“He who would travel happily must travel light.” Antoine de St. Exupery
If you’re not used to travelling with practically nothing it can be quite a huge shift to try and apply minimalist thinking to your luggage. A lot of us find security in our possessions and comfort in the familiar. Travelling inevitably puts us out of our comfort zone in some respects. Even those of us who own very little can end up thinking we need to bring all of that “very little” with us when we travel. Not so!
21.1 Start With Lifestyle Choices
“I travel light. I think the most important thing is to be in a good mood and enjoy life, wherever you are.” Diane Von Furstenberg
Learning how to pack light when travelling isn’t just about finding that one perfect minimalist list of what to bring anywhere. It’s more about the overall lifestyle choices you make that mean you’re comfortable enough with living simply to not feel the need to pack certain things. It’s about the mentality you bring to packing, travel, and life itself. The main thing that will allow you to travel with less if you already feel okay living without certain things. As Jessie Beck puts it in an article on the Packsmith blog, “to be a minimalist packer, you first have to become comfortable with simplicity and separate the “want” from the “need” in your life and travels.” 
This could mean simply cutting down on outfits, but likely there are other habits you have that cause you a lot of extra baggage. It may mean finding ways to do whatever you may need to do while away without your computer or whatever other technological gadgetry you would normally bring. Maybe you carry 10 different supplements with you when you could just find one that serves several purposes or get some once you arrive wherever you’re going. Or maybe you need to adapt to wearing little or no makeup and wearing your hair as is in order to downsize your toiletry bag. Whatever tends to take up extra space in your luggage you should consider whether it’s really a need…or if it’s something you’re just so used to having around that you didn’t even stop to think about whether or not you really need it! If the latter applies, don’t bring it!
Changing any habits that mean you have less clutter in your life is going to have a positive impact both when travelling and at home. Over time the little things add up and end up shifting your entire perspective on life. Packing is actually a great way to observe your attachments to different types of comforts and securities. You may learn a whole lot about yourself simply by taking the time to notice what you have a hard time letting go of even for a short period! As infamous Belgian fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg puts it, “ I get ideas about what’s essential when packing my suitcase.”
21.2 Don’t Give Yourself The Option Of More!
“Let your memory be your travel bag.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One of the best and easiest ways to force yourself to pack minimally is to simply give yourself very little space to fill up, i.e. get yourself a super small travel bag and only bring one! Depending on your current packing habits you may want to start gradually and downsize a little each time you go travelling. You can aim to at least go for something that fits as a carry-on on all aircraft and then go from there. Eventually you will ideally end up with just one backpack!
Not only will this mean you have less to lug around for the duration of your trip, it also simplifies things like transferring flights and ensures that you can’t ever get anything lost in between destinations. Once you get down to backpack size you’ll also realize the benefits of not having something with wheels as not everywhere you want to go is likely to be wheely-bag friendly. Travelling light gives you way more flexibility and opens up a lot of room for spontaneity.
But what about bringing stuff back from the trip? Well, if you’re aiming to live a minimalist lifestyle you ideally don’t want to accumulate stuff while you’re away. If you feel super attached to the idea of keepsakes from different places you go, make a game out of finding the smallest thing possible to bring home with you. When it comes to buying gifts for friends and family, one of the things people tend to appreciate the most is actually postcards! Which gets you out of the need for extra space in your luggage. Even if you don’t have time or the local postal service is crap you can always buy postcards and bring them back as gifts. They take up no space at all and are always appreciated.
21.3 Make Your Essentials List (And Stick To It!)
“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” Spanish Proverb
When making your essentials list you need to ask yourself a few questions, some more obvious than others such as finding out the weather trends where you’re going. You also might want to do several stages of packing where you start by putting out everything you think you should bring and then cut it down based on specific criteria.
When you break it down, what you really, absolutely 100% need is:
That’s it that’s all. Obviously depending on where you’re travelling to you’re going to want to bring other things, but if you were to look at things in a completely essentialist way, you would come out with the above. Once you realize and accept that you don’t actually need any of the other stuff you’re bringing with you it becomes a lot easier to cut down on things.
Moving on from there, you basically want to pack only things that can be worn multiple times and that all match with each other (if that’s something you care about!). In order for this to work out without going the way of the crusty traveller you will need to commit to washing your clothes while travelling,likely by hand at times. You don’t need anything special to do so. Any old hand soap and sink will do the trick. Drying can be done on a heater if you’re in a cold place or by air/sun drying.
In choosing what items to pack, think about what things you wear all the time and take those. If there’s something super bulky, see if you can find something similar to replace it with that takes up less space. What you’re aiming for is to get rid of everything you “might” wear and only bring things you absolutely “need.”
21.4 The Two’s Approach
“Excess baggage is a symptom of something we are missing on the inside – a fear that we won’t be accepted for what we are, as if our selves are not enough. We bring too much of our past experience, the clutter of our emotions. These things get in the way and keep us from getting close to others. Then we are left with the task of having to find someone else to carry it, whether it is our luggage or our loneliness.” Mary Morris
A tried and true packing method is to simply pack two complete outfits, one to wear until it’s dirty and one to change in to (then repeat!). You may need to add a couple little things depending on where you’re going (a bathing suit or a rain jacket or one super-warm sweater…) but basically, this is the simplest minimalist approach to packing if you’re not into being extreme and trying to travel with absolutely nothing as some folks have experimented with in the past and present. If there’s anything you can get away with just packing one of, then do. Shoes, for example, are something you may not need to bring more then one pair of, and that pair will be on your feet most of the time. If you’re going somewhere where all you’re going to be doing is walking, hiking etc., just get yourself a super comfy and durable pair of light walking shoes!
It’s important to remember throughout this whole exercise that in most countries you’ll be able to find things like sandals, socks and other basic clothing items. If ever you’re completely stuck and realize you really should have brought that extra pair of pants there’s almost definitely a way of finding yourself what you want while travelling. There’s no need to act as if you’re wandering into the wilderness for a year with only what you have on your back, unless you’re literally doing that. If you’re going travelling in a place with human populations then you can likely use buying something while abroad as a backup plan.
As far as toiletries go, most come in clunky containers that can’t be compacted. It’s worth cutting down your toiletries to the absolute minimum. All you really need is a toothbrush, a small container of toothpaste, dental floss and deodorant. Anything else that’s not an absolute health essential for your particular case can be left at home!
21.5 One Thing to Always Consider First…
It’s all well and good to decide to pack the bare minimum, but it’s important to also consider the spoken or unspoken “dress code” of whatever country you’re visiting. You may feel comfortable just bringing a pair of shorts and a transparent top because you know it’s going to be boiling hot out for your entire stay, but you might make the locals uncomfortable without knowing it. There’s a certain level of respect that needs to come with any type of travel, unless you’re going to be holing up in an all-inclusive getaway where you’ll be surrounded exclusively by other tourists.
Otherwise, take the time to look into local customs around what’s an acceptable amount of skin to be showing before you assume that what you would wear in the throws of summer where you live are also acceptable there. And this doesn’t just apply to women, though many countries do expect women to dress even more conservatively than men. Of course it’s totally up to you to decide how much you want to adapt to local conventions! But at least you can make a conscious choice instead of making an unintentional faux-pas that might create barriers between you and the locals.
21.6 Action Point Summary: Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“The intention of voluntary simplicity is not to dogmatically live with less. It’s a more demanding intention of living with balance. This is a middle way that moves between the extremes of poverty and indulgence.” Duane Elgin
Whether this is your first attempt at minimalist packing or you’re just trying to take things to the next level and find motivation for travelling even lighter, here’s what you need to do!