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Long Term Family Travel Means Lots of Gear

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- The drawings and pictures of a two year old girl have been peeled off the wall. The crayon drawn Christmas tree which sat next to the crayon drawn menorah have joined their brethren in the trash. The floor of the apartment is strewn with toys, dirty clothes, random tidbits [...]

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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- The drawings and pictures of a two year old girl have been peeled off the wall. The crayon drawn Christmas tree which sat next to the crayon drawn menorah have joined their brethren in the trash. The floor of the apartment is strewn with toys, dirty clothes, random tidbits of trash, shoes, an old water filter, a tuna can stove, pots and pans, cords, wires, computers, boots, hats, jackets, books, vitamins, travel exercise equipment — it was as if a backpacker hostel exploded its contents over the entire surface of my floor. But the combusted luggage in this case only belongs to three travelers: a family who makes homes as they move through the world, and who carries enough gear to do so.

We were moving out of our modest studio apartment in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. $180 per month of rent for a private bathroom, kitchen, hot water, gas, bug bed, WIFI, a yard, and good company allowed us to live within budget for our three and a half month stay. San Cristobal is one of our hubs in this big world of travel. But it was time to be leaving, three shifts of travel equals a season, and a season is more than enough time to stay anywhere in this world at any given time.

Travel Gear

The hub and spoke travel method — setting up on to three month bases for regional exploration — means a lot of gear. I could buy everything I need to live well at each stop or I can just carry it all with me. These are my choices.  Completely reoutfitting my travel rig every three months is a hassle and a big expense — especially considering that I’m very particular about the gear I use.

I am reminded of old photos of Romani, Tinker, and Indian nomad carts and carriages that I’ve seen in old books — caravans with pots and pans and unmentionable other layers of stuff hang from the outside — as I mount myself with backpacks front and back and fill both hands with the material substance of nomadism.

I carry my home with me. I am independent of needing others to do my work for me. I rather cook for myself than pay a restaurant, I like to have my own bedding when hotel sheets are dotted with blood stains and off white splotches. In a matter of an hour I can completely set up a camp in any location in the world. I have a stove, pots and pans, stainless steel dishes, all weather clothing, exercise equipment, computers, a DVD player, a kindle, books, just about everything I could want or need to live well anywhere. My daughter has backpacks full of toys and educational gear. Materially, I seldom ever crave the amenities of a home: I have it all with me. This keeps travel super cheap.

The problem is packing it all up and carrying it all.

Base camp travel strategy

I use a travel strategy not unlike mountaineers climbing a large mountain: I line my path with base camps, and from there make exploratory jaunts and attempts at summits. I search for places to stay for one to three months at a time. I drop my load, set up camp, and then explore a region from there. This method means travel between camps is sometimes arduous, awkward, and heavy, but regional exploration — short trips — from these bases are ultra light and efficient.

Perhaps the goal of lifestyle travel is to have the best of both worlds: the material amenities of the sedentary and the mobility of the migratory.

But sometimes I must admit to sometimes envying the mountaineer’s use of porters.


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Filed under: Packing, Travel With Family

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Tim April 7, 2012, 6:39 pm

    These are the posts I love the most. Very applicable and fun to read,keep it up.

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    • Wade Shepard April 7, 2012, 8:52 pm

      This feedback will definitely be taken into account. You’re right, these are the types of entries that most readers seem to like the most, and they are the most enjoyable to publish. Thanks.

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  • Jeanne @soultravelers3 May 16, 2012, 5:35 am

    Interesting! It is always fun to read how different families do this.

    We do long term family world travel without much gear…now for 6 years, in fact we usually travel with just one carry-on piece of luggage each. We find we need so little now, so get lighter and lighter the longer we travel.

    We also do “base camps” and prefer to cook our own food..for health reasons as much as anything, but usually rent places with the basics we need in the kitchen. Our old RV in Europe is the perfect storage unit for there ( as well as car and home when we continually return to and explore Europe). Funnily, we are still wearing and using much of the same things we started with 6 years ago. 😉

    We’re in Asia now and left a small box with friends here as we knew we’d be returning for kidlet’s Mandarin immersion. Mainly kid’s toys, school uniforms and a xmas tree…no reason to drag it around the world and makes for a fun “homecoming” for kidlet to our Asian base.

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  • Chris Chinniah June 5, 2012, 12:42 am

    Sometimes just having a car is not enough for a huge family. When going on long term family travel, a caravan is the best and most comfortable way to travel. There is a lot of space for all the gear, and the bed and toilets are readily available. Of course, not everyone can afford the luxury of having a caravan.

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