • 4-5 undergarments
  • 4 socks
  • 2 shorts/skirts (no skirts for Mr. RoG)
  • 1 pants (except for Mr. RoG)
  • 1 swimsuit/trunk

This turned out to be plenty of clothes since we had a washer and dryer for 99% of our trip.  The Aloft in Cancun (where we are currently staying) even offers a free washer and dryer though we probably won’t have to use it.

We could have economized by packing half the amount of clothes and doing laundry every 2-3 days instead of every 4 days, but we had enough room so we went crazy and packed a four day clothing supply (with some extras for the three year old).

 

Footwear

I bought a new pair of shoes before our trip because my old ones were falling apart.  Since I didn’t want to have inferior footwear for 7 weeks, I bought what I hoped was a good name brand piece of footwear, the New Balance 750 V2 running shoe (around $30 on sale).  At first, the shoes were a little uncomfortable while breaking them in at home.

While on the road they performed beautifully.  Great on flat pavement, grass, sidewalks, rough trails, rocks, and slippery surfaces.  The only problem I had was walking on the wet, slick, polished cobblestone pavement in San Miguel de Allende since the soles are very flexible and pliable.

I doubt there is a good shoe to handle these streets.

I doubt there is a good shoe to handle these streets.

The shoes themselves are well built with a light foam sole and a grippy but flexible rubber lining on the tread surface.  The toe area is covered with a highly breathable material (great when it’s hot, sucks when it’s freezing out).

I didn’t buy any special socks for my trip and just packed my normal every day socks (the 8 pair for $7 plain white socks from Walmart).  Small mistake.  They are thin and lightweight which is usually a good quality for a sock.  Until it wears through after walking miles and miles.  When this happens at home I toss the socks out.  On the road, I didn’t want to buy socks that don’t match the ones I already own so I tried sewing up the holes without lasting success. My workaround was wearing the socks upside down.  This is a great way to get two times the life out of a sock, but now I have holes in my socks on top of my foot.  Time to get new socks when I get home.

holy-socks

How many MPS (miles per sock) do you usually get? And check out those brand new kid’s shoes after 7 weeks of busting it down dusty Mexican roads and trails.

On our next long term trip, I might invest in some Thorlo socks.  They are supposed to be the gold standard in comfortable and durable footwear.  However they come with a gold plated price tag at roughly $10-13 for a single pair (around 10 times the price of the cheap but less durable socks from Walmart).  The Thorlo socks get excellent reviews at Amazon and I’ve heard strong personal endorsements from many people.  I feel like spending $60 on five pair of socks is crazy, but maybe it’s worth it if I amortize the sock cost over a very long period of time.  Perhaps I’ll compromise and splurge on a brand new $7 bag of Walmart socks right before our next big trip.

 

Miscellaneous gear

We each packed a lightweight rain poncho except Mrs. RoG who packed a compact umbrella.  We’ve used the ponchos once or twice.  The umbrella gets used a lot to protect us from the rain and to provide shade.  The ponchos only weigh 1-4 ounces whereas the umbrella weighs 8 ounces.  We economized on weight by only taking a single umbrella.  This mixed solution worked perfectly and lets one of us run out quickly and easily in the rain without donning the cumbersome poncho.

We carry one hand picked first aid kit with:

  • tylenol and ibuprofen pain meds
  • anti-diarrheal tablets
  • dayquil and nyquil tablets
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine) allergy tablets
  • Benadryl allergy tablets
  • menthol cough drops
  • bandaids
  • tums antacid

So far we have used half the stuff in our med kit.  All of this stuff is available locally in Mexico but we already had it on hand from the $0.88 generic medicine section at our Walmart in Raleigh.  And when you need medicine, you need it bad.  I didn’t want to have to rush out and navigate the streets and stores of Mexico to track down these meds, so I packed a well rounded med kit ahead of time.

The only possible addition would have been a series of cipro antibiotics, but with our high deductible health insurance plan, it would be a very expensive doctor’s visit to get a prescription for “just in case”.  It’s easy enough to pick up while in Mexico by paying $2 USD or so for a consult at the pharmacy or $20-30 USD for a real office visit with a real doctor.  We didn’t need antibiotics, so it worked out in our favor to not get those meds ahead of time in the US.

We brought basic personal hygiene items like a safety razor, floss, toothpaste, toothbrush, and deodorant.  We purchased shampoo and conditioner once we arrived in country since it’s so heavy.

Other random items on our packing list include a sewing kit, fingernail clippers and file, deck of playing cards, small pad, pen, hat, and sunglasses.

Mrs. RoG’s electric hair dryer didn’t make the cut for our final packing list.  It’s probably a pound or two and pretty bulky.  As it turns out, she still had access to a hair dryer for roughly half of the seven week trip.  It was a sacrifice for her but probably a smart move since it would have pushed her into a larger piece of luggage.

The kids couldn’t bring any stuffed animals with them, and the only toy we packed was a small Thomas The Tank Engine for the three year old.  I can’t tell that we’ve inflicted any long-lasting psychological damage by depriving them of thousands of toys like most kids their age have.

That rounds out our packing list.  We tried to split out the loads fairly evenly between the adults and kids based on ability to carry loads.  I carried around 20-25 pounds in my pack, Mrs. RoG carried about 14 pounds, the 8 and 10 year olds each carried around 7-8 pounds, and the three year old carried 3-4 pounds in his monkey bookbag.

 

Closing thoughts on travel gear

Every time I saw someone with huge backpacks or multiple large pieces of luggage, I thought about how we made the right choice in packing light.  No regrets at all.

We knew we would miss some things while we are away from home, but we didn’t miss much of our stuff.  Even though we have thousands of pounds of stuff at home, the 52 pounds of gear that traveled across Mexico with us proved perfectly adequate.

The only specialized purchases with this trip in mind were the three Fire HD 7 tablets.  Everything else we already owned (like bookbags) or needed to buy anyway (like shoes).  I anticipated spending a lot more to gear up for our big trip.  But as it turns out, most of what we already own was “good enough” to get us out the door and all over Mexico.

 

 

If you were limited to just one large bookbag for a seven week trip, what would you put in it?  What item would be hardest to leave at home because it wouldn’t fit? 

 

 

49 comments

  • wow! Looks like you guys did a great job of planning your trip! Packing light can be a difficult skill to master, and it looks like you got it right!

  • Great job on the packing. Lots of foresight went into this, and you all are to be commended for the way it worked out.

    I also do the “x # of pairs” of socks from Wal-Mart or K-Mart, whoever is cheaper. I even use the white ones for my running. The quality is fine, but I recently retired my six pairs of white high top socks that I literally used for decades of reasonably high-level basketball and road running (they may have been soccer socks, come to think of it, but they worked well for my needs.) I have never found any athletic socks that appeared to be that good, so I’ll go with the cheap ones and keep them going until they give out. The price is too good to pass up, as you are aware.

    • That’s where I’m at on socks too. It’s really hard to imagine the Thorlo or similar sock as something that’s 13x better than the el cheapo plain white athletic socks you buy in bulk. I guess I could experiment with one pair. I see at the Thorlo website they offer 1 pair of socks for $5 so you can try them out.

      • While the Thorlo may be a “gold” standard in socks, these are the “platinum” variety: http://darntough.com/

        They come with a lifetime guarantee and you’ll need it given the price tag. I don’t own a pair myself but I’m tempted each time I buy another bag of Walmart cheapos.

        • Ha ha, nice. I didn’t know there was a platinum standard for socks. 🙂 Just a slight bit more than the Thorlos.

          At some point, it’s cheaper to simply buy “disposable” socks for <$1/pair than to pay the opportunity cost of an $18 per pair sock investment. At a 10% discount rate, I can buy 2 pairs of Walmart cheapos every year for the same price as a one time purchase of the Darn Toughs. And I think a bag of the cheapos lasts about a year. I'll have to make a note of the date when I buy a new bag of socks in a couple days when we're back in the US.

  • Wow – 52 lbs for the entire family of 5! My wife and I went on a 7 day cruise in February and I would be afraid to weight what we brought. I am guessing it was around 80 lbs total?

    It just goes to show with a little planning and ingenuity, you can get by with a lot less stuff on your trip. I keep threating my wife we should do a trip with only a backpack each. No luck yet!

    • We packed pretty light on our last cruise but not quite this light. We usually drive to the Florida ports for cruises, so luggage isn’t too much of a hassle. And laundry isn’t cheap/free on cruise ships without major status (which we don’t have). We do manage to skip most of the formal clothing requirements, and the only thing extra that I pack is a pair of decent non-running shoes and long pants for the formal nights. Yeah, I’m the guy wearing a short sleeve button up shirt and slacks while others wear tuxes. 🙂

  • Wow, great job packing. I thought we’re light traveler, but you beat us by a mile. I have a soft backpack/luggage that’s a bigger than yours. I think I got it from Rick Steves, but I can’t find it online anymore.
    4 changes of cloth is about right. I don’t want to take anymore than that. You can always buy something if you really need it. I always felt bad for those kids with the huge backpack too. Pretty crazy to haul that much stuff around.

    • I’d love to stop one of the backpackers and see what’s really in their packs. Maybe these guys are roughing it and have a hammock, hiking boots, and sleeping bag inside their huge packs. Dunno.

  • You’re a brave soul and I aspire to be like you! I can’t wait to show my three kids the world on nice, slow, travel trips. I think I’ll wait until they can at least all carry their own backpack, however. I’ll return to this post for reference when they can. 🙂

    • Our 3 year old can shoulder his own pack (the monkey bookbag 🙂 ). It actually has all of his clothes and diapers in there. Luckily the weight of the pack scales with the age/size of the kid. Bigger kids wear bigger clothes that weigh more. But we haven’t had to walk more than about 2 miles with the packs (from one end of the Mexico City Airport international terminal to the edge of the airport then a little further to the subway). We always have the option of “cheating” and taking taxis if it really gets to be burdensome. And there’s always stopping for a break, eating, drinking and trying to be merry before moving on.

      You mentioned “slow”, and that’s the key. Nothing better than settling in for a 2 week stay somewhere knowing you won’t have to pack up the gear for another 13 days. We made liberal use of the “do nothing days” where we basically stuck around home, maybe went out to eat, but didn’t have any strenuous sightseeing scheduled. The kids enjoyed those days as much as the historical and cultural places we visited.

  • Take a darning needle and some thin yarn next time. Darning just involves laying down rows in one direction and weaving across those. Stretch the hole across a ball of some sort while you work so the end product isn’t scrunched up. It takes a few minutes per hole. I learned from Youtube.

    My wife has a windows netbook.

    • I’ll give darning a second look. I tried to sew them up using our sewing kit but it didn’t last more than 1 wear. The socks are so cheap I hate to spend more than a millisecond trying to fix them.

      We have an older netbook but the battery is toast. Great little machine at under 2 pounds and $200 I think when we bought it. That might be a good 2nd computer for a future family trip of this length but a 15″ laptop would still be my first choice for the power and screen real estate available.

  • Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead

    I think about how the airport time is the most stressful when traveling with kids and that convinces me that you are a smart man to do a workaround like this!

    I agree that the Thorlo socks are very nice (I have a pair for skiing that are like 15 years old and in perfect shape), but unless you are hiking a lot on the vacation I wouldn’t get them. You can probably find something in between that won’t cost so much. I have some Nike Dry Fit socks that I use for golf (walk several miles each time in them) and they have lasted a long time and are much cheaper than Thorlos.

    • Airport time is a lot less stressful when you can simply walk on the plane and walk off at the destination without waiting in the check luggage line or waiting at the baggage carousel. We’re returning to Raleigh at almost midnight and we’ll likely be on the freeway home within 10 minutes of the plane touching the ground. No bags to claim, zero chance of the airline losing them. The downside is we can’t pack a case of cheap Mexican tequila in our carry ons.

  • I’ve come to like merino wool blend socks for winter warmth and summer dryness. My strategy tends to be waiting for deals on Sierra Trading Post and finding a good mid weight sock at about $5/pair.

    They won’t last 5x longer than a cotton sock but they’re significantly warmer in winter yet wicking in summer, and comfier.

    Because the site is all close outs and seconds, I can’t recommend a specific sock, but Goodhew has been significantly better for me than the better known brands like a WigWam and Smart Wool.

    I found the Thorlos I’ve tried to be far too bulky for my taste but YMMV.

    • Interesting, I’ll check those out. I’m also concerned about the thorlo’s bulkiness as I like the el cheapo thin ones pretty well. They do the job for me in winter and are light and cool in summer.

  • I’ve got an REI backpack that I use for long term trips (something similar to this, but half the size: http://www.rei.com/product/863334/rei-grand-tour-80-travel-pack-womens). I have taken it across Europe for 2 months, and only did wash once. Ziploc bags for compression really helps. On my 3 weeks in Switzerland for work (meaning work clothes), I took a carryon, did laundry twice, and I came home with lots of souvenirs for the kiddo. It’s all about how often you can/will do laundry and how much you’re willing to re-wear items. I’ll wear a pair of jeans for a week at a time, so I really only need 1-2 pairs on a long trip. Shirts I’m less willing to do so, and undergarments (including socks) not at all.

    • Awesome! We packed a lot of stuff in Aldi brand ziploc gallon or quart freezer bags for organization and for compression. Excellent storage devices and way better than paying real money for some sort of internal storage/organization bags. We left all the toiletry bags at home and just used ziplocs for that too. That cuts out a ton of weight and our ziplocs are still holding up well after 7 weeks (though not sure if they’ll last another 7!).

      I’m with you on the pants. I probably could have cut a pound of weight by packing only 1 pair of shorts since I ended up wearing them for 2-3 days each anyway. My shirts get pretty gross after a day if I’m doing more than sitting in a cool environment all day, so yeah, I’m not up for rewearing without washing unless absolutely necessary. Not quite a hippie backpacker just yet… 🙂

  • Chef @ Fry The Financial Fish

    I would love to hear more about how the kids held up on your vacation. Since we have 4 kids it is harder for us to travel now- especially since we have 18 month old twins. I was really hoping to go to Belize next spring (Southwest opened new routes from Southern US to Belize for <$400 rt) but I think we will likely save it for several years down the line when they can actually remember the vacation.
    We are thinking about a shorter cruise instead since there is daycare available and we value rest and free time above traveling somewhere nice.

    • The kids did well overall. The 3 year old didn’t do well at all with the heat in Tulum and Cancun, and after an initial day of visiting the Tulum pyramids and beach, we ended up doing very little beyond pool time and pool (billiards) time at the hotel and house we rented. He was drenched in sweat and red in the face after 10 minutes of being in the heat (even in the shade).

      But other places where it was a moderate and dry 70-80 degrees, he did pretty well as long as we fed him cookies and water occasionally. He’s been walking 2+ miles per day with me to drop the older kids at school, so he’s accustomed to a lot of walking which undoubtedly helps while we’re out touring around.

      As for Belize, I recall our kids dying in the heat there during our brief visit last September while on a cruise. Unless there are cooler parts of Belize than Belize City, it would really suck with a pair of 2 year olds. Once they are 5-6 it might not be so bad. Of course if you’re just visiting a resort or doing water activities, that would help a lot with the heat.

      We planned on only getting in a good 2-3 hours of sightseeing each day and that’s a good target. Some days we were out all day and let the little guy nap on the bus or in the taxi between visiting different sights. Otherwise, he let us know loud and clear when it was nap time and that was the signal to make a beeline to the subway or back to the house for nap time.

      Cruises are the way to go for younger kids. We love the daycare. Some cruise lines don’t do it for those still in diapers, but Carnival does. Our 2 year old (at the time) wouldn’t stay in the daycare and cried when we tried to leave him so we were “stuck” taking care of our kid the whole vacation. 🙂 YMMV of course, as our older kids love love love the kid’s programs on board and can’t wait to go back to them. I bet the 3 year old will be the same way in another 1-2 years.

      FYI I’m hoping to put out a couple articles on cruises in the next few months just in time for the deep discounts of the cruising off-season.

  • Great job packing, and I wanted to know since you recommend the Fire tablets so much, how are the cameras on those devices? I just heard about Thorlo socks recently. Thanks and I cant imagine packing so little.

    • Cameras aren’t great. About what you would expect on a sub-$100 tablet. The video looks pretty good for skyping but it’s not a replacement to a good cell phone camera or the cameras on $200+ tablets like from Samsung or Apple. Luckily we didn’t need much of a still image camera for the kids’ tablets.

  • Did you pack combs/brushes, swim cover-ups, or pajamas? Buy sunscreen when you bought shampoo? I usually forget swim coverups and pajamas, have to run out and buy something – one time I even forgot underwear! I also over prepare and insist on bringing the shampoo and sunscreen in tiny 3oz bottles, then again I’m only travelling for a week not 2 months.

    You guys did a great job of packing light, I’m trying to optimize my own. I usually pack too many sets of clothes even when I plan to do laundry there. We usually get by with a carry-on suitcase for each adult, plus a backpack dedicated to electronics and reading material.

    • I don’t use a comb or brush but the ladies do. I’m not sure if they packed 1 or 2 brushes but there was at least 1. The ladies also packed night shirts or pajamas.

      We didn’t pack swim cover ups, just regular shorts/skirts/shirts worn over bathing suits when necessary. We also used towels from the house or hotel to cover up. We were only at the beach or swimming for around 9 days of the trip since we didn’t have access to a pool or swimming facilities for most of our time in San Miguel, Mexico City, or Oaxaca. So we didn’t want to allocate too much baggage space to swimming related gear.

      We packed sunscreen from home in a 3 oz bottle (Walmart equate brand squeezed into an old Aveeno tube I think – that was Mrs. RoG’s handiwork). We did bring some small 3 oz bottles of shampoo and conditioner and body wash just to get us started for a night.

  • Your choice to go with the cheap WalMart socks was probably a good one. That way you can just abandon them if necessary. As Jodi over at Legal Nomads found out, fishing for socks can be challenging, especially after a few glasses of wine…

    http://www.legalnomads.com/2015/04/fishing-for-socks-in-lisbon.html

    • Great point. I meant to toss out all those holy socks when packing up to leave Cancun but they found their way into the dirty clothes bag and therefore snuck back home with us.

      But the point about cheap socks extends to cheap stuff in general. Nothing we brought was particularly expensive (my laptop being the most expensive at $250-ish), so if something failed, we could toss it or try to offload it, and then replace it. And as for socks, I didn’t think twice about pulling them of and leaving them on rocks or wherever on a few occasions where we dipped into some water or the ocean. I’d probably be paranoid of losing $15 socks if I had fancy ones like the Thorlos. 🙂 I did have to suffer the shame of walking through airport security with sock holes very evident on the top of my feet after removing my shoes. Small price to pay…

  • In December I bought an Acer C720 Chromebook, which, overall, I’m very happy with. Delivered to my door from Amazon it cost $186. When I took it out of the box all I had to do was open it up, turn it on, type in my Google password, and instantly I had access to all of my Google contacts, email, YouTube subscriptions, Drive files, photos, videos, etc… It’s amazing! And did I mention that it was really cheap?

    After using the Chromebook for awhile, a few challenges have become apparent. One thing we’ve learned is that it is not (yet?) possible to connect a portable DVD drive via USB to the Chromebook. Apparently the software packages that allow computers to communicate with DVD players are not yet compatible with Chromebooks. Another challenge we’ve discovered is that you can’t just plug a Chromebook into a printer with a USB cable, download a driver from the internet and print. It doesn’t work for some reason. I tried it before reading the instructions. Apparently, the Chromebook is only compatible with printers that have wireless capabilities. So, we went out and bought a new printer from Amazon. According to the write up, the printer was compatible with Google Cloud Print, which we’d read is what the Chromebook likes, but so far we haven’t been able to get it to work with the Chromebook. Every other device we have in the house immediately recognizes and will print to the new printer, just not the Chromebook…

    Besides those two things, the Chromebook is awesome. It’s light. The keyboard is comfortable. The screen is big enough for everything I normally do with it. I like the fact that none of my data is stored on the Chromebook. Anything important I want to save is somewhere in the Cloud. That way, if I accidentally run over the Chromebook with my truck or drop it into the ocean, it would suck, but I’d only be out $186. I could go onto Amazon, order a new one, and in a few days it’d be in my mailbox, and I’d be up and running again.

    • It sounds very nice! I’m tempted to get one just to try it out. The shortcomings you mentioned probably wouldn’t be a problem if I used it for a lightweight travel notebook.

      We have similar printing issues at home right now since our printer won’t talk to anything newer than Windows XP. All of our newer computers are Win 7 or 8 (soon to be 10) so only one main computer can be used for printing. We rarely print stuff these days, so not a horrible inconvenience (and we’ll have to get a new printer eventually).

      Hopefully in a few more years the Chromebook experience will be even better!

  • I was one of the commenters asking for more packing details — thanks for coming through. This is very helpful.

    I recently picked up a $28 Thule 19L Daypack (thank you, slickdeals) that I’ve been using for 3-5 day trips. I think I can do 7 days with the Daypack + my purse. Haven’t had the opportunity to test that yet, but looking forward to a chance to try it.

    Did you only take one pair of shoes each? I somehow always end up feeling like I need at least two pairs (either sneakers + flats; flip flops + flats; or 2 x flats (fancy and not fancy)) depending on the planned activities and itinerary.

    And, I switched over to a Chromebook from a full laptop a few weeks ago and so far I really like it. But, I’m not involved in heavy work on it, just emails and general browsing. I’m also almost always connected to the internet at home or a hotel when I want to use it – I think it would be challenging, if not impossible, to get work done while not connected to the internet.

    • I think your earlier comment was what motivated me to write this post. 🙂 I copy/pasted some of my response to your earlier comment for this article.

      We packed an extra pair of sandals for everyone. So we wore sneakers for big travel days and carried the sandals in the backpacks. Since we were planning on some water activities like pool and beach lounging, we pretty much had to take sandals or flip flops, yet didn’t want to be stuck wearing sandals the whole time since we were also walking and hiking around the city and country (and climbing pyramids).

      Encouraging words on the chromebook, I’ll have to look into it further. I feel like I need more power since I’m running GIMP (aka free photoshop), played some PC based games, watched some movies stored on the laptop, and tweaked a spreadsheet a bit. Otherwise it was all web based stuff like posting this blog, sending invoices from my google drive doc template, emails, skype, google voice phone calls, etc.

  • Another great article! I also believe in packing light on long trips. We took the family (myself, my husband, and three kiddos) to Europe for 6 weeks two years ago and brought only backpacks. My husband and I had large 80L backpacks and my 11 year old had a 55L backpack. They two boys ages 6 and 7 at the time only had regular small backpacks, which they carried themselves. We probably would have packed even lighter, but we had to account for travel across several countries including Iceland and southern Italy as well as pack for a 10 day cruise so we needed a little versatility! We found it so much easier to pack light! We did get a few weird looks (with regards to our “luggage”) on the cruise though, but we just laughed & smiled.

    • I’m hoping to take a 11-14 day cruise to or from Europe at some point and piggy back a month or three in Europe onto the cruise. So I definitely understand the packing issues involved!

      How did you do it? 10 changes of clothes so you didn’t have to do laundry on the ship? Or did the ship have a laundromat? I’ve seen some Carnival ships with on board laundry. I’m not sure I could bring myself to pay $2-3 per article of clothing to pay for laundry service. 🙂

      • We had a washer & dryer at the vacation homes / apartments we stayed at almost everywhere we went with the exception of our London boarding house (5 nights), one place that we stayed at in Tarragona, Spain (2 nights) and one chalet that we stayed at in Tourettes, France (3 nights). We did use the Laundromat on the cruise ship – it wasn’t that expensive, maybe $2 for the washer and $2 for the dryer. I think we did two loads, so $8 total.
        We were on The Carnival Sunshine and we liked it, but I would have to say that we enjoyed driving from Tarragona, Spain to Southeastern France all on our own much better! The kids did like the cruise ship & it was a nice break from all the walking & hiking we did.

        • That’s been our experience with most rental houses and apartments. Almost all have had units in the house itself other than one apartment that had a shared laundry facility downstairs but it was very convenient and only $1.50-1.75 CAD or so for a wash or a dry.

          Good to hear the cruise ship laundromat worked out for you. I remember seeing the prices on the Carnival Fascination at $2-3/load for a wash or dry, so not too crazy. I don’t recall seeing laundromats on other ships operated by Norwegian, Costa, or Celebrity. Guess that will be something we will have to check on before we book a transcontinental cruise!

          • I’m not sure if other cruise ships have washers and dryers to use or not, but I’ve been on a couple of Carnival Cruises and they have all had a “Laundromat”.

            I will be very interested in hearing about your experiences in Europe if you do make it there! I absolutely love Europe. I can’t get enough of it. I love Mexico too. Can’t wait to travel and / or live abroad full time when I’m FI.

  • Simple is always the way to go. We are planning a trip to the Bahamas and I plan on having a carry on for 7 days. My buddy on the other had is planning on bring his entire wardrobe. Stuff has the tendency of weighing you down and you will always be worrying about your stuff. The reason for going on vacation is so to leave everything behind, including majorityt of your possessions. Its not a vacation if you are worried about your stuff or which swim suit you are going to wear each day.

    • I’m fortunate to only own one swim suit, so that certainly helps prevent any wasted energy on optimal swim suit selection. 🙂 And helps to pack light. It does mean I occasionally have to put on a damp swim suit which isn’t fun, but not a big deal.

    • Yeah my wife is like that she packs 3 times as much as I do. Generally unless we are going home (Germany to Canada) we take only carryon for the very reasons RoG mentioned, no waiting at the aiorts

  • You guys did an amazing job packing. Particularly, the sizes of your packing bags just fascinate me. I cannot believe that those bags could carry everything you had for seen whole weeks. That is extraordinary! The choice of your techno devises too shows great planning that is informed by the space and funds available.

    • It was a little surreal walking out of our house on day 1 and walking down the sidewalk to the bus stop with nothing but a backpack on our shoulders and knowing that’s all we would have in terms of material possessions for the next seven weeks. And the careful selection of the electronics certainly helped pack light.

      As we were packing, I would weigh things and think about every ounce and pound. Like an 11 ounce umbrella is the same as a 7″ tablet or two extra t-shirts.

  • You did an incredible job packing. We just got back from Los Angeles and I packed a bunch of stuff because we were driving(I subscribe to the carryon and bag to avoid the turnstile if at all possible) would up using about a 1/10th of the clothes.

    Used almost all of the cooking gear=).

    • That’s what we learned in the past – pack too much and you hardly use much of what you bring. Right now we’re on a 3.5 week trip and packed almost as light. Just 4 changes of clothes plus some kitchen/cooking stuff. The minivan cargo compartment was only half full.

  • Fire OS is actually a variant of Android and it is generally possible to load the Google Play Store and use apps from it. You do have to enable apps from unknown sources in the security settings and getting Google Play takes a little bit of technical doing (but does not require rooting the device). If you can root the device you may even be able to flash a Fire device with a more stock (or customized) Android build; but that’s much riskier than just installing Google Play – a bad flash can brick the device.

    • Hmmm… Might have to try this. I’ve read a bit about this (loading google play and fully rooting which would also enable google play). That would be cool to get a broader range of apps on there.

      • Most of the info I’ve gotten has been from the XDA Forums: https://forum.xda-developers.com/

        I have a rooted 7″ 5th Gen Fire tablet – it looks like these are no longer available with a new model coming out next month. I haven’t been brave enough to try flashing it yet. Very early versions of Fire OS had a bootloader that was friendly to flashing, but Amazon has locked down the bootloader to only flash official firmware, so flashing my device must be done from the main OS. I believe a bad flash is usually recoverable restoring an official firmware using the stock recovery methods. Of course rooting and loading a custom firmware is the only reliable way to get rid of the Amazon bloatware to use more of the device storage for your stuff. Of course the easier way to increase storage is to use a SD card.

        • I looked into it and mentioned getting google play store on their tablets, but they didn’t seem to care, as they are happy with the current operations and performance. I might pick up one of the Fire 7″ tablets if I see one for $25-30 and see if I can root it for my own purposes.

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