How to pack and travel like a minimalist without feeling like one

Minimalism is all about eschewing extra stuff and embracing the experience. Some travelers carry only what they can fit in their pockets and rely on their destination for everything else. But traveling like a minimalist doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort — quite the opposite. Slimming down the packing list is a fantastic way to make any trip easier and less worrisome.

How many times have you packed a whole bunch of stuff “just in case” that you ended up not using? 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. Read on for our travel packing hacks that will lighten your load without making you feel like a total minimalist.

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Choose a smaller travel bag

Packing light makes sense until you try packing light in a large suitcase. We tend to continue packing until we’ve filled the available space. Slim down to carry-on size (9-by-14-by-22 inches), and avoid baggage claim. The best bag will have an ergonomic fit and lots of pockets, but what’s more important is making sure the carrying style makes sense for you. For some, it makes sense to use 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 minimal packing ideas. Clothes can be worn more than once, and they can be washed. 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 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.

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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.

Save space and get organized with packing cubes

A bag within a bag may seem redundant, but packing cubes can make life so much easier. They allow the packer to compartmentalize their belongings for fast access and protection. Use them to pack shoes separately or to keep toiletries separate from clothing items. Compression packing cubes save 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 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.

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. 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.

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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 that can quickly fill a bag. If you must type, maybe a small Bluetooth keyboard paired with your phone will suffice.

Sample minimalist packing list

Okay, so we’ve given you all these tips, but how can you put it into practice? We’ve put together 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
  • Deodorant

Most travelers would be pleasantly surprised that they can comfortably go for a long weekend, a week, or more with only these few items. Of course, the climate and your purpose of travel may call for 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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