Backpacking the world isn’t just for 20-somethings. Our family of seven loves to long term travel with just backpacks and a tent. Besides being an extremely affordable way to travel, it takes us to the most incredible locations in new countries. This blog includes everything we packed for long term travel and camping abroad.
In 2015, we loaded our backpacks with everything we were going to need for six months of travel through Europe. The first two of these months we tent camped in Norway, Ireland, and Germany. In 2017, we did it again, by headed west to Hawaii and New Zealand. In 2019, we tent camped the Tour du Mont Blanc. In 2020, we returned to Hawaii for another round of tent camping.
Tent camping is an amazing way to see the world!
Besides traveling light, we also travel on a very tight budget. So while I’d love to have all the coolest gadgets and gizmos, my practical side has to step in and keep things realistic. Most of the time when we were tent camping and traveling abroad, we were packing up and moving each day to a new spot so it was important for us to travel as light as possible while still feeling comfortable and self-sufficient along the way. Here is exactly what we packed for long term travel:
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Gear to Pack for Camping Abroad
We’ve tried a variety of tents over the years. If we are trying to bring our tents as carry-on luggage, then we bring two REI half dome tents. I like that the REI half domes are quick to assemble, however, they aren’t really comfortable to “hang out” in. One year we brought one REI half dome and the Alps 4-person tent. The Alps 4-person tent is much more spacious and has more headroom but heavy to carry. (We know because we carried it for our 3-day backpacking trip in Abel Tasman, New Zealand.)
Also, I recommend treating tents with tent sealant before you travel because one of ours leaked really bad when we were camping in Hawaii but the sealant helped a lot once we found some.
Gear for Sleeping
Everyone in our family carries their own sleeping bag and air mattress. Most of the time we are car camping with our tents so I also bring an air pump to blow up air mattresses using the car’s 110-volt adapter. It’s really worth it to have a lightweight but also zero degree bag so that it’s versatile. Except for in Hawaii, we also each bring a neck pillow on the plane and use that to sleep on in the tent.
Lights to Pack for Tent Camping
Light is really important when you are camping, especially with kids. We carry a diversity of lights with us when we camp and travel abroad. I pack four 1 BioLite headlamps and 1 BioLite lantern. I love that these are rechargeable and I try to plug them in while we are driving around to our adventures each day. I also pack two Luci Lanterns that are solar-powered. These are great to throw on the dashboard while we drive. I wouldn’t want to only depend on these especially in Europe because it rains often. However, they do provide great light and I like hanging them from the top of our tent or using them at the table at night. As a backup, I also carry 1-2 Black Diamond. They are also great for hanging from the roof of the tent.
Gear to Cook Meals With When We are Camping or Traveling Abroad
- 2 MSR pocket rocket burners
- GSI Camping Cookware + bowls
- Jet Boil Flash JavaKit
- Manual coffee grinder
- Gerber Swagger Knife (only if we are checking bags)
- 1 cutting board, a serving spoon, spatula, can opener, utensils (or this all in one kit)
- 4 collapsible coffee mugs
- Quick dry, packable towels
Remember you won’t be able to take butane burners for cooking on the plane so locate a sporting good store near the airport ahead of time to make your travel easier.
Clothes to Pack for Long Term Travel
Since we are always in a diversity of climates, warm climates in Hawaii and Bali but colder climates in New Zealand, or freezing temps in Norway and warm weather in Germany in July, we had to pack a diversity of clothes. Here’s what we each carried in our backpacks:
- Patagonia Nano Puff and their Down Sweater
- Packable rain jacket
- Kuhl hiking pants or Lucy leggings
- Lulu lemon running shorts for the girls
- Kuhl Cargo shorts for the boys
- 1 pair Wool Socks
- 6-8 T-shirts or Tank Tops
- Baselayer to sleep in or when it’s really cold
- Essentials like underwear, socks, bra, and sports bras
- Hiking Shoes + Flip Flops
- Hats & Sunglasses
- Swim Suits and Board Shorts
Essentials to Pack for All Travel
- Outlet adapter- This is the one we have. It charges multiple devices which is so helpful when everyone’s device is dead and you only have a few hours in a restaurant/cafe to charge.
- Camera, Camera Bag & Memory Cards– We shoot with this camera
- Go Pro Hero
- International Driver’s License, if needed
- Hiking Backpack or Day Pack (We love our REI Flash Packs)
- Books & Magazines
- Earbuds or Headphones for Kids
- Ukulele (yep, we travel with one!)
Best Backpacks for Camping + Long Term Travel Abroad
Again, we’ve tried a wide variety of backpacks but one of our favorites is the Gregory Kids Wander 70 Backpack. This one is even comfortable for me and I’m 5’6″ and it holds a lot!
Tips for Camping + Traveling Abroad with Kids
When we first started doing this, our youngest was 5 years old and the oldest was 14. I was worried about keeping my kids safe, comfortable, and entertained. It’s one thing to be single and “wing it” but to sit in a car for long drives, smooshed with so many people and so much stuff you have to sit on your bags (true story in Norway) it’s a totally different story. So here are a few things I’ve learned from doing this type of travel so often.
Bring them their own device. I resisted this because I wanted them to take in the sights and not be staring down at a screen, but there were many times we had to spend driving long hours, sitting in airports, or killing time. After all, when you are long term traveling, you’re usually pretty time rich and having some downtime from your kids is vital to your sanity.
Include them in the planning. I think a lot of people worry or feel bad about pulling their kids away from their friends, sports, and activities, but honestly, you shouldn’t. Travel is the best gift you can give your kids and they are capable of way more than you think. Include them is the research and the decision making every step of the way. I always ask each kid, what they want to see and what they feel like is too much for them. We try to align our travels with compromise and understanding with each person’s desires and comfort zone in mind.
Don’t let them get entitled. The flip side is that when your kids start seeing the world and realize how fun travel is they’re going to love it. But you don’t want the experience to jade them. Make them practice gratitude, endure a little hardship, and chip in every day in chores.