Nothing will put a damper on your trip faster than lugging clumsy, heavy luggage around crowded airports, up stairs and over bumpy sidewalks. Even worse? Spending a week in your travel clothes because your bag never arrived. Minimalist packing is a foundational element to stress-free travel, and trust me, with these tips you won’t feel like you’re lacking anything. And if you do forget something? Most of the time, you’ll be able to buy whatever you need at your destination. Hey, it might even make for an awesome souvenir!
I didn’t start out as a minimalist packer. Yet after all my travels, including three years living in minuscule cabins on cruise ships for 6 months at a time, I’ve learned a tip or two. So consider me the little angel on your shoulder saying “Do you really want to pack that?” Because honestly, the less you’re concerned with what to wear each day, how much your luggage weighs or the annoyance of hauling it between places, the more you’ll be mentally freed up to enjoy your trip.
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Easy Minimalist Packing Tips
This minimalist packing method will work for most vacation trips, regardless of length. What you’d pack for a month is essentially the same as what you’d pack for a week. Weather and special occasions (like traveling for a wedding) might require a few tweaks, but the principles are the same.
Here are a few guidelines that will help you structure your packing list so you can have light and easy stress-free travels.
- Give yourself boundaries. Commit to bringing just a carry-on and personal item and don’t give yourself the option of bringing more. This alleviates you from weighing yourself down (literally and figuratively) with options or second-guessing yourself.
- Stick to a color palette. Pick your neutral color (i.e. black, gray, navy, etc) and punctuate it with a couple more complementary colors that go well with each other. This way you can create a wide variety of outfits without the need to “bring options.”
- Choose multifunctional items. Attempt to pack your multi-use personal care items, clothes, even bags. If it has only one purpose, reconsider bringing it, or wait to pack it last if you have room.
- Consider what you can buy there. When I’m really trying to pack light and breeze through security, I’ll leave shampoo, lotion, etc at home and just buy it when I get there. I mostly use clean beauty products, so I don’t do this all the time, but it’s helpful when you’re in a pinch.
- Fold vertically. Yes, a la Marie Kondo style (see photo below). Forget rolling or stacking or overlapping. Fold clothing so it stands in a rectangle shape, vertically, inside a packing cube. Game. Changer.
- Pack quick-drying fabrics. Pack light fabrics that dry quickly so you can wash items in the sink if need be. Hang them to dry while you’re out exploring.
- Wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Especially heavy footwear or coats.
Minimalist Packing List
This carry-on only packing list includes gear, clothes, toiletries, wellness essentials and more for warm weather with cold weather alternatives.
Travel Bags and Gear
It’s not just about what you put in your suitcase, but also the packing gear itself. Start with carry-on friendly, light, sturdy gear that will keep the weight down and all your stuff organized.
- Carry-on luggage
- Packing cubes
- Under-seat tote or backpack
- Everyday purse
- Clear TSA approved toiletry case
- TSA approved reusable toiletry bottles
- Small bags for organizing dirty clothes and odds and ends
Carry-on suitcase. First things first, research the carry-on limits and size restrictions for your airline. Many budget airlines aren’t so budget anymore once you factor in checked or oversize luggage. I recommend finding the lightest carry-on you can (every ounce counts!) that will fit in the overhead compartment.
Packing cubes. If you love an organized suitcase, you’ll love packing cubes. I pack the cubes by item type so everything is easy to grab and go without throwing my clothes around. For example, tops in one cube, pants in another, undergarments and accessories in another, etc. It’s so much easier to get dressed while traveling when your clothes aren’t strewn about in your suitcase or all over the hotel room.
Under-seat tote or backpack. In addition to a carry-on suitcase, I usually travel with a tote bag or backpack as my personal item. This is where I store my passport, wallet, phone, toiletries and other in-flight essentials. Anything that will need to be unpacked to go through security (like liquids and laptops) should be in this bag so they’re easily accessible and returnable. You can always rearrange once you’re at the gate.
Crossbody purse/camera bag. Since airlines only allow one carry-on and one personal item, I also stash my everyday purse/camera bag in my tote bag. So it’s like three bags in one. Triple duty.
When choosing an everyday handbag for travel I look for something that can be used day and night and that can function as a camera bag as well. Crossbody bags are great because you can keep them in front of your body so everything you need is within reach, not to mention help prevent purse snatching and pickpocketing.
I have a stylish camera bag from Gatta that also functions as my purse. I use a Fujifilm mirrorless camera so it’s nice and small, but I’ve also used this to house my much bigger and heavier Canon T4i and lenses.
Organization bags. Pretty much everything I travel with goes in some sort of bag or case. It makes it so much easier to see where things are in a glance and avoid rummaging around at the bottom of your bag like a hot mess.
Minimalist Travel Wardrobe
Believe it or not, with a smart strategy and a bit of creativity it’s easy to pack light while looking stylish and feeling good. The key with clothes is packing items that all play nicely together, can layer and be multifunctional. Don’t forget to consider cultural or religious activities that might require you to cover your shoulders and knees, like visiting places of worship.
When it comes to shoes, think about what activities you have planned, or if you don’t know, consider the vibe of your trip. Is it all about action and adventure, city-strolling or hanging out at the beach all day? One-two pairs are enough. Once you have your two go-to pairs, you might need to bring one more pair such as flip flops for the beach or pool, heels for a fancy dinner. Don’t bring more than three pairs, and usually, two is enough.
- 1-3 dresses
- 1-2 tank tops
- 1-2 tees (long-sleeved tees in cold weather)
- 1-2 blouses (sweaters in cold weather)
- 1 light jeans
- 1 dark jeans or pants
- 1 shorts or skirt (tights in cold weather)
- 1 leggings
- 1 outerwear depending on season
- 1-2 swimwear (if needed)
- 1 sneaker
- 1 day-to-night sandal (booties in cold weather)
- 1-2 accessories (i.e. scarves, hat, jewelry)
- Underwear, socks and pajamas
Dresses. Having 1-3 dresses on hand is great because they’re an entire outfit in one piece and they can be multifunctional if you pair them with a t-shirt, cardigan or sweater.
Tops. 1-2 tank tops, 1-2 t-shirts and 1-2 blouses will do for just about any type of trip.
Bottoms. 1 pair of blue jeans, 1 pair of dark jeans or pants, 1 pair or shorts or a skirt, 1 pair of leggings for hiking, lounging, sleeping, etc.
Shoes. 1 pair of casual sneakers and 1 pair of day-to-night sandals. In cooler weather, skip the sandals and bring booties in addition to sneakers.
Accessories. Scarfs, jewelry, a belt or hat can go a long way in giving your outfits personality and variety without taking up a ton of space in your suitcase.
Beauty and Wellness Travel Essentials
In this category, multitasking is key. Focus on double duty items like cleansing oil/makeup remover, moisturizer with sunscreen, lip + cheek stain or foundation + concealer. Another tip: Bring makeup that doesn’t require a brush to save space and keep things simple.
- Dr. Bronner’s soap (for yourself and your clothes)
- Shampoo + conditioner if necessary
- Makeup remover/cleanser
- Face oil or night cream
- Toothbrush + paste
- Hair tools if necessary
Health + Self Care
Travel can do a number on our immune systems, sleep cycles and digestive health. It can also be stressful, energy draining and make you feel uncentered. That’s why it’s important to keep up self-care and wellness routines on the road.
- Health supplements
- Essential oil (lavender is calming, peppermint helps with nausea)
- Meditation app
- Menstrual cup
I like taking individual packets of green powder with probiotics for overall health and magnesium for muscle relaxation and stress relief. Melatonin gummies or tablets are also helpful for regulating jetlag.
For period days, I swear by menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are safer for your health and more environmentally friendly than tampons. You can keep it in for 12 hours, which is awesome for travel. Of course, always ask your doctor before trying any new health supplements.
Electronics and Tech
Remember those little bags I mentioned at the beginning. That’s where you’ll want to put all of your cords and electronic odds and ends for easy organization.
- Laptop, if necessary
- Tablet or e-reader if you use one
- Converters/adapters (for international trips)
This may seem like a lot for a minimalist packing list, but with vertical folding, packing cubes and some pruning as needed, it will fit in a carry-on. Do you have any favorite packing tips for minimalist travelers? I’d love to know!