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Are you a minimalist? Then here’s how to pack and travel like one

Packing hacks to lighten your load

A person packing their suitcase with dress clothing.
LStockStudio / Adobe Stock

Minimalism is all about eschewing extra “stuff” and embracing the experience. Some travelers go to extremes, like carrying only what they can fit in their pockets and relying on their destination for everything else. But traveling like a minimalist doesn’t have to mean sacrificing comfort — quite the opposite.

How many times have you packed a whole bunch of stuff “just in case,” only to find much of it unnecessary? If you’re willing to give up the big, heavy suitcase, along with clothing and gear you don’t really need, in exchange for comfort and convenience, we can help.

Man waiting for flight at airport.
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The best packing tips for the minimalist

Even if you’re already an expert packer, you can always slim down your packing list. Read on for our travel packing hacks that will lighten your load without making you feel like a total minimalist.

Choose a smaller travel bag

Packing light makes sense until you try packing light in a large suitcase. Most of us continue packing until we’ve filled all the available space. Slim down to just a backpack or carry-on luggage (roughly 9-by-14-by-22 inches, depending on the airline), and avoid the baggage claim altogether. The best bag will have an ergonomic fit and plenty of pockets, but what’s more important is making sure the carrying style makes sense for you. For some, that’s a rolling bag with an extending handle. Others will appreciate the versatility that a backpack offers. If the bag is small and easy to carry, you’ll be more likely to reach for it over a larger option.

Bring less clothing

This is one of the most impactful minimalist packing tips. Clothes can be worn more than once, and they can be washed. Be strategic with your travel outfits. Pare down the packing list to three interchangeable tops and bottoms. Choose comfortable clothes that you enjoy wearing; choose solid, neutral colors. Wear one of the sets (preferably the heaviest or bulkiest) as your travel day clothing. That leaves only two tops and bottoms to pack. Do the same with socks and underwear. Bring a second pair of shoes, but plan on wearing the bulkier pair on travel day.

Stack and roll

Nothing compares to the tight packing capability of rolling. Lay garments flat on a hard surface. Fold the outer edges toward the center to make an even, rectangular shape. Tightly roll from top to bottom. Secure each roll with one or two rubber bands. Save more space by pairing small items with larger items, such as a sweater with a T-shirt. Lay out the sweater, then lay the T-shirt on top and roll them together. Bundling like this saves space and can help prevent wrinkles.

Save space and get organized with packing cubes

A bag within a bag may seem redundant, but the best packing cubes can make life so much easier. They allow you to compartmentalize belongings (e.g., underwear and socks go into one, shirts in another, etc.) for fast access and protection. Use them to pack shoes separately or to keep toiletries separate from clothing items. Compression packing cubes save even more space by squeezing clothing or other lofty items down to half their original size.

Pack efficiently

Maximize the small space in your bag with efficient packing techniques. Stack a T-shirt on a sweater and roll them up together. Do the same with underwear and socks. Pack small items like toiletries or socks inside your spare shoes. Wear your bulkiest items, such as your hiking boots or a winter coat, to keep them out of your bag. Store images of important documents like reservation confirmations on your phone for quick, easy access at the airport.

Bring only what you need

Consider your destination and activities, and pack only what you know you will need. “Just in case” can become a slippery slope. Instead of bringing a book, download it to your phone or find the audiobook version instead. It makes sense to carry a small first-aid kit with prescription meds and a few bandages. Most travelers won’t need stretchy wrap bandages or 500 headache pills, though. If you’re staying at a hotel, you may not need to bring toiletries at all (call ahead to confirm). Think smaller, lighter, multipurpose, and necessary.

Limit electronics

It’s amazing how productive and connected a person can be with just a smartphone. If you can leave the laptop, tablet, and DSLR camera behind, do it. They are heavy, breakable, and expensive to replace if broken or stolen. Plus, each comes with collateral gear like plugs, adapters, and cords that can quickly fill a small travel bag. If you must type, maybe a small Bluetooth keyboard paired with your phone will suffice.

Rolled clothes for packing
Lazhko Svetlana / Shutterstock

Sample minimalist packing list

Okay, so we’ve given you all these tips, but how can you put them into practice? Grab a travel packing app and start with this sample packing list so you’re not tempted to take anything unnecessary with you.

Keep these items in an easy-access pocket

  • Identification
  • Money
  • Phone
  • Headphones
  • Charger(s) for phone/headphones

Clothing

  • 2 shirts/tops (long-sleeved or short-sleeved as needed for the climate)
  • 2 pants/bottoms (long or short as needed for the climate)
  • 1 jacket (if not wearing and needed for the climate)
  • 1 extra pair of shoes 
  • 2 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 1 belt (if you are not wearing one)

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • 3-in-1 body wash, shampoo, conditioner or dry toiletries
  • Deodorant
Roman forum tourist
WineDonuts / Shutterstock

The mindset and approach of a minimalist when traveling

Focus on collecting memories and experiences rather than souvenirs. You can capture photos and momentos, but avoid unnecessary purchases that you have to pack to bring home. Be open to adapting and improvising. Packing light means being ready to handle situations with less than you might be used to. Also, use laundry services or hand-washing techniques to refresh clothes instead of packing excessive items. Purchase essentials locally instead of bringing everything from home. This allows you to support local businesses and experience the local culture.

Most travelers are pleasantly surprised that they can go for a long weekend, a week, or more with only these few items. Of course, the climate and your purpose of travel may require adjustments to the list, and you may find that bringing a splurge item or two, in addition to these necessities, is no problem. 

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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