Teaching Kids to Pack Ultralight

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Eva and I and our five kids (the sixth is in college) just got back from a 4-day trip to gorgeous San Diego, and instead of being exhausted from wearying travel, we came back with smiles on our faces.

This is despite four days of walking for hours as we explored, running around and building sand castles on beaches as the sun set, hiking in Torrey Pines on our last day, taking planes and multiple trains.

Our secret was packing ultralight.

I’ve been a fan of packing ultralight for awhile now, of course. Last year, I took three trips with basically one change of clothes, a book, an 11″ Macbook Air, deodorant and a toothbrush — three days in Portland, a month on Guam and 10 days in New York City.

But I consider it a glorious thing that our kids are now ultralight packers themselves. How did it get this way?

We’ve been moving gradually towards this for a few years. We traveled to Tokyo in 2009 with a backpack each, and moved from Guam to San Francisco in 2010 with a backpack each, then took a month trip with a backpack each. In those cases, the backpacks were usually filled with clothes and computers and various gadgets and toys.

This year I sat them down and we talked about packing even lighter. I told them about my experiments and how much I enjoyed it. I explained that carrying heavy bags and rollerbags around airports, train stations, on and off trains and buses, into rental apartments and around strange cities … can be physically taxing. Going light is truly lovely when you travel like that.

They were immediately on board, and so we decided to do it. This San Diego trip, by the way, was a practice run for our three-week trip to southern Europe (Italy, southern France and Barcelona) this summer, where we plan to pack the same way. The practice run went swimmingly.

Here’s what we packed in tiny backpacks (I used the 16-liter Goruck Echo):

  1. 1 T-shirt
  2. 2 pairs of underwear
  3. 2 pairs of socks
  4. 1 pair of shorts
  5. deodorant and toothbrush
  6. a book
  7. the kids had either an iPod or Nintendo DS, with charger

That’s it. In addition, we wore a pair of jeans, T-shirt underwear, socks, shoes, and a light sweater. The bags were incredibly light and easily fit under the seats in front of us on the plane, and weighed almost nothing. I was the only one to bring a laptop (an 11″ Macbook Air) but only used it for about 30 minutes a day.

We wore the shorts at night and to the beach, washed clothes before bed (I handwashed in the shower but Eva used the washer & dryer in the house we rented). We encountered no problems, and everything was easy.

My two little ones, by the way, carried their own little packs (the 8-liter North Face Sprout), and had no problems as they were super light.

The kids thought the light packing experience was great, and this short experiment (four days) helped them see that we could do it for three weeks in Europe this summer.

I’m sold on ultralight packing, of course, but it’s a joy to know that my kids love it too.