A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Minimalist Traveling with Young Children

Editor Note: This is a guest post by Jurino Ignacio from Jurino.com

The #1 complaint we, “minimalist bloggers” get has to be: “Minimalism only works for 20-something, single guys – it would never work when you’ve got a family (especially with young children).” Well . . . I’m sorry to burst a bubble now, but many of us actually do have families. Joshua Becker has two young children. Faith Janes has three. Leo Babauta tops us all off and has a family with six children. I’m right there with them and have two (very) young ones to take care of. We’re all minimalists. Surely, none of us owns “only what fits in a backpack”, but we all get comments on how we’re different from most people when we have company over.

One thing that is supposed to be extremely difficult once you have children is traveling. Some people think their travel dreams are over and settle for a staycation or a ‘days out’ holiday until their kids are in their teens. I’m blatantly claiming that traveling with your children can both be a lot of fun and can be very manageable. I’m also claiming you can continue to travel with only carry-on luggage. Yes, even with a toddler. And yes, even with a baby! We’ve made the decision that from now on, we’ll only travel this way, no matter how long our holiday will be. While we’ve always believed this to be the most comfortable way of traveling, the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” came a few years ago, when we had to wait over two hours at Rome Fiumicino airport, because well . . . they weren’t so fast unloading the luggage, I suppose. Never again!

When you live in Europe, you can benefit greatly from the low cost airlines out there. I think Irish company Ryanair is the most extreme, sometimes offering $1 plane tickets to other countries. (We’ve traveled to both Italy and Ireland by plane for just about the same money as a McDonalds meal would cost . . .) Our children are aged 5 and 1 now. So far, our firstborn has traveled to Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Caribbean with very little luggage. (In Both summer and winter) Both our kids first traveled by airplane when they were two months old. Our eldest made her first 10-hours-by-plane trip when she was only a year old. I’m saying it’s not impossible and it doesn’t even have to be hard.

How to Distribute the Luggage:

You should know that airlines often have great regulations for couples that travel with infants. Most often, you may take along your (foldable!) stroller and a car-seat at no additional cost. We’ve always taken along a stroller, but never bothered with the car seat. It’s heavy, bulky and carrying it around definitely isn’t worth the $50 you’ll save when hiring a car with one in it. Also, babies do not actually buy plane tickets. They only pay for administration. Still, they’re allowed one piece of carry-on luggage as well. For us, this means we can get by without checking in any suitcases. The following setting is what works best for us:

Adults: One small trolley or a large weekend bag each. These are filled 50% with our own clothes, 30% with kids’ clothes, some toiletries and if there is any free space left, extra diapers will go in there.

Daughter: (5 y.o.) Carries one decent sized (school) backpack. In there are a couple of clothes (mostly undies) and some toys to be enjoyed in the airplane. If we’re taking any food, it’s in here.

Baby: Obviously doesn’t carry anything, but mum takes along a regular diaper bag with one change of clothes, baby bottles/food, wet wipes and diapers.

The stroller comes in handy when one of us is tired of carrying the luggage (usually the five year old, of course) – it can then either be put in the basket underneath the seat, or be hung from the handles.

What to Pack:

Ok, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of packing for a family holiday. I’ll first divide the personal items – then I’ll mention the shared items and lastly I’ll name the items you’re going to have to buy when on holiday. Here we go:

Mom: 3 skirts, 1 dress, 3 tops, 1 vest, 1 pair of shoes.
5 changes of undies, 5 changes of tights/socks, swimwear.
E-reader, make-up (mascara and eye-shadow), toothbrush, hairbrush.

Dad: 3 pairs of trousers, 1 pair of shorts (in summer), 5 tops, 1 pair of shoes.
5 changes of undies, 5 changes of socks, swimwear.
Bible, toothbrush, razor-handle*, comb.

Daughter: (5 y.o.) 3 skirts, 2 dresses, 4 tops, 1 vest, 1 pair of shoes.
5 changes of undies, 5 changes of tights/socks, swimwear.
pencils and writing book, toothbrush, hairbrush, lotion to untangle major afro 😉

Baby: 5 pairs of trousers, 5 tops, 1 vest, 1 bib.
5 onesies, 5 pairs of socks, diapers (as many as fit), swimwear.
Drinking bottle, cuddly toy, 1 jar of food, soft spoon, wet wipes.

Shared: travel-size shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste.
Large klean kanteen drinking bottle (emptied when passing through airport security)

To buy on-spot: 1 box of detergent (important as you’ll NEED to wash clothes!), shower gel/shampoo in case the ones you brought aren’t sufficient, razor (blades).

The one thing you need to pay extra attention to is your liquids! Since a few years, you aren’t allowed to bring liquids in greater quantities than 100ml. So no bottle of shampoo unless it’s a really small one. Therefore, any bottled drink you intend to take along needs to be finished before you arrive at airport security.

* The same goes for your razor. Since you’re going to travel with carry-on luggage only, you’re not allowed to take along any razor blades. You can either take your handle and buy a loose blade on holiday, or just buy the disposable ones.

A Word on Food

We usually only take a bottle of water and some food for the little ones. If you’re going on a long flight, you’ll get plenty of food – and if you travel with one of the cheap airlines (where a Snickers bar will cost you more than your plane ticket, sometimes literally) we just wait until we have arrived to eat. There’s bound to be a supermarket within minutes of you leaving the airport, even if you went to somewhere remote like Timbuktu. (I swear I will visit Timbuktu one day – just for the sake of it!) I wouldn’t worry too much about feeling hungry on the flight itself. Because seriously, if you can’t go 4 hours without food, you have bigger issues than ‘nowhere to put your food’.

What about Toys?

Another touchy subject: toys. Unless your child has a serious affection for one of his toys (a stuffed animal or blanky, for example) you really don’t need to bring any. Holidays are so much fun that they’ll forget about any of the toys they brought anyway. Trust me on this, I’ve learned this the hard way. (We used to think about bringing meaningful toys, only to unpack them -untouched- when we returned home) If you’re taking a long flight, have some coloring book and pencils for small children, (or a gameboy, if they’re into those things) and for a baby just think about his favorite cuddly toy. That’s it. I promise. No matter where you go, your children will want to play with what they find there instead of anything brought from home.

Lastly, the best word of advice you can get: Enjoy your holiday! Holidays are meant to be times of fun and leisure – certainly not the stressful occasions they’re said to be. Your children will not mind if you forgot to bring that extra set of clothes, but they will definitely mind a stressed-out mom or dad! Happy minimalist holidays!

Jurino is a husband and father of two adorable children. Originally from the Caribbean, Jurino is now living a minimalist lifestyle with his family in the Netherlands. To read more from Jurino, visit his blog at Jurino.com You’ll also hear more from Jurino in my book “Family Sized Minimalism.”

If you have any questions about traveling with young children or tips that you’d like to share, please include them in the comments below.

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Article originally published on 02/18/2011

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  1. Karen (Scotland) says

    Excellent post. We have four kids, and the eldest is six. We don’t travel very frequently but we do have to go to the Netherlands (only from Scotland, I should add, but that feels far enough at times!) every year to visit my husband’s family and friends. We’ve travelled by plane with the first two babies but this summer will be our first time with all four – a 1, 3, 5, and a 6 year old. Eek.
    We’re taking the ferry (flying gets more pricey as the kids stop being “infants” and we will need a car at the other end) and, through basic lack of space in the car, we will be travelling as minimalists. I’m already stream-lining everyone’s wardrobes in my head and pondering whether I can use my husband’s shampoo, deodorant, etc.

    For us, the biggest problem is always the actual travel. The holiday when we get there is always great but I do, in all honesty, find the hours (full 24 hours with the ferry from home to accommodation) of actual travel very stressful. Possible, but stressful. Four little people needing to eat, piddle, drink, stay warm (or cool) is tricky …

    I’ve been browsing your blog this last week, Jurino, so I’m going to keep reading through the archives as I enjoy your posts, thanks.
    Karen (Scotland)

  2. Karen, thanks for your comment!

    Are you traveling during school holidays? Doesn’t Ryanair offer a dirt-cheap option sometimes? (We’ve flown to and from Dublin for free a couple of times with them – I don’t know how much Scotland’d cost)

    That said, I do love the ferry. It makes the actual travel way less stressful, because there’s so much space. Kids can walk around and have a good time and not notice they’re actually ‘on the road’ 🙂

    Greetings from the Netherlands!

    • Karen (Scotland) says

      We usually use Easyjet for the Edinburgh to Amsterdam deals and it has been an amazingly cheap way of doing it. (I can say hand-on-heart that the service has even been better than KLM, btw.) Our problem is that my husband is a sailor and his rota can change so we can’t usually book so far in advance to get the cheap deals. (We’ve only booked this summer’s holiday so far in advance because we have to attend my husband’s parents’ anniversary celebrations so my husband has officially “reserved” that time off with his work and back-to-back person.)

      Also, we need the car this time as we’re planning a lot of daytrips as part of the anniversary celebrations – Efteling, a dolphinarium (?), Drievliet (sp?), a photo shoot…
      So, the ferry it is.

      We’ve always just travelled around my husband’s work but my eldest started school last year so, technically, we are now restricted by the school holidays. I say technically because, if the only time we can have a holiday is in June or May, I would take him out of school without hesitation. He’s only six, it won’t harm his lifelong educational achievements… 🙂
      I’ve heard his headteacher gives a note to say “No, you can’t take him out of school” but hands it over personally and tells you to have a nice time while away…
      (Btw, I had no idea homeschooling was illegal in the Netherlands!)

      Karen (Scotland)

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  3. You can do pretty much anything with children at your heel. But, I find my son thrives in familiar places with a good routine, surrounded by those that love and enjoy him. And I find, when he’s happy, we’re all happier. A cranky, under slept, overstimulated baby or child isn’t my idea of a fun travel companion. It’s not cool or exciting, but my life doesn’t have to resemble a travel magazine.

    I traveled with my son this summer. Not so light as above, but it wasn’t the baggage that was the problem. I found that my baby needed shade, calm and space to stretch out and explore. This was hard to do in cities whose idea of a park was ornamental gardens surrounded by stone pavement. We were limited by his naps and other needs. We often found ourselves happiest when we were staying in our base city or going to a forest or lake. (I live in Canada. I can walk to a forest and a lake from my house. If I wanted to drive, we could go to umpteen forests and lakes.) I didn’t enjoy our travels as much as I thought I would.

    I’m not criticizing people who travel with children. Live in a way that makes you happy. But many parents might be happier if they consciously choose calm, slow environments while their children were very little. Five or ten years without travel isn’t a horrible thing. The world will still be there in a decade.

    I think travel is a new kind of status symbol. No different than buying a beemer or a fancy mcmansion. Life isn’t about where you’ve been before you die. Lots of wonderful lives have been lived in one place. It’s not a competition to go to the most exotic locals and live the most minimalisty life.

    And your comment about food was offensive, rude and just plain mean. I’m surprised that someone with such a welcoming site as this one would publish it. I don’t think insulting people is the path to a better life.

    You don’t mention suntan lotion or hats. I guess your daughter doesn’t burn, but we do.

    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks for your comment, DeeDee. I’m sorry you found the comment about food offensive. I took it as light-hearted as I’m sure Jurino meant it. I do understand that things written don’t always come across as intended.

    • Karen (Scotland) says

      I have to say I agree with your views on travel at the moment. I have no wanderlust at all. My idea of a perfect holiday would be a cheap caravan about ten minute’s drive along the coast. The kids would be excited to be a in a caravan, most sites are child-friendly, the beach would be the week’s entertainment, the travel there wouldn’t stress me and I could nip home mid-week to do the laundry. 🙂

      My kids totally thrive on routine – I can pretty much tell the time by the level of whine in their voice and by when they are asking for snacks. (Btw, I’m totally lost about which food comment you found mean? I guess that just shows we can all read the same written word with different tones in our ears? 🙂 )
      Where was I? Oh, yeah, routine. Yep, that’s why I prefer not to travel. Lack of access to toilets when they are toilet-training, nowhere for them to nap properly and late meals can just make the kids, as you say, not “fun” travel companions.
      Karen (Scotland)

  4. DeeDee, I’m sorry you’re so upset with the post.

    I wholeheartedly agree when you say that children need peace and calm. For this reason, I’m not advocating constant traveling, nor backpacking/sightseeing with them. You’re right when you say that their needs should be met.

    However, I’ve never found any problem with our little ones taking naps whenever they wanted. When they are very little, we carry them around in a baby sling. They feel the warmth of our body and notice little of the environment. They usually fall asleep on their normal times, whether in a plane or at an airport.

    I don’t understand why you would tell me that ‘lots of great lives have been lived in one place’ – I’m not of the kind that travels the world continuously with their family in tow. We’ve opted for the cosy, little village to have our home-base and we love it. That said, we do have lots of family abroad (on both sides) and we enjoy our summer holidays. I think two days of travel (going and returning), enjoying a relaxing and child-friendly holiday in between can’t do any harm.

    As for the food comment… I don’t really see how it was insulting, nevertheless I’m sorry you feel that way. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I’m just stating that going a couple of hours without food (a couple, not very many!) isn’t such a bad thing.

    Have a nice day!

    • Karen (Scotland) says

      Ah, you are blessed with easy-nap children. 🙂
      My littlest, 11 months, stayed awake today from 7am until 3pm, until I put her in her cot upstairs. We’d been out for a long walk with the pram, but, no, nosy little monkey wanted to watch everyone, not nap. I have friends whose children fall asleep on the couch in a room full of playing children, or in the car, or in the pram, or in a sling. Not mine. Upstairs, in their own cot, door closed is the only way for them…
      Karen (Scotland)

  5. I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself last March Break when we (my husband, 2 young daughters and I) arrived at my parents place in Florida and my mom said, “That’s all you brought?” She was pretty impressed!

    • Way to go! 🙂 And really, it’s not that we’re making a sport out of it (see who can bring the least items or be ‘the most minimalist’) but if you think about children’s needs, then I can attest they absolutely do NOT want to wait 2 hours in front of a suitcase-carousel until they can begin the ‘last leg of their travel’.

      Best wishes from the Netherlands!

  6. Packing even before I had kids was my worst nightmare. I used to put it off as it caused me major stress, had I got enough? had I packed the right things etc… You are so right regarding the less the better – there’s no doubt. Last year I reduced significantly and washed the clothing out. Toiletries etc I purchased when I arrived for the duration, I’ll be lightening the load even further this year!

    • Thanks for your comment!

      I guess we need to learn the hard way, myself included 😉
      I remember when I was a kid, our family holidays used to be big fun for dad & the kids… my mom was all stressed out before we’d go, because she felt like she had to take everything with her and it would be soooo bad if she’d forget anything. She never really got to enjoy the holidays due to that mindset.

      The less the better, unless you’re visiting some remote place in the jungle.. but really, who does that?

    • I used to be a terrible packer and always had to take a massive suitcase, but once I decided to take only carry on luggage for myself and my son (2 1/2 at the time), because we were only going for four days. I couldn’t believe that everything we needed fit into one tiny bag!

      We went to New Zealand for a holiday last year, and took far far too much stuff with us: 3 suitcases! Half of it I didn’t even need, but because we live in the tropics and NZ in winter is far from tropical, we thought we needed more than we did. I learnt a lot about minimal travelling that trip and now want to do another holiday to exercise what I’ve learnt.

  7. Great tips! It took us a couple of trips to the beach to realize that the children don’t need a change of clothing for each day (neither do the adults, for that matter). They are going to wear their swimsuits every day! So 2 swimsuits, 2 sets of lounging around clothes that can double as pajamas, and one nicer outfit just in case we decide to go shopping or out to eat end up being plenty. Flip-flops are acceptable footwear pretty much every place you go in beach towns, too 😉


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