The Beginner’s Guide To Minimalist Travel

22.04.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Journey into Minimalism” by Leo Babauta


“Is that all your stuff?”

While embarking on my current 100+ day sojourn I’ve been asked that question almost daily. Most people take more stuff for a 3 day weekend break than I’ve taken on this long trip.

If you’ve struggled to pack what you need in a carry-on I will show you the light. It’s not difficult and you don’t have to do everything at once. Remember the old cliché, slow and steady wins the race.

1. The first step to minimalist travel is to use a smaller carry-on.

If you don’t have enough room to pack all your stuff you’ll be forced to eliminate the unnecessary.

Personally, I use a 32L backpack, the Deuter Futura 32. If you can’t grasp the small size of a 32 liter pack, it’s about the same volume as most school backpacks.

I also carry a small messenger bag just large enough to fit a paperback book, an iPod, a small bag of almonds, and my Asus Eee 1000HE, a 10″, 3 pound netbook PC.

I can actually fit all of my things in my backpack, but the messenger bag is great to take out while exploring during the day.

The biggest benefit of a backpack vs a rolling carry-on is a backpack is much easier to carry around.

2. No matter how long your trip, pack no more than 3 shirts in neutral colors so everything matches everything else.

This way you never have to think about what to wear. If your shirts, pants, and jacket always match you simply wear whatever is clean.

I have 2 black T shirts, 1 orange T shirt, and 1 pair of khaki colored convertible pants (which I obviously wear on the plane and everywhere else).

In case it gets cold, I also have a black long-sleeved shirt in addition to my black jacket.

As for shoes, 1 pair of black shoes to wear and 1 pair of flip flops (in my case, Vibram FiveFingers) to pack.

Dark colors are also better for visible cleanliness reasons. If you spill sauce on light colored clothing it stands out. Unfortunately I couldn’t find dark colored convertible pants that fit me (I’m 6’5″), so I had to settle on khaki.

3. Multi-use soap minimizes your liquids considerably.

Dr Bronner’s organic fair-trade liquid soap can be used to wash your body, shampoo your hair, brush your teeth, and clean your clothes. Buy it in large bottles and fill smaller 3 ounce airline-approved bottles to pack in your carry-on.

3 ounces of Dr Bronner’s soap lasts me about 4 weeks and yes, I use it for everything.

If Dr Bronner’s isn’t available in your area you have 2 options:

First, check out your local health food store and ask them if they carry organic vegetable based soap. This will be similar to Dr Bronner’s.

Second, every outdoor/camping store I’ve been to carries something called camper’s (or camping) soap. This soap is also a good alternative to Dr Bronner’s.

4. Wash clothes in the sink.

Limiting your clothing to just 3 T-shirts means you’ll have to do laundry every few days. Wash them in the bathroom sink (using Dr Bronner’s or similar soap) and hang them up to dry overnight with an elastic clothesline. A common elastic clothesline is the Rick Steves brand available on Amazon and at most outdoors stores.

Your clothes will be ready by morning. If anything is still slightly damp in the morning wear it anyway as it will dry quickly.

5. If worst comes to worst, buy it.

Pack the bare minimum, but be prepared to buy what you need if you forget or can’t pack something. Unless you’re heading to the middle of nowhere, you will be able to find whatever it is you’re looking for.

Travel is supposed to be fun. If you’re bogged down with luggage it can be a real drag. Who likes lugging suitcases up stairs, escalators, elevators, and around town?

Packing light makes travel simple, so you can focus on having a good time, and not on how you’re going to avoid paying airline checked baggage fees. :)


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