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Ultralight Smart Packing List for Busy Parents

Updated: Jul 8

I have spent years researching and creating packing lists for the little fellas, often at the expense of parent's needs. If you've ever travelled far, or for long holidays with your children, the stress of preparing everything for them can bear you away neglecting how to pack light for yourself. To address this, I have compiled this list of my favourite portable travel gadgets for busy parents and any grownup searching for how to pack smart and lightweight for most types of holidays. I hope this list will always provide a useful resource for your travels and a page you can return to consult and stay updated on what is new in the ultra-light and smart travel gadget world.
Ultralight Smart Packing list

This post contains affiliate links. By clicking and purchasing through the links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This allows me to keep the site up to date and do more research on food and travel. Thanks for reading!

My packing list consists of two parts:

The Ultralight Smart Packing List, compiled by important light and easy-packed things I need on most (if not all) travels and a Road Trip Packing List (scroll further down the post) with things to top up when my travel includes driving.

The Ultralight Smart Packing List

1. Travel Pants

One basic thing you should treat yourself with is comfortable pants. I always have a pair of travel or hike pants (ideally zip-off so they convert to short pants) and a pair of harem pants for tropical destinations. And for good reasons: Harem pants are super comfy and baggy, lightweight, and made of cotton (or linen even better) to keep you comfortable and dry in the tropical hot weather. They are also temple-approved (covering more than 3/4 of your legs) so you can wear them all day and visit sacred places without changing while keeping yourself cool under the scorching heat.

There are plenty of harem pants in Asian street markets and they are ridiculously cheap, but I'd rather have one pre-packed and ready to roll straight away. What's more, it's so chic and comfy that can be worn even at nights out for drinks. My suggestion for Harem pants is something simple and casual for men like these Casual Cotton Linen and the Zanzea harem pants for women.

When it comes to travel and hiking pants, look no further than Tropicfeel. To combine the comfort, quality and convenience of different pockets and compartments I would recommend getting a Tropicfeel Trousers. Tropicfeel is a Spanish start-up specializing in travel gear and my favourite pants that I always pack are the "Jogger pants" and the "Zip-off pants" which convert to short pants for those hot days.

Clicking and buying from my Tropicfeel affiliate links above ☝️ gives you an extra 10% discount website-wide at checkout.

2. Travel Shoes

One thing that stresses me out when preparing for travels is how to get the proper shoes for all occasions and keep them light and tidy. Ideally, one pair or two tops, for most of my adventures. After trying different combinations and brands, I ended up with Tropicfeel Shoes.

Before you go wild shopping travel pants, backpacks and other goodies Tropicfeel offers, first look for the 'Sunset' and 'Jungle' shoes. Apart from being ridiculously stylish and sustainable (made of recycled materials), they are featherweight, breathable and odourless (you can wear them all day), packable and foldable to take everywhere, slip-resistant, with smart elastic laces, and folding heel so you can use as slip on. Not convinced yet?

Clicking and buying from my Tropicfeel affiliate links above ☝️ gives you an extra 10% discount website-wide at checkout.

3. Folding Wash Bag

Deuter Washbag photo
My Deuter washbag

A folding wash bag with a hanger hook to fit all your toiletries and accessories is the No1 thing to own.

I have it permanently filled in with my travel toiletries hence instantly ready to depart. I have been using this Deuter Folding washbag for over 10 years now, thanking myself every time I use it for that worthy investment! Sizes vary, but for a long haul/long duration, I would go for the big one (around 25cm) with the detachable mirror.

4. Battery Pack

We live in a world of rechargeable devices and a battery pack is more than a useful gadget to carry around and charges pretty much everything. Now, the only thing is how to decide with plenty of choices around. My recommendations:

  1. invest in a small size which is just enough to top you up (in most occasions you just need a top-up, not a full charge) let alone is lighter and more portable

  2. choose a good brand (like Anker) with better battery quality to last longer and

  3. get the white colour so you can easily spot it when dropped on the aircraft's low-lit dark carpeted floor (tip from a friend that works) ;-)

Here are my 2 top power banks (we carry both in our travels for the whole family): the super small and lightweight Anker pocket 5200mah (will charge 2 phones) which comes with a pouch to store a cable or two, suitable for our day trips and walks, and the slightly bigger Anker PowerCore 13000mah which lasts longer and can supercharge multiple devices, even the most power-hungry tablets.

5. Multi-port charging cable

Another thing to keep along your power bank is a cable with multiple ports to charge all devices. Being so dependent on batteries and chargers in an era of wearables and handsets, a gadget like the VONMÄHLEN Allroundo is everything in one. Compact and lightweight, this 6-in-1 cable is all you will need. Don't be put off by the cost, it is worth every penny. I've used it for years on my travels, commute, car, work, and everywhere!

Or if you are ready to step up your game, why not check out the Travel Charging & Data Sync Cable Stick which does everything Allroundo does plus you can unload your media files in an external SD card, store your SIM cards, use the little handy pin for swapping them and also use it as a phone stand. Yes, it's too good and it's true... this is the most convenient accessory I ever owned!

6. Universal Mains Adapter

There are classic universal travel adaptors like this but I am particularly fond of the BEZ 5-piece set which brings all plugs nestled to each other in a very small pouch to carry on. Also, if you ever wished you had one charger for all family or all devices if travelling solo, I'd suggest looking to some smarter solutions with 4 USB Plugs and interchangeable plugs, international voltage compatibility (100V-240V) and smart charging technology to auto-identify your devices and deliver optimum charging speed which may come in handy if you are only charging devices with USB cables.

7. Luggage Tracker

Luggage and keys tracker
Tile Tracker is all you need!

Luggage trackers may not be necessary for every type of traveller, but they can be a game changer for some. Think about being able to track your lost or forgotten backpack with valuables or your suitcases going missing in transit airports when you fly connecting flights. You can even pop them in your kid's pockets.

The most popular are AirTags for iphone users and SmartTags for Samsung phone owners but can be expensive or not compatible with other types of phones. But Tile Mate tracker can work with any device, Android or iOS. And like SmartTag and AirTag, it can be tracked "online" when your device is around (400 feet coverage) using the Tile App, but can also can be tracked "offline" (outside your phone's Bluetooth range) by gauging data from internet connections and GPS locations of nearby phones anonymously. Incredible?

Also, bear in mind they all work on very common and cheap CR2032 coin batteries and can be easily replaced at home so make sure you order a couple of those too.

8. Ultralight Folding Day and Dry Pack

At around £30 price tag, the Sea to Summit Ultrasil pack may sound slightly expensive, but I would certainly recommend throwing one in your bag as:

  1. It is super tiny and lightweight and folds into a small ball you can squeeze in your spare shoes.

  2. You can use it on the beach (for dry pack) as it can easily pack some quick essentials for a day trip: a pair of shoes/slippers, a thin fibre towel, goggles, sunscreen, sunglasses, wallet and phone.

  3. At the end of your trip, you can bring your laundry back or fill it with souvenirs.

9. Travel Swiss Army Knife

I always recommend carrying a Victorinox brand Swiss army knife because you just never know what lies ahead. A bottle opener for a bottle of wine is always useful and a knife to peel fruits for the kids might come in handy in holidays. I also always carry a brilliant flat credit card size swiss army knife with a small set of scissors and tweezers, it's lightweight and fits your wallet or handbag. Just remember not to put it in your cabin luggage: it will be confiscated by airport security ;-)

10. Tiny Screwdriver

This multifunction mini screwdriver is a lifesaver! Be it tightening your sunglasses, changing your watch batteries or fixing kids' little toys, all with a small tool the size of eyebrows tweezers. It's cheap and tiny; just chuck it in your wallet, wash bag or hang it from your keyring and paired with your Swiss army knife you have a powerful tiny toolbox for any little repair on the spot.

11. Travel Wallet with RFID protection

Who doesn't need all these important items, along with some cash, in one nice-looking compact leather wallet? I am sure you are going to love this WANDERINGS Leather Passport Holder or a cheaper option of a simple Passport Holder Cover. Truth be told, my wife likes these things more than I so I turned to something simpler, smaller, and with RFID protection, without a passport holder, to fit my pockets and carry it with me out and about. If you are like me, try this simple and minimal wallet or go for the more posh leather option of Vaultskin which packs some more smart features.

12. Packing Cells

I’ve been using packing cubes/cells for all my travels and have been proven super useful for luggage management. Shirts in one pack, trousers in another, socks and underwear in a smaller one. After all, having everything you need in hand as soon as you open your suitcase is a fantastic feeling. Even if you’re not a Marie Kondo’s fan, just imagine that feeling when you land super tired and open your suitcase to this view:

which packing cells to buy

Go for the Ecohub packing cubes set made from eco-friendly recycled material or check out these compression cubes in case you are looking for even more space in your luggage. Ideally get both to mix and match.

13. Travel Books and Guides

When we travel we get more than one guidebook, not just to get the most out of it, but also to read the expert's views and reviews. Especially if it's a long trip with lots of things to do and places to visit. For Thailand for instance, except for the all-time classic and best Lonely Planet Guide, we opted for the 500 Hidden Secrets of Bangkok to track down the city's best-kept secrets and finally, Thailand's Best Street Food book to learn more about the vibrant food scene of Thailand which I certainly recommend buying if you seriously plan to invest time in searching for good Thai food.

Like cooking Thai food? Check my Thai Recipes

14. Soap Leaves

In the past few years, we have all trusted antibacterial hand gels for sanitising our (and our kids') hands on the go. However, even the products with sufficient alcohol content cannot remove all types of bacteria and viruses, let alone alcohol destroys some of the natural protective oil coating our skin produces. Science says soap and water are far more effective at removing such common illness-causing germs, but soap is not always there and not easy to carry around.

But what if I told you that you can get a tiny little pack with dehydrated soap leaves that you can always have with you? Pack a few Lifeventure Travel Wash Leaves in your daypacks and handbags and then all you will need is just water.


The Road Trip Packing List

1. Inflatable pillow
Inflatable travel pillow

Teivul travel camping pillow is an incredible find that I'm very proud of: a tiny lightweight inflatable pillow which packs in a minuscule pouch with a removable and washable pillowcase. It pumps with literally 3 blows and we use it on several occasions like sleeping in the aeroplane, or the car, in the tent or by the beach, or as a footrest at home and headrest on the train.

2. Inflatable Car Seat booster

Another inflatable miracle for those road trips with young kids: the Bubble Bum travel seat booster that does not take the space of a conventional hard seat booster and saves you money wasted in renting one at your destination.

3. Folding Window Sunshades

You would have thought that tinted glass comes as standard with all cars (including rental) in sunny countries but you will be surprised to see that rental companies do not waste their money to luxuries. So if you plan to drive in a hot sunny country, pack a pair of Tanness Lightweight Car Window Shades in your bag for the kids at the back seat.

4. Car Phone holder

The Lamicall Car Phone Holder is a pretty small and sturdy holder that clips into every car's air vent, be it on horizontal or vertical vents. It clutches all tight and does not use sticky pads or wobbly magnetic contacts while boasting a wide handset compatibility meaning it can hold all modern smartphones. Now remember, there will never be a small, lightweight and removable car holder that will stay there forever as the car bounces, yet this one is the best shot you have for travel.

5. Car Phone Charger

When it comes to charging devices I'm all in for Anker. Albeit Chinese, it's one of the high-end brands with decent quality (I have had battery packs and chargers for around 10 years) and good customer support. The Anker 52W USB-A/USB-C car charger boasts an incredible 52-watt power efficiency which means it can fully charge a modern phone in less than 30 min and also split the charging between 2 devices, even tablets. Not all rental cars have USB ports for charging, so better be safe than sorry.

6. Flashlight (Torch)

I know nowadays we all love the feature and depend on our phones for an extra lighting source (flashlight) however, a small travel torch like Maglite mini is still relevant and useful. It is waterproof and produces more light and longer beams for less battery. And I bet the last thing you'd need when the car breaks in the middle of the night on that dark dingy evening drive, is running out of phone battery using the torch feature.

7. First Aid Kit

I have written about a Mini First aid kit in this article for kids. Most of the contents could also be used for adults. But if you travel as a family, it could make sense to go for a bigger size like the Littlelife Family First aid kit and also consider packing in some extras for the parents like paracetamol and anti-inflammatory pills.

8. Waste Bags

Imagine a long drive with lots of kids' snacks, drinks, bottles, wipes, you name it. Also, think that being in a foreign country doesn't always come with the greatest convenience for finding things you need promptly, so a pack of small 6-litre biodegradable bags will prove more than useful in the car. Check these Biodegradable Compost Bin Bags.

9. Surface Wipes

If you cannot avoid the inevitable and you (like me) are conscious about reducing your environmental footprint, I would suggest looking out for the biodegradable Wet Ones wipes.

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