If you’ve ever been on a backpacking trip, you know the merits of minimalist travel. Carry-on only is the way to go.
As the stamps accumulate in your passport, you’ll test out various types of gear and switch out almost all of your initial travel pack. Believe it or not, you can cut down a lot on what you bring. Think about it this way. How many times have you worn the same outfit on your trip? One of the best tips we have for minimalist travel is to stick to the essentials. Unless you’re traveling far off the grid, if you forget something, you can pick it up when you get to your destination.
Alright, Here Goes! This is Your Guide to Minimalist Travel
Alright, before we get to the list of what you should bring, we have a short list of best practices when it comes to minimalist packing for carry-on only:
1. When in Doubt, Leave it Out
I used to be a compulsive overpacker. After a few trips and lugging a backpack so large I looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I learned. Pack light. No, you won’t really wear that chunky knit sweater that’s been hanging in the back of your closet for three months.
In some ways, clothes for traveling are no different than everyday wear. Even if you’re in Europe, you’ll find yourself opting for the comfy classics you usually go to. When you’re carrying around a heavy backpack trying to find your hostel, you won’t say “Damn, I wish I’d brought more stuff.” You’ll find you will also save yourself from airline hassle like extra bag fees and having to check your bag because it doesn’t meet strict weight limits.
2. Invest in Some Good Quality Gear
Whenever I’ve tried to pinch pennies on something I really need, I end up regretting it. Get yourself set up with a good amount of high quality gear right off the bat. Minimalist travel gear is the way to go. Get something in a neutral color that matches your apparel.
3. Accumulate What You do Buy Over Time
There’s no faster way to burn through your savings than to buy all the high quality gear you need at one time. Instead, plan out what you’ll buy with each paycheck in the months leading up to your trip. This is a much better way to budget out what you need, what you’re willing to spend, and get what you need without burning a hole in your wallet. This is a great trip for minimalist travel. You don't need all the bells and whistles.
4. Multi-Purpose Your Items
This is one of the best tips for minimalist travel. Choose neutral colors and styles for almost everything. We’re talking luggage, apparel, shoes, accessories, and the like. When every bottom easily works with every top, you can easily reduce the number of clothing items you bring. Ideally, you should be comfortable wearing each outfit in a number of different settings. Try to bring something for everyday wear, adventure, and something a little more dressy. In the same spirit of minimalist travel, try to get multiple uses out of each item if you can.
5. It’s Not a Competition to See How Much You Can Fit
No judgment. I used to be this way. I remember packing six sweaters, multiple jackets, t-shirts, accessories, and pairs of shoes all into one small carry-on for a month-long trip to Europe. It was bulging at the seams. Take my word for it – don’t do it.
Besides the fact that I didn’t have any room for souvenirs, packing and unpacking was such a hassle. I struggled to get all of my belongings back into the bag and sometimes had to wear three layers of clothes while I was running through an airport to catch my flight. There’s no trophy for overpacking.
Here’s the List of What You Should Bring for Minimalist Travel
Alright, it’s time to get to the good stuff. You want to know what you should bring for minimalist travel. Whether you’re traveling for one week or one month, the right carry-on coupled with smart packing tips will provide enough space for what you need.
Let’s start with the very basics. You need a solid, durable backpack. Unless you plan on taking public transit throughout the city and rarely walking, you won’t want a rolling suitcase. I took my rolling bag to Stockholm in the winter – cobblestone streets and wheels doesn’t make a good combo. Backpacks are so much easier and you will have less stress about someone running off with your belongings. It happens.
Pack selection is so important. The sweet-spot is a medium-sized carry, about 45L or so. This is the perfect size to take backpacking for minimalist travel. With a pack this size, you can skip the lines to check your bag and bring it as a carry-on. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s the right bag, check the fit. Make sure it’s something you could walk around in comfortably for an hour or so. Other good features include back support and padded straps that won’t cut into your shoulders. Water resistant fabric helps too.
2. Dry Bag
Have you ever used one of these? They are straight up magic. Keep your belongings dry and separate dirty laundry from clean items. You can also use it for a daypack when you’re out and about. Want to know the best part? They take up next to no room. It’s a win-win situation.
3. Combination Padlock
If you’re staying in a hostel (especially in the dorms), I highly recommend investing in a combination padlock for your luggage. You can find some TSA-approved styles on Amazon for a pretty decent price. Investing in a larger padlock is also useful if you plan on renting out a bike.
4. Merino Wool Underwear
Okay, so I know Merino wool is expensive. But honestly, it’s worth every penny. I’m convinced this stuff was woven out of some sort of magic. It doesn’t retain smell. The fabric is moisture wicking, super light, and dries out easily after being washed.
5. Merino Wool Socks
This goes along with the underwear. Unless you’re traveling in the heat of summer, you’re going to want to bring some merino wool socks with you on your journey. Gone are the days of cold, wet feet and blisters. These socks are made from the highest quality materials and will stand up to just about anything you face them with while out in the elements.
6. Shorts and Jeans
Ladies and men, if you’re traveling somewhere warm, bringing the right pair of jeans and shorts is crucial. My trick of the trade is to bring something in a medium to dark wash. It looks classy and pairs well with just about everything.
7. Swimsuit or Swim Trunks
If you’re anything like me, you’re selective with your swimsuits. Not all of them are created equally in style and quality. And I’m sure you know that not all of them offer the same fit like your go-to favorite style. Pack one or two swimsuits for your trip. You can always wash them out and wear them as you go.
8. Short Sleeve Top or T-shirt
This item is a must. Bring something that’s versatile enough to wear in any context. A good standard tee can take you just about everywhere – from the gym, to the streets, to that perfect breakfast place you’ve been dying to try. A good cotton tee is the perfect versatile item you can pair with anything. One to two standard tees should be enough to get you by for a week-long trip. If you’re going to be traveling for a bit longer, make sure your place of accommodation offers laundry facilities. Then, you can wash and re-wear.
9. Long Sleeve Tee
Here’s another must. The long-sleeve tee is such a versatile item. On a slightly more chilly day, it will keep you warm and is perfect for layering. The best part is it’s still lightweight enough to wear casually. One of these is perfect for your carry-on.
10. Oxford Shirt
This is the item that will cross over for both casual and dressy events. Ladies and men, bring along one oxford shirt for your trip. Something with a stiffer fabric and collar will not wrinkle as easily as a regular tee. Even if it does, you can invest in some anti-wrinkle clothing spray, pack a portable mini steamer, or simply use the iron at your hotel.
11. Shell Jacket
Unless you plan on traveling in the dead of winter, a shell jacket will work just fine to shield you from the cold. I highly recommend investing in one that’s waterproof, in case you’re caught in a sudden downpour. This happened to me in London – multiple times. Be prepared, people! Besides cutting the wind and rain, you’ll appreciate that extra little bit of warmth.
12. Muscle Tank
Use this for your vacation workout sessions, early morning run, or basically anytime it’s too hot to wear a regular shirt. I know I could have used a muscle tank on my recent trip to Miami. If you’re traveling somewhere hot, beat the stickiness of humidity by bringing along some cool, cotton clothes. It will really go a long way.
Footwear and Accessories
13. Comfortable Sandals
Having comfortable sandals on your travels is an absolute must. If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, your standard pair of flip flops are not going to cut it. The kind of sandals we’re talking about offer toe protection, arch support, and if you’re lucky, are water resistant too. Sandals geared towards hiking will get you from point A to B. Check out some of our favorite picks for the best hiking sandals here.
14. A Good Pair of Walking Shoes
If you’re anything like me, exploring a new city means you’re going to be on your feet a lot. Who needs the Metro when you have two feet, am I right? Well, at least until I’m good and tired. You’re going to need to bring at least one pair of good walking shoes that offer ample support and are comfortable. The best practice is to wear the shoes that take up the most space on the plane and pack the smaller pair in your carry-on. It’s minimalist travel 101.
15. A Light Scarf
Minimalist travel calls for a light scarf. This piece is so versatile. Since you’ll be packing for minimalist travel and re-wearing the same pieces, you’re going to need accessories to mix it up a bit. Packing a light scarf takes up next to no space and it’s a good way to make the same old outfit look cute and fresh.
16. Baseball Cap or Beanie
Depending on where you’re traveling and what the weather's like, you’re going to want a hat. Not only is it a cute way to tie an outfit together but it’s also perfect for those “I can’t control my hair” days.
Even if you’re traveling somewhere in the fall or winter, you’ll be surprised at how often you’ll end up wearing them. I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing my sunglasses all year-round to protect my eyes from harmful UV rays. A great type of unisex sunglasses that go with everything are from Ray-Ban.
Toiletries, Cosmetics, and Miscellaneous Items
Okay, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. I’m talking about toiletries and those miscellaneous items you find you’ll need. Some European airlines are strict with the amount of liquids they allow you to bring through security for either a checked bag or carry-on. If you’re traveling domestically (in the U.S.), you should be fine as long as your liquids are in containers smaller than 3.5 fluid oz.
A quick checklist of what to bring is shampoo, conditioner, soap or body wash, cologne or perfume, makeup wipes, cosmetics, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, Q-tips, and dental floss or tooth picks.
However, some European airlines and airports (including major ones) can be very strict with what they allow you to bring. One time in Germany, I had to fit all of my toiletries into one small ziploc bag for security and throw out the rest. Make sure you know airline policy before you travel. Think about minimalist travel, people.
18. Leak-Proof Toiletries Bag
Invest in a good toiletries bag for your trip. Make sure it’s not too big; you don’t want to take up too much space in your bag. A hanging leak-proof toiletry bag is especially useful. You can you bring it in the hostel or hotel bathroom while you’re getting ready. Even better, you won’t have to worry about your shampoo leaking out all over your clothes.
19. Microfiber Towel
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten a towel on a trip and wished I’d brought one. You would be surprised at how many hostels and Airbnbs don’t provide them for guests. Before you go, buy a cheap microfiber quick-drying towel to take with you. Most small towels won’t take up too much space in your bag and it will save you a whole lot of hassle later. This minimalist travel hack is key.
20. Potions and Lotions
Considering you’ll get free soap at your hotel, you don’t really need to bring one. However, if you’re staying at a youth hostel or Airbnb, you’ll probably want to pack a mini travel bar (with a case) and/or a mini body wash. Another key thing to bring is a mini SPF 30+ sunscreen for those days you’ll be exploring a lot. Nothing screams tourist like a bad sunburn.
21. Shavers and Trimmers
Bring along some travel shavers and a trimmer. Guys, the Wahl Travel Trimmer is a good option. It’s battery operated (aka cordless), lightweight, and affordable.
22. Money, ID, Debit and Credit Cards, Travel Documents, and Passport
Sounds like you could use something to organize all of that. Nothing in the world is more stressful than digging for your passport or ID in an airport line. Make traveling simpler and stress-free with some of the best organizational products for minimalist travel. Consider investing in a passport holder or travel wallet, where you can store all the important things.
23. Pen and Notebook
I love to take a travel journal and pen on my travels. In addition to taking photos, writing about your day or jotting down a quick notes is a great way to capture what you’re feeling in the moment. Moleskine has a great selection of stylish, compact journals perfect for minimalist travel.
Health and Fitness
24. Vitamins, Supplements, and Necessary Prescription Medicine
There’s nothing worse than being sick on a trip. Make sure you bring along a small pill box in your toiletry case and label it by section. I like to bring alone cold preventative medicine like Airborne, zinc tablets, and vitamin c. If you have necessary prescription medicine you need to bring too, this is a great way to keep it organized.
25. Sleep Aids
Wanna know how to feel like you’re flying first class in economy seating? Think comfy. People on the plane can be loud. Bring some ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones, and a sleep mask. I also like to bring a small book, carry-on travel blanket, and neck pillow. The natural sleep aid melatonin is great for when you need a snooze. Just make sure you can take it in conjunction with any medication you may already be taking.
26. Resistance Band and Download Fitness App
It’s hard to stay fit while you’re traveling. I’ve taken two one-month long trips to Europe and I can honestly tell you I didn’t work out either time. What I can tell you though is I ate chocolate – and a lot of it. Looking back, I wish I had made fitness a priority while I traveled.
There are some fun ways you can incorporate fitness into your travel plans without disrupting your day. Traveling in London? Go for a scenic morning jog in Green Park. Staying in Bali? Take a morning hike. Walking a lot will help you stay in shape too. Sometimes it’s good to skip out on using the public transit. Bring a resistance band and download a fitness app for in-room exercise.
Unless you’re traveling for work or freelance, chances are you won’t need to bring that much in the way of electronics. But just for the sake of being thorough, let’s take a look at what you might need to bring.
27. Acer Chromebook R11
Sure, the obvious choice for most is the Macbook Air but if you’re traveling, do you really want to take an expensive piece of equipment with you? The R11 weighs only 2.7 pounds, costs less than $300, and is good for anything up to basic video editing. With a 360 degree touch screen, you can also use it as a tablet to read on, work, or watch movies. Did I mention it has 10 plus hours of battery life? This thing is amazing.
28. A Portable Travel Camera
If you’re looking for a good, portable camera that gets the job done, consider the Sony RX 100 II. For its size, you won’t believe what beautiful images this little piece of gear takes. Unless you’re a serious photographer, you can save yourself a lot of weight and space by skipping out on bringing a DSLR. The Sony RX Series are some of the best on the market and you’ll have a hard time beating the price point.
29. Wireless or Noise Cancelling Headphones
Credit: Gavin Whitner
Some of the best things you can bring on a plane are wireless or noise cancelling headphones. Just make sure you think ahead – wireless ones will only work with your phone or other Bluetooth capable electronic device. If you want to be able to plug into the plane’s movie screen and watch, bring a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Want to know an added bonus? It’s a great way to drown out the sound of the screaming toddler behind you.
30. Universal Travel Adapter
If you’re a newbie to travel, you probably didn’t know that your standard iPhone charger won’t work in many places abroad. You’re going to need to pack a universal travel adapter. These handy plugs come in various styles to fit international outlets. So go ahead and plug your phone charger, hair dryer, you name it in. It will fit. They are ridiculously cheap and worth the purchase.
31. Extra USB Charger
Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone but Apple’s chargers are famously flimsy. Bring an extra USB charger with you so you’re not out of luck (or have to run to the store) if one happens to break.
Here’s another thing you probably didn’t know. No matter how great your phone service carrier is here, your data will crawl when you’re abroad. Yup, even if you get yourself an international phone plan. The only time my iPhone worked fast in Europe was when I was connected to wifi at a coffee shop or hotel – and sometimes not even then.
To avoid getting lost when you’re exploring, download an app like Maps.me before you go. This lovely little creation works when you’re offline and don’t have any data. Navigation has never been easier.
It’s Time to Get Packing
That’s all! I hope you enjoyed reading my tips for minimalist travel. Take it from a former compulsive overpacker, more is not the way to go. Traveling light helps keep you more organized, stress-free, and is easier on your back. Let’s just be honest. Now, it’s time to get packing. Keep this list handy.
Questions and Comments
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