My one travel packing rule that can never be broken: ALWAYS travel carry on only.
How often have you had a pile of items sitting at the bottom of your suitcase untouched your entire trip? Or a shirt you wore only one time? Or you wanted to grab a souvenir but didn’t have enough space in your suitcase to bring it home?
When you pack the bare minimum, you are saving money by not checking your bags! You make your life a million times easier and create space for the things you want to bring home.
Plus, if you’re constantly moving around staying in different hostels or hotels and taking planes, trains, and buses you don’t want to be carrying around a ton of luggage with you all the time. It’s inconvenient. Everyone on the train will hate you. And there is a much larger chance that things are going to get lost, stolen, or left behind.
I’ve had my bags end up in Italy when I was in Paris. I’ve had things stolen out of my luggage when it was under the plane. The only time I’ll check a bag is if I have specific items that must be checked such as skis. Other than that my bags stay on me at all times, and everything inside of my bag is able to come with me on the plane.
I’ve traveled carry on only for years now, with everything from a weekend trip an hour away to a month long trip visiting multiple countries in Europe.
Below are my top minimalist packing tips, and a guide for traveling with just a carry on.
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PACK AS IF YOU’RE PACKING FOR 4-5 DAYS.
Even if you’re going on a month-long trip, you should be packing for five days. Mix up your outfits and find a laundromat once a week.
Not only will you be packing light, but trust me when I say you’ll want a day once a week anyway to just focus on doing laundry, relaxing, and catching up on work, reading, running errands, etc.
If you’re going to be gone for a weekend or a week, travel sized toiletries are a great option. However when you’re going to be gone for a long period of time, they don’t last. You end up just rebuying them which costs more over time and is a waste of plastic.
Instead I bring a wisp toothbrush so I can brush my teeth at the airport. Then I grab full sized toothpaste, body wash, razors, shampoo/conditioner or whatever else I need at the pharmacy when I arrive.
THE MAJORITY OF YOUR WARDROBE SHOULD BE THE BASICS.
Jeans and a nicer top can be worn in any environment; churches, temples, museums, restaurants, shops, etc. When you’re packing, aim to bring:
Neutral colors go so far. You can wear your black or denim jeans with any color shirt your heart desires.
Dresses and rompers are also a great option because they look nice, don’t take up much space as an outfit with multiple components does, and they are super comfortable to walk around in.
Bring ONE nicer outfit for an evening out. There is no need for a different outfit for every fancy dinner or night at the club. Also bring ONE handbag or purse that can go with any outfit.
RECYCLE AND MIX UP YOUR OUTFITS.
Let’s say you’re packing a pair of black jeans, a pair of white jeans, a black top, and a red top. This gives you four whole days worth of outfits!
You can wear the black jeans with the black top one day, the white jeans with the red top the next, then the black jeans with the red top on day 3, and the white jeans with the black top on day 4. Even better, if you didn’t take any pictures in the red top and the white jeans, go ahead and wear it again on day 5.
The most important thing you should come to realize when you’re traveling is that nobody honestly notices or cares about your outfits as much as you think they do. I wore the exact same shirt in 3 different instagram photos in 3 different countries and nobody has ever said a word about it.
LIMIT packing SHOES.
Shoes take up so much space, and you don’t need as many pairs as you think you do.
You’re going to be spending the majority of your time walking around so you want to be sure that you’re packing shoes that are comfortable, durable, and versatile. Your cute sandals are most likely going to end up in the trash, so don’t even bother wasting them.
When I spent a few weeks in Europe moving between beaches and mountains, I brought 4 total pairs of shoes and never felt like I needed any more. They were:
- My most versatile pair of gym shoes. I continue to do crossfit when I travel, but only bring ONE pair of shoes that I can use whether I’m lifting or running.
- My most versatile pair of walking shoes. For me these were Birkenstocks, but they could be your gym shoes from number 1 or your favorite pair of neutral colored sneakers.
- Hiking boots. Part of my trip was backpacking in Switzerland, so hiking shoes were a necessity but these could also be scratched, subbed for snow boots, or a nicer pair of boots for walking around in. These will also most likely be your largest pair of shoes, so they should be what you wear on planes or however you’re getting to your next accommodation.
- One nice pair of heels. You’ll want some heels to go with your nicer dinner outfit, but only one so make sure they’re versatile.
SAVE SPACE ON BULKY ITEMS.
If you have some items that seem to take up an unnecessary amount of room but you can’t ditch, look for more travel friendly options.
For example, I prefer to bring my own towel when I stay in hostels, so I bring this microfiber towel that I generally use for camping. Not only can it fit in my purse, but it dries insanely quick as well.
Same deal with my power converters. Instead of bringing a different converter for every country, I have one small block that can fit 4 USB cables, charge 5 things at a time, and can fit in any outlet in any country (UK, EU, US, and AUS). And it’s less than $20!
SPACE BAGS CAN BE YOUR FRIEND.
I’ve used space bags one time when going on a ski trip to Colorado before moving here and they were a lifesaver.
There’s no way to get around the fact that ski clothes take up a ton of space, you do NEED to pack them, and you can’t wear them on the plane. Put your pants, coats, and thick layers in a bag that you can vacuum all the air out of and you’ll be able to fit everything in a carry on with no problem.
Do NOT use these as a substitute for packing light though because they’re a hassle to travel with.
ROLL YOUR ITEMS AND KEEP THEM ORGANIZED.
I swear that rolling your clothing items do in fact make them take up less space. Everything fits in your suitcase so much better when it’s organized. Plus, it’s easier to keep track of your things that way as well.
A few tips for souvenirs:
Definitely buy souvenirs for yourself and your friends/family, but limit it as much as possible.
To be perfectly honest, people think they want souvenirs more than they actually do. The t-shirt from a place they’ve never been to only gets worn a couple of times and at the end of the day YOU are the one who wants to have memorabilia from that place. If they want to get to know a destination, they can visit themselves.
I give myself a rule where I’m allowed to buy a max of two souvenirs per region I’m traveling in: one for myself and MAYBE one for a friend if I walk past something and think “(insert name here) would really love this”. All of your friends don’t need a souvenir from every place you go.
Mail larger souvenirs/alcohol home.
The first time I went to Italy I bought some street art. Instead of trying to shove it in my suitcase I just mailed it back to my apartment at home. Same deal with wine. You obviously can’t take wine back with you on the plane, so most wineries will ship bottles home for you. For a fee of course, but it’s easier and generally cheaper than going to a post office.
LEAVE EXTRA SPACE IN YOUR SUITCASE.
When you’re all done packing you should have some extra space in your suitcase. Do NOT add in those “if I have extra space” items. Leave the extra room for things you’re going to buy along the way such as clothing and souvenirs.
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