gibberish · the mom life · travel

It’s in the Bag

Back in my previous life as an oft-solo backpacker, I almost had packing down to a precise ritual. A typical packing list for a weekend getaway would look like this:

  • At least 1 pair of denim shorts
  • 2 tank tops
  • A dress, if space permits
  • Small notebook and pen
  • Kindle (or a compact book)
  • My handy-dandy wrist wallet
  • Passport
  • A shoelace (just in case I need to tie anything)
  • A pair of flip-flops
  • Plastic bag for dirty clothes
  • Underwear
  • 2 pairs of swimsuits (the bikini tops are to be used as bras)
  • Deodorant and travel-size bottle of shampoo (to be also used as body wash)
  • Very light shawl (to double up as the flight blanket)
  • Camera (optional)
  • Phone and phone charger
  • Small accessories (earrings, necklaces, or bracelets)

And that was it. Everything would fit in my impossibly narrow but somehow spacious carry-on backpack. My mantra was to pack as little as possible, and improvise for whatever I left behind.

The clothes were self-explanatory; luckily most of my trips were in Southeast Asia so all I needed were thin clothes for tropical weather. I even did away with packing bras because they were so bulky, and found that just wearing my bikini top instead sufficed.

Most of the stuff I brought had practical use (like the shoelace, just in case I had to repair or tie together something on the fly — a useful habit I picked up from my mountaineering days), but I also gave space for cutesy stuff like boho earrings (for the pics I’ll eventually post, obviously).

If I ignore the essentials, there are still two things that would make it into my bag. One is a small notebook for journalling — I must have always felt that being on the road is kismet for me to do my most brilliant writing work. I mean, most of my “this-is-the-life” fantasies involve me reclining in a deck chair at the beach, jotting down my most profound thoughts while sipping on a cocktail (why is this image so relaxing?). The second non-essential item is my Kindle (or an old-fashioned book), which must mean that I subconsciously anticipate that at some point of the trip, there would be a boring moment, or simply a moment when I would be lonely, and I would need a book to rescue me.

Fast forward to today, here’s my packing list, post-kids:

  • Pretty much everything in the original list, except now that I’m typically packing for colder weather and would actually need clothes with sleeves, as well as real pants
  • Diapers and wet wipes
  • Sets of shirts, pants and pyjamas for each kid
  • Paper and coloring pencils, anything to keep the kiddos busy while eating in restaurants
  • Kid’s sleeping bags
  • My nursing pillow
  • Baby stroller
  • Car seat (if needed, where we’re going)
  • One or two of the kids’ favorite books

Traveling with kids is a whole different animal. I guess what’s interesting is not really my new packing list, but rather how my view of a perfect travel itinerary has changed. No more agendas packed with back-to-back activities. I must hyper-prepare, as improvisation must be reduced as much as possible to preserve my sanity. Each destination, hotel and mode of transportation must be scrutinized beforehand as to how kid-friendly they are.

Back in my solo backpacker days, I would rarely say no to a trip invite to an exciting new destination. There was no surprise I couldn’t turn into a funny travel anecdote. Now, however, I would likely gravitate to going to somewhere familiar, with the least surprises as possible. I guess that’s just a defense mechanism that somehow develops when you’re responsible for tiny humans who won’t be able to bail themselves out at the slightest oversight. Don’t get me wrong: I still love traveling and would probably always do. It’s just that my priorities have changed, from maximizing the thrill of adventure, to making sure my kiddos are alright. I realize now how it’s a clear indicator of how our first loves normally take a backseat when having children come into the picture.


This piece resulted from a brilliant writing prompt from the Isolation Journals by Suleika Jaouad. The original prompt was: Write your essential packing list. What is on it? What does it say about you? About the era you’re living through?

Have you thought about your own packing list? I would love it if you would let me have a glimpse of it in the comments. ‘Til our next burst of journaling inspiration!

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