Travel More with Less


Once upon a time, I traveled to Mexico. I checked a big suitcase, carried another smaller suitcase on the plane and had a big bag filled with all the other stuff I thought I might need. I remember laughing at the end of the trip. I brought 5 pairs of shoes and ended up in flip-flops and the same dress most of the time.

I brought even more to Sweden, Germany and other beautiful locations. What was I thinking?

A few years ago I traveled to Portland and Seattle with just a backpack and then, I left on an 8 day trip visiting Las Vegas (warm), Boston and New Hampshire (colder). I brought one little suitcase and my laptop bag. Just like any big change, it took time for me to realize that I didn’t need to travel with so much and that traveling with less is much more enjoyable.

Why traveling with less is better

  • avoid checking bags and long lines
  • avoid baggage claim and long waits
  • lose less
  • worry less
  • organize less
  • carry less

A few ideas to help you travel lightly.

  • Wash your clothes. There will probably be a sink where you are staying. You can spot treat some of your clothing and wash the rest in the sink and hang it to dry.
  • Pack for three days. Focus on packing for two or three days, even if you are traveling for a week or more. This will provide enough variety and give you time to wash and dry in between outfit repeating.
  • Use provided amenities. You don’t need to bring your own hairdryer or toiletries. Your stuff might be better, but instead of carrying the extra weight, rely on what’s available where you are staying. If you are staying at a hotel, ask the front desk for what you need. You’ll be surprised what they will provide free of charge.
  • Buy something if you need it. Chances are you will have everything you need, but if you don’t, buy it. I don’t recommend spending extra money, but giving yourself permission to buy something will help you overcome the need to be prepared for everything.
  • No Jewelry. There is no need for jewelry when you travel. It doesn’t take up much space, but it does add extra worry, especially if it’s valuable. Spend time enjoying new surroundings instead of keeping track of your stuff.
  • Choose function over fashion. Stick with the basics. Unless you plan to walk a runway, choose iron-free, solid pieces that mix and match. Keep it simple and spend less time choosing your look and more time exploring new cities and opportunities.
  • Never check a bag. For each airline that charges to check a bag, and for every time I arrived to my destination hours or days before my luggage, I now live by a “never check a bag” rule. If I can’t carry it with me, I’m not bringing it.
  • Experiment. I can fit my entire 3 month wardrobe in a suitcase thanks to Project 333. It took dressing with less to teach me that I could travel with less. Experiment to see what you really need. Define what is enough in your life by pushing your boundaries for a set period of time.

Even if you haven’t begun to simply your life, travel like a minimalist. It will give you a good chance to see what it’s like to live with less, dress with less and travel with less. Instead of searching for the best packing tricks, travel more with less.


  1. says

    Oh my goodness, I used to travel with everything and still look for a place to pack the kitchen sink – just in case! Shoes really used to be the problem, so I just find a pair that looks good with everything and one pair of sneakers for morning walks.

    I like putting a pair of earrings on the morning of a trip and saying, Hope everyone likes these as they’ll be seeing them for ___ days!

    Thank you for great tips, Courtney. Hope your week is sunshiney!

  2. says

    One of my best travel experiences was for a 5 day trip to Stockholm, where I took only my backpack with me. No checking bags, so I was out of the plane and on my way to the beautiful city literally within minutes.
    The only thing that was a hassle was that I had to plan the amount of shampoo/body-wash that I could bring on the plane, I had to buy travel-size bottles before the trip. The rest was a blast, same on the way back. The feeling of freedom that you get when you walk past the people waiting for their luggage: priceless!

    • Lord Metroid says

      Why are you bringing shampoo, soap or even a toothbrush? It is all cheaply available at the destination.

  3. says

    I love traveling light. And when I get home from someplace where I’ve gotten by just fine while having very little of my stuff with me, I’m always inspired to declutter my home environment and get rid of things that are unimportant.

  4. says

    After Leo’s posts about traveling with backpacks, I put my family on that program. My husband says it’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. We (my husband, seven year old daughter, and myself) flew from Washington to California this fall for a wedding. We were gone a week, and each only carried one backpack. That included our wedding clothes! Traveling light eliminated so much stress and made our airport time much more enjoyable. I can’t recommend traveling like this enough!

  5. says

    YES! OMGosh, it is so easy to overpack. But when we flew down to another state for Christmas last year, knowing only one (my husband) would be flying back to pack and move our stuff down there in a couple weeks, we actually flew with less than ever before. We knew we’d be super-tired and stressed and did NOT want to check any luggage, so we only brought our necessary toiletries/vitamins and a few days’ of clothing. We would be staying with family for three weeks before moving into our place and unpacking the rest of our stuff. We of course could do laundry at their house, but some hotels or resorts also have laundry facilities handy. It was SO AWESOME to not have to wait for checked luggage, or worry about it getting lost, or have any more to carry than our backpacks!

  6. says

    I walked across Scotland (211 miles) with a single, medium-sized backpack — I carried essentials, period. To date, it’s still up there among the top three contenders for best adventure I’ve ever had!

  7. Amy says

    I love traveling light. At the end of April my husband & I took our 3 kids who were 12,4 & 2 at the time to San Juan, PR for 2 weeks. We traveled with a diaper bag, patapum carrier and two backpack for the 5 of us. We could have traveled with less, we all wore jackets since it was cold in Chicago we probably could have gotten by with a long sleeve shirt instead. Next time we travel some where warmer we will remember that.

  8. says

    I use one dress or one pair of pants laid out long & narrow, and I roll up everything inside it. I secure the roll with a belt or scarf that I’ll use to mix up my outfits.

  9. MelD says

    I love the minimalist packing lists on and have used the concepts of the 4-item wardrobe or 8-item wardrobe with great success to travel light – the RELIEF!!

  10. says

    We live be the rule – if you can’t carry it for a few kilometers, then don’t bring it! Sounds harsh at first but it really frees up your energy to look around and not have to worry about the rest of your luggage. Go out and see the world, don’t take your room with you.

    • patti says

      o heavens, i couldn’t agree more!
      i am in japan right now, for two weeks.
      i am wearing one outfit (black t, black trousers, silver sandals, a very light chiffon coat, silver earrings, red purse, sunglasses)and i am carrying a spare black t shirt and black trousers. and different earrings,
      i launder every night or other night….it is early autumn and not sweaty weather….and i wear the same sandals for everything.
      i am also carrying the bare minimum of tiny travel toiletries…..the whole lot fits into one of those LAG bags they allow you at the airport.
      an iphone, a mini ipad, a single charger, a few handkerchiefs.
      and that’s it.
      it doesn’t weigh over five kilos and that includes my (frameless, wheel-less) timbuk2 backpack.

      last year i went to europe for six weeks with pretty much the same stuff, plus an extra merino sweater, pashmina and socks. six kilos.

      it takes no time or stress to pack up and move on to the next place, and you don’t feel awkward on local public transport.

  11. says

    I struggle with this….still. I travel for 10 to 12 days twice a year with my 17yo daughter with cerebral palsy. She needs a few extra things that most 17yo girls don’t need, so I have to be careful with packing. We fit everything in a carry-on and a small backpack (like a kids sized one) and NO PURSE. Still, I find we don’t use half of what I pack and I still don’t change my ways!!! UGH!! I need to print this out and put it in our suitcase as a reminder to keep it simple!! Good suggestions here. Thanks!

  12. says

    Great post Courtney. I love your line about giving yourself permission to buy something if you need it. The permission itself gives us the freedom to stop worrying and rather enjoy the journey! I am a traveller and have been working on simplicity in my life. So when I headed off to New Zealand 3 months ago, I challenged myself to my first Project 333. It was magic. Oh the freedom and ease and simplicity! And yes, I will be doing Project 333 again. Gratitude to you for the inspiration. x

  13. says

    Because of joint point, I can’t lift anything into the overhead bin on a plane. Sometimes passengers are happy to help, but other times they aren’t, so I’ve found it’s better to check my bag. And as long as I’m checking a bag, it might as well be a slightly bigger one. And as long as I have the space, I might as well fill it…. Oops! Over the years, I packed more and more. Reading this, I’m remembering back in college when I traveled around Europe for a full month with nothing but a hiking pack. I think it’s time to return to those ways. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. says

    My husband, two children and I swapped home for 3 weeks in London and we only bought a spare pare of trousers each, 2 t-shirts (long sleeved), 2 t-shirts (short sleeved), a sweater and a raincoat. Pajamas, panties, socks..and no spare shoes!! Wow, what a time saver..we had a great time and really found we didn’t need anything else!

  15. Emma says

    Thanks for posting this – and the link to Eva’s list. I did notice on the link from zen habits that apparently they share a toothbrush. I think that is taking minimalism one step too far on the hygiene front!

  16. Janet says

    Great tips and I will be employing some of them in a couple of weeks. I would like to comment on the “never check a bag” rule you mentioned. Thankfully, I do not have to fly very often, maybe a few times a year, but when I do it has become even more unpleasant because of all the folks who refuse to check anything. I usually check one bag and bring a small, reasonably sized bag to put in the overhead. I have had to hand that bag over at the gate because so many people carry on larger, stuffed suitcases that take up all the space before the plane is even filled.

    I believe the airlines are thinking backwards about this situation – checking bags should be free and anything carried on except a purse, briefcase or computer gear should be free.

      • Emma says

        Many airlines check the size and weight of carry on luggage very carefully thus avoiding this problem.
        They are also very strict about checked in baggage not exceeding the weight allowed.

        • Janet says

          I travel regularly between Philadelphia and Chicago and I wish the situations at those airports met your description, Emma! I use either USAirways, United or American, so I am experiencing a pretty broad spectrum.

          As you said, they are very strict about the weight of the checked bags. But I have never seen anyone’s carry on weighed or even had much attention paid to it. In June, I was at the gate during boarding standing behind a couple who both had huge, bulging backpacks on their backs along with fully stuffed carry on suitcases. They practically ran to the front of the line when our section was called to board fully aware that they needed to get on early to find space. I was behind them with my small bag and was ready to stand my ground if I was asked to check it. They were admitted on with no scrutiny whatsoever. I try to book near the front of the plane to avoid this.

  17. says

    Great tips. I have been working on this for the last year…downsizing my travel stuff. However, winter is still difficult. I’m now down to just one pair of pants and maybe a pair of slacks if I’m going somewhere nice.

  18. Elizabeth says

    I’ve always traveled light but appreciate the reminder in terms of allowing yourself the freedom to purchase what you need while away. Example: I brought only a single pair of multipurpose shoes on a two week trip to the UK. Halfway through the trip, the sole fell off one of my shoes due to massive rainstorms/puddles — LOL! I went into the nearest shoe store and bought what is currently my all-time favorite pair of shoes. What a perfect souvenir!

    I liked Eva’s tips for packing lightly but think the single toothbrush idea is unsanitary and unnecessary. What is one ounce in the overall scheme of things?

  19. says

    Courtney: You must have read my mind. I am in the process of planning a trip. This advice matches my own ideas. A wonderful, timeless post – many thanks!!!!

  20. Nick says

    My wife and I just booked a trip to Seattle & Portland for next year. I’d love to see a follow up on how the packing went.

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