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Packing for Seven Countries With Three Kids: A Joy or a Nightmare?

02/24/2015 03:49 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2015

Packing for an international trip can be tricky. Packing for a seven month expedition to a new continent, spanning seven different countries and three seasons, with five family members is overwhelming.

Fortunately for us, we're people who live by lists. My wife's approach is tech savvy: a smart phone is all she needs. She started her electronic lists for this trip almost a year ago. By now, she's so familiar with them she hardly needs to reference them anymore. To her, packing is one of the best parts of the prep. She loves sorting all the travel-size shampoos and medicines while neatly rolling all of the clothes and cleverly tucking them into the extra spaces. My approach is more traditional: a scrap of paper and a pen, taped to my desk and updated as I think of things to pack. When I pack it, I cross it off the list. For me, it's a necessary evil. Add to this challenge three boys of varying shapes and sizes, a pile of carefully chosen toys, and top it off with homeschooling supplies for seven months and you've got a heck of a mess.

Below is our attempt to make sense of the madness. It doesn't include everything we're bringing and should be used only as a reference for international travel with kids. It's merely a guide as to what we think are the necessities. The most important thing is to remain calm: with a bit of planning and some semblance of organization, you'll get through it.

Husband's List
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  1. (1) 2-in-1 zip out fleece lined waterproof jacket
  2. (1) wool beanie
  3. (7) pairs of socks, including 3 wool and 4 athletic
  4. (1) pair flip flops
  5. (1) pair hiking shoes
  6. (1) pair running shoes
  7. (5) long sleeve shirts, including 2 fishing convertible shirts and 1 thermal
  8. (1) set thermal underwear
  9. (1) swim suit
  10. (2) exercise shorts, including compression shorts
  11. (6) short sleeve shirts
  12. (3) under shirts
  13. (1) pair of jeans
  14. (2) pairs of heavy duty convertible cargo pants
  15. Toiletry bag

*not pictured: 6 pairs of underwear

Wife's List
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  1. (1) waterproof, lined jacket
  2. (1) fleece hoodie insert
  3. (3) sundresses, including a quick drying option
  4. (1) swimsuit cover-up that doubles as a tunic
  5. (2) cardigan sweaters
  6. (6) long sleeve cotton shirts
  7. (4) short sleeve cotton shirts
  8. (3) camisoles
  9. (3) tank tops
  10. (1) pair of exercise shorts
  11. (2) pairs of shorts
  12. (1) pair of jeans
  13. (1) pair of loose-fitting linen black plants
  14. (1) pair of heavy-duty cargo convertible pants
  15. (1) pair of black leggings that doubles as thermal underwear
  16. (1) decorative scarf that doubles as a nursing cover
  17. (1) black floppy hat
  18. (1) pair of flip flops
  19. (1) pair of camel flats
  20. (1) pair of black flats
  21. (1) pair of hiking shoes
  22. (3) necklaces
  23. (5) pairs of earrings
  24. (2) headbands
  • Misc travel size toiletry items (until we get down there and buy full size), including deodorant, toothpaste, floss, hairspray, lotion, a small bottle of coconut oil, wide tooth comb, toothbrush, loofah, 2 baby washcloths, and 1 quick dry towel
  • Make-up: blush plus brush, mascara, eyelash curler, eyeliner, sunscreen face lotion, and chapstick

*not pictured: 6 pairs of underwear, 1 nursing bra, 2 sportsbras, 1 swimsuit

Boys' List
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Per boy:

  1. (1) 2-in-1 zip out fleece lined waterproof jacket
  2. (3) convertible, vented fishing shirts
  3. (3) long sleeve shirts
  4. (5) short sleeve shirts
  5. (2) pairs of convertible pants
  6. (1) pair of jeans
  7. (2) pairs of "soft" pants, aka fleece pants that can be worn out in public
  8. (1) pair of "soft" shorts
  9. (1) swim suit, including long sleeve rashguard
  10. (1) pair of crocs
  11. (1) pair of hiking shoes
  12. as many underwear and socks as can fit, at least 5 pairs of each
  13. (1) pair of sunglasses

*not pictured: (1) floppy hat per boy that covers their ears

Baby's List

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  1. (1) 2-in-1 zip out fleece lined waterproof bunting
  2. (2) swaddle blankets
  3. (1) onesie pajama
  4. (2) short sleeve onesies
  5. (2) pairs of shorts
  6. (2) pairs of pants
  7. (4) long sleeve shirts
  8. (4) short sleeve shirts
  9. (1) swimsuit, including long sleeve rashguard
  10. (1) pair of baby leggings
  11. 6 pairs of socks

*not pictured: 1 pair of baby sandals for when he starts walking, and small pack of diapers and wipes (until we get down there and buy full size)

Homeschool Supplies/Toys
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  1. iPad
  2. Window clings
  3. Beginner readers
  4. Dry erase preschool activity book
  5. Dry erase tracing and arithmetic cards
  6. Hand-picked toys
  7. Matching game
  8. Personal sleeping companions
  9. Busy Binders
  10. Preschool activity books

Medicines
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  1. Essential oils and wipes
  2. Woolite packets for sink washing
  3. Laundry packets
  4. Spot remover pen
  5. Anti-diarrheal tablets
  6. Acetaminophen chewable tablets
  7. Bugspray
  8. Anti-bacterial hand soap
  9. Allergy relief chewable tablets
  10. Motion sickness relief tablets
  11. Emergen-c packets
  12. Alcohol wipes
  13. Earplugs
  14. Sunscreen
  15. Nyquil tablets
  16. Super glue
  17. Bandaids
  18. Infant's acetaminophen liquid
  19. Teething tablets
  20. Sea bands, for nausea
  21. Preggo pops, for nausea

Gear List
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  1. Journal/Event Log
  2. Spanish/English Phrase Book - we downloaded a Spanish/English dictionary for the phone. If you're not getting an international cell phone plan, make sure the app works in airplane mode
  3. Money Belts
  4. Water proof Pelican Case
  5. Multi-tool
  6. Camera and power cord
  7. Write-in-the-rain notebook and pen
  8. His/Her Headlamps
  9. Extra braided Parachute cord
  10. Parachute cord bracelet - always a good idea to keep some on you at all times.
  11. Watch compass
  12. Watch
  13. Sunglasses w/ cleaning cloth
  14. External harddrive - for backing up pictures and documents
  15. USB 1-to-4 adapter - great if your laptop only has one or two built-in USB ports
  16. Extra AA & AAA batteries
  17. Extra belt & gear clips
  18. GPS with power cable
  19. Durable thumbdrive
  20. Sunglass lanyards
  21. Kindle
  22. Waterproof stuff sack
  23. Mini tabasco bottles - perfect for collecting a little sand from every country
  24. Extra toilet paper bundles and wet wipes - keep these in your cargo pocket...just in case
  25. Bungee cords and zip ties
  26. Kindle charger
  27. Laptop with power cord
  28. Water purification tablets
  29. Headset with built in microphone
  30. Plug adapter kit - nearly every country in South/Central America uses different wall plugs
  31. Velcro
  32. LifeStraw
  33. Mace
  34. Business cards
  35. Portable day pack
  36. Ballcap with a light
  37. Luggage security cable - used to tie together bags when you're at a bus terminal
  38. Survival kit
  39. Camelback with snap-in water filter

Final Thoughts:

  • Everything should have more than one purpose. For example, camping pants that convert to shorts, essential oils used to treat a variety of alignments, and a bundle of parachute cord.
  • You can't pack for every possible contingency. Do some research and choose your battles carefully. Over time, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.
  • Always leave room in your bag for souvenirs...or just buy another bag during the trip.
  • Start early. It's a lot less overwhelming the sooner you begin putting pen to paper.

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