What does a nomad family pack list look like?
Good question. Digital nomad pack lists abound, but nomad family pack lists are hard to find if you’re looking for actual product recommendations and not just “sun hat, toddler sandals,” etc. Sooo, here’s ours if you’re interested. We’ve found some bags and products we swear by.
We live comfortably out of three bags – an eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible, an eBags TLS Professional Weekender and a YuHan Diaper Backpack, all of which meet the carry-on luggage requirements for international flights. In this post we share our nomad family pack list for Sarah’s bags, including her and Spencer’s clothing, our family gear, and our in-flight essentials. Read about our work gear list and David’s clothing in our last post. You can find links to all of these products on Amazon below. If you buy anything through them, you get an awesome product and Amazon sends a small cut to an awesome digital nomad family. Wicked cool.
Cardinal Rules of a Nomad Family Pack List:
These are in addition to The Cardinal Rules of Nomad Packing from our last post.
- Cotton and Wool, in layers! Depending on the airline, flights can be both very cold and very hot. Our son got a bad heat rash on our first flight as a nomad family. Like many babies, his skin is ultra sensitive. He gets a heat rash in our Thailand apartment if we forget to turn on the A/C for five minutes at a time every hour! Thin cotton layers are the absolute best for babies on a plane, unless you can find me a Merino Wool Tee for kids. Even if you’re flying out of Reykjavik, put a beach tee on underneath that parka, so he can be comfortable wearing just that and the flight blanket while you’re in the air.
- Avoid wardrobe burnout. It sounds silly, but one of the biggest problems I’ve noticed for moms who aspire to long term travel is the fear of not having anything to wear. Here are some tips to help you nomad with the best of the minimalists and still feel like you look good every day:
- Get comfortable in dresses. Why? They’re worn more often globally than in the U.S., they pack ultra light, and once you’re used to them, feel very classy and comfortable. If you don’t usually wear dresses, try starting with a long maxi or long halter and a cardigan (that matches all of your dress)es if you’re self-conscious of your upper body. Try these modest styles even if you’re already comfortable in dresses–modest cultures don’t show a lot of skin. You’d be surprised at how many naked shoulders and thighs I haven’t seen in Thailand, one of the hottest countries ever. Yesterday I passed a woman in a long sleeve tee and a white furry sweater vest!
- Mix and match. You’ve probably heard this advice until your ears bled, but I’ll reiterate: try to choose either a brown OR a black color palette, not both. I like muted blues, browns, pinks, greens, and white in a hot climate, and blacks, purples, and deep blues and greens in a cold climate. I generally have plenty to wear on the road. Choosing a palette helps you mix and match shoes, tees, skirts, shorts, and scarves.
- Switch it up in-country. You’re bound to get tired of wearing the same old stuff no matter what you do, and that’s okay. Low cost countries sell cute, low cost clothing. Treat yourself to a wearable souvenir, and either mail an old outfit home or donate it. I decided to bring everything I’d need with me, but that’s only because I knew I wouldn’t have time to shop for the first few weeks after arrival. If you are going to have time to shop, why not lighten your carry-on load and leave some empty room for new dresses in your bag.
- Children need sacred objects. I’m sure some of our critics wonder how we can possibly provide our toddler with a sense of security and stability in a highly mobile life. To tell the truth, I did too. As it turns out, “third culture kids” are an enduring and well-studied social group, and this excellent book Third Culture Kids was written specifically to identify how highly mobile kids can maintain a sense of identify and continuity. With regard to packing, keep a lookout for a small select group of sacred objects. We couldn’t bring all of Spencer’s toys but we made sure to bring his Toy Story Woody doll, and we added a Buzz and Jesse. He’s not a blankie kid, but he plays with these pals every day, no matter where we are.
- Identify effective distractions. You know what activities will engross your kid, at least for a few minutes. For Spencer it’s coloring and playing fake guitars. Unfortunately we can’t fit a guitar into our luggage, and it turns out that there are too many temptingly blank surfaces on an airplane to make coloring an effective distraction. We got around this by bringing just a couple of washable crayons, blank paper, tons of sticker books, and an arsenal of toddler game apps downloaded to every device. Bonus points for the larger and thicker stickers that unpeel more easily from the seat back in front of you. The point is to identify at least 5 things to distract your toddler; one will not be enough. Hopefully older kids are a little easier (please tell me it’s so!), and for babies, just try to book that bulkhead seat with the bassinet and pray for the best! A pacifier, breast or bottle do help for ear popping during ascent and descent.
Sarah’s Pack List
I carry this suitcase size pack on my back. Though it expands to hold extra, my goal for our next move is to keep it unexpanded and save myself some shoulder pain. It has incredible reviews on Amazon, and for good reason: multiple easy-access compartments in the front, easy packing cube organization in the middle, backpack straps that tuck in to make the bag a check-in soft suitcase, and compression tightening straps that are a cinch to use. The video above takes you through what I put into it.
Packing Cubes: Florious Living Eco Friendly Packing Cubes, 3 pc Like how sturdy yet lightweight they are, nice durable ripstop, mesh window, fit perfectly in the small roller bag size, or backpack suitcase. I believe they’re the only eco friendly cubes out there?
Columbia Sportswear Real Beauty II Maxi Dress Oh how I love thee, your flattering empire waistline, your not too long and not too short length, your soft stretchy comfort, your intriguing navy color. Ultimate for active but classy day-tripping. Have received several compliments.
Lucky Brand Women’s Vintage Floral Maxi My favorite in terms of looks. Very flattering, passes both the Mom and the Husband test. Comfortable and very light, breathable, doesn’t wrinkle easily.
A spaghetti strap skater dress and a cap sleeve cotton flowy dress. Again, the key is lightness. These are just simple cheapies.
Biadani Women’s Crewneck Cardigan This will link you to the black one, but I bought it because it was one of the only affordable blue navy cardigans. Navy is the color that matches all my dresses.
Volcom Women’s All Day Long Sandal Cuteness and comfort coexist! I brought another pair of sandals (see next), but I ended up preferring these. We walk everywhere now, and I haven’t gotten a blister or ache yet.
Tao Women’s Victory Dress Sandal Hardcore travelers swear by this brand for its support. This link takes you to a gold/white color, but I bought the darker color. Takes some wearing in.
ASICs Women’s GEL-Venture 5 Running Shoes Great support, should last 500 miles. Unfortunately I haven’t found a gym with air-conditioning close enough to our apartment in Thailand, so it may be a while before I reach 500.
Shashi Classic Women’s Socks I spilled hot pot all over my socks at my brother’s wife’s family house at their New Year’s Party. Super embarrassing. My sis in law lent gave me a pair of her cute socks, which turned out to be perfect for the plane. The mesh top looks like nylon and meant I could wear flats instead of cumbersome lace-ups that take forever through security, while the knit bottom meant I didn’t have to be cold on the plane. Winning.
Icebreaker Women’s TechLite Tee Wearing this right now. Merino wool is fabulous. It wicks, it breathes, it practically holds a conversation. Minimal washing required. It can sometimes smell like animal when wet. I kind of like lanolin type smells myself.
Darn Tough Women’s Merino Wool Socks I got these after reading that travelers who bought them threw away their other socks, given the breathability and long term no-stinkiness these offer. That said, unless you’re spending many hours a day walking or hiking, I think your normal cheap socks would do just as well. I tend to wash my socks after one use no matter what, so the real benefit for me is when I’m hiking.
Patella Knee Strap Brace I’ve been having trouble with my knees, probably from running on the hard surface of a treadmill for too long. This strap helps stabilize the tendon running along the front of your knee, and keeps your patella in place. Has been helping me.
A pair of harem pants kind of like these. Comfortable, breezy, and worn in many places outside the U.S. I got mine in South Africa but see them regularly anywhere hot. I like the ones with elastic high water ankles and mid-length crotches, they seem more thinning to me than the really baggy or loose-cuffed ones. You can always buy elephant pants at souvenir stalls too.
Other: One light bra and one dark bra, one swimsuit, one pair black flats, one white tank, one pair Walmart tights for running, one pair of Walmart jeans (these maintain tightness instead of getting baggy after a couple of hours like my more expensive jeans did), one pair bicycle shorts for wearing under short dresses, underwear.
Timberland Adventure Seeker Sandal for kids: Also has excellent reviews on Amazon, and has been the only shoe our son has worn since he got here. Fits true to size for him, easy to get on and off, durable, doesn’t stink. What more do you want.
Sunday Afternoon Explorer Hat: If he’d wear any hat it would be this one, but he doesn’t wear hats. It’s soft, easily adjustable, has great reviews and great sun coverage. I keep trying.
Other: 4 polos, 2 tees, 4 shorts. It didn’t matter as long as they were cotton, and mix and matchable. When you’re doing laundry in your sink, it helps to be able to pair any tee with any pair of shorts. Also brought six underwear and two little sheets of rubberized fabric you can find at any fabric store. He’s potty-training so I slip these under him while he sleeps in case of accidents.
The In-Flight Bag
Avery Durable 5.5 x 8.5 binder This is the perfect size for bringing our travel documents. Small enough to keep in our in-flight diaper bag. We keep a copy of our marriage certificate and Spencer’s birth certificate. Countries with high child trafficking or kidnapping rates may ask you for these docs when you leave. We also keep paper copies of our passports in case something happened to them, and our itineraries in the Avery mini heavyweight sheet protectors.
HooToo Wireless Router Best thing since sliced bread. It has many uses, like being a wifi extender and a power bank, but our favorite is that it streams 60 gb worth of movies to our iPad air. Read our full review of this awesome gadget here.
Winks Travel Neck Wallet No more rummaging for passports at the airport. I slip this over my arm and under my coat, and everything I need is handy and easy to tuck back away. I don’t even have to bend down to get into a suitcase, or search in a purse (which I have generally stopped carrying altogether on the road). It has RFID blocker pouches for credit cards, a window for ID, three deep pockets for cash, passports, etc. Love it.
Light My Fire BPA-Free Tritan Spork Kit This is useful for Spencer’s snacks, also for when you buy food from a roadside vendor.
OXO Bottle Brush I always need a bottle brush on a 12-14 hr flight, or the bottle gets naaaaasty. That said, unless you really like having the nipple cleaner in the handle like this one does, I would just get a regular bottle brush from the store and save a couple bucks.
Wanderday Microfiber Towel Set Comes in a really nice bag with mesh window, which I use for toiletries. A beach towel size with a zipper pocket in the corner, and a hand towel I use for absorbing stains, rolling swimsuits, etc.
Dipo U-Shape Memory Foam Travel Pillow Memory foam is worth it, and so is the high U-shape profile. Microbeads just don’t provide enough structure to maintain a comfortable sleeping position. This rolls down very small, we hung it inside its sack from our in-flight bag. Comes with an eye mask. Also has a sleeve for putting your phone into for listening to music.
Tough Love Silicone Wedding Rings Some people get metal decoy rings. I like the silicone because it’s comfortable even when your fingers swell in the heat, when you work out, play jazz flute, etc.
These are only the toiletries we couldn’t buy in-country, which is almost everything. A few brands I’ve been using for years and stick with.
Aveeno positively ageless moisturizer SPF 30 Great daily SPF face lotion for sensitive skin.
Comfy Travel Toob 3-1-1 Bottles Love the hand feel of these silicone bottles. You can twist the cap to choose the label “Shampoo,” “Lotion,” “Condit.” They have an okay suction cup for hanging in the shower. Mostly I like their leak-proof squeeze action. I keep face wash, toothpaste, and conditioner in mine.
Folca 8 Compartment Pill Case LOVE this for the small things: bobby pins, hair ties, earrings (fairly flat ones), some Advil migraine, melatonin for sleeping, etc. We have two of these.
Tide Stain Pen No explanation necessary.
That’s it. This nomad family pack list fits into two of three packs – an eBags TLS Motherload and our smaller in-flight bag with family travel essentials. See our last post for David’s clothing and gear.
Are you a digital nomad family with a packlist to share? Let us know! We’re always keen to get a peek at other family packlists to see what we may be missing out on.