Family traveling with just backpacks

Back in March, the five of us went on a trip which had us spend a day in Amsterdam, then 12 in Egypt moving to a different city almost every day, then back to Amsterdam for another day and then home. It was exhausting but what made it worse was we overpacked to the point of ridiculousness. I had my standard wheelie suitcase that is right at 45" and a laptop bag and a “school” backpack. My SO had a “school” backpack, a regular duffel bag and an uber LL Bean duffel bag which could have smuggled an 8 year old child if need be.

It was overkill and became a lot of work getting organized, repacked, loaded onto a train, etc. Next year, we plan on stopping in NYC for a day and then on to India where we will be running around city to city in a mad dash to see it all. (We won’t). The consensus now is to make sure we only carry what we need and we also don’t check anything in. Since luggage that has wheels also means less space and heavier, we are opting for backpacks only. One per person. You bring it, you carry it. We don’t plan on going hiking through the Himalayas with them but want them comfortable to wear for about an hour at the most. (We are also heading to Jamaica in December, so we can give these a trial run).

Now it comes to “What should we buy?” and here’s the criteria:
[li]We want to check them in, so the measurements need to stay under that magic 45" mark.[/li][li]We are 2 adults, one female teenager, and two younguns aged 7 and 9. So one backpack probably won’t fit all.[/li][li]We’re not taking sleeping bags with us.[/li][li]We’ve got a couple months, so we can order online from different countries as I’ve seen some cool stuff out there.[/li][/ol]
Any ideas on brands/specific things we should be looking for would be great. Thanks!

Plan to check your backpacks, but get a type that has a removable “daypack” and carry that on the plane. Most have a way to attach the daypack to the front so that you wear the large pack on your back, and the daypack hangs from straps on the front (which means you can access it without taking it off). We have traveled for 7 months at a time like this from Prague to New Zealand.

We have Kathmandu packs, but not sure you can get those in the US (they are an Aussie/Kiwi brand). Try Eagle Creek packs too.

My laptop fits in the daypack so we can take it anywhere to keep the business running. The packs are comfortable for a couple hours and/or a few miles walking. I would not hike Everest with them but walking 2 miles from Turkey to Syria was no problem.

Couple of things to keep in mind, which I learned the hard way;

Take ‘disposable’, (maybe second hand), clothing for the NY part, as India will require only thin light gear, some of which will be covered by purchasing there, for savings and souvenirs and fun, all in one!

When it comes to towels, thinner is better, because drying quickly is everything when traveling.

Sounds like a great time!

The young kids are problematic. Millions of backpacking tourists wander the earth with only a backpack. I’d suggest that you and the wife get large backpacks with attached day packs. That way, you can stuff as much crap as you can into it, and still have a daypack for daily excursions. Even if it weighs a ton, you are usually just schlepping it from transportation to your hotel/hostel, so you can deal with a fair amount of weight. The rule of thumb is to take everything that you want, stick in a pile and then throw half of it out. You can get backpacks with wheels these days, but I notice they are of limited use in poorly paved third world countries.

We just got back from a week in Mexico with our two boys, ages 9 & 6. We took down two Kelty Redwing 2650 backpacks (I believe that # is the cubic inches it holds) and a rolling thing for toys, games, etc. The only reason we travel with our backpacks is to AVOID checking them, especially when traveling internationally. It makes clearing customs & immigration a breeze, because we go straight through while everyone else is standing around waiting for their checked luggage to come out of the magic chute.

Learning to “pack light” is crucial, but totally worth it. We had 4 days’ worth of stuff, and I had a bunch of Tide “wash in sink” pacs that I found at the drug store for 99 cents. Granted, it is easiest to do when you are traveling to a warm place. The men had the shorts & shirts they were flying in, plus one more of each, plus two bathing suits and three t-shirts, underwear and pajamas. I had two sarongs, two bathing suits, the outfit I flew in, and two others, plus underwear and jammies. There were also miscellaneous items, toiletries, etc. Plenty of space for what we actually NEEDED (but that lesson is not learned overnight! :slight_smile: ).

We will be doing “carry on only” this Xmas in NYC as well, as our bags were lost last year and it was teh suck. Each person can take whatever they can fit in their roll-aboard. :cool:

One other thought about traveling with kids- with a rolling piece, each parent should have one hand free to grab a kid. The nice thing about backpacks is having both hands free, just in case.

Check out the Kelty website- my Redwing 2650 is incredibly well-constructed, with great strap design, excellent padding where it’s actually needed, and they are very reasonably priced. We have used our for years and they are showing no wear & tear at all.

I’m a pack light fanatic (the crowning achievement of my life was a month in Mali with a small school backpack) and I can’t pimp this website enough. has the best packing advice there is. They have stuff on there that I thought I made up myself!

We did 30 days in east asia with a 13 year old girl and a 15 year old boy. Mom and Dad had LLBean backpacks with daypacks that attached. Kids had smaller backpacks. We never ran out of clothes.

Hehe, when we met our University friend in Jakarta at the airport he brought an additional car for our luggage. He couldn’t believe how light we were traveling.

First question is how long will you be travelling for - that may make it easier to make recommendations. Packing for a week may differ to a month or 6.

I’ve done, in aggregate, about four years living out of a backpack.

Tips from me:

  1. Get backpacks with side zipper access, not top access. This means a lot less packing and repacking.
  2. Preferably you want one where you can zip the entire strap mechanism up and hide it away so it resembles a floppy suitcase. This is much safer for the bag’s integrity in airline holds etc.
  3. The waist strap is very important - it’s best if 90% of the weight is on your hips, and the shoulder straps are just used to balance it, rather than being primary load-bearers. So you should be able to do the waist strap up sufficiently tight that the weight is solidly on your hips.
  4. Therefore look for a pack with a wide, padded waist strap, that can adjust to your waist size, and also one with good lumbar adjustment, and a lumbar pad, which is more comfortable.
  5. A daybag on the back is good, but if you have a lot of stuff in it, it can mess up your center of gravity and tend to pull you backwards; I usually to put my daybag on my front when walking any distance.
  6. You will have to check your backpack: the hand luggage allowance outside North America isn’t as generous.
  7. A light stuff sack or two is invaluable for keeping your clean and dirty washing apart.
  8. Apart from a guidebook, I only ever carry two books at a time and trade/sell them, or mail them back if they’re important to me. You never know when you might have a monstrous delay and finish the book you’re on at the time and need something else to read; then again, books are damn heavy.
  9. Finally, socks and underwear are so small and light that it’s a false economy to bring too few. Pack all your other clothing, strap it all in flat, then fill in the gaps with your socks and underwear rolled into little balls.


We’re going for a week in Jamaica and 2 weeks in India. We explained to the kids last night that we want Jamaica to be the test run so we can learn what we need and don’t need when we go to India. The two youngest had to learn that clothes and toiletries come first and then leftover room can be for a couple toys. The teenager started crying (literally) that she couldn’t bring her entire bedroom.

I LOVE that website. I think I’ve read every page on it twice. I actually ordered a Tilley’s catalog based on his recommendation of their gear with the wash n go socks and underwear and have been hunting down things like bar shampoo now.

EJsGirl, we went en masse to Sports Authority last night and check out the Kelty selection and they had the Locus 40 which was quite nice. I’m gonna keep hunting and check out your recommendation of the Redwing 2650.

jjimm, I didn’t know that bit about the waist carrying most of the weight, I would always tighten that part but that gives me a better idea of what to look for in a backpack when trying them on.

As for checking in the backpacks, we really hope not. We checked with Northwest Airlinesand Air India and both allow up to 45" (and after watching The Amazing Race, it looks like they don’t ever check in their backpacks and we abused our DVR last night as we tried to figure out what brands they were using).

Thanks for all of the great suggestions so far!

At first glance I thought the title was “Family Traveling with Jet Backpacks” and I got all excited.


Let me get this straight. Is it 2 adults wanting to carry a teenager and 2 under-tens in backpacks, or 2 adults and a teenager who need to carry the 2 youngsters between them? Can the 9yo be dismantled and shared between 2 backpacks?

Did anybody else read the Thread title as: Family traveling with just jetpacks?

For bar shampoo and soaps, try Lush. I actually use their coconut scented bar shampoo as my regular shampoo. It lasts such a long time. One little bar would last your whole family the two weeks.

Bat jetpacks for me.

Look at the Rick Steve’s site for packing-light information - he doesn’t recommend specific backpacks but has lots of other good information:

Rick Steves packing light

If you have an REI nearby check them out. They’ve got brand names and their own line of various items that are usually comparable in quality and competitive in price with industry leaders. I’ve got a pack from them that I’ve used for travel in various places; Spain, Bali, Nepal. The employees are usually people who actually use the gear, so can give good advice too.

REI also has about the most generous warranty policy I’ve ever heard of. I bought some suitcases from them once, and the deal is that you can get the product replaced for any reason at any time. I think this might apply to REI-brand stuff only–not sure–but it’s very decent stuff to begin with.