I love a good gear review when it comes to thru-hiking, so I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a list of our gear for our travels thus far, along with why we brought it and how it fits our needs.
First, How We Travel
With our thru-hiking background, we typically travel light. When we went to Europe and Southeast Asia for a few months several years ago, we each had a fairly small, unquestionably carry-on size backpack. Fast forward to now and we have an infant, which certainly changes things. Before leaving Seattle, Matt and I thought a lot about what we’d take on our travels, vowing to not be the families you see walking through the airport with bags on their backs, wheeled suitcases, and a push cart full of luggage. Oh, and kids to keep track of on top of all that luggage. We wanted to be minimal with just one backpack each and a travel crib. While it’s harder to be minimal with a baby, it is possible, and we feel that we still have lots of room for improvement.
Also, we tend to stay in places for several weeks at a time, long enough that we have to buy groceries. We like to unpack our things in most places we stay, so most of the time we book Airbnb places, and almost always choose homes that have a washer and a kitchen, two very important things to save time, money, space in our packs so we can wash our clothes often and carry less clothes, and to avoid the hassle of using laundry mats. Because we mainly stay at Airbnb or the occasional hotel, we’re not carrying any camping gear in this round of travels. Also, because we have an infant, hostels no longer feel like a great option, even though they’re often cheaper, so we also tend to stay in places longer because many Airbnb places offer weekly and monthly discounts.
We’ve also taken a page from another family’s advice and tried to book only non-stop flights from place to place, staying for at least 2-3 days in a place if it’s just a layover city, rather than spending a few hours at an airport. For example, we found the cheapest flights to Europe out of Cancun ($560 for all three of us direct from Cancun to Madrid!). Rather than book a flight from Mexico City (or Queretaro, where we were at the time) to Madrid, and have a layover in Cancun, we just booked a flight from Queretaro to Cancun, stayed in a nice beach hotel for 3 days/2 nights, then took the direct flight from Cancun to Madrid. So far it’s been a great way to only take one flight at a time (let’s be honest, flying with an infant is kinda sucky) and to explore new cities, such as Madrid and Geneva, as we did on our way to France.
Lastly, we are runners, so we always carry running clothes, running shoes, and other gear like hydration packs with us. It makes for a little more stuff to carry, but we’re also comfortable wearing our running clothes around town and on hikes. Even if we didn’t run, we’d always carry running shoes, as we love exploring places on foot.
On to the Stuff!
While I won’t list every single item that we’re carrying, I wanted to give an idea of the big items we have, along with a rough estimate of other things like clothes, toiletries and electronics, and how we chose what went into our packs.
Right now we each have an Osprey Porter 46, mine is red and Matt’s is black. The pros: they are tough, well-thought out in terms of design and function, the open like a suitcase yet wear like a backpack, the shoulder and waist straps tuck inside, which is great for checked luggage, and they are comfortable to wear. The cons: while they are carry-on approved for most US airlines, we’ve found that they are still too big for discount airlines in Europe. We should have done our research ahead of time, looking at airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, and seen that our packs were too big for their carry-on limitations. On a couple flights, we’ve ended up paying more for checked bags than our seats. I think we’ll still keep them for future traveling, at least for a while, mainly because we don’t want to spend money on more packs. We’ll just have to get rid of stuff so they pack down smaller and look like they’ll fit. If we were to get new ones, we’d get smaller packs.
While in Seattle we read a lot of other travel blogs and one of our favorites, Go Curry Cracker, suggested not traveling with a stroller because they end up being glorified shopping carts, as the kid either wants to walk or be carried rather than be in a stroller. We also read that much of the world doesn’t have smooth, paved, sidewalks, much less any sidewalks, so strollers may have a hard time navigating some terrain. Because of that, we opted to just use a carrier for carrying Paavo around, the Catbird Baby Pikkolo carrier. We’ve tried the Ergo, the Moby Wrap, and finally settled on this one when it was the first one that Paavo didn’t cry in when we used it. We love it, especially because he can face out, in, and be on our backs, and it’s small and packs down well. It was great in Mexico City, which had plenty of rough, uneven, sidewalks that would have been tough for a stroller.
Going forward, we’ll continue to use the carrier, though I’m still tempted to get a used Bob stroller in Seattle this Fall for our time in States so we can run with Paavo. The weight limit of the carrier is 40 pounds, and since Paavo is already nearly 20, this means of carrying him won’t last forever, so a stroller may still be in our future. But for now, this carrier is great.
***Update – One of the downsides we’ve found is that carrying him on our backs on a hike is uncomfortable for him, as his face bounces into our backs a lot. He carries great on our backs on pavement, but trails are a little rough. We have a hiking pack for carrying him (an awesome Osprey one that a friend gave us for free) but decided not to take it abroad since it was another piece of checked luggage. Once we get back to the States we’re hoping to add this pack to our gear list, at least for traveling around the US by car.
I did lots of research on travel cribs, finding that the two lightest ones were the Guava Family Lotus and the Phil &Ted travel cribs. The Guava crib is 13 pounds, while the Phil & Ted is 7 pounds, and while I was very tempted to get the Phil & Ted one, I ultimately got the Guava because reviews seemed to sway me into thinking the Guava was more stable. I’d love to try the Phil & Ted one, mainly because a 6 pound difference is actually quite substantial, and on travel days when I’m lugging the crib around, I think about those 6 pounds. Otherwise the crib has been great. It’s easy and fast to set up and take down, we carry 2 sheets for it, in case of those middle of the night diaper leaks, and Paavo sleeps well in it. It also has some empty space in the crib bag, so on travel days we can fit all Paavo’s clothes and some extra diapers in the bag with the crib. Lastly, it’s made it through several flights as a checked bag and hasn’t sustained any type of damage.
I probably spent way too much time thinking about this item, but I’m happy with my ultimate choice, the Bebamour Travel Backpack Diaper Handbag. It’s super practical as a backpack, it fits tons of stuff, it’s great as a carry on, it looks cool (at least my judgement of cool), and so far has held up great. No complaints from me at all and I wouldn’t change this at all.
Travel High Chair
An item that I should have bought before we left the States, a travel high chair, because we needed it within a month of being in Mexico. Luckily we had no issues ordering items off Amazon and this shipped internationally. I ended up getting the Totseat travel chair and have been really happy with it. It packs down small, it’s light, it fits on most any chair, it can go in the washer and dryer, and Paavo seems just fine with it.
Travel Bath Tub
Totally didn’t think this one through, but the moment we arrived in Mexico City, we realized that we only had a shower; not the most ideal way to bathe Paavo. The first time we tried showering with him, he freaked out. Then we tried bathing him in a big bucket. Nope. Lots more screaming. Then we went to the mall and bought an overpriced ($36 in store; $12 on Amazon) inflatable duck tub, by Munchkin, which has been a smashing success with Paavo. He loves bath time, never fights it, and we use this tub everywhere we go. We even used it in the pool to get him comfortable with the water before taking him into the pool water.
With Matt working remotely, we definitely need a way to stay in touch (and write these blog stories, of course!). We carry one laptop, an Asus Zenbook, and have been really happy with it. We also carry an ipad mini, which we’ve had for 3 years; the screen is cracked and it’s seen better years, but it allows both of us to be fairly connected without fighting over the laptop. We each have a Moto G phone with T-Mobile, which allowed for free calls in Mexico, and which has free texting and data most everywhere else. While in Europe we’re using Google Hangouts and Skype for phone calls and video calls, which are actually better with sharing Paavo with grandparents, as they’d rather see him live vs. talk to us on the phone.
Two items we’re happy we purchased ahead of time are a power strip and converter plug. Both have come in handy already in every place we have visited in order to plug most everything into one outlet, and to be able to use outlets all over the world.
In choosing what clothing to take, it had to fit the criteria of being synthetic, so non-cotton but also not stink-inducing polyester like some running shirts, quick drying (hence the non-cotton), lightweight and easy to layer, and wrinkle resistant. And it had to be ready for several different climates, from Ohio in late March to Mexico in June, to the French Alps in August. Again, we carry running stuff because we run every day, and with me nursing, I have a few nursing bras and tank tops that I’m looking forward to ditching once I’m done nursing Paavo. We’ve been fairly successful in our clothing options thus far, keeping us cool in Mexico, warm in the cold nights here in the mountains in France, and quick-drying, as we have yet to be in a place that has a dryer. Only Paavo’s clothing has been difficult, as it’s all cotton, so nothing dries quickly.
Without going crazy and listing every single item of clothing, I’ll generalize and say that we each carry a fairly similar amount of clothing, including: 3-4 t-shirts, 3 long sleeves, 2 tank tops/singlets, 3 pairs running shorts, 3 pair pants/shorts/tights, 3-4 pair of socks, hat, gloves, sunglasses, rain jacket, puffy jacket, wind jacket and pants, and running shoes. That’s a pretty simplified version of our clothes, and in looking at what I’ve worn of them, I’d say that I couldn’t definitely do with less, especially because we tend to have a washer wherever we go. Before we leave France we’re going to cut down our clothing so we’re not stuffed to the brim with items, as we’ve picked up new stuff along the way, mainly race t-shirts and running gear.
For Paavo, he has two sleepers, one sleep sack (my favorite item of his, by far), 3 short sleeve onesies, two long sleeve onesies, 3 pairs of pants, 3 pair of socks, two hats, two burp clothes, a swaddle blanket, and a feeding blanket. I could see taking a few less items of clothing for him, but with spit up, diaper leaks, starting solids, and general baby lifestyle, we go through clothing pretty fast. And since the cotton doesn’t dry fast, we’d be in a tough spot with all dirty clothes and/or all clean, damp clothes.
Before we left Seattle I bought cute little 3 ounce bottles to fit all our toiletries and within just a few weeks I regretted it. It worked great when leaving Seattle because I took all our big bottles of shampoo and such and cut them down to carry-on friendly 3 ounce bottles. But all were gone within a couple weeks and I was left with the decision of either buying all new travel size items, which aren’t that cheap when you look at the per ounce cost, or spending more money on bigger items that I wouldn’t actually keep, but would just squeeze into the 3 ounce bottles.
Going forward, we don’t carry much in the way of toiletries such as shampoo, soap, lotion…we buy big bottles of them when we plan on staying in a place for more than a week or two, and if we are in a place a week or less, we either do without or hope it’s at the Airbnb or hotel that we’re staying at. When we leave France we won’t take any of the big bottles with us, just our basics of toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and contact stuff, the absolute necessities. I don’t carry any makeup or perfume, and Paavo’s toiletries are minimal as well. He has his own baby toothbrush and toothpaste, along with diaper cream and wipes, and we have a few first aid-like items like Neosporin and baby Tylenol.
Stuff I’m glad we brought:
Matt and are coffee addicts so we always carry Starbucks Via packets with us so that we don’t have to worry about coffee the first morning of waking up in a hotel or Airbnb. Oftentimes hotels have coffee makers, but it’s often crappy coffee or they charge for it, so we normally use the coffee maker to heat up water, then drink our Starbucks. Pre-baby we’d just walk out the door and find some coffee in the morning, but since it takes a little more planning nowadays, we carry Via.
Ziplocs, gallon sized and quart sized, have also been good travel companions, for everything from snacks on flights, to quarantining dirty diapers and/or soiled Paavo clothes, to carrying our phones on a run…we each packed several of each size before leaving and have gradually been using them for all kinds of purposes along the way. In Cancun we also bought a Tupperware container in order to heat items up in the microwave. That along with our travel spoons has meant that we can warm up items in a microwave in a hotel/airbnb, keep leftovers easily in a fridge, and take food more easily into the airport.
Stuff we should have brought:
I wish we had bought bathing suits before going to Mexico, as they were surprisingly hard to find, or just expensive. The inflatable tub and bathing suit that we bought at a department store in Mexico City were a third of the cost on Amazon, so I definitely wish we’d bought that beforehand. I would have also taken our Sawyer Squeeze water filter to Mexico, as it was frustrating to not be able to drink the water and to always buy it. It seems like after going to several different places, toiletries are easy to find, running stuff is feasible, but other consumer goods like specialty baby stuff or other types of clothing would be easier to purchase at home or on Amazon.
Matt started the trip with 3 pairs of running shoes, two road and one trail, and has worn through two of the 3 already, leaving them both in Mexico and picking up a new pair at the Nike store in Mexico City, which were on sale. I started with a pair of Brooks Cascadia, thinking I’d want them for the trails in France, but not thinking through the fact that I’d spend April-June in places where I’d only run roads or concrete, so I wish I’d brought my road shoes, Nike Lunarglides, and dealt with getting trail shoes here in France.
I’m still torn on bringing the Bob stroller, as sometimes I’d love to put Paavo in it and be able to run with him and Matt, or to be able to walk without becoming a sweaty mess from carrying him against my body. We are likely to go on another trip next Spring and we’re definitely considering adding in the Bob, especially because it checks for free with airlines.
Two other things I’d wish I’d brought for running – my SanDisk mp3 player and my Ultimate Direction Jurek running belt. The mp3 player weighs less than an ounce and is about 1 inch by 1.5 inches, so super tiny, yet it holds hundreds of songs, which would be nice during my runs. I also wish I’d brought the Jurek running belt, as I could wear it on long runs and/or races to carry my gels, my phone, id…a few things that I don’t want to wear a big running vest for, but also don’t have the pockets for. In the half marathon I ran in Queretaro, I carried my phone in my hand, as I had to use it for Uber pre-race, and it got heavy over time.
What did I miss? Anyone else have favorite travel items, clothing, electronics…baby or no baby?