Friday 9 September 2022

Planning Our Backpacking Trip With Kids

I have so much that I want to share about our recent five week backpacking trip to Southeast Asia with our five children. I will write up our itinerary, some information on our favourite places and what worked for us as a family with young children but the best place to start seems to be with the planning.

This was a big, special trip for us, something we have been thinking about for over three years. We inherited a bit of money and decided to spend it on travel, specifically Thailand as it is somewhere Ed has wanted to visit for a long time but we wanted to wait until the children were a little bit older, out of nappies and strollers and able to carry a backpack. Covid then got in the way and along came a surprise baby but we decided it would be easier with Rex being smaller rather than a toddler so we continued planning our adventure.

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The Route

I went backpacking after university and my favourite country was Vietnam so I really wanted to show the rest of my family why.  Travel between Thailand and Vietnam was easy so we decided to do both. I really wanted to visit somewhere new to me as well as we were travelling so far so I spent a lot of time looking at flight paths as I knew we would be tired at the end of our travels and Singapore fit the criteria of having both a direct flight from Vietnam and a direct flight back to London.  When planning where in the countries we would visit, a big factor was weather.  It is Monsoon season in much of south east Asia over our summer -something I was happy to embrace as it rarely rains for longer than an hour, but it did influence the routes we would take. I decided to stick to the southern half of both Thailand and Vietnam, and we visited the islands on Thailand's gulf coast as their monsoon season is later and the west coast islands would be wetter in August.  Bangkok is the easiest place to fly into, but we chose to fly out of Koh Samui and into Ho Chi Minh city in southern Vietnam.  I then picked an airport in central Vietnam - Da Nang to fly out of, creating the routes we would need to take across each country.

I always knew I would put it together myself, partly because it is cheaper and our money will go further, and also for the flexibility.  I loved the freedom of backpacking as a 21 year old, being able to change my route or times and I wanted that with the children as it was our first attempt at this kind of travel and I wasn't sure what pace would suit us best.  The first thing I needed to book was flights.

The Flights

There are many apps and websites to compare flights and I would suggest trying a few to find the best deals.  You can set up Google alerts for a few days on one route to keep an eye on fluctuating prices and websites like Sky scanner do the same.  I followed prices for a while to find out how much my flights should be and then waited for them to drop a little before I booked.  This is all time consuming but the flights I was looking at fluctuated by over £200 each, so with 6 seats to book it was definitely worth spending some time researching. We had a little flexibility with our travel dates so I had alerts set up for 4 days to look for which would be cheapest to fly.

As well as booking our outward and home flights, I decided to book flights between Thailand and Vietnam, and from Vietnam to Singapore.  The prices didn't fluctuate as much, but I had set my flight budget and it made sense to have those booked in so I didn't have to keep the money aside during the trip.  Our Vietnam to Singapore flight ended up being cancelled and moved whilst we were away but otherwise we kept to these dates.  Another reason for this, is that both Thailand and Vietnam have a Visa exemption rule for tourists staying less than 30 and 15 days respectively so I needed to ensure we would stick to this (or we would need to apply for and pay for an extended visa), and both countries wanted to see proof of onward travel before you board the plane. At both our London and Thai airport, I was asked to show onward plane tickets so I was glad I had these prepared.

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Although it isn't always the cheapest option, I used to book most of our accommodation.  It has lots of options, competitive prices and I knew I had all the information I needed in one app.  There are also lots of hotels that offer free cancellation so I could keep flexibility in our plans. The most important accommodation to book before we went was the first few nights in each country and I had set myself a budget for each night.  We needed two rooms, partly because seven is just a lot to fit in one, and also Ed was going to be working nearly full time whilst we were away, so he needed a private room with a desk to work in, and I needed a room big enough for the five children and I to be in when he was on calls and we wanted to have some chill time. The most important factors for us when looking for accommodation were good WIFI (for working), family sized rooms and a swimming pool, so that we had somewhere to cool off.  Location is important but with transport being so reasonable in the areas we were visiting, we didn't mind compromising a little.  I had looked at hostels but with the need for a secure working space and the fact there were so many of us, cheaper hotels were a better option.

The first hotel I booked was our Bangkok one, based almost entirely on the fact it had a rooftop pool and I had always wanted to swim in one. After planning the route we wanted to take, I started booking other hotels for Thailand, but always with free cancellation so that if we wanted to change the pace we could.  The Bangkok hotel was definitely one of our favourites - I will share all the hotels we stayed at in a separate post.

For Vietnam, I booked only the first three nights in Ho Chi Minh City before we left as I wanted to see how things went in Thailand and see what sort of places we enjoyed most before committing to anything and I was really glad that we hadn't planned ahead.  It was low season when we travelled and we had no problems booking as we went (or turning up at hotels and asking to have a look before we were bound). is easy to use and you can look at results either as a list or on a map (helpful if you know you want to stay in the town centre or close to a beach).  You can filter results (we used the free WIFI and swimming pool filters to make sure we didn't fall in love with a hotel that wasn't suitable) but there are others depending on your priorities. You can book far in advance, but we also used it to book for the next day on occasion.

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids

Planning for in the countries

Whilst I wanted to travel with flexibility, I didn't want to turn up unprepared so I bought a notebook and started planning.  For each destination I thought we might visit, I looked up attractions, tips, restaurants and ideas and wrote them all down.  I used hashtags on Instagram to research, I followed expats living in the areas and I googled things.  I didn't book anything but I had a starting point.  

I also used websites like Rome to Rio and Facebook groups dedicated to backpacking to look at the best way to get between destinations and recorded these all in my notebook too.  My notebook was full of ideas and it stopped me feeling intimidated when we arrived in a new location by all the possibilities.  We ended up doing so much that I hadn't thought of, going to places we saw or following personal recommendations out there and I used the same notebook to record everything we were doing so I could write it up when we got home.

As well as planning for what we would do and see, I also printed out the phrases 'no egg or dairy please' in the languages of the countries we were visiting and the exchange rates so that I had something to consult and to show if I needed.  I got some money exchanged into Thai Baht but decided to just take out Vietnamese Dong and Singapore Dollars from cash machines when we arrived in the countries.

ad // One of the most important parts of planning was making sure that we had adequate travel insurance, something that we would never travel with out.  We have a policy with Cover For You which has comprehensive covid insurance as well as extra gadget insurance (necessary when Ed is bringing his work laprops) and zero excess.  


Whilst I call it a backpacking trip, we actually ended up taking two suitcases between us as it seemed the easiest thing to travel with when I would have a baby on my front as well.  I did a huge pharmacy shop with everything we could possibly need and plenty of mosquito repellent.  We packed 8 light outfits each with the plan to get our clothes washed regularly whilst away and the children had small backpacks each with some toys and tech, spare t-shirts and swimwear in case our luggage got delayed and plenty of plane snacks.  I wanted to travel light enough that we could easily get around and two suitcases was plenty for the seven of us.  Most things are so much cheaper in south east Asia so we were happy to buy anything we might have forgotten rather than packing too many 'just in case' items.

Rex is breastfed so I didn't need to worry about bottles and milk and he mostly eats what we do, however I packed a few familiar safe snacks for him.  I tried to pack enough nappies for the whole trip, knowing that as we used them up, we would create space for souvenirs and it worked well.  You can buy nappies out there, but they are more expensive and lower quality.  I took both a stroller and a baby carrier as the pavements were not suitable for a stroller in most places, but it was useful to have for airports and some destinations when we weren't going far.  Mostly Rex was in a carrier on my front though. Rex also had a small bag of toys, although he is at the age where everyday items like hairbrushes are more interesting.  

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids

I loved planning our trip, looking for bargains and finding inspiration and everything went so smoothly whilst we were away that it felt worthwhile putting in the effort before we left.

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