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Minimalist Travel

Minimalist Travel: My 10 Must Have Essential Travel Items for Every Trip

Last Updated on October 11, 2020 by queenie mak

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 minimal packing list is perfect because each trip is different. But I fine-tune and readjust my travel must have 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 24-litre backpack, I trimmed down a lot of my belongings to the essential travel items. Minimalist travel packing is serious business!

But you don’t have to be an extreme minimalist to travel light. But you can learn how to pack less by following my list of essential things to pack for travelling.

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Related Post – How having a minimalist mindset helped me save money to travel

Packing minimalist travel essentials is a process

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 fine-tune my travel essentials list and fit everything I need in a small carry-on suitcase. I only brought all the essential travel items and learned 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. 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 and not wasting anything (save the environment). Plus, having a minimalist mindset will help you save a ton of money!

10 Essential things to pack for travelling

Besides all the must-have travel items like passport, money, and credit cards, I always have these ten travel items on my minimalist travel packing list.

Every item on my minimalist list of essentials 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 travel gears because that’s wasteful. If you have something similar, keep using them until you have to replace them.

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

1. Travel Backpack

One of the most important minimalist essentials is having a reliable and durable travel backpack. 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 the Wanaka Adapt Backpack. I’ve had this pack for the last three years and have gone on trips that last 3 weeks to 5 months. The bag itself is super lightweight and durable. And the 24-litre backpack is big enough for all my belongings so I can easily bring it with me as a carry-on bag that weighs under 7kg.

Related Post – a comprehensive guide to choosing the best backpack

2. Packing Cubes

Part of my travelling essentials list always includes packing cubes. I only discovered it not too long ago actually because I was reluctant to try them out since I didn’t want another item in my bag (sticking to my minimalist principles). But it has become one of my best travel items that I cannot live without!

The packing cubes are made of a light-weight fabric and a mesh cover. I roll all of my clothes into two 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 cubes, find what you are looking for, and put them back in. Easy peasy!

3. A Light Travel Daypack

One of my most important minimalist travel essentials is a lightweight travel daypack. I use it as a 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). My light daypack holds all my must have travel items like laptop, wallet, passport, and more. Plus, I also use it for short hikes and day trips.

I love using my Fjallraven Re-Kanken backpack because the material is light and the bag has the capacity to hold many things including my laptop. I also like the square-ish profile where I can maximize all the space.

From time-to-time I switch and use my Herschel packable casual daypack. It is made with durable and super lightweight material. And best of all, when I am not using the daypack, it is rolled up into its internal self-storage pocket. 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!

MacBook Notebook 12"
MacBook Notebook 12″

4. Lightweight Laptop

Having a lightweight laptop is a big deal when it comes to airline carry-on restriction of 7kg or less. 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. 

However, 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.  

5. Smartphone

Whether you are travelling for work or backpacking around the world, having an excellent smartphone can really help with navigating, taking photos, staying in touch with friends and family and spending a lot of time on social media. Ha!

I love my Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ because the screen is big which is great for navigation and photo editing. And the camera is sharp. The majority of the images on the blog were taken with the Samsung Note 10+.

The device doesn’t come cheap though, but if you take care of it, it will last you for a very long time. I’m willing to pay more for something that will last and also because I don’t have to learn new device and set it up all over again. Ha!

Related Post – my favourite travel gear

6. Universal Travel Adapter

When I first started backpacking, I used an universal adapter but I didn’t like how the adapter is cumbersome. So I switched to individual adapters for specific regions and they are super cheap and lightweight.

But the new and improved universal travel adapters do not feel as clunky as the ones before. I love this all-in-one universal travel adapter because it has a slimmer profile, has dual USB ports so you can charge three devices at the same time. And most of all, the device is much lighter than the old universal adapters! It is a minimalist travel gear that all travellers should include in their packing list.

Learn how you can pack like a minimalist including a peek at my list of minimalist toiletries
Hanging toiletry bag

7. Hanging Toiletry Bag

I’ve had many different versions of the toiletry bag in the past. From a proper toiletry bag that holds all my essential toiletries to a ziplock bag, I’ve used them all! But the best version I ever used and will continue to use is the hanging toiletry bag.

My hanging toiletry bag can hold all my dry toiletries and also it has a hook. The hook is the best feature. Whenever I travel, I always notice there isn’t any counter space in the bathroom 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.

If you want to learn what travel toiletries I bring for every trip, I have a detailed list here.

Related Post – Learn how to make eco friendly toiletries

8. Water Bottle

I bring my squeeze water bottle 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 not buying small bottles of water everywhere.

Plus, by bring a reusable bottle, I can minimize the number of plastic water bottles that goes to recycling/landfill. As a eco-conscious traveller, doing my part for the environment is very important to me.

Oh, and I have another use for the squeeze water bottle. I used to get allergies where I sneeze non-stop to the point where it almost feels like the flu. And if I don’t take care of it early, 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 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 a miserable feeling!

Related Post – 10 Sustainable Travel Tips

9. Comfortable Shoes

As a solo traveller, my favourite way to get around 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 feet 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 is 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.

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!

3 to 4 sets of clothing to mix and match

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 main photo and photo above represents all the clothing I bring on each 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.

And I always bring a sarong with me. It has multiple purposes. When I am cold, I use it as a scarf and wrap around my neck for warmth or wear it as a skirt. 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 have a travel light packing list. All you hve to do is 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.

Related Post – Shopping Guide: What to get a Minimalist Traveller who doesn’t want anything

What essential travel items are you going to pack for your next trip?

This is my list of all the essential things to pack for travelling. You may have something different but certainly, you can use my list as a guideline.

As I said, you don’t have to be an extreme minimalist to travel light. If you are able to, 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?

Do you have any minimalist packing tips when it comes to packing for a trip? Share your suggestions 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!

18 Comments

  • Mattea
    June 13, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    I actually bookmarked this post – it is so helpful! Exactly what I need as I am off backpacking again in a few months. I’ve heard lots of good things about the packing cubes.

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 13, 2018 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks for bookmarking! 🙂 And yes, try the packing cubes! It’s life changing (for me anyway). It helps me organize all my clothes and not just throwing things in my bag. And it weighs next to nothing. If your friends have one, maybe borrow one and see if you really want to invest one yourself.

      Reply
  • earthsmagicalplaces
    June 13, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    I agree with you that travel cubes are great! When backpacking they enable me to get outfits out without having to unpack/repack my entire bag everyday – a trusty water bottle is also key (great tips) 🙂

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 14, 2018 at 2:39 am

      I have no idea why I waited so long to try the packing cubes! haha

      Reply
  • Neha
    June 14, 2018 at 1:47 am

    Completely agree with you about the need to pack light and approach travel in a minimalistic way. Somehow I have not yet been converted to packing cubes. Still sitting on the fence on that one 🙂

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 14, 2018 at 2:40 am

      Can you borrow one from someone and try it out? So you have to invest in one just in case you don’t like it. But it totally changed the way I organize my things and I love it!!

      Reply
  • Mitali Deshmukh
    June 14, 2018 at 2:34 am

    I tried traveling with a single bag of 7 kgs with as less luggage as possible first time in my 8 years of tourism life. Wasn’t that easy for me but one sigh of relief was not carrying those big bags every time you check in and check out. perfect list i must say.

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 14, 2018 at 2:42 am

      thank you!! it feels pretty great to live with so little 🙂

      Reply
  • Mateja Drobnic
    June 14, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I am currently looking into buying packing cubes as everyone is raving about them. Totally curious about how they will make my travels easier and more organised. Great tips!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 14, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      I think you’ll love it! It is super light weight and really organizes all your clothes!

      Reply
  • ada
    June 14, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I really like that backpack and I can see how useful it can be on some trips! I am not backpacker and I always travel with a suitcase but sometimes I wish I don’t have to walk with it on some strange roads 🙂 The cubes are such a smart idea as well! I might have to get it so next time my husband won’t be keep my stuff all over the floor looking for his tshirt 🙂 Great post, great recommendations!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 14, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      Thank you! It depends where you travel to. There are too many cobblestone streets and stairs in Europe so a backpack is definitely helpful. And I love how it frees my hands so I can get money, buy some food or do anything else. Maybe get a set of packing cubes for you and a set for your husband! 🙂

      Reply
  • midlifemilestones
    June 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Great travel tips! I am a firm believer in traveling light! We all feel like we need way more than we really do! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 15, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      Yes, travelling light is the way to go! So freeing! 🙂

      Reply
  • thegetawayjournals
    June 15, 2018 at 12:03 am

    I need this list in my life because I always end up packing way too much. And I’m going to get packing cubes one of these days! lol. Great post! Needed this!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 15, 2018 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you! I didn’t start off this way…I used to always overpack as well. It takes practice 🙂

      Reply
  • Chirasree Banerjee
    June 15, 2018 at 4:41 am

    The idea of packing cubes is brilliant! I always pack less and I am a minimalist not just when traveling but also in life.

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      June 15, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Me too! I always try to live with less…maybe there are other uses of packing cubes in other parts of my life…hmm…

      Reply

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