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Mastering the art of packing like a minimalist has made traveling so much easier and has allowed me to enjoy backpacking like a minimalist; that is, it’s allowed me to truly live the experiences, dive into cultures, treasure new relationships and take away meaningful moments without having to worry about all of my ‘stuff’.
This minimalist packing guide will allow you to not only have more space in your physical world, but it means that you’ll able to prioritise the experiences that are important to you. All in the name of encouraging slow, sustainable and explorative travel.
Not too sure what exactly minimalism is all about? Want to know how I discovered minimalism? I’ve talked about it in another post which you can find here!
I traveled Asia and Australia with a carry on backpack
In the summer of 2019, I took the most incredible trip to Thailand for 16 days before spending 2 months backpacking around Australia. This included staying in hostels, living in a campervan for a month, camping in a tent on Fraser Island, joining the circus and driving Barbie cars on Magentic Island.
And all I had with me was a 7kg backpack and a small day bag. Hard to imagine traveling with anything less than a big check in suitcase? Don’t you worry, I’m about to break it down so you can do it too!
In keeping with the spirit of budget and minimalist travel, I knew that I didn’t want to be pulling around a massive suitcase for several reasons:
a) I wanted to focus on the experiences I would have and NOT what I was going to wear
b) it’s inconvenient to roll a big case around the streets and take on public transport
c) it’s easier to store a backpack when doing van life and doesn’t take up too much space in cars
d) Traveling with carry on also means that (most of the time) you can skip the long check in lines at the airport. When you land you can walk right out without waiting at the overcrowded luggage belt
So, this backpack of mine…
The brand I have is Lowe Alpine, it’s a ND33:40 hiking pack, water resistant, with lots of compartments and pockets and I absolutely love it. It cost me about £130 and since buying it, it’s been on all my trips with me. There are plenty of blog posts recommending the best travel backpack, my favorite being by Matt at The Expert Vagabond.
Why a backpack and not a small carry on suitcase? A backpack is more expandable than a suitcase. If you know how to pack properly (which I’ll be sharing below) you can fit way more in a backpack than in a single compartment flat suitcase.
Most travel or hiking backpacks are also designed to offer comfort when you’re carrying them. The one I have is JUST big enough to fit in most overhead lockers of planes but I do have to be careful because if I overpack then it will be too heavy and I’d have to check it in.
How to pack like a minimalist
Everyone’s exact packing list will be different. What you pack will depend on where you’re going, your personal tastes and how minimalist you’re willing to go. But it’s HOW you pack that will dictate HOW MUCH you can bring in a smaller space.
It’s important to know the layout of your backpack, and once you do, the key to packing clothes is rolling your clothes and investing in some packing cubes. Simply lay out all the clothes and roll them into a tight roll (yes, like a sausage roll) and you can fit them side by side, filling up all the available space in your pack.
Be sure to have a sturdy and compact cosmetic bag, one that has a few compartments for your toiletries.
Additionally, and this may be a disadvantage for some, carry on means you cannot have lots of liquids over 100ml. This however, is easily resolved if you’re willing to commit.
Instead of shampoo and conditioner bottles, my packing list includes soap, shampoo and conditioner soap bars in little metal tins. Easy to use, transport AND better for the environment. I also had a little collection of small plastic bottles from various former products, so I simply transferred some of my hair cream and face wash into these. However, it is possible to buy carry on size versions of everything these days.
To sum up, your big backpack will contain your clothes, toiletries and bigger items but you’re allowed two carry on items on most flights. This means you’ll have a smaller shoulder bag or day pack which will house your passport, wallet, maybe a camera, kindle and such smaller items.
Ideally you don’t want to be digging in your backpack at the airport or while you’re on the move so your little bag will have everything you need easily accessible.
I did not travel with my laptop which made it easier to go through security and meant less stuff to pack. I also didn’t travel with my big DSLR camera because I was traveling with my best friend and she had hers with her so we shared the one. If I had brought mine I would have made space for it in my big backpack and then had it with me out on day trips.
My Minimalist Packing Guide
On this trip I visited Thailand and the East Coast of Australia and Perth in a Western Australia. The majority of my trip was spent in warm weather but I had anticipated some cold weather so did bring some warmer pieces.
At the end of the trip, there were items I wished I hadn’t brought, meaning I could have packed even less! Below is the list of things I packed AND USED. I haven’t included the items I didn’t use and could have left at home.
Keep in mind that I was not thinking about being fashionable on this trip. Most of my days were spent hiking or on the beach or moving around. I wanted to be practical and comfortable, so I stuck with basic neutral colours that I can mix and match.
- 3 basic strap tops (a black, white & grey)
- 1 long sleeve white blouse
- 2 simple blouses
- 2 thick jumpers
- 1 thick jumper/shirt to sleep in
- 1 hoodie or cardigan or jacket
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of black pants
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of comfy leggings
- 1 pair of trainers or sneakers or good walking shoes
- 1 nice pair of sandals
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 or 2 bikinis or swimsuit
- 3 pairs of socks
- 1 nice dress or jumpsuit for a fancy night out
Toiletries & others:
- 1 microfiber shower towel
- 1 face towel or flannel
- wooden toothbrush
- tooth tabs or toothpaste
- shampoo & conditioner bars
- menstrual cup
- metal water bottle
- reusable cup
- metal or wooden cutlery set
- sunglasses & hat
- sun cream & moisturizer
- airplane sleeping pillow
Here’s a little gallery of a few of the outfits:
Yup that’s all! My goal this trip was minimalism and practicality and both of these are all about training your mind to need less and be happy with less. This doesn’t come overnight but once we break that societal programming that more is better, there’s a whole new world of freedom to be explored.
And ask anyone I met on this trip, no one noticed that I was outfit repeating, and if they did, no one cared! In fact I met people who were living even simpler lives that me while backpacking and it was inspiring! I still managed to get fabulous and special pictures AND felt great every day.
The best way to figure out what you need for your minimal packing list is through experience. Listen to your gut, if it tells you you won’t need it, you WON’T need it, don’t pack for ‘maybe’ and if your bag is full, don’t force it. Once you’re on the road you’ll be too busy having a good time to worry about clothes.
If you’re not sure if this is for you, my advice is to try it out anyway at least once, you’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and can only gain the best experience of your life!
What’s been your experience backpacking? Is there anything on your list that I don’t have on mine?
Sit back, grab some Oreos, and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next,