On May 28th, me, my husband, and my three children (ages 6, 4, and almost 2) set out on the road for a 700-kilometre cycling adventure. We had never done any cycle touring in our lives, did not plan this trip out very well (on purpose), and are having an absolute blast nevertheless.
On June 9th, we rode through Toronto and decided to stay at a hotel, since a house that can accommodate 5 cycling tourists downtown Toronto is sort of non-existent. We stayed at a fairly nice little hotel apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, so we did enjoy some freshly cooked dinner (we’re basically surviving on tortillas, canned food and protein bars—plus more junk food than I think I’ve eaten in my whole life put together at this point, but hey, it’s all good. You gotta live a little).
I digress. While I was in Toronto, my awesome friend came to visit, and she was amazed that we were able to pack 5 people’s stuff into 4 small panniers and one chariot trailer. Since other people have expressed amazement at our packing skills, I figured I’d write a post about what we’re carrying with us.
Minimalist Packing for a cycle tour with young kids
First of all, let me say that compared to most cycle tourists, our packing is not minimalist at all. Seriously, we’re probably carrying more stuff (and more weight) for a 3-week trip than most cycle tourists pack for a year on the road. Then again, most cycle tourists aren’t hauling three kids ages 6 and under behind them.
So what exactly have we brought?
As I wrote in the post about what we’re riding, Dan is pulling a Chariot trailer behind him. That trailer contains all of our camping gear on the front (where children would usually ride), and most of our food and extra water in the trunk. Our camping gear is heavy. Because we knew that for this time around, at least, we would only be on the road for about three or so weeks, we decided not to invest in lightweight camping gear.
Let me be the first to say that if, after this adventure, we decide to go on a longer one, we will definitely be getting lightweight camping gear. Our legs sure are getting stronger, but it’s a lot of work to pull heavy weight behind you.
Here is what we brought on this trip:
1. Two tents: 1 E-Z tent that sleeps 4; one 2-person tent.
We have an “e-z” set-up tent that has been great for quick set-up; however, it’s not lightweight at all. We have another 2-pole dome tent. We’ve done different arrangements for sleeping, but one adult always sleeps with the 2-year-old and the other adult sleeps with the 6 and 4-year-old.
If we do this again, we’ll definitely be looking into a lightweight tent, probably one that sleeps six, so we have a little bit of room (the 4-year-old is a rambunctious sleeper).
2. Air mattresses
We didn’t want to invest in lightweight air mattresses for such a short trip, so we just took our regular air mattresses, which are pretty heavy and require a foot pump. We have one single air mattress, and two single air mattresses that join together with a zipper to form a queen size mattress. One adult usually sleeps with the two-year-old on the single mattress, and the other adult shares the queen size one with the other kids.
If we do this again, we’ll definitely get lightweight mattresses that don’t require a pump.
We don’t regret bringing the air mattresses though, as they’ve saved our backs and provided a more comfortable sleep after long days of riding.
3. Camping pillows
We brought 2 little camping pillows we already had, plus a blow up one as well. If we do this again, I think we might just put our clothes in our sweaters and use those as pillows. Alternatively, we’ll look into comfortable ones that pack tightly.
4. Five Sleeping bags
Again, we just used what we already had, but we bought sleeping bags for the kids, since they didn’t have any. Again, not lightweight, and not easy to pack tight. If we do this again, we’ll look into more lightweight sleeping bags, but for me, it’ll still have to be warm, because I woke up shivering a couple of times on this trip when we were camping – I’m always cold.
5. Baby Carrier
Perhaps a frivolous item for some, but I’m very thankful for having packed my Beco Gemini baby carrier. It was a great help walking in the busy streets of Toronto with a tired toddler. I don’t regret bringing this item, and I highly recommend anyone travelling with a young child, whether by bicycle or other means, bring a baby carrier with them.
I had a back injury in 2008, and have arthritis in my S/I joint as a result. Since writing this article, I was also diagnosed with inflammatory osteoarthritis affecting multiple joints.
Because of my back pain, muscles around my lower back, glutes, and also my IT band get very tight, especially after a long day of exertion. My physiotherapist convinced me to pack “The Stick,” and I’m very thankful we made room for it. After a long day of riding, it works wonders to work out the kinks in our thighs and glutes.
7. An extra pair of nicer shoes
My husband is wearing his bike hoes on his bicycle, and I’m wearing my regular gym shoes – which I won’t do again if we go on another cycling adventure. Dan brought a pair of nicer walking shoes, an I brought a pair of flat gladiator sandals (lightweight and small). Dan uses his shoes whenever he’s not on the bike (bike shoes aren’t very walking-friendly), and I use the sandals whenever we go to church or out to dinner. The kids all just have their gym shoes.
8. Diapers and Wipes
At home, we try to use cloth diapers and take the little one to the toilet as often as possible. On a trip like this, with no guarantee of laundry facilities, cloth diapers aren’t really feasible. So yes, we brought disposable diapers and wipes. We brought enough with us for about a week and a half, and just bought more as needed along the way. Rest assured that if we do a trip like this again, everyone will be out of diapers… We probably would still bring some wipes with us though; they prove useful in (literally) sticky situations, which are bound to happen when kids are around.
That’s all the stuff we’ve packed in the trailer. To find out what was in the panniers, check out this post.
What do you pack when you travel with young kids?