Travelers and digital nomads alike love packing light because they aren’t tied to their belongings and are free to roam about as they please. Not only is a heavy bag cumbersome and annoying, but it may end up holding you back on your travels. A needlessly bulky bag could mean getting through TSA is significantly longer or it could make it difficult to find enough overhead space to store your bag on your flight.
Freeing up as much space as possible in your luggage enables you to live more simply and ditch bad habits that just bring more clutter to your life. Minimalism requires a mindset shift that takes consistent work. A newcomer to minimalist packing may just assume that they need to bring less next time, but it is actually a strategic lifestyle change that involves a lot of foresight and planning to get the hang of!
Becoming a minimalist packer requires lots of time, dedication, and the ability to separate your wants from your needs. You should first strive to achieve the minimalist travel mindset before diving into experimenting with minimalist packing techniques. This will give you a more open attitude about letting go of old or unnecessary items and ultimately free up space for when you start the packing process.
What do you need to bring for on trip? What do you want to bring that you don’t really need? What are you bringing “just in case” that you know you won’t really use? What packing categories can you simplify and which are excessive, to begin with? These questions should be at the forefront of your mind when you’re setting goals to pack like a minimalist.
First things first: get a smaller bag
Choosing the best travel backpack (or luggage) for minimalist travel is no easy task. But, if you start packing with a small carry-on bag, you are forcing yourself to use only that bag to put all your belongings in. This is a great way to start packing like a minimalist! Starting off with a smaller bag in the first place will set you on the right path towards a lighter, more practical way of traveling.
Downsizing is easier if you don’t have any extra room in your bag to pack unnecessary items you may never use on your trip. It might be easiest to stick to carry-on luggage only, and if possible, to eliminate the need for your flight’s overhead storage bin by having a bag that fits right under the seat in front of you.
The best bags are able to compartmentalize what’s on your packing list so that everything is organized and accessible. Travel backpacks, daypacks, and cross-body duffel bags are perfect for carry-on-only travel.
Only the essentials
Now it’s time to analyze your packing list. Whether you’re considering what to pack for long-term travel or for a short trip, this is the process that will help you determine what things are essential and what are non-essential and can be left behind altogether. Here are some questions that can help you narrow down your packing essentials:
- What items do I love?
- What habits do I have that can be cut out from my routine temporarily? (These could include straightening hair, wearing jewelry, etc.)
- Is this item too heavy?
- Are there any travel-sized versions of this item that I could bring instead?
- How often do I actually use this item while traveling?
Let these questions serve as a guide to help you decide what you will be packing and what you don’t really need to bring with you.
You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, but just what are the essentials I should be taking with me?” You’ll want to be sure to bring your passport, ID, cash, and credit cards with you. Of course, bring your phone, its charger, and headphones to keep you connected with your family while you’re away, take photos of memorable moments, and keep yourself entertained in your downtime.
Other essentials you’ll want to include in your carry-on are a light jacket, your toothbrush, comfy walking shoes, a water bottle, and any prescription medications you might need. These are the basics that you’ll need as you travel. Anything else of importance such as shampoo, soap, and toothpaste can be purchased in your new destination.
Create a capsule wardrobe
If you know you are an over-packer especially when it comes to clothes, then you may be in need of a capsule wardrobe! A capsule wardrobe is basically a trendy name for a super small but useful collection of clothes you love and can be cycled through each week.
Basically, a capsule wardrobe includes a few pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched, maximizing the space in your bag as well as the time it takes to pick an outfit each morning!
If you already know that each piece goes together well, choosing an outfit suddenly becomes a breeze. A good capsule wardrobe includes clothing you’ll need for the following categories:
- Formal Attire
You can adjust these categories of your capsule wardrobe based on your lifestyle or what type of trip you’ll be taking. With this in mind, collect all the clothing you’ll need for each category, and then reduce! How useful is each piece? How well would they match with other pieces in your capsule wardrobe? How well does each item fit you?
Now choose 9 tops, 5 pairs of pants, and 3-4 pairs of shoes. Always strive for choosing even less than this depending on the length of your trip, the season, and what categories you need to include. Voila! You have now successfully crafted your very own capsule wardrobe that will prove to be an incredibly smart choice in your quest to pack like a true minimalist.
Limit your toiletries
This one is really up to your personal preference. Those who practice minimalism closely might decide that the only hardware they need to bring is a toothbrush. Others who are newer to travel packing could choose to bring miniatures of each liquid, cleanser, or small tool they will need. All of these items can be tucked away into a small toiletry travel pouch that will be readily available if you should ever need it.
As a rule of thumb, remember that you probably don’t need every little balm and cleanser you would normally use in your daily routine. Strive to also eliminate non-essentials in your list of toiletries as well. You definitely do not need to wear a full face of makeup or have perfectly gelled hair while you travel, so be sure to figure out which products and habits you can leave at home.
Shoes and Accessories
Again, depending on what season it is in the area you’re traveling to as well as the activities you have planned, shoes and accessories will vary.
Open-toed shoes like flip-flops or sandals are a must for any trip so that you can lounge in comfort. A nice, well-worn pair of walking shoes is also a good idea, as these babies will likely become your best friends as you explore the world city by city! You can leave it at that or add in a pair of boots or fancier shoes for a night out on the town.
When you think about accessories you probably think of jewelry, sunglasses, and hats. However, accessories involve much more than simply putting the finishing touches on your favorite outfit. People pack accessories because, for whatever reason, these items provide some level of value to them.
For instance, it’s a no-brainer to bring an adapter for when the plugs change up on you in different countries. Ear plugs will help you rest and recharge on your trip. If you’re into journaling, that might be something to bring to record your thoughts and collect your memories in writing.
With accessories, the possibilities are endless, so choose them wisely! Too many accessories can add up and create a chaotic mess in your bag for you to sort through. This would defeat the entire purpose of minimalism! Your accessories can add flair, but most importantly, they should be tools that make life on the road a lot easier.
Which gadgets to bring along
Speaking of tools, technology is the mother of tools!
Every traveler is different. Some pack the bare minimum of gadgets just to get by. Digital nomads bring a lot of gear with them to create content on the go, so their bags tend to include a lot more gear, such as a DSLR camera, several lenses, their laptop, etc.
How do digital nomads pack all that fancy gear into a carry-on only, you ask? There are so many options out there in terms of small bags with huge storage. So, if you need to take all your gear with you on your next flight, don’t worry, you can still be a minimalist! Check out the Worldpacker’s digital nomad packing list to learn more.
You’ve finally chosen everything you’d like to bring on your next adventure, but how do you fit it all in your especially tiny carry-on? Some space-saving packing strategies to try are:
- Roll your clothes or use the KonMari method to fold them as small as it gets
- Stuff socks or underwear into a hat to keep the hat from losing its shape
- Wrap belts in the collars of your shirts to keep the collar stiff
- Put your shoes at the bottom of the bag and stuff them with socks and underwear too
- Wear your bulkiest item so it doesn’t add to the weight you’re carrying
- Toss in some dryer sheets to keep your clothes smelling fresh when you unpack
- Put small cords and accessories in a sunglasses case
- Use a pill case to store your rings and jewelry so they don’t get tangled
- Packing cubes!
Utilize every nook and cranny in your bag, but don’t try to fill it completely. This leads to over-packing unnecessary items and over-packing. There are lots of clever ways to pack your carry-on, and most of them prove to be good decisions in the long run.
The perfect minimalist packing list
Here’s our perfect packing list for men and women, for any destination, in any climate, for any occasion! Of course, some items on this minimalist packing list are specifically for females, but for the most part, what I’ve provided here is gender-neutral and can be used by anyone looking for a solid foundation of what to pack for minimalist travel.
I’ve included everything you’ll need to pack in your carry-on to ensure you’re prepared for anything life may throw at you while you explore. Keep in mind that any toiletry that is a liquid doesn’t have to be packed, but instead can be bought when you get to where you’re going. Plan to wash your clothes each week as you travel, and make sure your outfit pieces can coordinate with each piece’s color scheme easily.
- Credit cards/cash
- Water bottle
- 3 t-shirts (also for sleepwear)
- 1 tank top
- 1 blouse/button-down shirt
- 1 long sleeve shirt
- 1 light jacket
- 1 dress/special occasion attire
- 1 pair leggings
- 1 pair pants
- 1 pair shorts
- 3-6 pairs of socks
- 6 pairs of underwear
- 1 bathing suit/swim trunks
- 1 windbreaker
- 1 packable down jacket
- Mini hairbrush/comb
- Mini loofa
- Nail clippers
- Contacts/contact solution
- Hand sanitizer
- Tiny first aid kit with bandaids
Limit your makeup to the three most used products in your makeup arsenal. A good start would be:
- Lipstick (for when you’re feeling fancy)
Shoes & Accessories
- 1 pair of walking shoes
- 1 pair of open-toed shoes
- 1 pair of dress shoes
- Hair ties + bobby pins
- Ear plugs
- Dry shampoo
- Prescription medications
- Laptop, charger, external hard drive
- DSLR camera, lenses, batteries, SD cards
Whether for two weeks or for a month, this minimalist packing list will serve you at the beach in Southeast Asia, or while exploring cities in Europe during the winter months.
Finally, remember that becoming a minimalist packer requires lots of time, dedication, and the ability to separate your wants from your needs. Use the tips and packing list I’ve provided to inspire you to achieve the minimalist travel mindset and begin experimenting with minimalist packing techniques.