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Mastering the art of travel packing is not as easy as it seems. It took me years to perfect my minimalist packing list. I still can’t stay that my packing list is perfect because each trip is different. But I fine-tune and readjust my list after every trip. From travelling with two pieces of luggage on my first solo trip to Europe to a 75-litre backpack to my current 33-litre backpack, I trimmed down a lot of my belongings to the basic minimalist travel essentials. Minimalist travel packing is a serious business!
Speaking of being a minimalist, I was at the airport in Lima, Peru waiting for my flight to Cusco and met a guy while waiting for my flight. He only had a fanny pack and a bar of soap. Clearly, I was confused. So I asked him about the rest of his belongings. He didn’t have anything else with him. Completely mind blown! Now, that is some hardcore minimalist travel packing!
And I wasn’t always a minimalist. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, I might consider myself a 7 out of 10. I’m not quite at the extreme like packing a bar of soap in a fanny pack level yet, but I am pretty good at keeping only the things I need and not buying anything I don’t need.
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Having a minimalist mindset
Throughout my 20’s and 30’s, I moved many many times. And each time I would get rid of more things because I no longer need them and I really didn’t want to move something to a new home that I’m not going to use.
And in the last five years or so, I travelled a bit for work and learned how to pack everything I need in a small carry-on suitcase. I learned how to bring only the necessities and knew the routine for packing for every trip.
There is something very liberating when you only bring so little things on the road. After a few trips, you realize that you really don’t need that much stuff to live. Often, we tend to bring too much and especially when you think that you might need some “just-in-case” items.
The best part about having the minimalist mindset is focusing on things that you need, not wasting anything (save the environment) and saving a ton of money!
Minimalist travel packing: my ten must-have items
Besides all the necessities like passport, money, and credit cards, I always have these ten items no matter where I go.
All of these items are either light-weight, compact, collapsible or expandable and are multi-purpose. These are also the same requirements when I buy new things.
I’m an advocate for having the right tools for the right occasion. But if you have something similar already, why not continue to use it? You don’t have to go out and replace all your current gear because that’s wasteful.
Having a minimalist mindset, I only purchased these items to replace the previous ones. These are all great products, but if you have something similar already, you don’t need to buy a new one. Just saying.
1. Travel Backpack
Probably one of the most important things for any minimalist traveller. A minimalist travel backpack has to be lightweight, big enough for all your belongings but small enough for an airplane overhead cabin compartment. You’ll save time because you don’t have to wait for your luggage when you arrive and you will save money by checking in your bag (for some airline). I always take my backpack with me as a carry-on travel bag and haven’t had any issues with it.
For me, the best minimalist backpack is my Osprey Talon 33L backpack. I’ve had this pack for over six years, and it has been through many journeys with me. From cities all over the world to the jungles of South America, the pack has been through a lot! It is a top-load backpack with a hip belt that sits comfortably on your waist. It has a separate top compartment for miscellaneous items and another separate compartment for a hydration pack. The frame is soft and has a mesh fabric separating your back and the pack for proper ventilation.
Osprey puts a lot of effort into designing the perfect pack. They understand all the requirements for a backpacker and use high-quality fabric and hardware. The great thing about Osprey backpack is their All Mighty Guarantee. If you need to repair any damages to your backpack, just send it back to Osprey. It doesn’t matter if you bought it yesterday or ten years ago! And it is entirely free of charge.
2. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes have changed the way I travel! I only discovered it not too long ago actually. I was reluctant to try them out initially because I didn’t want another item in my bag (sticking to my minimalist principles). They are the best packing cubes for backpacking as the size is big enough for all my clothes and ultralight that it weighs almost nothing. Packing cubes might be the best invention ever!
The packing cubes are made of a light-weight fabric and a mesh cover. I roll all of my clothes into three small packing cubes for my backpacking trips. The packing cubes are especially helpful if you have a top-load backpack. It is easy just to throw everything in a backpack but a pain in the butt when you need an item, and it is at the bottom of your bag. Then you have to take everything out and re-roll everything back in. With the packing cubes, you can just take out the three cubes, find what you are looking for, and put them back in. Easy peasy!
3. Foldable Daypack
A foldable daypack can be used as your carry-on travel bag as most airlines will allow a bag plus a purse or laptop bag (this is where the daypack act as the purse or laptop bag). If you decide to go for a hike, having a travel daypack is excellent for carrying water, snacks and other things, so the weight of your bag is evenly distributed on your shoulders. And if you decide to buy new items or shop at duty-free, you have the extra space for all your new purchases.
I really like my Hershel daypack because of the lightweight material and also the foldable aspect. And it is big enough to carry my laptop as well. When I am not using the daypack, it is rolled up into a little pack and fits neatly in my Osprey backpack. The daypack is pretty sturdy – I even used it as a hiking backpack for my climb up Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia. The backpack went all the way up to 4000m in altitude!
4. Lightweight laptop
Having a lightweight laptop is a big deal when it comes to airline carry-on restriction of 7kg. And my favourite lightweight laptop is the MacBook Notebook 12″.
The laptop is small and weighs 0.92kg. It has everything I need for blogging and researching. The screen may be small for most people but I don’t really mind especially because of how light it is.
Apple doesn’t make the 12″ laptop anymore but you can still buy the 12″ laptop on Amazon.
If you want to buy the latest laptop, another excellent option is the MacBook Air. The screen is 13.3″ which is slightly bigger and only weighs 1.25kg. It is one of the best lightweight laptops on the market.
Whether you are travelling for work or backpacking around the world, having a good smartphone can really help with navigating, taking photos, staying in touch with friends and family and killing a lot of time on social media updates. Ha!
I love my Samsung Note 8 because the camera is super sharp, the screen is big which is great for navigation and photo editing and generally is a great phone. An excellent device doesn’t come cheap though, but if you take care of it, it will last you for a very long time. I’m always willing to pay more for something that will last and is good quality because it will have longevity (and also I don’t have to learn how to use a new device and set it up all over again. Ha!) In terms of the camera quality, the photos are super sharp, and colours are very crisp. The majority of the images on the website were taken with the Samsung Note 8.
6. Travel Adapter
When I first started backpacking, I brought a universal adapter with me. But I didn’t like how it is cumbersome. So I switched to individual adapters for specific regions. These are super cheap and lightweight.
Recently, I found a new universal adapter. I love this all-in-one universal travel adapter because you can use it anywhere you go. And it has dual USB ports so you can charge three devices at the same time. And most of all, the device is much lighter! A must-have for any minimalist traveller!
7. Hanging Toiletry Bag
I’ve had many versions of toiletry bag in the past, and I’ve even replaced it with a ziplock bag at some point (probably post 911). But the best version is the hanging toiletry bag because it can hold everything I need and also has a hook. The hook is the best part. Many times when I travel, there isn’t any counter space for your toiletries. With the hook, you can hang your toiletry bag on a towel rod or anything else. It doesn’t take up any space and keeps all your toiletries nice and neat.
8. Water Bottle
I bring my squeeze water bottle with me everywhere. I refill water from the tap, filtered water at the hotel or buy a big jug of water from the supermarket and fill up my own bottle. I can save a bit of money by buying small bottles of water everywhere and protect the environment at the same time. Even though the plastic water bottles are recyclable, I want to do at least my part and not accumulate more plastic for recycling. After all, recycling still requires various processes for the plastic to be reused in another way. If I bypass that step, there will be less waste, at least from me anyway.
Oh, and I have another use for the squeeze water bottle. From time-to-time, I get allergies where I keep sneezing non-stop to the point where it almost feels like the flu. And if I don’t take care of it at the beginning, it turns into a nasty cough which can last for weeks! The best remedy is to clean my sinuses with a saline solution. Essentially, I use my squeeze water bottle as a neti pot where I squeeze water up my nostril to flush my sinuses. I know, gross! But hey, it works wonders for me! I’ve had to do that a couple of times on the road. When you travel solo, you’ll do anything you can to keep yourself healthy because being sick and alone is indeed a miserable feeling!
9. Comfortable Shoes
As a solo traveller, my favourite way to see a place is by walking. I can walk for hours and hours. That means having comfortable shoes is very important. Wearing a pair of comfortable shoes will almost guarantee a great day of exploring. And it can support your foot correctly and does not give you any aches and pains. Having a pair of good shoes will allow you to enjoy your walks, and all the activities while you are travelling.
I always bring a pair of sneakers with me. The Nike Free RN Flyknit are super lightweight (wow I really have an obsession with things being light! Ha!) As I was saying, the sneakers are very light, made of a mesh material which makes it breathable, and also supportive. These shoes are great for walking a long distance, and I would run in these shoes too. And because of the soft, bendable material, the top part flattens completely unlike traditional sneakers that are bulky and takes up a lot of space.
I also bring a pair of Toms Classics Canvas since the shoes are lightweight and easy to pack due to the flexible material and the flatness of the shoe. For me, Toms shoes are great for everyday walking, but it might be too flat for some people. If you notice any pain with walking with flat shoes, make sure you pay attention if you have any foot pain and immediately change your shoes.
Another oldie but a goodie is the Havaianas Slim Flip Flop. Flip flops are great for light walking or the beach. Also, the germophobe in me tells me to wear flip-flops around hostels, especially the bathroom! Yup!
10. 3 to 4 sets of Clothing
Okay, this is not exactly one item, but a collection of items. Ha! Typically, overpacking is a result of bringing too many clothes for most travellers. Part of my minimalist travel wardrobe includes 3 to 4 sets of clothing in which they all mix and match and become different outfits. The clothing in the photo represents all the clothing I have on my current trip. Okay, I lied. There are also underwear, bathing suits and other miscellaneous items but not in the photograph. But really, the majority of my clothes are there.
To break it down even further, here is my minimalist wardrobe list for this trip:
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 long skirt
- 3 tank tops
- 1 short sleeve shirt
- 1 set of sleeping clothes (or it can be worn as workout clothes)
- 1 jean jacket
- 1 sweater
And I always bring a scarf with me. It has multiple purposes. When I am cold, I use it to wrap around my neck for warmth. Or I can use it as a beach towel or picnic blanket. It’s great to have items that have multiple purposes.
It is not difficult to select a few essential clothing pieces for your minimalist travel wardrobe. Follow my visual packing template and you can create your own travel capsule wardrobe.
Does this inspire you to pack less for your next trip?
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 a lighter bag? I have to admit though; I didn’t pack the lightest bag as my first trip. It definitely takes time and practice to hone in my minimalist travel packing.
Do you have any minimalist travel packing tips when it comes to packing for a trip? Share your suggestions in the comments below. And if you like this post, share it and pin it!
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last update: November 13, 2018