What’s In My Pack

November 11, 2015 in Inspiration, North America, Travelogue, United States

I’m participating in the Indie Travel Challenge with BootsnAll this month… today’s question is “What’s the one thing you couldn’t travel without?” So… of course I”m not answering the question… instead I’m sharing some of the unusual things that are in my pack that I really don’t THINK I can live without. 


We get a lot of questions about what, exactly, we travel with and how to pare down a family of six to one backpack each and not just survive, but thrive.

In a couple of weeks, when I’m actually packing, I’ll post some pictures of that and give you the detailed run down.

This morning, however, I’m going to tell you about a few unexpected things that make it into Mama’s backpack.

More than one backpacking young person has come to our abode du jour in some far flung place to find fat loaves of homemade bread cooling on a tile countertop, or a bag of fresh soft cheese draining on a clothesline, or muched a salad filled with crunchy sprouts and homemade mozzarella and expressed amazement that we can travel for a living and still eat so well.

I confess, I’m a bit of a foodie. I’m one of those horrible: eat local, eat in season, eat whole people. I don’t buy mangos in Massachusetts. I don’t buy apples in Central America. We gorge ourselves on artichokes and clementines in Tunisia. Who can resist at about forty cents a kilo?

This morning I spent half an hour ordering my secret weapons, the things that I tuck in the bottom of my backpack to ensure our health and nutritional welfare on the road. The boys pack extra lego. Tony packs extra hard drives. Hannah schleps too many instruments. I pack bean sprouts and micro organisms.

Bean Sprouts

You read that right. I carry sprouting seeds and two plastic sprouting cups specially designed not to rot the seeds, even in a hot, wet, tropical climate. If we’re anywhere more than three days there will be sprouts growing on a hostel countertop. My favourite mix is the San Francisco Mix from The Sprout People. I ordered five pounds of that. I branched out and ordered two pounds of the Madison Mix this time too, just for diversity.


Cheese Culture

When we came back from Europe, we had become cheese snobs. Hannah grumbled her way through the grocery store,”This country stinks! There’s no good bread… there’s no good cheese… no good olives… no good chocolate….” Snobs, I tell you. I’m ruining my children for life with travel.

So, being my mother’s child, I set out to figure out how to make it from scratch. Within a few weeks Hannah and I were cranking out homemade “Mom-zarella,” passible versions of soft, spreadable french cheeses and ricotta in little plastic straining baskets. Someday we dream of adding hard cheeses to our repertoire, but we’ll have to have a house with a cold storage room for curing and a cheese press. Perhaps the boys will make us one.

This morning I ordered new vegetable rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese salt and some yogurt cultures from The Cheese Queen. A dubious honor, that title, but she’s earned it.

Did you say yogurt?

Yes, yes I did. My Mom made tons of yogurt when we were kids. Sometimes a glass jar wrapped in a towel and fermented on the back of the wood stove over night, after it had been banked to stay warm. Later in glass cups on a warming table that was a bit melted on one side.

I have an insulated bucket that I use to make half a gallon at a time when we’re in the USA. It doesn’t require plugging in. This is our favourite yogurt starter, you can use the first batch to start the second, and so on for five or six uses.

Last winter, in Guatemala, I purchased two cheap plastic one litre containers with screw on lids. I started the yogurt on the stove and then moved it to the tubs, wrapped the “yogurt babies” in towels and jammed them in the back of the hall cabinet with our fleece jackets stuffed around them. It came out perfect, every time.

You can up the odds of a decently firm yogurt under less than ideal conditions by adding a packet of unflavoured gelatin to the mix. Powdered milk in the third world works just fine. The boxed, shelf stable stuff… not so much.

Yogurt makes granola made out of local ingredients so much nicer.

Kefir Grains

The very idea of kefir has always made me gag. Fermented milk? That just reminds me of baby spit up, which I’ve seen enough of with four kids, thank you very much.

But then, my friend Rene at MadeOn Hard Lotion served us “fuzzy apple juice” made with water kefir grains and I became an instant convert. “Fuzzy,” so named by our five year old friend Jayden, because the juice carbonates a bit in the fermenting process. The water grains have all of the health benefits of the dairy variety without the aforementioned nastiness, or the potential for lactose allergy issues. If you are a lover of milk kefir, more power to you, please forgive the insult of your beverage of choice, but I just can’t do it.



What else do I carry related to our health?

  • Stevia (liquid form is our favourite)
  • Freeze dried yeast (sometimes hard to find elsewhere so I carry a half a cup or so of the freeze dried variety to get us started in a new place. I bake a lot of bread)
  • Supplements: Ultra Immune, D3, Bee Immune and the Super Mom/Dad vitamins from Beeyoutiful. Never leave home without ’em.
  • GSE: Grapefruit Seed Crush Extract which serves as a veggie wash, cleaning product and can be taken internally for gut bugs.


I think that’s about it.

We compromise on a lot of things when we travel. We learn to eat local, whatever that means wherever we are. However, with these few things in my pack I can make sure my family has green veggies and healthy pro-biotics with every meal with a minimum of preparation and inconvenience. Sound crazy? Perhaps, but come to dinner and have fresh mozzarella in your San Francisco sprout mix salad, fromage blanc on your fresh bread with a glass of wine and perfect yogurt on your homemade granola and I’ll bet you think it’s less nuts.

For us, these are the comforts of home that travel.

What’s in your backpack?