Minimalistic Travel With Kids

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When you’re a traveling family like us, practicing minimalistic travel is important. Dragging around a car full of baggage can be, well, a drag. We have to make sure that what we carry are just the bare essentials.

Since July 2018, we have been practicing minimalistic travel as we venture on our family gap year. Besides the items that are currently in storage at our parents’ and siblings’ houses, everything we own is all that we can fit into our two checked bags and four carry-ons.

This post was updated on May 7, 2020.


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A man and son walking on a sidewalk in New York city with backpacks for minimalistic travel
Walking around New York City (October 2018)

What minimalistic travel with kids looks like

For our family of four, minimalistic travel with kids looks like two 80 litre hiking bags filled with our clothes, shoes, and travel supplies. We also bring along a carry-on sized backpack for each family member that we fill with our own personal items: stuffies, books, and toys for the kids; and laptops, notebooks, and travel documents for the grown-ups.

During the first portion of our around the world trip, when we were traveling around the United States, we also brought along two large plastic bins filled with camping gear, a tent, sleeping pads, blankets, walking sticks and four camping chairs. We dropped these off at my mother in law’s house when we continued on to Mexico.

It’s an odd feeling to know that we have so few possessions compared to most families. Yet, in a way, we still feel like we have way too much. There is so much more we can do to truly practice minimalistic travel!

Two small kids backpacks for minimalistic travel
Carry-on backpacks for the kids (June 2018)

Starting out with too much stuff

This journey towards minimalistic travel has been four years in the making. And it hasn’t always been easy.

Like many families, we accumulated things over the years. Not out of consumerism, but purely out of happenstance. We bought things for our ourselves and our kids. Our home collected papers and books. We stocked up on supplies for future use. And we got too busy to really take the time and assess our possessions.

Even though we weren’t hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, in the back of my mind I always felt like we had too much stuff. And we were certainly a long way away from living a life of minimalism.

When the idea of an around the world trip was first implanted in our brains back in 2014, we knew that one of the biggest undertakings would be getting rid of all our stuff. When we attended the Family Adventure Summit in 2017, we met families doing minimalistic travel, and it inspired us to do the same for ourselves.

And thus began the journey towards minimalism.

passport, journal, and sunglasses for minimalistic travel
Getting ready for our travels (May 2018)

Our journey towards minimalistic travel

At the time, we were living in a three bedroom house. I had grand schemes of selling our things on eBay, and making money for our trip. But after a year and a half of cataloging items, taking pictures of the items, posting them online, monitoring the bids, and making trips to the post office to ship items, I realized the futility of it all. It was like a full-time job! And in the end, I only made about $1,000 and still had a garage full of things we needed to get rid off.

In late 2016, we bought a house, and I decided to hold on to our stuff a bit longer into 2017, when we could donate it to charity and get a tax write off. It was a challenge finding space in our new house, as it was smaller than our previous one by about 600 square feet. The move forced me to be more intentional about what items I wanted to fill our house with, but even after donating $3,000 worth of items to charity, we still felt like we were living in a full house.

The 15′ Uhaul with our belongings (June 2018)

Committing to being a minimalistic travel family

By the time 2018 rolled around, we realized that time was ticking. We had committed to ourselves to move out by the end of June. Now we were on a race towards minimalism. We kicked our purging into high gear, getting our kids involved in the discarding process, and making multiple trips a month to thrift stores to donate our things.

By the end of June, we ended up donating an additional $5,000 worth of stuff. My husband also sold $800 worth of furniture in our last month in the house. On the day that we moved out, we closed the door to an empty house, and drove off with a 15 foot U-haul full of our possessions. A life of minimalistic travel with kids was now within our sights!

Packing cubes for minimalistic travel
Packing cubes to use for our travels (May 2018)

Lessons in minimalism

The biggest lesson in all of this is that minimalism won’t come unless you’re willing to commit to it. We can say to ourselves, yes, we’ll make an effort to reduce our things, but there will always be an excuse not to make it happen. We need XYZ item, there’s not enough time to declutter, this was a gift from great-aunt Sue and we don’t want to make her feel bad.

Once we had our departure date set, it became much easier to set those excuses aside. Instead, we would ask ourselves, is this something that we really want to come back to in three years?

The road to minimalism isn’t always easy, but it certainly is achievable. Even if you’re not going on a three year around the world trip like us, there are things that you can do to get your family towards living a more minimalist type of lifestyle.

An SUV with a cargo box
Our car, packed with our things for travel (July 2018)

Keep the things that bring you joy

One of the books that really helped me commit to minimalism was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Her main premise is to only keep items that spark joy. Discard everything else. In this way, you are filling your life with things that make you feel happy.

While the KonMari method, as Marie Kondo likes to refer to her philosophy, isn’t always practical in a family setting (who really has time to go through every single item in their house and ask themselves, does this bring me joy?) it really did help in directing our family’s priorities in what items we would keep.

Even now, as we are moving from place to place, we ask ourselves, is this thing that we’re lugging around meaningful enough to us to be carried through nineteen or more countries?

A backpack against a boulder
My carry-on backpack for traveling (June 2018)

Practicing minimalistic travel

For families aspiring to become minimalistic travel families, it doesn’t hurt to practice a bit of practical minimalism. Do an honest accounting of the things in your life that you are keeping. What are you bringing in to your house, and what will you discard in exchange?

Families don’t have to drastically discard every item they own in the name of minimalism, but they can start being mindful of what is being consumed. Be aware of the things you acquire. In the end, it’s the mindfulness that will make all the difference.

Do you have a method for achieving minimalistic travel with your kids? Share it with me in the comments!

Minimalistic Travel With Kids | The Wandering Daughter

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2 Responses

  1. My husband loves Marie Kondo’s book and I keep avoiding finishing it. I love the idea of minimalism and wish I could incorporate it more into my lifestyle but I also love finding and collecting things so I’m working on doing that less and buying fewer things. Your adventures inspire me!

    1. It’s a hard balance of keeping the things that you need versus the things that you want. But if the finding and collecting things brings you joy, then I think Marie Kondo would say it’s okay to keep them. 🙂

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