Note: This article on how to pack like a minimalist is by contributing writer, Tammy Strobel.
Roughly 20 years ago, my husband and I traveled with a group to Chiapas, Mexico. Our trip to Chiapas changed my life perspective. Meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning about a different culture helped me let go of materialism.
Also, the trip was composed of many firsts, like:
- my first international trip with my spouse,
- my first group trip,
- and it was the first time I traveled with one carry-on bag.
Prior to this trip, I tried to pack 20 outfits – and all my shoes – into one large suitcase (or more). This packing strategy was stressful, and not very fun. Plus, I regretted lugging around items that I never used. Traveling to Chiapas is where my love affair with minimalist travel began. Packing like a minimalist made the trip more enjoyable and less stressful. Since then, I’ve taken domestic and international trips with one carry-on bag and a small purse. I’ve also checked my bag at the airport, too.
Looking back, I see how my opinions about travel have evolved. Growth is good! As Nneka M. Okona said, “… how I travel has shifted through the years—as I, too, have grown and changed—including how I pack, and what I take with me when I’m on the road.” I enjoyed reading Okona’s article – “Carry-On Travel Is Not a Goal of Mine.” Her remarks about traveling and ableism, health concerns, and why checking baggage is not a moral failing are important reminders. I bring this up because context, needs, and life experiences matter. For instance, this article is based on my life experiences. It’s not meant to be a list of rules that you have to follow. When you pack – and plan a trip – consider your needs and personal comforts. Learning to pack like a minimalist might not be for you, but some of these 7 tips will still be helpful.
7 Ways To Pack Like a Minimalist
1.) Make a packing list
Before I take a trip, I make a list of the items that I’m going to pack in my journal or in the Notes app on my phone. Making a packing list tames my anxiety. Plus, the list ensures that I won’t forget important items like my Passport, wallet, or my phone charger. When I travel to places with different climates, I pack clothing that I can layer. My list helps me remember to do this! For example, we took a two-week trip in July 2022. We visited friends in England, France, and Portugal. The weather in England was chilly, France was warm during the day and cool at night, and Portugal was HOT! I packed outfits that were easy to layer. They also kept me warm and cool.
To give you an idea of what I packed for my Summer 2022 trip, I thought it would be fun to share my pack like a minimalist packing list:
- 1 windbreaker
- 2 dresses
- 2 sets of leggings
- 1 tank top
- 1 skirt
- 2 hats
- 2 long sleeved shirts
- 1 vest
- 1 set of pajamas
- 5 pairs of socks
- 2 bras
- 5 sets of underwear
- Battery backup & charger
- Phone, earpods, & charger
- Kindle and charger
- Covid card & tests
- Paper copies of plane and train tickets
- 1 pink pocket notebook
- 2 pens
- 1 small purse
- 1 pair of sandals
- 1 pair of walking shoes
- 1 toiletry bag that included toothpaste, toothbrush, sunscreen, ear plugs, and one brush
2.) Does your stuff fit in your bag?
Before I leave for a trip, I pack my bag as a test. I like to make sure everything fits, and that I have extra space in my bag for small souvenirs. For example, I visited friends in San Diego earlier this year. It was a long weekend trip, and I packed really lightly. This was great because I had extra space in my bag to bring home a few journals, postcards, and pens.
3.) Print important documents
When I travel, I print important documents like my passport, plane tickets, and train tickets. All of these documents are also stored on my phone. However, a phone can get lost, stolen, or the battery might die. It’s always nice to have paper copies of essential documents (especially one’s passport). Paper copies aren’t heavy and they don’t take up much space. And, I shred them after I’ve made a plane or train connection.
4.) Minimize electronics, cords, and plugs
I try to limit the number of electronic devices that I bring on a trip; especially if I’m not working. For example, I didn’t bring my laptop on our big summer trip. In the past, I packed my laptop “just in case” I wanted to write an essay or edit travel photos. I don’t do that anymore and it feels so good! Instead, I use my iPhone and journal to record my travel adventures.
5.) Limit books, journals & pens
Like my electronics, I limit the number of books, journals, and pens that go into my travel bag. I love to read and write, but I don’t love carrying a heavy bag. Plus, books and journals take up a lot of space. I’ve discovered that one journal and book (or my Kindle) are excellent traveling companions.
6.) Toiletries go in a transparent plastic bag
I like using a transparent resealable plastic bag to store my toiletries. When I go through airport security, this makes my life much easier. I place the plastic bag in an easy to access location; just in case it needs to be removed by security. Plus, if my sunscreen or shampoo are squished in my bag, my clothes won’t be covered in liquids. I also pack tiny containers of sunscreen, shampoo, and soap that meet airline volume requirements.
7.) Connect with people and places
These days, I don’t worry too much about packing or lost luggage. Most of my things are replaceable (even my passport). When I travel, I focus on the people and places I’m visiting and connecting with. As Courtney Carver said, “If all of your focus is on your stuff and what to pack, you may miss out on what really matters like connecting with people on your travels or enjoying new locations. More importantly, don’t forget about you. Take care of yourself while traveling. When you come home, here’s what you can do to feel grounded.”
Resources to help you enjoy your next trip
Looking for more resources to help you travel light and pack like a minimalist? Explore the resource list below:
- No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen is one of my favorite travel memoirs. It’s about packing very lightly, love, and finding oneself.
- Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom – a travel columnist for The New York Times – is an inspiring read. Rosenbloom’s book is a great blend of research and storytelling.
- Excellent articles: “Carry-On Travel Is Not a Goal of Mine” by Nneka M. Okona and “How to Pack: 9 Minimalist Packing Tips” by Courtney Carver.
- “Death Before Checked Bags” (Part 1 and Part 2) are helpful podcasts. Don’t let the title scare you, though! The guest – Melanie Mosa a professional organizer and travel lover – and hosts offer excellent packing ideas for solo and family travel.
- Rolf Pott’s books, podcasts, and essays are full of helpful travel tips, stories, and inspiration.