What to pack on a long-term family adventure

The Cagols have just returned from a 12-month trip through Africa with their young family. They reveal the items you absolutely must pack - and the things you can leave at home

5 mins

What kind of bag? And how many bags?

The type of bag you choose to take – and the size – has a huge impact on what you can and cannot take. Initially, we had planned on each of us having our own backpack to carry our own things, including the kids, but research showed that children should not wear backpacks for extended periods.

The Cagols returning home (Dreamstime)

The Cagols returning home (Dreamstime)

Our compromise was to get each of the children a small backpack to use for their daily needs – colouring books, tablet, an extra sweater, a water bottle and so on – and two large backpacks for mum and dad. Essentially, it meant squeezing everything for everyone into two bags. Space was limited, but that really focused us on what was really essential.

Load up on travel packing cubes

Packing cubes are small, ultra lightweight bags of various shapes and sizes that help you organize your stuff and fit more into your bag. They are also easy to pull out once you’ve sorted out your accommodation for the night. They are made from all different kinds of material and some are even waterproof.

Packing cubes (Dreamstime)

Packing cubes (Dreamstime)

With only two backpacks to carry our things, packing cubes proved invaluable for keeping the kids organised and being able to fit everything in. Each member of the family had their own packing cube, which helped no end in keeping clothes organised. Even after we bought a car and had more space, the cubes helped us know exactly where things were and to be able to put our hands on them in no time.

Cut back on clothes

The limited bag space – even with cubes – really limited what we could take and made us focus on what was really necessary. In the end, we packed a week’s worth of clothing for each person, covering all the climates we would encounter. The idea was that we would schedule in regular laundry time along the route.

African lady hanging out her washing (Dreamstime)

African lady hanging out her washing (Dreamstime)

Each family member was allowed 3 ‘bottoms’ (2 short, 2 long), 6 tops (3 short, 1 singlet, 1 long cotton and 1 fleece), 7 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks (including 1 thick pair for trekking), 2 types of footwear (trekking shoes and waterproof sandals) and a set of thermals and a waterproof each.

We probably could have got away with less, but this proved the best balance of getting the most out of our clothes without getting too smelly.

Take the right gadgets

Gadgets are an increasingly important part of travel, even in remote parts of Africa. They help you stay connected with family back home, book accommodation along the way and call for help if you get into trouble. They are also vital in educating and entertaining your children.

These are the gadgets we couldn't have lived without:

An unlocked phone

Using your phone in Africa with a SIM from your provider back home would quickly bankrupt you. Thankfully, local SIMs are available with data in every country in Africa. Your phone will need to be unlocked, but the SIMs are cheap and you’ll have access to the internet everywhere you go.

Zulu woman on mobile phone (Dreamstime)

Zulu woman on mobile phone (Dreamstime)

Satellite phone

When we bought our 4WD and started getting off the beaten track, we hired a satellite phone in case we got into a tight spot and needed help. We never had to use it, but it the peace of mind it offered was priceless.


Our laptop became the command centre of our trip. We used it to store and edit photos, write our blogs, manage our finances, send emails, book accommodation and Skype family back home.

The laptop was invaluable. Many of the things we stored on it were priceless, hence the importance of a strong back-up plan. We signed up for 1TB of cloud storage with Google before we left and would diligently upload our photos, blog posts and scanned documents to it every time we connected to Wi-Fi.

We also took two 2TB portable hard drives that we used to back up files when we were without Wi-Fi for extended periods. That way, if our laptop was broken or stolen, our precious memories and important documents would be safe.


Each of our kids had a tablet loaded with games, movies and home-schooling tuition videos. We limited their time on the tablets – we didn’t travel all the way to Africa for them to spend all their time staring at screens – but, at times, they were invaluable in letting mum and dad enjoy some well-earned downtime.


We gave each of our kids a cheap and cheerful camera to document their journey. It helped them think about what they were seeing and provided hours of silly fun on long car journeys.

Having fun with a digital camera (Edwina Cagol)

Having fun with a digital camera (Edwina Cagol)

Useful apps

We used Android tablets and found the following apps extremely useful:

HERE – an offline GPS system, using Openstreet maps, that is essential for any navigation. Make sure you download the maps before setting off.

Tracks4Africa – we used both the navigation and guide. Again, essential for any travel in Africa.

AndroMoney – a fantastic app for tracking expenditure. Simply enter your daily budget and then it easily shows you if you below or over.

MobileVOIP  – great for making free phone calls anywhere in the world.

Skype – the best app for video calling. Not everyone has an Apple device to use Facetime.

c:geo  – endless fun finding geo caches all over the world. One caveat: you need to be online for it to work.

Most surprisingly useful item

A couple of packs of playing cards are inexpensive and endless fun, and, unlike tablets, they don’t need to be recharged or connected to the internet to work.

Cagol family playing cards on their travels (Edwina Cagol)

Cagol family playing cards on their travels (Edwina Cagol)

Things we packed and didn’t use

Mosquito net, solar chargers, back-up battery storage, plastic cutlery sets, travel towels (we replaced with sarongs), water filter, iodine, and a tablet for the adults. We seemed to use our phones instead.


Edwina and Mauro Cagol are travelling around the world for a year with their three young children. To find out more about their adventures, visit www.offexploring.com

Main image: The Cagols on the road in Southern Africa (Edwina Cagol)

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