Now that the holidays have hit, there are gift guides for family travelers listing everything from compression socks to those custom push pin travel maps. Packing for a trip is one of our least favorite things about traveling, so we try to keep our travel gear simple and practical. Whether you’re looking for great travel gift ideas for him, her, the kids, or even you, these are the 21 things we bring on almost every trip.
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Things that make packing (and unpacking) easier
- Packing Cubes – You know this list of travel gift ideas for families is going to be super practical when it starts off with packing cubes. If you haven’t invested in a set of packing cubes yet – do it! For around 20 bucks you can make your carry-on or duffel bag so much more organized. We use this simple, lightweight set from Eagle Creek you can find on Amazon.
- Laundry Bag – The first thing I do when I walk in the door after a trip is head to the washing machine and dump in my dirty laundry bag. It’s nice to be able to separate out dirty clothes during the trip and makes it so much easier not to have to wash everything if I ended up not using it all. I’m a super light packer for plane rides, but for some reason I can’t get it together for road trips and end up packing double what I need. This durable cotton canvas laundry bag fits a full week of laundry.
- Toiletry Bag – There’s nothing worse than having your shampoo spill out into your bag and make a soapy mess. You can eliminate most liquids now by purchasing eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner, and soap that comes in bar form, but you’re still bound to have a few liquids you don’t want leaking into the rest of your bag. Aaron uses this simple Herschel toiletry bag with nylon lining almost every week when he travels for work, but this AmazonBasics Hanging toiletry kit is a bit bigger and has a few more pockets which are handy when you’re packing toiletries for the whole family.
Basic Gear We Bring Everywhere
- Reusable Water Bottle – We bring reusable water bottles everywhere we go since it’s easy, eco-friendly and either free or super cheap to refill them. We really like these insulated RTIC water bottles because they hold ice for up to 24 hours and they fit in the sides of most backpacks. We got the taller 26 oz ones for the adults and the smaller 16 oz one for Hudson.
- Headlamp – I usually throw our headlamps in our bag whether we’re camping or not. They’re super handy if we end up hiking in the dark (which happens pretty often since we might be hanging out a scenic spot for sunset) and you just never know when else you might want a hands-free light!
- Day bag backpack – We rotate through a few different day bags depending on the type of trip we’re going on. If it’s pretty casual and not super outdoorsy, I’ll bring my Anello backpack I picked up in Tokyo earlier this year. It seemed like everyone had one in Japan, and it’s quickly become my favorite backpack—it’s not too big, opens wide at the top, and has pockets on both sides for water bottles. Aaron uses this Modern Snap Backpack from Everlane that has a laptop compartment. If we’re doing more hiking, then we will use a light daypack like this Osprey one or our Lowepro Camera Backpack (listed below in the Camera Gear section).
- Portable Phone Charger – Our new iPhones thankfully have a lot longer battery life, but dropping to a low charge when we’re traveling and using apps like Google maps all the time is pretty common. This portable charger saved us so many times!
- Camera – Saying we take a few pictures when we travel is a bit of an understatement. When we were looking to upgrade from our chunky Nikon DSLR last year, we opted for the lightweight, mirrorless Fujifilm X-T2. We researched most of the mirrorless cameras on the market before we made our decision and chose this Fujifilm camera because the functionality and quality is on par with cameras that sell for a few thousand more. We’ve since purchased additional lenses, but the 18-55mm kit lens that you can buy with this camera is actually a great lens and a solid deal. Fujifilm recently released the next generation of this camera, the Fujifilm X-T3, so you can get all the new upgrades like the touch screen, or still get the X-T2 for a bit of a discount. For a great compact camera under $300, check out the Nikon Coolpix S7000. It’s thin enough to fit in your pocket, but comes still comes with useful features like 20x optical zoom and built-in WiFi.
- Lowepro Camera Backpack – We wanted to get a camera bag that would be comfortable on hikes and fit our camera plus a few lenses. The Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II camera bag has padding on the back and shoulder straps and a waist belt for comfort and fit, a built-in all-weather cover, and a slot for your CamelBak hydration pouch.
- JOBY GorillaPod Tripod – We haven’t perfected the family shot via tripod yet, but we’ve had fun bringing along this JOBY GorillaPod. It’s super small, so there’s no excuse not to bring it! And it‘s always nice to have a tripod you can wrap around a tree or railing to get the right height.
Things for Water Adventures
- Microfiber Travel Towels – Most of our travels revolve around some sort of body of water. The ocean, a lake, a cenote, whatever it maybe, it’s always handy to have our own towel. These microfiber travel towels are super compact, so they don’t take up much space in our suitcase or day bag.
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen – Again, since we’re usually outside or around water, eco-friendly, reef-safe sunscreen is an absolute must. We wrote a post about how to pick a safe, effective ocean-friendly sunscreen and listed all of our favorites – check out the post here.
- Drybag – For Kayaking, SUP boarding, or those times you have to swim to shore from the boat, we bring along a dry bag.
- Snorkel Gear – If we plan on snorkeling, we usually bring our own gear, or at least our own goggles and snorkel. Using a broken or uncomfortable mask and snorkel kinda ruins the experience. Plus, it ends up being so much cheaper to just bring your own, especially if you plan on snorkeling several times throughout your trip. This ProDive snorkel set is only $30; I’ve gotten so many uses out of it and I never have to wonder where the mouthpiece has been.
Travel Gear for Babies and Kids
I know everyone says babies and kids have soooo much stuff you have to haul with you when you travel, but this really hasn’t been the case for us. We streamlined everything right after our son was born because we were moving to the UK for a year, and we didn’t want to deal with shipping things back and forth or buying a lot of things we didn’t really need that we’d get rid of a few months later. That said, there are a few things that every traveling family needs. This basic baby gear made our lives and travels so much better.
- Ergobaby Carrier – We started off with a soft baby wrap when Hudson was a newborn, but soon moved to an Ergobaby Original carrier. I carried him in this practically everywhere for over a year. When Hudson could walk more and we were just using a carrier for shorter hikes, we switched to the Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh which is lighter, more breathable and allows for more adjustment based on the size of your baby. Read our full review of the Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh here.
- Aiden+Anais Muslin Blankets – We’re going on three years of using these breathable cotton blankets and they’re still in good condition, which is pretty incredible considering we use and wash them all the time. They’re a perfect swaddling blanket and nursing cover for tiny babies, sun cover on a stroller, and just an easy, lightweight blanket to bring around to give a little warmth or comfort to your little one.
- Lightweight, Versatile Travel Stroller – I’d recommend the Baby Jogger City Mini to anyone and everyone, whether you travel or not. It’s big enough to be your full-time stroller (it can lean back pretty far for naps, has a good-size sunshade and a large compartment underneath), but it’s still lightweight and you can fold it up with one hand. When Hudson was younger, we could conveniently click in his car seat on top. I have friends that rotate through three different strollers depending on the occasion, but I’ve been so happy with this one, I still haven’t felt the need to look for another one even after three years. It really does feel like a fit-all for every situation. It has to be pretty well made as ours has been on 50+ flights at this point and rambled up who knows how many cobblestone streets. Plus, it’s a total steal for the price (under $200!).
Travel Clothing and Shoes
- Hiking/Water Sandals – This is a pretty recent addition to our travel wardrobes, and now I have no idea why we waited so long. I found myself packing ugly old tennis shoes so often because we’d be hiking through mud or water, so we all finally bought a solid pair of hiking sandals. We all opted for what works best for us, and funnily enough, we all chose different brands. Aaron has the Teva Sanborn Universal sandals. I got these Chacos and I’ve been wearing them on every hike since – from Mexican beaches to the Arizona desert. And Hudson gets some super solid use out of his Keen Kids sandals. They’re basically his go-to shoe no matter what we’re doing.
- Travel Shoes – Aaron’s been looking for a travel shoe that transitions from airplane to hike to beach to city with ease, and these Vans UltraRange tennis shoes are it. They’re comfortable from the second you put them on, so lightweight and so versatile. Seriously, they’re perfect for anywhere.
- Quick-dry Hiking Shorts – When we’re heading to a warm-weather destination (which is usually the case), we like to wear light and comfortable hiking shorts. I finally found some hiking shorts I love at Gap. They’re long enough, super stretchy, and dry quickly. Plus, there are 40% off deals all the time at Gap which makes them very affordable. These were the first I’ve tried on that weren’t awkwardly baggy, so I’m a fan. They also make a longer bermuda version too in case you want more coverage. Aaron loved these RVCA shorts so much he bought them in several colors. He originally wanted the Patagonia Baggies but found he liked these so much more. They’re described as running shorts for skateboarders, but the lightweight, breathable fabric makes them great for anything. Plus, they have zippered pockets which can come in handy.
- Baseball Cap – A basic baseball cap is a lifesaver on those sunny days. I’m usually packing my black Patagonia Cap. Aaron has a huge collection of blue hats, but lately, he’s been opting for this black one by Surf Locos.
So that’s a wrap! If you’re looking for great gift ideas for family travelers, or just some practical travel gear for your own adventures, then I hope you found this list helpful! Let me know your must-haves for travel in the comments below.