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Minimalist Travel

Minimalist Backpacking: 10 Packing Tips to Help You Travel Light

Last Updated on November 27, 2020 by Queenie Mak

Packing for a trip can be a fun activity, but it can also feel like a chore. If you read my post about picking a backpack, you will know that I used to bring everything with me when I travel. I didn’t know what I needed to bring and how to organize my backpack.

Because of inexperience, I would fill up my 75-litre backpack each time! Far from being a minimalist, but I’ve come a long way since my first solo travel experience!

Currently, I love my minimalist packing list! It took years to put this together, but I can happily say I can pack all my belongings into a carry-on backpack that weighs less than 7kg. I only bring a travel wardrobe that consists of three to four sets of clothes, minimal travel toiletries and a few essential travel items.

I didn’t become a minimalist traveller overnight. But I’m going to share all my minimalist backpacking tips so you can pack light for your next trip.

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Related Post – Minimalism and Saving Money: How having a minimalist mindset helped me save money to travel

Minimalist backpacking tips: how to pack for travelling light

I wasn’t always a minimalist traveller, and it took years for me to figure out how to pack light. So if you need help and want inspiration for packing, keep reading as I am sharing all my best tips on how to pack light.

And you don’t have to be a minimalist traveller to try these travel packing tips. If you are someone who finds yourself always overpacking for each trip, and want to pack less and travel light, then keep reading.

Wanaka Adapt Backpack is my choice for the best minimalist travel backpack.
My minimalist backpack – Wanaka Adapt Backpack

1. Start with a smaller backpack or suitcase

First, you want to start with a smaller backpack or suitcase. When you are physically restricting the actual capacity, you are already winning!

I use my minimalist backpack for all my trips. It is a 24-litre lightweight backpack with three compartments and minimal straps. For me, this is the perfect size for travelling light. I can fit all my belongings, and the bag can fit in the overhead bin on the plane.

If you are in the market to buy a new backpack or suitcase, choose a size that is a bit smaller than the one you normally use. When you limit the size of the luggage, it limits the amount of space you can fill.

2. Layout everything you want to bring, take half (or more) away

For most people, overpacking is a result of bringing too much clothes.

One way to pack less is by taking all the clothes you want to bring and lay them out.

Then take away half of the clothing that you laid out. So if you took six t-shirts, only take three. Do that to all the clothes you want to bring. And if it is possible at all, take away more than half.

I always pack my bag that will weigh 7kg or less. Which means I have about three to four sets of clothing where I can mix and match.

This may be very ambitious for beginners, and it may take a few attempts. But if you manage to pack fewer clothes, you are already winning at the packing challenge!

3. Forget the idea of glamorous Instagram photos and one-off photo opportunities

I’ve seen so many gorgeous photos on Instagram where the girls have the prettiest maxi dresses in places like Bali, where their flowy dresses fly gloriously on the giant swing.

Part of me is a bit jealous that they have such nice photos for their Instagram.

But a bigger part of me is not envious of the extra-large suitcases they are lugging around. I’m sure there are multiple gorgeous dresses in their suitcases for other photo opportunities.

Instead of bringing clothing for one-off photoshoots, bring a travel wardrobe where you can mix and match to create different looking outfits. A different top to match with a different bottom (pants or skirt) can create a completely new look!

Like I mentioned in the last point, my minimalist travel wardrobe consists of three to four sets of clothing. I can create at least 16 different looks depending on how I style my clothes. I can still be somewhat stylish and not travelling with an overweight suitcase!

Take a peek at my minimalist toiletries packing list so you can use it as a guideline and build your own toiletries list.
Travel light tips: bring travel size toiletries only

4. Take travel size toiletries only

Next, take out some necessities that you can easily replace them at your destination. These items include regular size toothpaste, big bottles of shampoo, conditioner, etc. It is not necessary to bring a few weeks (or even a few months) of supplies. They are heavy and take up a lot of room!

Instead, bring travel-size toiletries of the items you need. Typically, a 100ml bottle of the product (face wash, toner, shampoo) can last for about two to three weeks. You can use this for a few weeks and replace them at your destination.

Moreover, bringing small-sized travel toiletries is excellent for any traveller who wants to experience one bag living. This means you are not checking in your luggage at the airport. And it means that all your liquid toiletries have to be in 100ml bottles and placed in a clear zip-top bag ready for security check. Any bottles that are bigger than 100ml will be confiscated.

5. Replace and buy new things at your destination (if possible)

Like I mentioned already for toiletries, you can buy more toiletries when you arrive at your destination. There is no need to bring full-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner!

And you may even be pick up an extra sweater if the weather suddenly changes or a bathing suit if there is an amazing pool at your hotel. But if you are not sure you need a specific item, don’t bring it and buy a new one at your destination.

But this all depends on where you are travelling to. It is easier to replace or buy new items when going to a metropolis city or an urban area.

And if you are going on an adventurous trip like hiking multiple days into the jungle or trekking across a desert, then you may want to bring everything you need with you.

Assess things that you absolutely NEED on your trip and eliminate things that you are not going to use. If you need it, later on, you can replace it or buy a new one.

6. Take out all the “but I might need this later” items

We all go through the conundrum of packing and try to anticipate future situations. I used to bring so many different things and realized that I didn’t use any of them at the end of the trip.

Here are some of my favourite “I might need this later” item that you really should take out of your bag. If you have more, let me know in the comments below.

  • Umbrella – you can easily find an umbrella or rain poncho at your destination
  • Hairdryer, curling iron or hair straightener – I travelled with a hair straightener before, but it died while I was in Hungary. But I learned how to curl my hair with a hand band on Youtube. So I no longer need one!
  • Headlamp – unless you are going on a camping or staying in a dorm room in a hostel
  • Extra batteries – for your headlamp and other devices
  • Camera – I even eliminated my camera because I have a reliable camera on my smartphone.
  • Other credit cards, bank cards, loyalty cards – you only need two credit cards and two ATM cards. Don’t take your loyalty cards because you cannot earn reward points from abroad.
Travel light tips: weigh your packed bag with a handheld luggage scale at home
Travel light tips: weigh your packed bag with a handheld luggage scale at home

7. Weigh your packed bag at home and take out any extra items

Weigh your packed bag with a handheld luggage scale and it will tell you exactly how much your bag weighs and exactly how much stuff you need to take out. Do this at home, and don’t wait until you arrive at the airport, and then you have to take things out frantically.

If you are checking in your luggage, you are allowed to check in two 23kg luggage. You always want to make sure that you are under the limit because the penalty for overweight bags is calculated by multiply the rate (each airline is different) by the number of exceeded kilo!

And if you are travelling with carry-on luggage only, you want to double-check your airline’s carry-on weight policies. Most airlines have a weight limit of between 7kg to 10kg, including one carry-on bag and a personal bag (laptop bag or purse). Learn how you can pack a 7kg carry-on luggage in my detailed post.

So if your bag is overweight or want to take out more items from your bag, lay everything out again and see what you can take out of your luggage. Ask yourself if you really need the particular item in question and be really critical in the selection process. Then take out as many items as you need.

8. Pack light by swapping your heavy items for a lighter equivalent

The airline industry has many guidelines and restrictions on the size and the weight of a luggage and carry-on bag. And because there is such an emphasis on your bags’ weight, try to bring lighter items.

Some items are particularly heavy, like jeans and certain types of shoes. You can swap your jeans for jeggings or pants. And swap your clunky shoes for flats, flip-flops, or any lightweight shoes.

If your bags are still over the weight limit or you want to travel with a lighter bag, swap your heavy items for a lighter equivalent.

9. Don’t pack the night before your trip

Don’t procrastinate and pack two hours before your trip because we all know that it is disastrous! You might panic, forget to bring your travel essential items and end up bringing things you don’t need.

In fact, give yourself some time so you can filter things out. Start with picking a spot in your house where you can gather all your travel gear. Maybe a box? or a drawer? Whenever you remember you need to bring a specific item, take that item and put it in that spot. You can start this packing process a few weeks before your trip.

And maybe about a few days before your trip, take a look at this spot again and see what you’ve gathered so far. Then start packing your bags with all of these items and any other items that are still missing.

And this is also a good time to filter some stuff out that you previously added and don’t think you will need on your trip. And make sure to weigh your bags at home, so you know exactly how much stuff you are bringing. Which brings me to the next point…

10. Follow free online packing list template

There are many free online resources that include tips to packing light. Many of them include packing lists templates where you can follow along. Some packing lists are country-specific, and others are catered to specific activities.

These templates can inspire you to pack differently or add value to your current packing process.

I, too, have a packing list to share with you. I’m big on minimalist backpacking and so I created a minimalist packing list for anyone who wants to challenge themselves to pack a backpack that weighs less than 7kg.

There are many benefits of travelling lights and travelling with one bag only. Check out the packing list and let me know what you think.

Related Post – What to get for a minimalist traveller who doesn’t want or need anything

Do you find these minimalist travel packing tips useful?

Do you feel like you always overpack when it comes to travelling? And do you want to focus less on all the things you are bringing and allow yourself to focus on the journey itself?

You can try to embrace minimalist travel for your next trip. It feels pretty liberating, and it frees up a lot of clutter from your life. And who doesn’t want to carry an ultralight bag?

I didn’t pack the lightest bag on my first trip, and it took me years to learn how to pack less. So don’t be discouraged and keep trying. You will notice an improvement each time. So keep at it because it will improve your travel life!

Did you like these minimalist packing tips? Let me know in the comments below!

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 18+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

3 Comments

  • Michelle
    August 25, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    I’m really excited to try out your tips and challenge thanks. I think the hardest thing for me is leaving out anything I might need, but can easily purchase at your destination. Because at the same time I don’t want to spend time shopping in a grocery store to get the items I left at home when I could be out exploring. Love that you’ve included your own packing list that I can work from. Wish me luck! Have to start packing soon 🙂

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      August 26, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      It is a process and it might take a few trips to streamline the packing list. I hope you find my list useful 🙂 and yes…good luck!!

      Reply
  • tinytiiina
    August 26, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    I loved this article! I always take WAAAAAY too much with me when I’m travelling. Will try out your trips when I travel overseas again 🙂

    Reply

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