Minimalist Traveling with Young Children

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 You’ll also hear more from Jurino in my book “Family Sized Minimalism.”

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Hey! I'm Cori, and I've been a minimalist for as long as I can remember. I started this blog to share my thoughts on minimalism, my life & how decluttering my home has benefitted me.

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