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  • Momma Good

Five people, two weeks, five backpacks - Travel Smart!

Pack for a two-week Europe vacation in only a backpack? At the suggestion, my teenager looked at me like I’d grown a leg out of my ear! My husband tried to maintain a casual facial expression, but I could tell he very much doubted the idea.

I knew packing for our trip would not be easy. I had visions (well, nightmares) of trekking through airports, train stations, and on and off water taxis with our massive suitcase, backpacks, stroller, car seat, booster seat, and whatever other doodads my kids insisted on bringing. I was exhausted and we hadn’t even gone anywhere yet!

I took to the internet to see how other families did things and found information across two extremes. The families who traveled light traveled light. They brought basically one of everything and did tub or sink laundry every day or every other day. Then, on the other side of the spectrum were the families who brought enough for every day - plus extras - and hauled suitcases plus carry-on luggage and car seats.

So, I started researching luggage and went almost immediately to the idea of carrying backpacks, since anything with wheels required a lot of space within the luggage to store the wheels (thus loosing a lot of valuable packing space). 

Amazon backpack

A bit of background on my love affair with backpacks. Growing up, I always craved school supply shopping and picking out a new backpack. In college, I sported backpacks everywhere and used a backpack at work way before it was cool. I love them - they’re practical and if you get the right one, the pockets are sublime. When I gave birth to our third child and needed to pump milk at work again, I dreaded bringing my backpack, lunchbox, and the bags to store my milk and pumping gear. So, I found this incredible backpack with an insulated pocket to store literally everything. My laptop fit in the back cushioned compartment, my pump (shout-out to Madela for making crazy good small pumps!) fit in the front pouch, and my lunch and expressed milk fit in the insulated pocket with a few slim ice packs

Amazon backpack

Obviously when I started down the backpack line of thinking, I went immediately to Amazon and looked at Matein’s line of backpacks. Let me tell you - it’s impressive! These backpacks are durable, highly functional, and affordable. Because they each had various qualities I liked and I wasn’t sure which would be best for our travels, I ordered a few different styles and “pretend” to pack in them. Ultimately, we ended up with one in this style and three in this style. After the full two weeks, I can honestly say the latter of the two in the XL is the better option for what we wanted to do, though my teenager quite liked the other option for the way it was able to organize small stuff.

I decided it would be practical to pack just five backpacks - one per person. This would enable us to have just one carryon per ticketholder in the eyes of EasyJet and Delta, count the backpacks quickly, and not ask the 3-year-old to carry anything. I could make the 5th bag light for the 8-year-old to carry for short distances and she and her brother could share the bag since their items are much smaller.

When it came time to pack up, I calculated how long we’d all have to go between washing machines strategically placed along the trip itinerary. For the little ones, I packed extra sets of everything in case there were spills or accidents. For the adults, we packed the exact right amount, knowing we could easily do a load in the sink if we ran short somehow (which we did - more on that later). 

I also made a rule that everything had to be quick-dry - not necessarily the “official” quick-dry fabric (though some of what we packed was) but just no jeans, no thick pants, no heavy sweatshirts. That way, even if we had just one overnight to line-dry something, it would dry (or get close to dry).

When packing, I started with a basic checklist and made piles in the bedroom for each person, making sure not to forget a category for anyone. Here’s the basic list I used:

  • 6 pairs of underwear (more for those who may have accidents)

  • Bras

  • 6-7 pairs of socks (I bought new Bombas for myself and my husband and we did not regret the purchase for one second of one day - they were soft, cushioned our feet over miles and miles, and washed well in sinks and washing machines)

  • PJs

  • 4-6 pairs of shorts

  • 2 pairs of pants 

  • 4-6 t-shirts/tank tops

  • 2 long sleeve shirts

  • One heavier sweatshirt (I know what I said, but these were used on the plane)

  • One pair of comfy Nike walking shoes

SpaceSaver Bags

Then, I used these space bags to load two per person - that was the limit. Knowing the two little ones had to share a backpack, I gave each kid just one space bag. The space bags were a total game-changer, allowing us not only to bring more than the backpacks would have naturally fit, but they also allowed us to “quarantine” smelly dirty laundry throughout the trip and safeguard clean laundry from spills and other gross things the bags came in contact with.

Knowing we’d be in many different countries with pharmacies vastly different from ours, I packed a travel pharmacy in this travel toiletry bag and travel bottle kit. My travel pharmacy contained the following:

  • Children’s Pepto (easy for adults to just take more)

  • Zicam

  • Mucinex cough for kids

  • Sudafed

  • Cold Calm

  • Anti itch creams of many varieties

  • Earache drops

  • Bug bite thing

  • Afrin 

  • Pressureze Children’s nasal mist

  • Up & Up mucus relief

  • Bandage tape (the kind not painful to remove)

  • Gauze pads

  • Cough drops

  • Pain meds of various kinds

In Hyatt hotels (more on the hotels we stayed at later), they offer loads of amenities like basic toiletries. However, I wanted to have backups and some of our favorites, since we were going to be gone so long.

Diapers inside neck pillow

My middle kiddo had finally mastered night-time sleeping without needing pullups, but my baby boy was still using them at night and occasionally had accidents during naptime. I figured we needed to bring approximately 30 pullups to ensure we had enough. As one would imagine, despite the sheer awesomeness of the backpacks, they did not hold both kid’s clothing and 30 pullups. So, I researched options. And researched. And hated everything I came across. Until the

Neck pillow

idea of packable neck pillows came across my screen and it hit me - I could remove the filling from a standard neck pillow and fill them with soft pullups instead! Unfortunately, not every neck pillow design has a zipper or easy access to the interior stuffing, but I found two that did and used them to pack pullups, socks, underwear, and pjs. Yes - all of that fit in just two neck pillows! The kids used them for the plane rides and they were easy to tote around, hooked onto the backpacks as needed.

Tiny travel backpack

I was concerned that we wouldn’t have space for souvenirs, though we’d made it clear to the kids that the trip was the souvenir and actual stuff would be limited. So, I found these cute little backpacks that fold up into their own bag and fit int he palm of your hand! They make them in a few different sizes and I got one of the smaller sizes because I was not interested in giving the kids the idea that they could buy big things. We actually ended up only needing it on the very last day - I packed it with the food, toys, and technology needed for the plane so we could all put our big bags in the overhead bins, but still have everything we needed for the flight at our feet.

Packing souvenirs was easier than I thought as we got clever with protecting some of the fragile and odd-sized items purchased. Fortunately, we did the London Tea Bus Tour early in the trip and they gave us cups made with hard plastic with screw-on lids. I used those throughout the trip to protect small glass items from Murano, ornaments bought in Disneyland Paris, and a number of other miscellaneous purchases. I used an empty pringles chip container to protect other breakables and we decided not to purchase the larger items we wanted, but rather get vendor’s websites and business cards to order once home. We also purchased a ton of consumables and literally ate our way through Europe. While some of the candy made it back, most was happily eaten on trains or walking tours.

Walking in Italy with travel stroller

Our stroller and the bag we packed it in is a whole other story so I will make that a future blog post. That said, we’ve tried just about every gadget on the market for that and have lots to share. However, I will say that our current stroller, the GB Pockit+ All-Terrain is our absolute favorite. We purchased it years ago and it just broke for the first time right before leaving for the Europe trip (the bottom foot-rest strap snapped). Given the travel that stroller has been through, I feel we've gotten our money's worth multiple times over.

Important to pack for any European vacation are electrical adapters. I personally loved this one with all of the USB ports so we could plug in multiple things at once. That said, all of the Hyatt hotels we stayed in had USB ports throughout the room so we were able to use those, too.

Water is scarce in Europe - even when you’re in Venice and surrounded by it! “May I please have some tap water?” No. You may not. You’ll pay $20 or more for a family of 5 to drink just a little bit of water at a meal. We found it much easier (maybe a bit awkward the first or second time we did it) to bring our water bottles to the restaurant and just drink from those - and this one even had a filter in case we were worried about the water quality. We bought water bottles specifically for the trip that had firm closures and a design that covered the mouthpiece fully because (ewwww) those water bottles ended up everywhere - including on train and bathroom floors. It was also important to use to have stainless steel insides so we could wash them easier. Speaking of, make sure you bring just a little bit of dishwashing soap so you can wash the bottles each night. I forgot to do that, but our Paris Hyatt hotel provided it and we had a used mini jar of mayo that I washed out and then filled with soap to get us through the rest of the trip.

One thing I wish I’d brought more of were Ziplock bags of several sizes. We could have used them throughout the trip when preserving the second croissant no one wanted. We washed and re-used the bags we had with us and re-used bags provided by cafes when we purchased other baked goods, but you can only re-use a bag so many times that isn’t meant to be re-used…

Finally, I want to share a few of my favorite packable products that came with us. First, our Mountain Warehouse Rain Jackets. While it doesn't look like ours are sold anymore (we purchased them ages ago), these jackets look nearly identical and have the features you'll want - plus they are still made by Mountain Warehouse, who we really trust to make quality stuff. These things fold into their own little bag and have gotten us through many trips. We bring them with us to Disney because Florida is notorious for rain every day and we prefer to be out doing things with super small lines than hiding from the rain in crowded gift shops and restaurants. In Europe, we used these to break the wind on chilly London mornings, since it didn’t rain much while we were traveling - thank goodness!

Fanny packs

I purchased fanny packs for myself and my teenage daughter and we both loved them. She wore hers (with a more "stylish" gold zipper) across her chest and I wore mine around my waist. When mine was full (which it was unless I had passports or credit cards out), it allowed me to support the weight of my toddler when he insisted on being carried. It functioned like a hip carrier some people purchase, but it was highly functional, too. 

My step-mom bought a Passport Travel Pouch for us and it was a lifesaver! I kept all of the passports in it together and used it to hold my credit cards (yay for RFID), train tickets, money, and anything else of importance. If it was special, it was in the passport pouch in my fanny pack. And, now that we're home, I can officially say that I never lost a single thing!

I love, love, love these First Aid kits that contain just about everything you could need on the go. I say “just about everything” because they don’t have the stop the bleed powder I like to have handy (but that easily fits inside). I also kept a tube of bacitracin in our fanny packs so we’d have extra in case. We ended up using the first aid kit at every playground in every country - go figure. 

Amazon kid headphones

I absolutely adore these cute and comfortable kid headphones that literally strap onto your kiddo’s head and are therefore less likely to move or become uncomfortable during a long trip. They are also way less likely to break (we’ve had two pairs since 2017 and they’re still going strong) because there aren’t a lot of pieces and plastic to bend or snap. My kids wore them while sleeping on the planes and trains to help drown out the noise and since they lay so flat, they were able to sleep soundly for a long time with Clam sleep stories on or gentle music playing.

Well, that about does it for our packing extravaganza and the many items that helped us thrive on a two-week European vacation with three kiddos of very different ages!


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