This guide to minimalist packing will simplify your packing process and help you pack perfectly for every trip! Read on to learn how to pack like a pro for any trip.
When we first set out to travel the world, we had no idea how to pack. Stephen and I bought gigantic travel backpacks and stuffed them full of all the things we used in our everyday lives.
What we didn’t know then is that travel is nothing like everyday life.
On that first trip, a six-month backpacking trip around Europe, I spent so much time digging around in my backpack looking for lost items or that one essential I needed for the day. We had so much stuff that we would routinely accidentally leave items behind, not noticing they were missing in our disorganized packs.
Many trips later, including 7 years of full-time travel, and we are much smarter about what and how to pack. We now fit all the gear we need for 4 seasons and several continents into our carry-on size luggage.
If I need to pack in a hurry — like when our alarm fails before an early flight — I can do it in about 5 minutes. We never leave things behind either, because when you only have the essentials, it’s easy to notice if one is missing.
Learning to pack light has other advantages too.
- It makes you more agile, so you can change plans at the last minute without worrying about your gear.
- You’ll be able walk further carrying your stuff, which is great if you can’t afford a taxi and can’t figure out the public transport.
- Packing light makes you less of a target for thieves and scammers, because you can just nimbly pick up your stuff and walk away while fellow travellers are fumbling with their massive overpacked bags.
Read on for all our best advice on what to pack and how to pack light without sacrificing comfort or looking like a total travel bum!
Note: Where pictures are marked Jane’s Pick, Stephen’s Pick, or Our Pick, it means we have these items in our minimalist suitcases. Other items are ones we wish we had!
- Travel Insurance
- Minimalist Backpacks & Suitcases
- Perfect Accessories for Minimalist Packing
- Travel Shoes for Minimalists
- Travel Essentials for Women
- Travel Essentials for Men
- Travel Accessories
- Travel Gadgets for Minimalist Packers
- Minimalist Travel Photography Gear
- Yoga Travel Mat
- A Final Note About Minimalist Packing
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Why do we put travel insurance first on our packing guide? Because it’s the most essential item to pack!
Travel insurance is one of those things you never plan to use but you’re sure happy you have it when you need it. Good travel insurance will cover stolen or damaged travel gear, medical emergencies, and for unexpected trip cancellation.
SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance is our number one pick — it’s the travel insurance we use and recommend to friends and family.
We like it because it:
- Covers lots of adventurous activities.
- Covers all the standard travel emergencies that might come up.
- Is super easy to sign up.
- Can be purchased or extended while you’re travelling.
- It’s one of the cheapest options, starting at just $37/month.
Minimalist Backpacks & Suitcases
Choosing Perfect Minimalist Backpack or Suitcase
A great bag is where any minimalist adventure begins! To keep it minimalist, choose a backpack or suitcase with a 40L capacity or less. Even for long-term minimalist travel, you don’t need any more space than that. Trust us!!
Don’t miss our complete guide to the best minimalist backpacks (and suitcases) for travel!
Which type of luggage do you need?
Convertible Backpack, Wheeled Suitcase, or Conventional Backpack?
Choosing the right suitcase or backpack depends on your travel style, your destination, and your ability and desire to carry heavy things.
If you’re on a hostel budget and will be roughing it, a traditional backpack, like the Osprey Farpoint 40, is your best bet.
If you choose 3-star or better hotels, will be travelling only in developed countries, and don’t like carrying your bag, then get a wheeled suitcase like the Haupstadtkoffer Alex.
If you are all over the place, luxury one night and camping the next, then choose a convertible suitcase, like the Standard Luggage Carry-On.
These are our 3 favourite minimalist travel bags. All are small enough to carry on most flights.
Best travel backpack for Europe
Haupstadtkoffer Alex 20″
Best hard case carry on luggage
Osprey Farpoint 40
Best minimalist backpack that opens like a suitcase
Perfect Accessories for Minimalist Packing
Packing cubes (or packing squares) will help you fit more in your suitcase, plus they help minimize the time you spend packing, unpacking, and searching your bags when you should be out enjoying your destination!
Are packing cubes worth it?
Packing cubes may look like an optional extra — and if you’re on a ultra-tiny budget you can skip them — but for everyone else who’s interested in minimalist packing, they are an absolute necessity!
I can’t stress this enough. If you have it in your budget, investing in a set of packing organizers will help keep you sane while living out of a suitcase.
Stephen and I each have the Eagle Creek set of packing cubes shown below.
- I use the smallest cube for random items in my suitcase.
- The medium-sized packing pod is for rolled t-shirts
- I have another medium pod that holds underwear and socks.
- My large packing cube is for pants, dresses, and shorts.
We each also have an Eagle Creek toiletries packing pod, which is one of my favourite pieces of travel gear.
When I get to my destination, the first thing I do is pull out all my packing cubes and put them on a shelf or in a drawer. Voila! I am unpacked and ready to enjoy the world.
You can’t go wrong with the selection of packing cubes below!
Packing Cube Set
Best ultralight packing cubes
Standard Convertible Cube
Cleverly converts to a daypack!
Travel Toiletry Kit
Best travel toiletry organizer
Day Pack / Travel Day Bag
Once you’ve arrived at your destination and you’re staying for a few nights, you’ll need a small bag to carry with you on your daily explorations. Depending on the kind of travel you’re doing, this can either be a sturdy day pack or a stylish shoulder bag.
It should be big enough to carry your daily essentials, including cash, credit cards, and ID, and accessories like a water bottle, your camera, and a foldable rain jacket or umbrella.
Lots of travel day bags now have security features built in, so look for features like these when you’re picking a day pack.
- Hidden pockets
- Hidden or secure zippers
- Anti-slash straps
- RFID secure pocket
Ideally, your day pack should be subtle enough and secure enough that you don’t become a target for thieves.
Travel Wallet / Money Belt
While we never travel with a money belt (all that fumbling under your clothes is not for us) some people prefer the extra security they bring.
While it’s important not to lose your passport or credit cards, cash is going to be the most tempting target for pickpockets. Instead of using a money belt, we prefer to foil thieves by carrying only a little cash and using the ATM when we need more.
I also carry two wallets.
The one that I use for everyday purchases is made from duct tape – to imply to would-be thieves that I am too broke to get a real wallet. When I go out for the day, I put one piece of ID, one credit card, and a small amount of cash in the wallet.
If it did get stolen (which hasn’t happened so far), it wouldn’t be a big deal because of my second wallet.
In my second wallet (my real wallet), which I bury at the bottom of my luggage or securely in my daypack, I store extra cash, extra credit cards, my passport, hotel key card, and other things I’m more worried about losing.
I only ever take this out in public in completely secure areas. That way, I don’t really have to worry about it getting lost or stolen unless my whole suitcase goes along with it.
Travel Shoes for Minimalists
All travel will involve lots of walking, so you’ll need an amazing pair of lightweight walking shoes on your minimalist packing list.
If you’re going on a short trip, you should be able to get away with just taking one pair of shoes. For longer trips in multiple climates, we recommend two or sometimes even three pairs.
Don’t miss our complete guide to lightweight walking shoes for travel!
How to Pack Shoes for Travel
Space-saving tips for packing shoes
Packing shoes for travel can be a bit of a nightmare, that’s why we say to limit yourself to one or two pairs! When packing, try to wear your heaviest pair of shoes and pack the lighter ones in your suitcase.
Shoes can take up a lot of space. Here’s how we pack them to keep them more compact in our suitcases.
- Turn your shoes so the toes are pointing in opposite directions.
- Place the tops of your shoes together with the soles facing out. The toes should nestle neatly in the heel of the other shoe.
- Wrap the pair of shoes in a plastic bag or shoe bag.
- Pack your shoes in your suitcase first (near the bottom/wheels) and then pack softer, lighter items around them.
Lots of people recommend stuffing your shoes with other items, but honestly, if you have that little space in your suitcase, you’re probably failing at minimalist packing!
Here are the shoes we have been travelling with for years.
Salomon XA Lite GTX
Best waterproof walking shoes
Keen Clearwater Sandals
Best walking sandals for travel
Travel Essentials for Women
I am always on the lookout for a brand of women’s travel clothes that are eco-friendly, stylish and hard-wearing enough for travel.
To be honest, I tend to just grab whatever’s on sale or the comfiest t-shirts from my closet. But, there are three of items I recommend every woman gets for their minimalist packing travel capsule wardrobe.
- one pair of travel pants
- one pair of great travel shorts
- one versatile travel dress
Once you have these three, add on whatever travel shirts, scarves, and accessories you want to take with you. See our list below for more details.
Women’s Capsule Wardrobe for Travel
Exactly what clothing you’ll need when you travel depends so much on the style of travel you’re doing (5-star hotels or hostel beds?), where you’ll be going (Paris, Milan, or Timbuktu?), and what season you’re travelling in.
But the one thing that’s true for every trip is that you need to take less than you think you do!
This is my capsule travel wardrobe:
- lightweight travel pants
- mid-weight quick dry travel pants
- travel trousers for cold climates
- quick dry travel shorts
- cozy sweatshirt
- thin long-sleeve shirt for layering
- yoga pants
- tights for layering
- dressy shirt
- 3 cotton t-shirts
- 2 tank tops
- 5 quick dry underwear
- 3 pairs socks
- great travel dress
And that’s it! I probably pack more than could strictly be called minimalist packing, but we do travel full-time, in all climates, and move between 5-star luxury and grimy hostels — so I do my best!
Here are some women’s travel clothing items I do recommend!
The North Face Horizon 2.0
Lightweight travel trousers
Prana Sanna Dress
Travel dress for summer
Travel Essentials for Men
The capsule wardrobe for the travelling man consists of three basic items.
The minimalist packer will need:
- one pair of men’s travel pants
- one pair of men’s travel shorts
- one great men’s travel shirt
To that you can add the men’s wardrobe essentials from our travel essentials checklist below.
Men’s Capsule Wardrobe for Travel
Stephen used to be a notorious overpacker. In the last five years of travel, he’s winnowed down his travel clothes packing list to these essentials:
- quick dry pants
- jeans / comfortable travel pants
- zip-up sweater
- travel shorts
- dressy shirt
- 3 cotton t-shirts
- 4 underwear
- 3 pairs socks
He also carries an array of yoga clothes which you won’t need — so you can go even more minimalist!
As full-time travellers for more than 7 years now, we’ve been through more travel accessories than you can imagine. Some quickly fall by the wayside while others have made the difference between misery and comfort more times than you can count.
This list below are the essential accessories for every traveller.
- Water bottle – Every traveller should be carrying a refillable water bottle! Staying hydrated is of the utmost importance, and so is eliminating plastic waste from our world. Having a reusable bottle along with help you reduce your plastic consumption by hundreds of bottles!
- Earplugs – I do not go anywhere without earplugs. Travel can be a noisy venture, from crying babies on airplanes to barking dogs outside your hotel window, to creaky noises outside your tent – earplugs will give you peace when you need it.
- Eye mask – Along with earplugs an eye mask can make the difference between a great sleep and waking up at sunrise every day.
- First aid kit – A tiny first aid kit probably won’t make the difference between life and death on your trip but it can patch up cuts, scrapes, blisters, and other inconveniences making the discomforts of travel a little more bearable. And yes, in extreme circumstances, it could save your life.
- Travel pillow – This is definitely a luxury item but one that Stephen and I always carry. My travel pillow is a little like a security blanket, making me feel at home no matter what bed, bus, tent, or plane I’m sleeping in.
- Padlock – If you’re planning on staying in any hostels on your trip, a small padlock will come in handy to keep your stuff safe while you go out and enjoy your travels.
Travel Gadgets for Minimalist Packers
If you want to pack light and stay ready to go on a moment’s notice, you won’t want to pack many travel gadgets! There’s nothing quite like a suitcase full of devices and electronics to slow you down and keep you from true adventures.
For a start, travel gadgets, while compact, tend to be heavy, breakable, and susceptible to water damage. When your suitcase gets chucked into a tuk tuk in Cambodia or on top of a bus in India, the last thing you want to be worried about is your travel gadgets!
Travel gadgets are also usually expensive and make popular targets for theft.
So pack only the essentials and leave everything else at home!
What Are the Essential Travel Gadgets?
There are two essential travel gadgets that I never leave home without.
Essential travel gadget #1: smartphone
I currently have the iPhone 7+ and it’s the one piece of gear I would be literally lost without. Admittedly, I may be a little over-reliant on this one piece of gear.
I dropped my phone in a field in Vietnam a few years ago and once I discovered it was missing, I had no idea how I was going to get anywhere else on my itinerary. Lucky for me, with the help of extremely generous locals and Facebook, I had the phone back in a matter of hours. If that hadn’t happened, I might still be stuck in that small Vietnamese town!
My phone works as:
- Navigation system – Using a combo of Google Maps and Maps.me.
- Entertainment system – Reading books, listening to music, watching YouTube, and Netflix.
- Personal trainer – I work out and do yoga on YouTube videos and apps when I travel.
- Travel agent / PA – From booking tickets to holding boarding passes and maintaining my schedule, it’s all on my phone.
- Camera – I carry a real camera but I take more photos on my phone these days!
- Phone – On rare occasions, I even make essential calls on my phone.
If you’re in the market for a new smartphone for a travel, there are three things you should check before buying.
- Battery life – You don’t want your phone conking out halfway through a day of adventuring!
- Camera quality – Even if you pack a fancy travel camera, you will take pictures on your phone. Make sure the camera is as close to top-of-the-line as you can afford.
- Memory size – Even though most smartphones back up to the cloud, you’ll want to make sure you have lots of storage on the phone for all those offline adventures you’ll be taking.
Essential travel gadget #2: headphones
I travel with a small pair of eco-friendly in-ear headphones. They are inexpensive, nothing fancy, but they do the trick. I also have a backup pair just in case. Stephen has some bulkier but infinitely more advanced Sony noise cancelling headphones.
Headphones are vital to get us through long flights or bus rides. They’re also very useful when we stay in hostels or when we need a little virtual space from each other in our hotel room!
Other travel gadgets to consider
A few other gadgets you might want to bring include:
- Universal plug adapter – Essential if you plan on travelling to multiple countries that don’t share the same power sockets!
- Power bank – If you plan on doing long days or your phone battery is unreliable, I’d recommend a compact power bank. It’s a great backup in case your phone dies half way through the day.
- Kindle or other reader – I have all my favourite travel books on my phone, via the Kindle and Books apps. However, it can be hard on your eyes. The best alternative is a digital reader which provides a better screen for long periods of reading.
- Portable speaker – For years, we resisted carrying a portable speaker because it just seemed excessive. And it is for most trips. But if you’re going on a long trip where you’ll stay in different locations for long stretches, having a speaker makes things a little more fun. We now have one and use it every single day.
- UV water purifier – We carried one of these for two years on our worldwide bike trip. We used it a total of zero times! Unless you are going way off the beaten path, it’s probably not a necessary gadget.
- Safety alarm – Tucking a portable alarm in your pocket will add to your peace of mind and might serve to scare off unwanted attention or potential trouble. Especially useful for solo travellers.
- Laptop – Unless you are working on the road, a laptop is a completely unnecessary gadget for travellers. Because I work online, I have to travel with my laptop and it is always an annoyance. It’s heavy, easily breakable, and attractive to thieves, so I’m am always worried about damaging or losing it.
Minimalist Travel Photography Gear
Even if you’re not much of a photographer, you’ll want at least some basic photography equipment along to capture those special moments on your trip. Photos are a great way to preserve your memories and relive your trip long after you’re back at home.
Which Travel Camera Do You Need?
The travel camera you choose will very much depend on your travel style and your experience with photography.
If you’re a newbie photographer, don’t invest in an expensive, heavy Digital SLR. Instead, learn to take great photos on a phone or compact camera first, then upgrade once your photography is advanced enough to need it.
For most travellers, a good phone camera is more than enough for their purposes. If you want a little more versatility, there are apps that allow you to do fancy focus tricks and shoot in RAW to make post-processing seamless.
The only reason I can think of that you might want to use a compact camera these days is if you can’t afford a phone with a decent camera. Unless you already have a compact camera you’re comfortable with, I wouldn’t recommend buying one for travel.
If your photography is a little more advanced but you’re not planning on going pro just yet, a mirrorless camera is the perfect travel companion. Mirrorless cameras allow you to change lenses, plus you’ll have more settings options than on a phone. They are also lighter, smaller, and cheaper than a digital SLR.
For travellers who want to take a lot of video or are going on a super active trip, an action cam is probably the best choice. They are tiny, tough, and usually waterproof to a certain depth.
Unless the main purpose of your trip is to take photos that you plan to use in some professional capacity, I wouldn’t recommend travelling with a Digital SLR. They are bulky, expensive, and easily breakable. Plus, they catch the eye of thieves, making travellers who carry them a theft target.
If you want to invest in a Digital SLR for travels, do your research and make sure you’re getting the right camera for your needs.
Travel Camera Accessories
- Travel tripod/selfie stick – Especially useful if you’re travelling solo, a compact tripod for your phone, action cam or mirrorless camera will allow you to capture more and more interesting shots.
- Phone camera lens set – I love my set of Moment lenses that expand the capabilities of my iPhone. They have taken my phone travel photos to a level they just couldn’t reach without them!
Yoga Travel Mat
Strictly speaking, minimalists probably don’t need a yoga mat for travel.
But if you’re going on a yoga retreat or want to practice yoga regularly during your trip, then a foldable yoga mat or a lightweight yoga mat will become one of the essentials on your minimalist packing list.
Choosing the Right Travel Yoga Mat
There are a few key elements that deserve your attention when looking at yoga mats for travel.
- Portability. If you’re going on an adventure where you’ll be changing locations every few days, we recommend a foldable yoga mat that you can slide inside your suitcase.
- Mat comfort. If you’re going on a yoga holiday, where you’ll stay in one place and practice daily, you might want to get a slightly thicker mat that is more comfortable.
- Environmental impact. Choosing a yoga mat that is made with as little negative impact on the earth as possible just makes sense! Don’t buy a cheap petroleum mat that will leach toxins into your body and the ground!
JadeYoga Travel Mat
Best travel yoga mat overall
Manduka Travel Yoga Mat
Lightweight yoga mat for travel
Liforme Yoga Mat for Travel
Most eco friendly yoga mat
A Final Note About Minimalist Packing
When you’re first getting packed for travel, it will be tempting to throw everything you can think of into your suitcase. But keep in mind that travel is not like everyday life.
While you’re travelling, nobody is going to notice if you wear the same t-shirt three days in a row. Nobody will care if you don’t have your full face of make-up on or your hair curled just so.
Travel is an opportunity to shed the layers of carefully constructed layers of “you” that you present to the people back home. Take the opportunity to simplify and minimize.
Trying out a more minimalist approach to clothes, gadgets, make-up, and shoes when travelling can open a whole new world of minimalist living that you can incorporate into your everyday life when you get back home.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
I hope this guide to minimalist packing has shown you how easy packing can be when you eliminate the unnecessary and just pack the essentials! Our goal is to help make every trip transformational – and a big part of that is to minimize your packing so stuff won’t hold you back!